Jan 20, 2015

Understanding Anger - A New Lecture Series

Last year we (that is, ReasonIO) partnered with our local library -- the historic Kingston Library (a lot in this town is historic, given its age and earlier importance, but the library really does deserve that epithet!) -- to offer a lecture series, about Philosophy but suited for the general public, spanning the entire twelve months of 2014.  It focused on eleven Existentialist writers, and was called, aptly enough, Glimpses into Existence (here's the playlist of sessions).

It turned out to be quite a draw -- a growing group of regulars from local communities would show up, hear what I had to say, and then get into some quite interesting discussions (and at times digressions).  I got to spiel out some ideas I'd been mulling over about classic Existentialist thinkers, texts, and ideas with a well-educated, interested, and responsive audience.  The Library got some decent events for adult programming.  A win-win all around.  So they asked me back to do another series -- and I'd already been thinking about what I might do.

Jan 5, 2015

Half-Hour Hegel Series: Ready for Sense Certainty

For nearly a year, I've been engaged in a rather long-term and massive project which I don't think I've mentioned previously here on this blog -- the Half Hour Hegel video series.  By the end of December, I'd managed to make it to a minor milestone -- small in comparison, that is, to the amount of work that is still waiting to be done! -- I'd shot, edited, and released all of the videos for the Preface and the Introduction to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's early masterwork, the Phenomenology of Spirit.

The general idea behind the series (the motivations for which I'll discuss in more detail below) was that I would go through the entire text, paragraph by paragraph, first reading and then commenting on each paragraph (there's a from over 800 total) in turn.   The 70-odd-paragraph Preface -- famous for, among other things, asserting the impossibility of actually providing a preface to any genuinely philosophical work -- ended up taking me 31 total lectures -- around 15.5 hours.  The much shorter and more straightforward Introduction required just 7 lectures -- 3.5 hours. 

Dec 4, 2014

Stoic Week 2014

Last year, I unfortunately allowed an opportune occasion -- the best kind, organized by someone else! -- for celebrating a philosophical school pass me by.  It's not often that we philosophers get a day, let alone an entire week, set aside as a public observance.  November actually contains both of those -- first UNESCO World Philosophy Day and then towards the end of the month, Stoic Week.

The latter is much newer, having started in 2012, organized by a number of interested and intrepid scholars, professors, and practitioners at the University of Exeter who realized just how much interest there is out there among the general educated public in not only Stoic philosophy but also in its applications and practice within modern life.

I'm not a Stoic as such myself -- and likely won't ever be such, strongly drawn as I am to other philosophical traditions which, on some points, view matters differently than do Stoics.  But there is a considerable amount that I do find admirable, interesting, and valuable in the doctrines, reasonings, and practices of that school -- and it's a philosophical approach that I do end up teaching about quite frequently -- so Stoic Week seemed like a prime opportunity for me to focus my own work on Stoicism for a bit.

Nov 17, 2014

A New Class: Philosophical World Views and Values

This marks my fourth year teaching classes in Philosophy and Religious Studies for Marist College.  The last three years have involved a mix of face-to-face and online classes -- this current academic year, however, I decided to switch entirely to teaching online for Marist.  There's a whole story behind that decision, which perhaps I'll tell in a later post -- suffice it to say that one of the main reasons was to afford me greater flexibility and more time to devote to doing more innovative work in Philosophy -- bringing it into practice, and putting it before a broader public.

In early December, I start teaching a new 10-week online course -- World Views and Values.  It's essentially a variation on Intro to Philosophy, but it's one which transfer students have traditionally taken in place of Intro (which has since been renamed "Philosophical Perspectives"!), and it bears a different course description: 
This course will help students to ask basic questions about the ultimate meaning of life, to take a comprehensive and holistic world view, and to articulate a coherent values system. The basic methodology for teaching the course is comparative and socioanalytic. 
So really, a lot of leeway there for doing what one would like with the course.  I decided to put a lot of thought into designing precisely the sort of course I think might be most useful and interesting for the students -- and enjoyable for me to put together and teach.

Nov 12, 2014

A New Critical Thinking Channel!

Last month, near the end of October, after a lot of planning and preparation, we opened the doors (metaphorically) to a new institution -- my second YouTube channel:  Critical Thinking, Logic, and Argumentation.  At present, we've released just eight 10-20 minute videos, all associated into a playlist on the informal fallacies.  But we've (and by that, I mean ReasonIO, consisting of Andi Sciacca and I) got some pretty big plans for the channel.

I picked informal fallacies to start with because they provide a relatively easy, and popular, set of topics. It's materials I've been teaching about for over a decade, and you can find discussions of these common failures in argumentation not only in Critical Thinking textbooks and classes, but in an entire range of disciplines -- Communication, English, Political Science, Civics, just to name a few.  So, focusing on them seemed like a great way to start the channel off -- provide something that students, lifelong learners, and even instructors might be able to make immediate use of.

Oct 26, 2014

The "Glimpses into Existence" Series So Far

Last night, I wrote a short post about a Simone de Beauvoir talk in one of my other more specialized blogs, Sadler's Existentialism Updates (SEU) -- an electronic forum originally intended for me to set down ideas about the online course on Existentialist Philosophy and Literature which I was (and admittedly still am) developing.  There's an interesting story to be told about that, of course, but it's already available over there on SEU, so no sense reposting it here -- at least not until I've actually got a course up and running.

Instead, I'd like to write a bit about the monthly series of talks on Existentialism -- the recent de Beauvoir talk being the tenth session -- that I've been providing at the Kingston Library this year.  We decided to call the talks "Glimpses into Existence," since each session would introduce a general, library-going (so educated and interested) audience to some of the main works, key ideas, and contributions, as well as the times and cultural setting of one important Existentialist thinker.  Devoting one-and-a-half to two hours of discussions to thinkers like Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Rilke, or Sartre -- well, that really is just a glimpse into their thoughts, writings, and lives.

Oct 16, 2014

Six Senses of Justice in Saint Anselm's Thought.

Last weekend, down in Washington D.C., I read a paper and got involved in some very interesting and provocative discussion on the borderlines between philosophy and theology.  The American Catholic Philosophical Association -- one of my old haunts in an earlier academic life (I'd not been there since 2008) -- includes a great variety of what are called "satellite sessions."  Many of these are in fact meetings of other scholarly organizations and institutions whose membership overlaps partly with the ACPA, and one of those, with which I have a longstanding and particularly close personal connection, is the Institute for Saint Anselm Studies.

This year, the Institute hosted a panel focused specifically on one of Anselm's greatest works, the Cur Deus Homo - or Why God Became Man.  One of the issues about which I've been thinking for quite some time, and particularly in light of St. Anselm's thought and writings, is the relationship between divine mercy and justice.  So, when the opportunity presented itself to become the third interlocutor on the panel, I gladly put myself forward, and the Institute accepted.  The paper that I presented -- which is still in rather unpolished state (I'll post it once I've added the requisite footnotes and transitions) -- was titled "Is God's Justice Unmerciful in St. Anselm's Cur Deus Homo?"  You can listen to the paper, my responses to questions and comments, and the general discussion (after all three papers had been read) in this podcast, if you like.  What I'd like to do here is to take up a related topic that I inserted into a footnote of the paper and touched upon in the Q&A -- the differing senses of "justice" in Anselm's thought.

Sep 29, 2014

Musings About Platonic Virtues and Forms

Last week, I traveled down to Felician College in northern New Jersey to give a talk, or more specifically, a current research workshop session, hosted by the Felician Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs -- "Just What is A Platonic Virtue?" (video of the talk and discussion is available here)

This is a topic about which I've been thinking for quite some time, and intending eventually to write an article, so given an opportunity to present my current reflections on the topic to an audience of interested philosophy majors and professional colleagues -- the latter of whom I could count on to know Plato's texts and key ideas well -- I was very happy to come down, lay out the problematic as I had come to envision it, and get some useful feedback from my peers.

Sep 3, 2014

The Iron Law of Ochlocracy (part 2)

A bit tongue-in-cheekily, about a week and a half ago, I coined a neologism - the Iron Law of Ocholcracy - to describe a dynamic which contemporary Marxist theorist, Michael Hardt, outlined in his recent talk at European Graduate School.  Hardt was speculating about two main topics, both having to do with a perceived dearth of emergent and identifiable leadership among recent leftist "leaderless movements."

One of these is the question why leaders aren't emerging -- a question that he noted could be answered partly by the abilities of external forces to eliminate or co-opt apparent "leaders", but whose deeper answer he sought in the very workings, ideals, and ideologies of the groups and movements.  Another is whether this constitutes a real problem or not -- is it a bad thing or a good thing, all told, even when taking into account concerns of effectiveness and continuity, to seemingly dispense with leadership and all that it entails?

Aug 26, 2014

SEU: Freedom, Choice, and Success: What Is The Existentialist Stance?

Since I use Orexis Dianoētikē as a nexus knotting together intellectual threads from my other, more specifically focused blogs, I'm doing that in this entry -- calling attention to a 2-part discussion about existentialism, freedom, choice, and the success of the projects and commitments of a person. Here's part 1 and part 2.

We veered off into a discussion about the ways some people connect up radical human freedom (which existentialists do affirm) with personal responsibility for producing one's success or failure (not something existentialists think we have entire control over) during my latest talk, on Franz Kafka, in the Glimpses of Existence monthly lecture series hosted by the Kingston Library. 

My view is that there is a kind of solipsism lurking within the claim that, because a person is free, they can make their destiny or fate simply by willing, desiring, or choosing -- that would be true, were solipsism, the view that one is really the only acting, real person in the world, true.  But, we inhabit a world equally inhabited by others, who are also free -- indeed a world shaped mysteriously (and often frustratingly!) by other people's use of their own radical freedom (which in its turn is conditioned by still others, and others. . . )