Philosophy of the Will (Fall 2023)
Course Description. The central focus of this course is on the concept of the will and its relationship to a series of vexing issues surrounding the philosophy of mind, meta-ethics, and individual, agentic responsibility. What is the will? What role does it play in the decision-making process? What is its function in the development of character? These are some of the questions that will be the target of our reflections. This course is both historically comprehensive and theoretically inclusive. It surveys both major historical figures in philosophy of the will and important trajectories in discussions of the will within contemporary analytic philosophy.
The first part of the course is devoted to the historically oriented study of philosophical theories which involves the use of contemporary analytic methods (such as critical reading, close textual analysis, and argument construction) to acquire a better understanding of primary sources from 16th to 19th century. Our primary goal here is to examine the concept of the will and whether or to what extent it is free by giving appropriate weight to both the philosophical and theological underpinnings of the discussions regarding the concept. We will first read some portions from On the Bondage of the Will (published in 1525) where the Reformer Martin Luther advances arguments against the idea that we are naturally endowed with the capacity to choose between good and bad. Then we will explore two of the most important thinkers in the history of Western philosophy: Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer. Contrary to Luther, Kant argues that his ethical system requires belief in free will and hence affirms the link between freedom and goodness. We will read the key portions of Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals where Kant famously argues that the human will is subjected to the demands of moral reason. Next, we will read from Schopenhauer’s On the Freedom of the Will, an essay written in response to the academic question posed by the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences in 1837: “Can the freedom of the will be proven from self-consciousness?”. Schopenhauer’s essay (which was rewarded the prize of the Society) is perhaps the most elegantly written work dealing with the question of free will versus determinism. We will also touch on Friedrich Nietzsche’s ideas about the will which is similar in crucial ways to Schopenhauer’s but serves as a good contrast to Kant’s.
The will and the issues with which it is entangled is still alive and in need of contemplation. The historical figures that we study not only serve as valuable reference sources for understanding the concept of the will, but also provide a solid background for those wishing to study the mainstream philosophical debates over the will and its freedom.
The second part of the course offers a more analytical and contemporary focus. Our primary goal here is to investigate the problem of the weakness of the will understood as a failure to persist in one’s resolutions. More specifically, we will critically reflect on the possibility of exercising ‘will-power’ or volitional efficacy (i.e., the belief in one’s ability to carry out a specific behavior successfully). One key philosopher that we will discuss is Brian O’Shaughnessy. O’Shaughnessy, whose work is inspired, among others, by Schopenhauer, further problematizes our understanding of willing, trying, and intentional action.
19th Century German Philosophy: Life, Suffering, and Meaning (Spring 2023)
Course Description. What does life and living really mean? Is there a purpose for our existence? How can we justify the search for a meaning for one’s own life in the context of a human existence that involves senseless suffering, death, and evil? 19th Century German Philosophy is one primary place to search for potential answers to these thorny but crucial questions. Germany produced great philosophers, of whom two, Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche devoted most of their philosophical careers to tackling the problem of the justification of life. This course exclusively focuses on the works of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. The overarching theme will be the value and significance of suffering in human life and our practical attitude toward it.
Philosophy of Women (Fall 2022)
Course Description. Women and issues of special concern to women have been often overlooked or dismissed in philosophy. Furthermore, in the long tradition of philosophy that dates from Plato, ideas and contributions of women philosophers have been systematically dismissed or deemed frivolous. It is well known that women are still not well represented in philosophy. The main goal of this course is twofold: on the one hand, this course will introduce you to the social and cultural reasons for the neglect of women in the canons of philosophy, and on the other hand, we will examine selected works of contemporary women philosophers and their contributions to the major sociocultural issues facing women today.
The works of some thinkers that are discussed in this course include Musonius Rufus, Plato,
Marilyn Frye, Iris Marion Young, Edith Stein, Jennifer Saul, Mirjam Müller, Lisa H. Schwartzman, Erin Beeghly, Mary Kate McGowan, and Carol Hay.