Thursday, December 18, 2014

Late Additions: Teaching

More often than not, I receive courses for the Winter semester in December--it's happened enough times that I feel like I've written this post several times before. An early Xmas gift (the course, not the post), if you will. This year one of the professors at the University of Ottawa decided to retire for the new year, and that decision made his section of Great Philosophers available, and I ended up with it.

I tend to teach the course through contrasting the canon of Western philosophy with less traditional figures/critics of the canon. When I run the list past friends and colleagues, there always seems to be at least one name that produces the unconscious that's-not-a-great-philosopher facial tic. My reasoning is that the students don't know that. By including non-traditional figures, I'm staving off the eventual inculcation of biases about what makes a philosopher great or not. I'll admit that, given that I try to spend at least a week on each figure, the list isn't as diverse as it could be--but that's always balanced by the worry that if the student finds the non-traditional figures compelling, that he/she might not read them again in his/her philosophical training.

This year, the picks: 
  • The canon includes Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus.
  • Each year, I don't know if Marx belongs in the canon or critics.
  • The non-canon includes Schiller, Du Bois, Bergson, and Beauvoir.
I've been emboldened regarding Schiller, having just written an extensive amount about him for Egalitarian Moments. Du Bois has become a fixture when I teach this course, as has Beauvoir. Sartre didn't make the cut this time around because I taught him in a third year course (Topics in European Philosophy) at Carleton this fall, and I've chosen Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity over The Second Sex for the same reason.

The big change for the next semester, then, is the addition of Bergson, who I've never taught and of whom I've admittedly read very little. Given that I've been critical of post-Bergsonian vitalism (via Senghor and Deleuze) I've figured that it's time to catch up on Bergson himself. The impetus, however, was finding his Introduction to Metaphysics in an affordable edition while browsing through Hackett's website. It will be just my luck that, after Descartes, Spinoza, and Schiller, the whole class will end up Bergsonian despite my efforts...

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