“[I was surprised by] how much I could relate what we were talking about to my life.” — Emily Norum
This course is designed for students who want to engage in lively debate on a philosopher's ideas, closely read primary texts, and investigate how philosophical concepts are present in our experiences today. In the process of delving into key philosophical texts about love, human excellence, and existential freedom, course participants are familiarized with the basic methodology of philosophical enquiry.
We begin by reading and discussing Plato's Symposium and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, their respective treatises on love and moral character (virtue ethics). Students debate questions related to the dialogue on love that Plato develops through the voice and character of Socrates. What is love and what does it mean to be a lover of wisdom—a philosopher? In the Ethics, students discuss the topic of human excellence and seek to answer how humans should best live their lives. In a practical sense, what is the purpose of human life and what is the ultimate goal of human endeavor? Why does Aristotle consider friendship a virtue, an excellence one must pursue if one wants a good life, Eudaemonia?
Having established the classical foundations, we move into the 20th Century and begin a dialogue and exploration of ideas on existential freedom, choice, and responsibility. We begin with readings to explore the ideas of determinism and indeterminism associated with various philosophies of freedom. Specifically, we focus on the foundational works of Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept of existential freedom found in Being and Nothingness and Soren Kierkegaard’s religious freedom from Fear and Trembling, which Donald Palmer introduces in Does the Center Hold? An Introduction to Western Philosophy. This introduction serves as the foundation students need in order to grasp the idea of existential freedom articulated in the essays that make up Albert Camus' seminal work The Myth of Sisyphus. Through this lens students will debate whether it is practical to attempt to live an existential life and how philosophers as diverse as Nietzsche, Camus, and Sartre would define that life.
In addition to the readings, participants will have an opportunity to critique film and other art forms that present interpretations of existential themes.
A. A. Milton studied philosophy in college and holds a master’s degree in organization and leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University, where he was also a teaching assistant for courses on law and educational institutions. With a decade of experience in the classroom, he has had the privilege of teaching Introduction to Western Philosophy, Modern Social and Political Philosophy, American Philosophy and the Pragmatist Tradition, and Philosophy of Food. In addition to his independent school teaching experience, Mr. Milton has taught in the Summer Program for High School Students since 2006. Currently working on a second master’s degree at Columbia, he has plans to complete a doctorate in philosophy and education.