Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

New summer course at MTSU: "A Stroll Through Western Civilization"

Classes begin May 11. To register, contact Dawn McCormack: dawn.mccormack@mtsu.edu

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Syllabus MALA 6030, Summer 2016

Master of Liberal Arts (MALA) 6030 - Topics in Culture and Ideas: 
A Stroll Through Western Civilization
CRN 52896
Summer 2016, MTSU
Wednesdays 5-8 pm
BAS S213

Dr. James P. Oliver, 300 James Union Building... Summer hours by appointment... Phil.Oliver@mtsu.edu... (615) 898-2907 (Phil.Dept.)

Course description: our focus will be on interpreting the western philosophical tradition as an ongoing response to Plato (to whom British philosopher A.N. Whitehead famously said all of western philosophy is a series of footnotes) and Aristotle (whose students were known as Peripatetics, from the Greek word meaning "to walk up and down" while learning). We'll follow their tracks to our own doorstep, noting as we go the growing rosters of "players" on Teams Plato and Aristotle. We'll take note, as well, of those whose thought was substantially conducted "on shanks' mare." 

Course requirements
  • attendance and participation, which we'll track on a "scorecard"* and reward with "runs" whose final tally will contribute to a final grade. (*to be explained in class)
  • short weekly quizzes, worth one base per correct answer (four bases = 1 run)
  • final exam on our last scheduled class date based on the quizzes, worth twenty runs
  • short (250+ word) weekly essays posted to the class blogsite worth a run each
  • a longer (2.500+) final report posted to the class blogsite in two installments, first due before class in Week 12, second due-date tba... worth up to twenty runs... link to your first installment and to comments
  • comments on classmates' final reports

MAIN TEXTS:
  • Arthur Herman, The Cave and the Light: Plato versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization (CL)
  • Frederic Gros, A Philosophy of Walking (PW)
Our classes will mimic the peripatetic approach in an informal way, to whatever extent we collectively decide is appropriate: those of us who are able and eager will occasionally "walk up and down" while discussing our subjects. (Those whose physical mobility is restricted will be accommodated with an alternative classroom assignment.)

“...Socrates describes the world around us as a darkened cavern, across the back of which a puppet show is flashed with the figures of men, animals, and objects cast as shadows. For a modern audience, the description has an eerily familiar ring. It’s the world of television and the media at its most flimsy and superficial." 

We'll be on the lookout for other such contemporary applications of ancient philosophical perspectives.



"Walking is a matter not just of truth, but of reality. To walk is to experience the real. Not reality as pure physical exteriority... but reality as what holds good: the principle of solidity, of resistance. When you walk you prove it with every step: the earth holds good." 

We'll consider this and other ways in which the peripatetic approach to philosophizing may portend specific substantive replies to philosophy's perennial questions.

"To stimulate thinking, to move reflection forward, to deepen inventiveness, the mind needs the help of an active body. 'My thoughts sleep if I sit still," wrote Montaigne. "My fancy does not go so well by itself as when my legs move it.'"

We'll see if our experience echoes Montaigne's.

Our weekly reading-and-discussion assignments. (Preview tables of contents here* and here**.)

1. CL 1-3

2. CL 4-6

3. CL 7-9

4. CL 10-12

5. CL 13-15

6. CL 16-18

7. CL 19-20, PW tba

8. CL 21-22, PW tba

9. CL 23-24, PW tba

10. CL 25-26, PW tba

11. CL 27-28, PW tba

12. CL 29, Conclusion, PW tba

13. Final exam. Runs leader declared, exempt from Installment #2

It promises to be an enlightening, invigorating pilgrimage, beginning May 11. Come on along!

*

**

Thursday, May 5, 2016



My Stroll Thru Western Civilization course, beginning Wednesday, now has a syllabus. Meeting once a week for (up to) three hours, We'll cover the ground in brisk strides of two or three chapters per session. We'll mimic the peripatetic style when we can. Those of us who are able and eager will occasionally "walk up and down" while discussing our subjects.

Our focus will be on interpreting the western philosophical tradition as an ongoing response to Plato (to whom British philosopher A.N. Whitehead famously said all of western philosophy is a series of footnotes) and Aristotle (whose students were known as Peripatetics, from the Greek word meaning "to walk up and down" while learning). We'll follow their tracks to our own doorstep, noting as we go the growing rosters of "players" on Teams Plato and Aristotle. We'll take note, as well, of those whose thought was substantially conducted "on shanks' mare."That's a strange expression, Bruce, "shanks' mare."


That was Ron Strickland's invitation in his "Compendium of Remarkable Walks," and it's mine in MALA 6030 - a course I wouldn't have been able to offer this summer if my Study Abroad course in Britain had drawn just a bit more interest. Counting on better luck (aka "the residue of design" by #42 and his patron) with that next year.

But it is a sweet irony that, as things turn out, I'll stay put in middle Tennessee this summer to undertake a larger stroll than originally envisioned. Globetrotting travel author Pico Iyer appreciates such irony.
I'm a lifelong traveler. Even as a little kid, I was actually working out that it would be cheaper to go to boarding school in England than just to the best school down the road from my parents' house in California... almost inevitably, I became a travel writer so my job and my joy could become one.... [But] one of the first things you learn when you travel is that nowhere is magical unless you can bring the right eyes to it. You take an angry man to the Himalayas, he just starts complaining about the food. And I found that the best way that I could develop more attentive and more appreciative eyes was, oddly, by going nowhere, just by sitting still.
He doesn't necessarily mean literal seated meditation, zazen. He does mean stepping back from the immersive business of constantly going, and increasingly of staring at screens and projecting contrived personae through them. This came up in discussion in our Happiness class Monday, it'll probably come up again as we focus on Buddhist happiness next. We all need to find time for a happy stillness. I find mine, most often, on shanks' mare. The nectar for me (and John McDermott) is still in the journey, most often a journey to no place in particular.

Happy birthday to the melancholy Dane, Kierkegaard. He got around plenty on shanks' mare, and probably only ever achieved a quiet mind while hoofing it around Copenhagen, before dying at 42 (not his lucky number). Wonder how he'd feel about being on screen

"The crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die."
==
Let's introduce ourselves, fellow civilization-strollers. 

I invite you all to hit "comment" and reply with your own introductions, and (bearing in mind that this is an open site) your answers to two basic questions: Who are you? Why are you here? (in this course, on this campus, in this state, on this planet...)
Please read your classmates' intros and post your own, if you wish.

I'm Dr. Oliver, aka (despite my best efforts to discourage it) "Dr. Phil." I live in Nashville with my wife, Younger Daughter, a dog (Angel) and a cat (Zeus). Older Daughter is a film student in another state.

My office is in James Union Building 300, summer hours by appointment... (continues)

Enough about me. Please tell us about yourself.. and if you have any predisposition to favor either Plato or Aristotle. I confess a bias for the Stagirite, myself, insofar as we can assimilate his thought and method to naturalistic empiricism and distinguish it from Plato's mystic rationalism. Which side are you on? Or are you, wisely no doubt, suspending judgment?

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