• Don Landes

Phil 201 Basic Problems of Philosophy, Concordia University, Winter 2015

Course Taught

Phil 201 Basic Problems of Philosophy, Concordia University

Winter 2015


Expanded Description for this Section:

We tend to associate philosophical reflection with the highest reaches of consciousness, rationality, or the mind, but even a brief look at the history of philosophy will show that bodies too are everywhere. In fact, one can tell a lot about a philosopher by how the body fits into their theory. Not only has the rejection of the body as the “prison of the soul” or the mechanical seat of the mind guided much of philosophical reflection, but also attempts to “embody” the mind, and thus to return the body to an equal or even dominant theoretical place, have been important strategies of critique of or resistance to the tradition. In a cultural moment like ours that is arguably obsessed with the body, it seems all the more urgent to return to this debate and to ask ourselves the question: What can philosophy tell us about what it means to be an embodied subject, not just a body, but a thinking body?

In this Introduction to Philosophy course, we will examine and discuss key texts from the History of Philosophy, beginning with the ancient Greek tradition and concluding with some contemporary philosophical writings, in order to begin to develop a concept of the person in light of human embodiment. In particular, we will consider how the concept of the person has evolved with the concept of the body. What is it to be a person? What is it to be a body? What is the relationship between the body and the mind? What is the relationship between the body of the individual and the body politic? What is it to have rights over one’s body? What does the body mean for ethics? To approach these questions we will draw on thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Foucault, and Cornell West, as well as other readings.

Although I will describe for you a number of the personalities, theories, and concepts that have come to define philosophy, a single semester course is not enough to give a completely “comprehensive” introduction to the history of philosophy. My deeper goal is to teach you how to read philosophy, understand arguments, and become critical and reflective thinkers. “Doing philosophy” is extremely difficult, even for those of us who have been training for years. In this course, I hope to give you the skills to think through difficult questions, to seek the truth while realizing that the truth can be more complicated than it appears at first glance, and to gain a critical distance from which to see the world around you from a new perspective. In addition to our regular reading, throughout the semester I am going to present a series of “workshops” in which I discuss key areas of philosophy. The idea is to introduce you to the types of questions asked, the vocabulary used, and the people to read if these questions interest you. I will connect these areas directly to our general theme: Thinking Bodies.

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