Reintroduction to Writing: On Bullshit
[Johns Hopkins University, University Writing Program. Planned, 1/23/2023-4/21/2032]
In his influential essay “On Bullshit” (2005), Harry Frankfurt writes, “It is just this lack of concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that I regard as the essence of bullshit.” In this first-year writing course, we will use the concept of “bullshit” to explore the use and misuse of language in various contexts—specifically in politics, conversation, and academic writing—and what language reveals about the connections among lying, misrepresentation, truth, objectivity, sincerity, and honesty. We will use this investigation to learn about our own writing and about what can make us better writers. Syllabus available upon request.
Reintroduction to Modern Philosophy
This course offers an overview of philosophical thought in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—a period of philosophy referred to more narrowly as ‘early modern’ but which is more broadly included as part of ‘modern’ European thought.
Unlike many standard courses in modern philosophy, this course is structured around two main concerns: (a) To represent diversity in the modern philosophical tradition: In addition to studying canonical modern thinkers like Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Hume, and Kant, we will look closely at the works of women and minority figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft (pictured above), Elizabeth of Bohemia, Margaret Cavendish, Emilie Du Châtelet, Anne Conway, Anton Wilhelm Amo, and Teresa of Ávila. (b) To read modern thinkers through how they read and engaged each other, or could have done so: We will approach our topic by developing a sense of the philosophical ecology made up by this diverse range of thinkers. Our sessions will be structured around close examinations of actual or hypothetical exchanges between various philosophers under the rubric of key themes in the development of modern philosophy. Syllabus available upon request.
Nature and Blessedness: Spinoza's Ethics
What are the fundamental components of reality? How many are there? Do we freely choose our actions, or are we—like all things—governed by necessity? What is the mind, and how is it related to the body? What motivates our behavior and our desire to exist? What are emotions, and how can we control them? Why should humans help each other? What is the goal of human life, and how do we achieve it? What is the proper method of philosophizing? These are among the questions faced by Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) in the Ethics, one of the most influential texts in modern thought. Our initiation into this text will be framed by a study of Spinoza’s underlying synthesis between his metaphysical thesis of “monism”—the view that there is only one thing, God, and that God is identical with Nature—and his account of the prospects for human blessedness. A further, ongoing aim will be to expose the character of Spinoza’s peculiar “geometrical method” and how it affects the way we read his text. Syllabus available upon request.