Thursday, December 10, 2009

The New Course Description

The new, emboldened doctor has a new course description for his class entitled 'Great Philosophers':

It is a good question, in the year 2010, to ask why we should talk about ‘Great’ philosophers. A title such as this seems to indicate a set of essential qualities of both greatness and what it takes to be a philosopher. To our more skeptical eyes, a decade after the turn of the 21st century, it seems to be an anachronism. Do not the ‘Great’ philosophers overlap with a particular image of society that is overly white, European, bourgeois, and imperial? Have not the very promises of philosophy or even civilization been used to oppress those excluded? Minorities? The colonialized? The poor? Women?

And yet, is there not a promise in some of the ideas that continuously reappear in the history of philosophy that make it worth learning, appropriating, and even worth fighting for? Does not philosophy diagnose our situation with concepts such as modern alienation, or provide arguments for understanding the relationship between the self and society? Does it not affirm, in the face of oppression, the possibilities of subjectivity and political agency, freedom, and liberation?

This class is an investigation into this contradiction at the heart of the history of philosophy: while it has often reinforced the prejudices of the ruling elite, or of society, it has also offered the promise of a better, more egalitarian, world. While we will not resolve this contradiction, in reading the ‘canon,’ –which includes Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, and Rousseau– along with its critics –including Marx, Engels, de Beauvoir and Césaire– we will discover some of the conceptual tools that will allow us to think critically about what it means to do philosophy.

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