Great Books: Philosophy and Social Thought

Part 1, Course period: November—December

This course is a survey of the tradition of European political and philosophical thought from Plato to Descartes. It includes a variety of important works from Greek and Roman antiquity, the middle ages, and early modernity. It aims to give students a sense of the historical contingency of ideas, but also of the common concerns that have animated thinkers in different times and places.  It deals with themes of justice, truth, beauty, time, memory, the origins of the cosmos, and the formation of the political order. Students will see how great writers are in conversation with each other across the centuries, and will themselves enter into this conversation through classroom discussion and essay writing.

The aim of this course: To acquaint you with some of the most prominent and frequently read thinkers of the European tradition of political and philosophical thought. The first module covers the Classical and Medieval eras.

Major Themes:

  • Beauty;
  • Civil rights;
  • Equality;
  • Formation of political order;
  • Freedom;
  • Justice
  • Memory
  • Moral and moral imperative;
  • Origin of the cosmos;
  • Revolution;
  • The state;
  • Time;
  • Truth.

Reading Schedule:

Weeks 1-2 – Plato, The Symposium
Weeks 3-4 – Aristotle, De Anima
Weeks 5-6 – Augustine, The Confessions
Weeks 7-8 – Machiavelli, The Prince

Part 2, Course period: February—March

This course is a survey of the tradition of European political and philosophical thought from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to John Stuart Mill. It includes a variety of important works from the social contract tradition, Europen Enlightenment, social and poitical texts, and early feminist works. It aims to give students a sense of the historical contingency of ideas, but also of the common concerns that have animated thinkers in different times and places.  The focus is on short, complete works. Students will see how great writers are in conversation with each other across the centuries, and will themselves enter into this conversation through classroom discussion and essay writing.

The aim of this course: To acquaint you with some of the most prominent and frequently read thinkers of the European tradition of political and philosophical thought. The first module covers the Classical and Medieval eras.

Major Themes

Reading Schedule:

Weeks 1-2 – Descartes, Meditations
Weeks 3-4 – Rousseau, The Social Contract
Weeks 5-6 – Kant, Perpetual Peace; What is Enlightenment?
Weeks 7-8 – Mill, On Liberty

Part 3, Course period: April – May

This course tells a story about the tradition of European political and philosophical thought from Nietzsche to Foucault. It includes a range of important works that respond to changing social and political conditions in the late 19th and the 20th centuries. It aims to give students a sense of the historical contingency of ideas, but also of the common concerns that have animated thinkers in different times and places.  The focus is on short, complete works. Students will see how great writers are in conversation with each other in the modern period and across the centuries, and will themselves enter into this conversation through classroom discussion and essay writing.

The aim of this course: To acquaint you with some of the most prominent and frequently read thinkers of the European tradition of political and philosophical thought.

Reading Schedule:

Week 1 – Marx, The Communist Manifesto
Weeks 2-3 – Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals
Weeks 4-5 – Freud, Civilization and its Discontents
Weeks 6-7 – Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
Week 8 – Foucault, Discipline and Punish