Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 3rd Edition

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Course No. 470
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Investigate the original great thinkers Plato and Aristotle, and dive into their views on politics, ethics, and more.
  • numbers Probe the implications of Vico's approaches to how we study the past.
  • numbers Examine the emergence of modern social theory through the ideas of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Weber.
  • numbers Learn how Derrida tried to break free of traditional metaphysics, and contrast this with Platonic thought.

Course Overview

For 3,000 years, mankind has grappled with fundamental questions about life. Crucial questions about our existence and being have been pondered by thoughtful men and women since civilization began. The most brilliant minds in history focused on these questions—and their search for answers has left us an intellectual legacy of unsurpassed depth and richness. Questions like:

  • What is real?
  • What should be the purpose of my life, and how should I lead it?
  • Who or what is God?
  • How can there be freedom in a world determined by causal laws?
  • When is it legitimate for one person to have power over others?
  • What is justice? Beauty?
The Intellectual Adventure of a Lifetime

Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition is a comprehensive survey of the history of Western philosophy from its origins in classical Greece to the present. The course is an 84-lecture, 12-professor tour of Western philosophical tradition and covers more than 60 of history's greatest minds.

This panoramic course is carefully designed and taught. Each lecture is given by a university scholar who is not only an expert in the topic but a gifted teacher, with classroom talents certified by teaching awards and top rankings from students.

It took 3,000 years for the debate chronicled in these lectures to reach maturity. With this course, you can encompass it by the end of next month.

Two Cities and the World They Created

The Western tradition is a blend of two outlooks that are characteristic of the ancient cities that generated them: Athens and Jerusalem.

Western monotheism and its philosophical entailments—faith as an alternative to reason, mystic ecstasy, dogmatic scripturalism, and the assumed equality of all souls in the sight of God—ultimately derive from Jerusalem.

Athens is the city of inquiry, hubris, and emancipation. The rationalism of Western culture, with its unprecedented control over nature, is a perennial element in Western philosophy, and it originates in Greece.

Jerusalem supplies the mythos of the West and its holy text; Athens supplies the critical and self-critical spirit, which animates the Promethean and perhaps Faustian history of Western thought.

In this course, you see the synthesis and tension between these two traditions over hundreds of years.

Two Sets of Issues—Three Millennia of Debate

Philosophy in the West has centered on two basic sets of issues.

One: What is the world and what can we truly know about it (metaphysics and epistemology)?

Two: How should we live (ethics, social and political theory, and existentialism)?

You learn how different thinkers address these issues in dramatically different ways. Yet you also see that this variation is not random; entire philosophical epochs can be defined by shared approaches to these basic questions, despite a plethora of different solutions.

The course is in seven parts. Each part covers a specific period in the history of philosophy. Each of the seven parts begins with an introductory lecture to orient you to the period and the philosophers and ideas you study in that part.

PART I: Classical Origins (Lectures 1 to 12)

Part I introduces the entire series and the enduring problems of philosophy.

These lectures acquaint you with the Greek Pre-Socratics (the world's first scientific thinkers) and the Sophists (traveling teachers of rhetoric most widely seen through the works of their leading enemy).

You then examine in detail the insights of three towering figures: Socrates, his student Plato, and Plato's student, Aristotle. Much of the rest of philosophy and Western thought is a response to these three.

You study the Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics of the late Hellenistic and Roman worlds, as well as the Greek commentator Polybius and the Roman statesman-philosopher Cicero.

This first part of the series is truly foundational. It furnishes you with a solid ground on which you can build up and extend your own understanding of the developments that occur over millennia of philosophic debate. The aim of this course is to show these developments to you as passages in a narrative that records much disagreement but that contains substantial coherence beneath its contending voices.

PART II: The Christian Age (Lectures 13 to 24)

In the introductory lecture to Part II, you learn how we still stand on and are moved by the Greek and biblical traditions, often not something of which we are fully conscious.

This meeting of Athens and Jerusalem is exemplified first by the influence of the neo-Platonist philosopher Plotinus on Saint Augustine. The symbiosis of Athens and Jerusalem continues during the High Middle Ages with Saint Thomas Aquinas's synthesis of Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology and then branches off into different directions represented by the mysticism of Meister Eckhart and the Protestantism of Martin Luther and John Calvin.

PART III: From the Renaissance to the Age of Reason (Lectures 25 to 36)

Part III marks the critical schism that developed between the claims of faith and those of science. You begin with the bold work of Machiavelli, who opened up new ways of thinking about moral and political life. This is contrasted to the work of statesman-saint Sir Thomas More and his Utopia.

You examine the foundations of scientific thought in the work of Galileo, Sir Francis Bacon, and René Descartes.

You return from science to political life, specifically the era of the English Civil War and its echoes in the absolutist political thought of Thomas Hobbes, who championed a coldly scientific view of human nature.

You study the detached reverence toward being of Baruch Spinoza, the mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, and the skepticism of the influential Pierre Bayle.

The concluding lecture is a summation of the career and significance of Isaac Newton, whose pathbreaking Principia Mathematica gave the new science authoritative expression.

PART IV: The Enlightenment and Its Critics (Lectures 37 to 48)

Part IV covers the 17th and 18th centuries, capturing the sense of breathless discovery found in the Enlightenment, which reveled in the new freedom of human potential and scientific expansion. This was also when the new bourgeoisie found its voice in a demand for free markets, free speech, and more political power.

This period marks the intellectual flowering that led to the American Revolution.

This segment of the course, like the others, stresses the inevitable linkage between a thinker's theory of knowledge and theory of morality: what we can know determines what we can know to be the right way to act. The lectures on John Locke and David Hume develop this point with special cogency. Others covered here include Vico, Mandeville, Bishop Berkeley, and Adam Smith.

The Enlightenment stirred critics who feared its larger moral, spiritual, and political effects. Of these doubters, Jean-Jacques Rousseau was among the most influential, making him a fitting subject for the compelling lecture that concludes this segment.

PART V: The Age of Ideology (Lectures 49 to 60)

Part V continues to explore the meaning of the scientific revolution in our understanding of ourselves and the many problems that it raises.

Is science the only source of true knowledge? If we have no control over our actions because causal laws determine them, then what is left of freedom? Choice? Right and wrong?

You study philosophers asking how far the scientific method might be applied. Immanuel Kant responds to the challenges raised by the new scientific consciousness in the metaphysical and the moral arenas.

You study Edmund Burke, the Anglo-Irish philosopher-statesman whose eloquent critiques of the French Revolution made him an architect of modern conservatism, as well as the giant of the liberal tradition, John Stuart Mill.

Lectures follow on G. W. F. Hegel's philosophy of history, and Karl Marx's appropriation of a materialist version of Hegelianism as part of his effort to develop scientific laws of progress potent enough to overcome all human alienation.

Because causal determinism undermines the possibility of freedom, choice, and virtue, this is a period of spiritual turmoil as well as of material advance.

The final four lectures, on Søren Kierkegaard, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Nietzsche, discuss three brilliant exponents of this period's striving toward a new ground for the human self and its aspirations.

PART VI: Modernism and the Age of Analysis (Lectures 61 to 72)

Part VI introduces you to the philosophical struggles of our own day.

Psychologists William James and Sigmund Freud still affect us. James's philosophy of pragmatism seems characteristically American, yet bears a striking resemblance to many of Nietzsche's ideas. Freud applied the tools of science to the philosopher's sanctum sanctorum—the mind itself.

Different 20th-century attempts to claim a new ground for the understanding of self and society are explored. You study the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl, the existentialism of Martin Heidegger, and the Frankfurt School's efforts to use the ideas of Marx and Freud as a basis for rational moral and political engagement, the structuralism of the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.

You conclude Part VI by studying Max Weber's sociology, the ideas of A. J. Ayer, and the giant of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

PART VII: The Crisis of Modernity (Lectures 73 to 84)

Part VII covers the work of late 20th-century philosophers and theorists, beginning with Friedrich Hayek's critique of the idea of central authority.

You examine Karl Popper's argument that scientific hypotheses must remain "falsifiable," and the related but distinct imperative for whole societies to remain "open."

You then analyze Thomas Kuhn's contribution in showing how scientific knowledge works in "the real world."

You see how the communication-based theories of Jurgen Habermas open up a new dimension in our understanding of the human world.

You study Alvin Gouldner's ironic class-based critique of Marxism.

Postmodernism and the work of the French philosopher and literary theorist Jacques Derrida—a much-discussed ideology of our own day—is explored sympathetically yet critically.

You conclude the series by studying the work of several widely influential American philosophers—Willard Quine, Richard Rorty, John Rawls, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Robert Nozick.

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84 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Philosophy can be described as a historical discipline subject to change over time. The pre-Socratic epoch represents the birth of Western philosophical speculation in the greater Greek diaspora. Classical Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle drew on the pre-Socratic traditions, as well as on one another's teachings, to construct the first full-blown philosophical systems. The Hellenic and Roman worlds inherited these classical doctrines and incorporated them into their own philosophic perspectives. x
  • 2
    The Pre-Socratics—Physics and Metaphysics
    In this lecture, we witness the birth of philosophy in the speculations and systems of the pre-Socratics. We explore how these philosophical forerunners shifted the focus of learned thought from religious questions of "who" and "why" to scientific questions of "what" and "how" and started a dialogue that continues to this day. Milesian physicists and Pythagoreans attempt to locate the primal origin of all things. Heraclitus and the Eleatics argue, respectively, that the true nature of reality is endless change (pluralism) or unchanging being (monism). x
  • 3
    The Sophists and Social Science
    This lecture discusses the impact of the Sophists on public policy and private morality in 4th century B.C.E. Some see Sophistic analysis of conventional law based on premises about nature as a forerunner to political science. This lecture considers Sophist attitudes about power, morality, and religion, and concludes with a case study: the Melian dialogue, a famous passage from Thucydides, the Sophist-influenced 5th-century historian whose book on the Peloponnesian War is hailed as the first work of social science. x
  • 4
    Plato is the most influential philosopher in the West mostly because he invented what came to be called metaphysics, the study of true being. He aligns himself with Socrates, who drew people into critical dialogue on issues such as "What is virtue?" The Platonic theory of forms is the basis for Plato's picture of the ascent of the soul to a vision of the world above. x
  • 5
    This lecture begins with the question that Plato poses throughout The Republic: What is the meaning of justice? Socrates asserts that for a just society or Republic to be attained, reforms or "waves" of social and political change must first occur. Plato's theories of justice, power, and leadership are expressed in his "Allegory of the Cave." This vision asserts that the just state or polis cannot emerge until philosophers rule and, thus, political power is wielded wisely. x
  • 6
    Connected with the metaphysical notion of a deep truth about being is the psychological notion of a deep truth about ourselves. In the Phaedo, he argued that the soul is immortal because it is akin to the forms and will return to be with them if it is pure when it separates from the body at death. Thus, Plato is the source of the "otherworldly" spirituality that is so important in the Western tradition. x
  • 7
    Aristotle, the second most influential philosopher after Plato, was also Plato's student. Aristotle modified Plato's notion of form to create a science of nature or physics. His key idea was to explain the nature of change by reference to four types of causes: form, matter, goal, and cause of motion. x
  • 8
    The most significant critique of Plato's Republic comes from Aristotle, who focused his criticisms on the three great reforms, or "waves" of change, discussed in Lecture 5. Aristotle argued against the desirability of the proposed reforms with the logic characteristic of his philosophy of moderation. x
  • 9
    Aristotle's ethics are an attempt to discover: "What is the good or ultimate goal of human life?" His answer is that happiness is the life lived by a certain person: the virtuous person. Virtue is to the soul as good health is to the body. Among the human excellences Aristotle discusses are the four cardinal virtues: courage, temperance, justice, and practical wisdom. x
  • 10
    Stoicism and Epicureanism
    Two philosophical traditions emerged from the legacy of Plato and Aristotle in a time of cultural, political, and military change. Epicureanism was the more elite of the two; Stoicism was more readily adaptable to the needs of ordinary people and to traditional Roman values. We encounter Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, and four later Roman Stoics: among them the philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius, who ruled with resolute virtue as emperor for 14 difficult years. x
  • 11
    Roman Eclecticism—Cicero and Polybius
    This lecture addresses the distinctive Roman style of philosophizing: the combination of several schools' traditions into a new blend. The most successful synthesizer and the most influential Roman thinker was Cicero, evident in his ethical and his political thought. Until the 20th century, Cicero's influence was never eclipsed by any other Roman—and perhaps by any Greek—philosopher. x
  • 12
    Roman Skepticism—Sextus Empiricus
    This lecture discusses Skepticism, a tradition, like Epicureanism and Stoicism, that arose in Greece in the 4th century B.C.E., spread throughout the Hellenistic world, and survived to influence post-Renaissance Western thought. In the modern lexicon of thoughtful terminology, it is very good to be empirical in method, skeptical in mental reflex. x
  • 13
    Two major strands of the Western tradition are from the classical Greek and Roman world of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero and from the Biblical world of Moses and Jesus. They blended in the writings of Church Fathers such as Augustine, and in the medieval period was a flowering of their synthesis. Scholastics such as St. Thomas Aquinas, and mystics such as Johannes Eckhart, were heirs of this union of Athens and Jerusalem. Modernity represented a fundamentally new relation to both these sources of Western thought. x
  • 14
    Job and the Problem of Suffering
    There is nothing like the Book of Job; it is one of the greatest poems ever written. A good man who suffers incomprehensibly pours out his heart to God, but afraid to complain; wishing for death, yet longing to bring his case before God; and increasingly impatient with friends who offer him "good advice" that misses the point. If you expect God to answer or explain, you will be disappointed. Oddly, Job does not seem disappointed. This book is about a very unusual relationship, one that the biblical people of Israel understood well because they lived it. x
  • 15
    The Hebrew Bible and Covenantal History
    The Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament, can be read as the story of a relationship between two main characters: God and his people Israel. The relationship is defined by a covenant that binds them. Throughout the text, the covenant relationship is threatened by Israel's disobedience and God's punishment: exile and destruction of the Temple. Yet the relationship is never broken, and there is always the expectation of a restored peace. x
  • 16
    The Synoptic Gospels—The Historical Jesus and the Kingdom of God
    In the New Testament, the synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) are key sources for research on "the historical Jesus." Scholars disagree on what the historical Jesus was like, but nearly all agree that the proclamation of something called "the kingdom of God" was central to his work, along with the telling of parables and "miraculous" healings. Most scholars would say the key to who Jesus was, and who he thought he was, is to understand what he meant by "the kingdom of God." x
  • 17
    Paul—Justification by Faith
    Paul, author of the earliest writings in the New Testament, is called the "apostle to the Gentiles" because his mission was to preach about Christ to non-Jews. He formulated a doctrine of justification in terms of a contrast between living "under the Law" as Jews did, and living under grace as believers in Christ did. This formulation affected Western Christian thought from Augustine onward where the key issue was the status of the individual soul before God. x
  • 18
    Plotinus and Neo-Platonism
    Plotinus was the last great philosopher of pagan antiquity, a systematizer of the heritage of Plato, founder of Neo-Platonism, and theorist of a form of otherworldly spirituality that was profoundly influential in the Western Christian tradition through Augustine. Most influential of all, he sketched a spiritual ascent of the soul's turning inward to discover unity not only with the one Soul and the divine Mind, but with the One itself. x
  • 19
    Augustine—Grace and Free Will
    Augustine was a Church Father, a Christian thinker who helped formulate the basic doctrines of ancient Christianity. He formulated a Christian Platonist spirituality that was immensely influential for the Western tradition. But Augustine's doctrine of grace includes a frightening implication that God chooses in advance to give his help and delight to some but not all—raising troubling questions about predestination. x
  • 20
    Aquinas and Christian Aristotelianism
    This lecture discusses how Thomas Aquinas adapted Aristotelian thought and philosophical method to the needs of the Christian philosophy and theology of his time. It presents six aspects of the Aristotelian legacy that Aquinas integrated into his system: logic, epistemology, teleology, motion, politics, and legal thinking. An understanding of Thomas's social background and institutional context—the Dominican Order and the discourse of the university—helps us grasp Aquinas's significance for his time and ours. x
  • 21
    Universals in Medieval Thought
    This lecture discusses the vexing problem of "universals"—the relationships of names to things, and of both names and things to standard categories of the Western analysis of phenomena (individual, species, genus) as explored and temporarily resolved in medieval Western thought. Since the 14th century, major thinkers have tended to fall into the realist, the nominalist, or the conceptualist camp. x
  • 22
    Mysticism and Meister Eckhart
    A coherent tradition of mystical thought in the Christian Middle Ages can be described in terms taken from the Bible, Augustine, and the Eastern Christian neoplatonist known to the West as Denys. Augustine sought an intellectual vision of God, but the medieval tradition wanted to go beyond vision to "ecstasy" or "the darkness above the light" or "passing into God." Meister Eckhart in the 14th century reintroduced the Plotinian theme of a deep inner unity between God and the soul that is higher than intellectual vision as well as the ultimate reality in the depth of the soul. x
  • 23
    Luther—Law and Gospel
    Using concepts taken from Paul and Augustine, Martin Luther taught that we are justified by faith alone; we can receive the grace of God only by believing the Gospel of Christ and not by doing good works. Luther started a debate among local scholars that blew up into a huge controversy involving the pope. He concluded that the pope wanted to take the Gospel away from Christians; the break between the Roman Catholic Church and those who saw things Luther's way was inevitable. x
  • 24
    Calvin and Protestantism
    John Calvin wrote a compendium of theology that made his Reformed variety of Protestantism more exportable than Lutheranism and spawned familiar forms of Protestantism such as Presbyterianism. He departed from both Luther and the Catholics by teaching that justification happens only once in life, part of Calvin's doctrine of predestination. x
  • 25
    From the close of the 15th to the end of the 17th century, Latin Christendom was transformed. Philosophically, the epoch is opened by the age of the Renaissance, a rebirth of classical learning and art. The 17th-century Age of Reason was characterized by a rejection of authorities and an awareness of tensions between rational philosophic speculation and traditional religious beliefs. The seminal work of Sir Isaac Newton brings the Age of Reason to a close and marks the onset of the Age of Enlightenment. x
  • 26
    Machiavelli and the Origins of Political Science
    As a work of political realism, Machiavelli's The Prince marked a sharp departure from the classical idealist tradition associated with Plato. This lecture will explain Machiavelli's purposes in writing The Prince and outline his practical advice for gaining and keeping political power. x
  • 27
    More's Utopianism
    Thomas More's Utopia is a Christian-humanist view of an ideal society. This lecture will review the features and significance of More's ideal system, highlighting its similarities to, and divergences from, Plato's Republic. x
  • 28
    Erasmus Against Enthusiasm
    This lecture examines the commitment of the Christian humanist Erasmus to oppose excessive enthusiasm in any religious or intellectual matter. Generally rejected by most parties to the ferocious religious controversies of the next century and more, Erasmus has emerged again as a compelling voice of reasoned culture. x
  • 29
    Galileo and the New Astronomy
    Galileo Galilei promoted the theory of heliocentric astronomy and a quantitative rather than qualitative view of nature. His demanding methodology in the sciences and his struggle against Aristotelians who controlled offices of censorship and philosophical conformity in the church became emblems of the attempt at a free natural philosophy. x
  • 30
    Bacon's New Organon and the New Science
    Francis Bacon, politician and philosopher, undertook to criticize the Western intellectual inheritance and transform the human quest for knowledge. His work The New Organon argued that an inductive, experimental science would yield a new knowledge that would be dynamic, cumulative, and useful. x
  • 31
    Descartes—The Method of Modern Philosophy
    Rene Descartes sought to demonstrate that we could establish a criterion of truth and, with it, know with certainty the real nature and the real causes of things. His thinking challenged Scholasticism at its core and altered the nature and problems of Western philosophy and science. It bequeathed a categorical dualism: the world divided into mind or body, mental, or physical domains. x
  • 32
    Hobbes—Politics and the State of Nature
    Thomas Hobbes asserted that people are ruled not by reason but by passions, especially the desire for power and the fear of death. The remedy for this natural inclination to violent, aggressive behavior is to establish a powerful state called the Leviathan that would be ruled by an absolute sovereign who would guarantee the peace and protection of each subject. x
  • 33
    Spinoza—Rationalism and the Reverence for Being
    One of the most brilliant and challenging thinkers in the Western philosophical tradition was Baruch Spinoza. His principal work, The Ethics, offers a brilliant expression of his metaphysical monism. Spinoza asserts that nature is not the creation of a supernatural God; rather, he identifies nature as God. x
  • 34
    Pascal—Skepticism and Jansenism
    Blaise Pascal was a member of the Jansenist movement, which argued for the need for salvation by faith alone, a state achievable only by God's grace. Pascal's Pensees became one of the publishing sensations of the 17th century. It stressed the misery and absurdity of man and human life without God, the insufficiency of intellectual knowledge of God, and the role of grace and the heart in faith. x
  • 35
    Bayle—Skepticism and Calvinism
    Pierre Bayle was one of the most influential authors of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The arrogance of reason and the avoidance of a simple, peaceful faith, Bayle believes, lead to superstition, intolerance, and cruelty. The irony of Bayle's work is that he was increasingly read as irreligious because his fideism confronted a learned world that was ever more naturalistic and committed to reason. x
  • 36
    Newton and Enlightened Science
    Shortly after receiving his bachelor's degree at Cambridge, Isaac Newton, in one stretch of 18 months, formulated the law of gravity, laid the foundations of modern physics in his laws of motion, transformed the entire science of optics, and created the calculus. Newton also believed that natural philosophy proved God from the order and contingency of the world. The Newtonian synthesis gave to the culture a great confidence in inductive science. x
  • 37
    The generation of readers and authors from 1680 to 1715 was one of the most revolutionary in European history because of its fundamental change in attitudes toward knowledge and nature. This generation increasingly believed induction from data, not deduction from inherited premises, to be the path of truth, and it made the systematic inquiry into experience the heart of natural philosophy. x
  • 38
    Among all the European political theorists, John Locke most influenced early American ideas about government. Locke envisaged a social contract among reasonable men, in the state of nature, to legitimize a moderate government ruled not by an authoritarian sovereign, but by a majority of propertied citizens. x
  • 39
    Locke—The Revolution in Knowledge
    John Locke's influence on the late 17th and the entire 18th century can scarcely be overestimated because he changed the culture's sense of the nature and limits of knowledge. The implications of his thinking are dramatic: We learn our ethical ideas from experience, and we are products of our environment, which, if changed, would change the kinds of human beings it produces. x
  • 40
    Vico and the New Science of History
    Giambattista Vico's philosophy of history had an immense influence on 19th- and 20th-century thought. Vico replaced the premise of Cartesian epistemology with his own principle of verum factum, which states that we know the truth about matters that we have cognitively constructed. Vico's work has interesting implications for the study of the past, and yet, he uses modern scientific methods to demonstrate the potential dangers of using those methods. x
  • 41
    Montesquieu and Political Thought
    Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu's contribution to Enlightenment political thought was his effort to systematize an understanding, through natural inquiry, of the order and the instabilities of human political and social forms. His perspective and his moral agenda had a deep influence on the American Revolution. x
  • 42
    The Worldly Philosophy of Bernard Mandeville
    Bernard Mandeville's career and thought exemplify central themes of the Enlightenment. His most famous work, The Fable of the Bees, presented his central paradox in moral theory, namely that private vices make public benefits. Mandeville's rigorism and focus on consequences revealed the tensions between Judeo-Christian and classical virtues versus modern commercial and secular society. x
  • 43
    Bishop Berkeley—Idealism and Critique of the Enlightenment
    George Berkeley's most important philosophical work, "A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge," established his reputation as an empiricist alongside Locke and Hume. His subjectivist idealism was cogently stated as: esse est percipi: "To exist is to be perceived." x
  • 44
    Hume's Epistemology
    This lecture examines the empiricist philosophy of David Hume, who, along with Locke and Berkeley, held that all our mental representations arise from sense experience. We will examine aspects of Hume's epistemology and his efforts to reconcile necessity with liberty. x
  • 45
    Hume's Theory of Morality
    Just as Hume located the origins of causation in the constant conjunction of sensed phenomena, he located the origin of our moral judgments in their constant conjunction with a sentiment of approbation or disapprobation. Hume assesses the morality of behavior in terms of its consequences, especially in terms of its advancement of social utility. x
  • 46
    Hume's Natural Religion
    With Hume, we see a growing skepticism about the relationship of natural philosophy and religious belief, a skepticism that explains in part the increasing tendency of intellectuals to turn away from problems of theology to problems of secular society. x
  • 47
    Adam Smith and the Origins of Political Economy
    This lecture explains the ideas and significance of Adam Smith's views, in his Wealth of Nations, about division of labor. We will also examine Smith's social philosophy, which suggests that a market-based society allows social cooperation to take place as an unintended consequence of individuals' pursuits of economic self-interests. x
  • 48
    Rousseau's Dissent
    The ideas of Jean-Jacque Rousseau shared much with Enlightenment thought—above all, his Lockeanism, his deism, and his commitment to religious tolerance. However, for Rousseau, cultural "progress" invariably led to moral decadence, creating artificial needs and artificial inequalities. The problem, then, is to recognize the depredations of artificial social life and to seek to redeem those to the greatest extent possible. The legacy of Rousseauist themes is influential and profound, extending to counterculture movements of a "return to nature." x
  • 49
    The first phase of 19th-century European high culture is associated with Romanticism. Romantics rejected the arid rationalism and scientism of the Enlightenment. A reaction against Romanticism, known as positivism, had set in by mid-century. The final phase of 19th-century thought witnessed the rise of Existential themes and issues. x
  • 50
    Kant's "Copernican Revolution"
    This lecture examines the views of Immanuel Kant on the limits of knowledge, reason, science, and metaphysics, as expressed in his seminal work, The Critique of Pure Reason. Kant's "Copernican Revolution" in philosophy inverted the order of knowledge as Copernicus had inverted the positions of the Sun and Earth. x
  • 51
    Kant's Moral Theory
    This lecture examines Kant's views about morality and value. We examine Kant's derivation of his famous categorical imperative: "Act only by that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law." We will also consider the meaning and significance of alternative formulations of the categorical imperative, including Kant's "principle of humanity." x
  • 52
    Burke—The Origins of Conservatism
    In this lecture, we examine elements in Edmund Burke's argument against the French Revolution. We will also explore how his support for the American Revolution can be squared with his denunciation of the French Revolution. This, in turn, leads us to conclude with the difficult problem of the overall character of Burke's views. x
  • 53
    Hegel—History and Historicism
    For Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, history represents the necessary and rational unfolding of absolute Spirit becoming conscious of itself and discovering its own nature. Hegel's historicism—the notion that the artistic products and accepted truths of a given era are relative to that era—profoundly influenced Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida. x
  • 54
    Marx—Historical Materialism
    Karl Marx's historical materialism is an attempt to answer Hegel's idealist explanation of history in purely naturalistic or scientific terms. Marx's historical materialism posits two fundamental entities: actual historical persons and the forces of production. For Marx, real history begins only when technology has solved the problem of production. x
  • 55
    Marx—On Alienation
    The hallmark of Marx's idea of alienation is his theory of work, especially of alienated labor in the capitalist system. Marx blames this economic system for the dissatisfaction that many people find in their work. Marx contends that such unhappiness is unnecessary and demands that it be changed so that we may experience fulfillment in our various forms of work. x
  • 56
    Mill's Utilitarianism
    John Stuart Mill was a thoroughgoing empiricist in the footsteps of Hume. In moral philosophy, he has become the classic defender of one of the main theories of ethics, which is known as utilitarianism. x
  • 57
    Kierkegaard and the Leap of Faith
    Sören Kierkegaard is the Danish Christian philosopher who became the founding figure of Existentialism by thinking in a new way about how faith is possible in Christendom, in the era we now call Victorian. x
  • 58
    Schopenhauer—The World as Will and Idea
    Arthur Schopenhauer is most notorious for his philosophical pessimism, but he was one of the most ingenious and influential thinkers of the 19th century. The core of his theory is that reality is known to us as Will, which is full of self-conflict, so the world is not a harmonious place and human life has no hope of satisfaction. Only aesthetic experience and sainthood promise some escape from the torment of life's sufferings. x
  • 59
    Nietzsche—Perspectivism and the Will to Power
    This lecture will focus on Friedrich Nietzsche's so-called perspectivism: the view that there is no metaphysical "thing-in-itself" and, therefore, no singular truth or truths about the world. Nevertheless, Nietzsche does present what would seem to be a singular thesis about the world, the "Will to Power." The point of the lecture is to clarify both of these central theses. x
  • 60
    Nietzsche—The Death of God, Morality, and Self-Creation
    This lecture concerns Nietzsche's infamous attack on Judeo-Christian religion and morality and the project of self-creation with which he seeks to replace them. Again, we see an apparent contradiction or tension in Nietzsche's thought. He is, on the one hand, very much a naturalist. He does not believe in free will. And he believes that each of us is largely determined by our biology. x
  • 61
    The first half of the 20th century has been aptly described as an "age of extremes." The Western industrialized nations underwent dramatic changes and traumatic crises. In this context of tumult and change, philosophers sought to reconceptualize the role and function of their discipline. The result was the development of three competing conceptions of philosophic practice: philosophy as regulative, philosophy as therapeutic, and philosophy as edification. x
  • 62
    James's Pragmatism
    Influenced by the work of Charles Sanders Peirce, William James created a theory of pragmatism, which held that the meaning of any idea can be found only in experience. James melded Nietzschean perspectivalism with the American thought of Emerson. James's project was a philosophical "Protestant reformation," with the individual rebelling against the authority of accepted truths and absolutes. The world is not fixed, James argued, but is constantly remade by us. Therefore, independent analysis of the world from a priori assumptions is impossible. x
  • 63
    Freud's Psychology of Human Nature
    Sigmund Freud's immensely influential theory rests squarely on his analysis of human nature. We seek to cope with inner turmoil through sublimation of our instincts, but as he says, our coping mechanisms are inadequate, and unhappiness is much easier to attain than happiness. Freud's conclusions are unquestionably pessimistic and powerfully expressed in his classic text, Civilization and Its Discontents. x
  • 64
    Freud's Discontents
    According to Marx and Freud, we are suffering from a common malady termed "the alienated split self." They say we can confront the problem of alienation constructively by raising our consciousness. Freud, in particular, perceives society as the collective expression of individual aggression. x
  • 65
    A.J. Ayer and Logical Positivism
    A. J. Ayer was one of the leading logical positivists. In Language, Truth, and Logic, he argued that philosophy should abandon the study of metaphysics and take up a detailed analysis of language. He argues that assertions that cannot be verified in empirical experience are "nonsense." Philosophy was to be the handmaiden of science, and the job of the philosopher would be to explain the meaning of scientific terms and logic. x
  • 66
    Max Weber and Legitimate Authority
    Max Weber is thought to be the founder of modern sociology. He studied power relations in societies as part of his effort to "demystify the world." His greatest insights were into the varieties of authority, and he offered a profound diagnosis of the ways power is legitimated and administered in modern bureaucratic societies. x
  • 67
    Husserl and Phenomenology
    This lecture focuses on Husserlian phenomenology as a response to positivism and historicism. Edmund Husserl was opposed to relativism, skepticism, historicism, and positivism because they attempted to explain mind in terms of nature rather than nature by way of consciousness. x
  • 68
    Dewey's Critique of Traditional Philosophy
    John Dewey's version of pragmatism represented the American values of democracy, progressivism, and optimism. Dewey was skeptical of truth, believing that what we call "truth" is simply what works best for us at the time. Man's moral ends are not eternal truths but are formed through customs and habits that change over time. x
  • 69
    Heidegger—Dasein and Existenz
    This lecture focuses on Martin Heidegger's early philosophy in Being and Time; his focus was on our place in the world, what he called Dasein, or simply, "being-there." From this seemingly simple starting point, Heidegger weaves a refreshing new way of thinking about knowledge, of ourselves, and our place in the world. x
  • 70
    Wittgenstein and Language Analysis
    Ludwig Wittgenstein claimed that traditional metaphysics was flawed because it was based on mistakes in the use of language. The solution was to focus on those uses of language that cause confusion, using philosophy as a therapy against, in his own words, "the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language." x
  • 71
    The Frankfurt School
    Members of the Frankfurt School developed provocative and original perspectives on contemporary society and culture, including analyses of Fascism and the high-tech and consumer society that exists now. Drawing on Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Weber, the Frankfurt School synthesized philosophy and social theory to develop a critical theory of contemporary society. x
  • 72
    Structuralism—Saussure and Lévi-Strauss
    In this lecture, we consider the modern school of structuralism, an interdisciplinary approach to all branches of human knowledge that rejects all ontological and epistemological sources of meaning in favor of an antimetaphysical approach. This approach posits that all humanistic pursuits are the products of deep structures that predate human consciousness. x
  • 73
    Philosophy in the latter half of the 20th century was written in the context of accelerating and often disturbing changes in Western society, politics, and culture. Philosophers focused on two critical features of modernity, both inherited from the Enlightenment. One issue focused on modern political theory and practice, the other on the ideal of objective scientific rationality and progress. x
  • 74
    Hayek and the Critique of Central Planning
    Hayek was an economist and political philosopher. He is also well known for his critique of the ideal of "social justice." We will explore this and some of Hayek's other key ideas in social philosophy, including his interpretation of the rule of law, and conclude by discussing some continuing lessons that his ideas offer for societies such as our own. x
  • 75
    Popper—The Open Society and the Philosophy of Science
    Karl Popper wrote extensively on scientific issues and the history of ideas and was the author of The Open Society and Its Enemies, an impressive work in political philosophy. In this lecture, we will explore Popper's ideas about knowledge and politics and their connections. x
  • 76
    Kuhn's Paradigm Paradigm
    In this lecture, we will look at Thomas Kuhn's views, his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and his controversial ideas about the character of science. We will examine how he was led to refine his idea of a "paradigm" in light of criticism that he had used the term too loosely. Finally, we will look at the research to which Kuhn's ideas have led. x
  • 77
    Quine—Ontological Relativism
    Willard Van Orman Quine made major contributions to ontology, epistemology, and mathematical logic. His philosophy came at a time when logical positivism suffered setbacks in its attempts to reduce mathematics to logic. He attacked positivism's attempt to create a foundational first philosophy that would establish the meaning of language. x
  • 78
    Habermas—Critical Theory and Communicative Action
    Jürgen Habermas first major book on the origins, genesis, and decline of the public sphere showed how democracy was made possible by the rise of newspapers, literary journals, and public spaces where ideas critical of the existing order could be discussed and debated. Habermas made many contributions to philosophy and social theory and is today one of the most highly respected thinkers of our time. x
  • 79
    Rawls's Theory of Justice
    John Rawls's A Theory of Justice draws on the theories of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau to argue that the best society would be founded on principles chosen by rational citizens who would choose a system granting the most extensive liberties to its citizens while ensuring the maximum justice. The text has served as a philosophical defense of the modern welfare state. x
  • 80
    Derrida and Deconstruction
    In this lecture, we will consider the origins of deconstruction in the theories of Derrida, particularly as they were first presented to America in his (in)famous lecture, "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" (1966). We shall see how Derrida, rather than work within the binaries of traditional metaphysics (or logocentrism), attempted to break down (or deconstruct) all such binaries. We shall contrast deconstruction from both Platonic and Christian thought and seek to understand the main terminology associated with deconstruction. x
  • 81
    Rorty's Neo-Pragmatism
    Richard Rorty argues that philosophers have traditionally sought to escape from history by searching for "truth." Rorty believes that truth can never be found imbedded in language but is merely a statement that we approve of. His pragmatism is the basis of his defense of the postmodern bourgeois liberalism of the West. x
  • 82
    Gouldner—Ideology and the "New" Class
    In the trilogy The Dark Side of the Dialectic, Alvin Gouldner presented a Marxist critique of Marxism itself. His analysis of the "new class" of intellectuals and others who earn their living from their education, not their ownership of capital, provides a necessary corrective to the Marxist idea of class struggle and helps explain why so many Marxists and radicals were not proletarians, but intellectuals. x
  • 83
    MacIntyre—The Rationality of Traditions
    Alasdair MacIntyre articulates a form of right-wing postmodernism, affirming the importance of traditions in contrast to the modern rejection of tradition and authority. He contends in After Virtue that modern moral reasoning is incoherent because it consists of ill-understood fragments of previous and more coherent traditions of moral reasoning. x
  • 84
    Nozick's Defense of Libertarianism
    In Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick asks us to consider that individuals have rights to their person and to their justly acquired property—and then asks us to take these ideas seriously. He offers several striking lines of criticism, including some reflections on democracy, redistribution, and justice, and a critique of the leading American political philosopher, John Rawls. x

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Your professors

Dennis Dalton Alan Charles Kors Robert H. Kane Phillip Cary Louis Markos Darren Staloff Robert C. Solomon Jeremy Adams Jeremy Shearmur Kathleen M. Higgins Mark Risjord Douglas Kellner

Professor 1 of 12

Dennis Dalton, Ph.D.
Barnard College, Columbia University

Professor 2 of 12

Alan Charles Kors, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania

Professor 3 of 12

Robert H. Kane, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin

Professor 4 of 12

Phillip Cary, Ph.D.
Eastern University

Professor 5 of 12

Louis Markos, Ph.D.
Houston Baptist University

Professor 6 of 12

Darren Staloff, Ph.D.
City College of New York

Professor 7 of 12

Robert C. Solomon, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin

Professor 8 of 12

Jeremy Adams, Ph.D.
Southern Methodist University

Professor 9 of 12

Jeremy Shearmur, Ph.D.
Australian National University

Professor 10 of 12

Kathleen M. Higgins, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin

Professor 11 of 12

Mark Risjord, Ph.D.
Emory University

Professor 12 of 12

Douglas Kellner, Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles
Dr. Dennis Dalton is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University. He earned his B.A. from Rutgers University, his M.A. in Political Science from the University of Chicago, and his Ph.D. in Political Theory from the University of London. Professor Dalton has edited and contributed to more than a dozen publications and has written numerous articles. He is the author of Indian Idea of...
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Dr. Alan Charles Kors is Henry Charles Lea Professor of European History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been teaching since 1968. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and his master's and doctoral degrees from Harvard University. He received postdoctoral fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University, and the...
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Dr. Robert H. Kane is University Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin. He earned his B.A. from Holy Cross College and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from Yale University. In his three decades on the UT faculty, Professor Kane won no fewer than 15 major teaching awards. These include the Friar Society Centennial Teaching Fellowship, the President's Excellence Award, the...
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Dr. Phillip Cary is Professor of Philosophy at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, where he is also Scholar-in-Residence at the Templeton Honors College. After receiving his B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis, Professor Cary earned his M.A. in Philosophy and Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Yale University. Professor Cary is a recent winner of the...
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Dr. Louis Markos is Professor in English at Houston Baptist University, where he also holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities. He earned his B.A. in English and History from Colgate University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Michigan. Professor Markos specializes in British romantic poetry, literary theory, and the classics and teaches courses in all three of these areas, as well as in Victorian...
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Dr. Darren Staloff is Professor of History at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He earned his B.A. from Columbia College and his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. from Columbia University. Prior to taking his position at City College, Staloff served as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, Virginia. He also spent three years...
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Robert C. Solomon (1942–2007) was the Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Business and Philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin, where he taught for more than 30 years. He earned his undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania and his master’s and doctoral degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of Michigan. He held visiting appointments at the University of...
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Dr. Jeremy Adams is Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at Southern Methodist University. He earned his A.B., A.M., and Ph.D. in History at Harvard University. Prior to taking his post at SMU, Professor Adams taught medieval European history and served in the interdisciplinary History, Arts, and Letters program at Yale University. He has taught frequently in SMU programs in Europe at Madrid, Toledo, and...
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Dr. Jeremy Shearmur is a Reader in Political Theory in the Faculty of Arts at The Australian National University. Professor Shearmur was educated at the London School of Economics (University of London), where he also worked for eight years as assistant to Professor Sir Karl Popper. Professor Shearmur's Ph.D. thesis on F. A. Hayek was a joint winner of the British Political Studies Association's Sir Ernest Barker prize in...
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Dr. Kathleen Higgins is Professor of Philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin, where she has been teaching for over 20 years. She earned her B.A. in Music from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and her M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. in Philosophy from Yale University. Professor Higgins taught at the University of California, Riverside, and she is a regular visiting professor at the University of Auckland. Her...
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Dr. Mark Risjord is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Emory University. He earned his B.A. in Philosophy and Anthropology from the University of Wisconsin and his Ph.D. in Philosophy at The University of North Carolina. Prior to taking his position at Emory, Professor Risjord taught at Michigan State University. In 1997, Dr. Risjord was awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award by the Emory University Center for Teaching...
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Dr. Douglas Kellner holds the George F. Kneller Chair in the Philosophy of Education at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He earned his B.A. from Doane College, studied in Copenhagen, Tubingen, and Paris, and earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Columbia University. Before taking his position at UCLA, Professor Kellner taught philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin for more than 20 years. He also...
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Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 3rd Edition is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 82.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A wonder of the human mind. I was in "Seventh Heaven" as I started this course and went on to get several of the other courses on the Greek and Roman philosophers. Then I hit a personal brick wall with the move into Judeochristian thought. I had to come to terms with my own view of that school of thought, a very negative view. I realized that the problem was with me if I didn't even listen to that segment of the course. I am currently working my way through and am glad I decided to go on. The course is very deep and with the multi-professor faculty I find it well rounded. This is another Course that you may not want to listen to in you car if the freeway is busy!
Date published: 2016-11-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have bought many courses from you and I have never been disappointed in what they have offered. I am retired and some of my courses are stockpiled ready, for me to dive into when I finish my current one. My interest lies in the story of the earth and the life that developed on it with particular concern for the formation of our species. All the presenters that I have seen so far have been very good. They offer their courses on a level that I can understand so that I look forward to the half hour I spend with them.
Date published: 2016-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow! I managed to get through all 84 lectures! I am so impressed with myself! Actually, I am impressed by this course, which must have been a monster to put together, given the number of professors and lectures. I learned something about almost of the philosophers I knew and was introduced to several I had never heard of (Vico, Mandeville, Rorty). I note that Sigmund Freud warranted two lectures, even though psychologists now say that almost every one of his conclusions is wrong). But I suppose his influence on literature makes him important. Karl Marx also gets two lectures, again despite the debunking of nearly all of his conclusions. Plato and Aristotle both are given three lectures, which seems right. There are some places where the coursebook needs editing (a book my Mandeville is called "his most famous book" three times), but it, too is well done,, with the glossary and the biographical sketches divided into groups by lecture number (as the book is 421 pp, this is helpful). If you wish to have a good picture of how the Western intellectual tradition developed, this coures is an excellent place to start.
Date published: 2015-08-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from What happened to Sartre, Russell and Voltaire Although it was a great effort to implement a course like this one, there are very important omissions. such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, Voltaire and Michel Foucalult.
Date published: 2015-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Wonderful Introduction to Western Philosophy For the most part, I really enjoyed the "Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition." As far as an introductory course is concerned, this lecture series hit the nail on the head. But don't expect a deep exposition on each of these philosophers/thinkers--there's just not enough time for that. Overall, however, the main positions of each character has been delineated with great care. I would highly recommend!
Date published: 2015-01-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Buy the CD and listen on a long trip This subject fascinates me. There was much valuable content. I wish, however, that I had gotten the CD rather than the DVD. The scholars know their subject matter, but often the lecture styles and personal presentation quirks distracted from the content. The best of the lecturers was Dr. Higgins. She was terrific. She not only knows her material, but presents it in a way, which grips attention. My only other complaint is the emphasis on religion rather than philosophy. I have noticed that the T.C. has a heavily Christian flavor to many of its courses. If listeners aren't built that way, it may be hard to listen to this course and others as well.
Date published: 2014-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A resource that I return to again and again This is an invaluable resource in helping the student to produce the "Grand unifying theory", or the Theory of Everything. It encompasses all the great ideas of Western Civilization and is an excellent companion to Bertrand Russell's "History of Western Philosophy". The pair together, and perhaps a simple textbook on Philosophy to group the ideas together (as both the book and series are chronological rather than grouped by subject) would complete the students understanding of the roots and trunk and branches of the Tree of Knowledge. Every listening brings fresh understanding.
Date published: 2014-10-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disapointed in New Jersey I am a retired engineer who was educated in the late 1950s and at an institute where it was all engineering all the time. There was zero liberal arts content but I earned a degree in electrical engineering. Now in my third retirement I want to enrich my life by studying music, art, drama, literature, religion, and philosophy. I have purchased numerous courses and have been very pleased. Before starting my critique, let me first say that I applaud the Teaching Company for attempting to cram so much into 42 hours of instruction on philosophy. It would be a wonderful value if it only lived up to the promise in the course description. In my view it is simply a “bridge too far” and I have reluctantly returned the course. The course is far too large and I believe should have been organized a bit differently. I liked the notion of beginning at the beginning of philosophical thought but perhaps one might consider what man was thinking even before the pre-Socratics. This is definitely not a course for philosophical neophytes like me. 1. I don’t know how well these 12 professors collaborated but the presentations did not flow smoothly from one to the next. 2. Some were just boring and mostly read from notes and spoke in the language of professors trying to impress other professors and not from the perspective of the student. 3. Even though I have a computer system with two large screen monitors, and had the PDF version on one screen and the lecture on the other, read the course guide material before taking a lecture, I still had to pause most of the lectures and go to the Internet to get an explanation of terms in order to try to understand the topic at hand. 30 minute lectures took up to 75 minutes to complete. I finally had to resort to a philosophy textbook “Questions that Matter”. Now the question – how would I fix it! 1. Break the course into 3 or 4 courses covering the major epochs in societal development to include an introduction to philosophy. 2. Package the individual epoch courses to include a well-defined introduction going as basic as “what is philosophy” followed by detailed explanation of all the various schools of thought, i.e., form, idealism, materialism, etc. to be covered in the course. 3. While the course guide is somewhat helpful, a course of this magnitude should include the entire transcript of the lectures so that one trying to get a serious introduction to philosophy. 4. Provide for feedback during the development cycle of any course by allowing certain customers to preview and actual course and comment before releasing the course. In closing, again I applaud The Teaching Company for its great selection of material and plan to keep on buying courses as my retirement allows.
Date published: 2014-07-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Somewhat disappointing and Difficult to stay with! This is going to be the lowest rating of the 90+ courses I have purchased. It was very difficult to complete the 84 lectures as professors who handled a majority of the content were DRY, just read their notes, and at times seemed unprepared. Staloff, Cary, and Kane had me just wanting to return the course; something I cannot imagine doing. If you can get through the professor's presentation style there is good content. I greatly enjoyed Kors, Solomon, Markos, Higgins, and Kellner, as they displayed a natural flow of theory and information. Markos passion is wonderful and addictive; Kors, Solomon and Higgins lectures were like being at a fireside chat with and philosophical luminary. I did recommend the course as there is good content.
Date published: 2014-05-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Pretty Dry I am only half way through with this course, and am not sure if I want to even finish it. It is very dull- a few examples, and attempts to relate the ancient ideas to the present day might be good. Very dry, and so far it does focus very heavily on religion. I cannot recommend it.
Date published: 2014-05-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not an introductory course Some of the lectures are very clear and can be understood without having a philosophy background. Cary, Kors, Dalton, Solomon come to mind as having the ability to explain concepts well without loss of content. I was extremely frustrated with the presentation style of Darren Staloff. While I was able to follow his lectures they are NOT suitable for people without a deep background. He frequently uses terminology without taking the time to defining the terms, and he uses a vocabulary that sounds as if he intends to show us how many long words he knows. Unfortunately, he is the most frequent lecturer. I have a degree in philosophy and have studied most of the ideas and philosophers presented. His lectures are only appropriate for people who already have a deep background or are at the graduate level. Not sure why he chose to present as if he is reading a paper at a conference of academics.
Date published: 2014-01-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Bit of a Disappointment The course content, while ambitious, is as solid as one can expect from such an undertaking, and this is good. I was, however, disappointed with the presentation styles of some professors and after several lectures almost returned the materials on this account-- a first for me. Nevertheless, I chose to stick it out for the sake of content alone, despite some lectures which fall short of the quality I expect from The Teaching Company-- alternately deadly dull, much hand waving, hurried speech, etc... Thus for content alone I'd be glad to recommend the course to a friend but with this caveat.
Date published: 2013-07-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Strong, Sweeping, Not Perfect DVD REVIEW: A major undertaking ~~ a qualified success. The 84 lectures, recorded in 2000, are shared (very UNequally) among 12 highly-qualified professors, all experts in their specific areas. This series spans more than two millennia of central doctrines in intellectual and religious inquiry. The series strives with determination and is an impressive achievement, providing a real and valuable education. It is an understandably long course, 42 hours, but can easily be spaced out over weeks or even months with no compromise. The lectures are chronological, through the ages, but individual lectures are not inextricably linked from the previous; graphic content is minimal, not surprisingly, mainly text. The course is an excellent springboard for further study ~~ as you go along you can decide which thinkers and traditions you wish to pursue in depth; there are many "follow-up" Great Courses and I'm happy to say I own several, but I came to this "big course" rather late on. There are 7 sections: Classical Origins, The Christian Age, From the Renaissance to the Age of Reason, The Enlightment and its critics, The Age of Ideology, Modernism and the Age of Analysis, and The Crisis of Modernity. Each section has its own introductory lecture, outlining the period and thinkers being covered. Each of us will have favourite lecturers; overall the standard of delivery & presentation was quite high in this course, with only a couple of "difficult" accents (e.g. the harsh New Jersey twang). I was fortunate in growing up familiar with British and North American accents so I didn't have to strain at any point. Several lecturers were known to me from other courses I've reviewed. Dr Phillip Cary (short-sleeved shirt, Islamic-style beard) is relatively weak; he presents 14 of the first 24 talks. I found very odd indeed his noisy slurping intakes of breath and his use of the invented words "stretched-outness" and "lostness". Dr Jeremy Adams and Dr Jeremy Shearmur were strong, and I particularly enjoyed lecture #60 on Nietszche The Death of God, by Professor Kathleen Higgins, the only female lecturer in the series. It is disappointing that both Voltaire and Sartre were omitted from consideration. Possibly the three lectures dedicated to Hume could have been reduced to two to allow their inclusion? Three lectures each to Plato and Aristotle can, of course, easily be justified. The 450-page guidebook is truly excellent, with glossary and biographical notes after every 12 lectures. This is a valuable and significant course despite a few definite weaknesses, highly-recommended to all.
Date published: 2013-03-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Strangely Schizophrenic I can appreciate the difficulty in achieving real uniformity when a course of this size and scope enlists so may participants. I don't exactly mean this, however, as a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. I recall, for example, that the first two editions of this course suffered from some of the same hodgepodge flavor. However, these two prior editions had a few advantages that this current one (already at least a dozen years old itself) badly lacks. The first is that the lectures were 45 minutes long. That is crucial because, as I have now seen, 30 minutes simply doesn't do it. It is like reading a headline and not bothering to read any of the rest. Try as they might, and irrespective of the gifts of some (not all), half an hour just begins to warm you up and you hope for a little depth to complement the breadth. It never comes. A second problem is that Professor Michael Sugrue is no longer here. I see him given credit in the Course Outline as a "Content Manager" (along with Professor Staloff, who I'm sure could have handled this job by himself). Professor Sugrue was one of the gifted ones. Whether he was not invited to continue as a presenter, or whether it was his choice, the result is a lessening of the talents of the team. I do appreciate that others of my "dream team" have returned, principally among them Professors Kors and Dalton. Having said all this, I appreciate the value of the course goals, since intellectual history means little without some treatment of Plato and his "footnotes." That is why I would still recommend this course, although, at this point, I believe it is less cream and more milk and water. Best to try to locate an earlier edition in your local library and savor that instead.
Date published: 2013-01-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Minds -- Uneven Presentation This is a long course; so, I fear I will be longwinded too. HERE IS THE GOOD. You get great minds/great ideas. If you have never been exposed to some philosophy then this course will widen your eyes. You will see the world in a new light. HERE IS THE BAD 1) A Disjointed Feel The course is arranged chronologically. While some ideas need to appreciated in their historical context, the course sometimes has uneven/hopscotch feel. Topical v. Chronological approaches -- each has its strengths and weaknesses. A decision had to be made. 2) Some Professors are better than others. All of the professors are knowledgeable. On the plus side, Professor Markos was able to break down complex ideas and do so with enthusiasm. By contrast, oftentimes Professor Staloff, especially in the orienting/introductory lectures, used a great deal of jargon. Quite frankly, his approach is better suited for journals and books, where his five-syllable words can be read and re-read. Interestingly though, in his lectures dedicated to a single topic he was much better; he was able to explain his words. Two other professors worthy of mention include Dalton and Adams. I very much enjoyed Dalton save for a rather peculiar lecture on Marx; our professor turned into a tour guide and perhaps advocate. As for Professor Adams, I started off enjoying him because he spoke quickly, and was making an effort to pack in as much as he could within the allotted time. However, some of his lectures came across as being biographical/bibliographical. For instance rather than explaining the Problem of Universals and its significance, we get a history lesson and a Who-Taught-Whom lecture. HERE IS HOW TO IMPROVE Allow me to humbly offer a few suggestions on how to make this course better. One suggestion should be relatively simple. The other will be much more complicated. 1) The complicated, the impractical. A) Many of those lectures by Professor Staloff --- sorry, but they need to go. B) Regarding the issue of continuity, it would be helpful if this course included one more disc, one more series of lectures that ties together topically what we have learned chronologically. For instance, a disc that details Rationalism and Rationalism's proponents and the questions it still leaves unanswered. Next, a lecture on the political philosophers and how their ideas interact. Questions of metaphysics, epistemology. ethics -- You get the idea. 2) The Simple/Easier Now, here is the easier way to improve this course. Way back in April of 2009 I received a Great Courses catalog devoted to Philosophy/Intellectual History. That catalog included a two-page, color coded, time-line flowchart. The leftmost side listed some Pre-Socratics who shared common beliefs. These men were grouped together and assigned a color. As the timeline proceeds arrows/lines were drawn connecting past philosophers to their future adherents. This Flowchart/Timeline should be included with this course. This would allow a viewer to orient himself, to see where in the lineage of ideas the current lecture fits in. To make this simple matter a bit more complicated, the reverse side of this color-coded timeline could include a brief, one/two sentence explanation as to how each philosopher's idea advanced the ball from his predecessor and how he left a question unresolved for a future philosopher. Well, I've bored you long enough. Thanks for reading. And, happy philosophizing.
Date published: 2012-07-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lacks continuity! As a foundation course, this series lacks continuity. Some lectures are stellar (eg Professor Kors) and some truely disappointing. At the end, one does not come out with a working knowledge of philosophy or a good grasp of how ideas developed and changed throughout Western history. For a much more valuable investment of time, I recommend taking the following three courses: (1) David Roochnik's "Introduction to Greek Philosophy", followed by (2) Alan Kors' "The Birth of the Modern Mind" followed finally by (3) Lawrence Cahoon's "Modern Intellectual Tradition".
Date published: 2011-08-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointment - I have asked for a refund I have been continually disappointed that this course is so heavily focused on the development of RELIGION rather than INTELLECTUAL development. The course content on line excited me, but the course content that I have suffered through has been extremely disappointing. I keep plodding through, hoping it will get better. Now I am half way through and have had enough. How can a discussion on Pascal spend more time on his religious opinions than his contribution to mathematics and science? Also, people should beware that the instructors are not very engaging. One or two aren't so bad, but the majority are hard to listen to. One has a serious speech impediment and others sound like they are reading the material without interest.
Date published: 2011-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent - A great foundation course. An excellent survey of over 2000 years of Western philosophy taught by experts who clearly know the subject. In some ways this course is trying to do an impossible task and I would like to answer some of the criticisms that other reviewers have raised. Delivery - no fewer than 12 lecturers gave this course. I found some of the accents grating but then I don't think this is a fair comment as my English ear is clearly more attuned to the British voice of Jeremy Shearmur than it is to USA speech of Alan Charles Kors. However, both did a reasonable job and it would be unfair to say that one is better than the other. I didn't feel that the lecturers were reading too heavily from notes. Missing great minds - while this course is fairly long it is still only 84 half hour lectures and it is inevitable that some great minds are left out. It is clear to me that Darwin missed the cut as he is not considered to a be a philosopher (he would have been had he lived at the time of Thales or Aristotle). I was a bit surprised that Voltaire was left out as Alan Charles Kors has a whole course on him but there again I have noticed that other philosophy texts skip over him. Sartre was probably excluded as other earlier existentialists were already included. Devoting three lectures to David Hume might seem excessive yet it is clear from the course that many of the great minds who lived after him relate either positively or negatively to his thoughts so he is a necessary base. Some of Darren Staloff's lectures do seem to be a bit to full of jargon. However they were bearable and I can now impress my friends with big words. At some stages the course was more theme based rather than actually covering individual great minds but I think that this was justifiable depending on the period being covered. To sum up. The course isn't perfect but I seriously doubt whether any course covering such a broad spectrum of knowledge could be perfect. I really enjoyed listening to it and as such I would recommend it unhesitatingly..
Date published: 2011-03-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from So disappointing I was so excited about this course. It appeared to offer a dream team of the Teaching Company's finest professors, each teaching one of their specialties. The result promised to be a magnificent full-length team-taught course in philosophy from Plato to Descartes to Nozick. Alas, most of the course's professors seemed to be trying to show how smart they were rather than to communicate. For example, they, especially Darren Staloff, would fill every paragraph with technical terms, unexplained. He and many of the others read their lectures, further distancing themselves from the impenetrability of what they were saying. They are a monument to academic narcissism. And lest you think my complaints are a function of my own intellectual limitations, I hold a Ph.D. from Berkeley and subsequently taught in its graduate school. And as an undergraduate, I took one philosophy-related course, a course in Western Civilization and received the only A+ in the class. Do especially beware of any courses taught by Darren Staloff. To end on a positive note, one of the lecturers, Jeremy Schermer was fine. Don't be deterred by his stuffy accent.
Date published: 2011-02-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Arbitrary Minds of Western Intellectual Tradition The title of the course takes your breath away! You browse through the course page, the impressive array of TTC favorites, the sweeping breadth of topics, and that's where you realize people like Darwin, Zizek, Sartre, Lacan etc. have been left out in favor of the likes of Plobius, Gouldner and Sextus Empericus, not to mention Job! Of course some of the omissions are not that off, but when it comes to Darwin, it's almost criminal! On the other hand, sometimes judicial choices have been made. (i.e. We have to pause and applaud whoever it is that decided to dedicate three full lectures to David Hume.) Still, the choice of topics and thinkers alone ranks this course as THE most biased TTC course among the 30 or so that I've taken so far. I thought the whole point of bringing together different professors was to concoct a pluralistic outing that raises the bar, as previous TTC courses have! That said, the presentations by Dr. Staloff, Dr. Cary and Dr. Solomon are typical high quality TTC offerings, with Dr. Staloff explaining the complex ideas of the likes of Quine, Berkeley and Hume with exceptional clarity. Phillip Cary's passion deserves particular praise when he tries to explain the intricacies of the thoughts of someone who is as boring as Plotinus, to me! Dr. Shearmur and Dr. Adams mostly miss the target. I cannot imagine how one could take a figure as interesting as Kuhn and do what Dr. Shearmur did to him in his lecture. Same is true about the monotone of Dr. Adams' medieval philosophy presentations. Also, in light of the new scholarship of early modernity, I guess it's time for TTC to get a second opinion as Dr. Kors more often than not implies that modernity and its heroes fell smack down from sky! All in all, if you are OK with the biased coverage of the course, the presentation is rather good. Not great at all, but good.
Date published: 2011-01-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent, but... My primary concern lies in the final lectures, roughly from Heidegger onward. It's inconceivable that Sartre is not included in the Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition. Likewise, Camus is left out. The French Existentialists are completely disregarded, and that's simply unacceptable. How can one include phenomenology and not Sartre? It's insane. The modern philosophy is very analytic heavy. This only becomes a problem when it is at the expense of contemporary philosophers that are "outside" the analytic tradition. Althusser, Zizek, and Badiou come to mind. (Although Lacan is not technically a philosopher, he should be included if Freud is.) I just don't understand how Kuhn, Gouldner, and Nozick (!?) are included and Althusser, Zizek, Badiou, Sartre, and Camus are not. It's nice to see that the Frankfurt School and Structuralism made it, but where is Feminism? Where are Cixous and Irigaray? I understand that it would be too difficult to include lectures on everything - but I find that some philosophers with incomparably important contributions to philosophy, social thought, critical theory, literary theory, etc. are being slighted in favor of others. Of course, personal preference plays a role, but I'd do away with Weber, Hayek, Kuhn, Habermas, Gouldner, and Nozick - in favor of Ortega y Gasset, Sartre, Camus, Althusser, Lacan, Cixous, Irigaray, Zizek, and Badiou. Also, Prof. Robert C. Solomon should be studied in his own right.
Date published: 2010-12-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Pedantic This is not one of the Teaching Company's best courses. I listened to part 2 and have no desire to hear the rest of the course. The lectures in this part consist of a recitation of facts without any larger argument about their significance. The professors seem to be detached from their material and mainly interested in impressing the listener with their intelligence. Sorry, but my standard is Robert Greenberg, who is both very smart and also enthusiastic.
Date published: 2010-12-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A great course overall With the exception of a few of the presenters, this is a great course for getting a broad overview of the history of Western thought, and the people responsible for the greatest ideas in the Western tradition. Unfortunately, it is marred by weaker presentation of some of the professors. Alan Charles Kors in particular has a the most irritating style of delivery that I have heard recorded. Unfortunately, he is responsible for 11 of the 84 lectures. (Think of the character of Vizzini in The Princess Bride, and you'll have a lock on the style of delivery.) At the other end of the spectrum, Jeremy Adams lectures (7) are a treat. He is well spoken, and interesting. So, I recommend the course overall for the amount of information covered. As a listening experience, it has its ups and downs.
Date published: 2010-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Require "Reading" I've recommended this course to my son, who's majoring in philosophy at college, just as I did 40 years ago. This is simply the best, and easiest, way I've found to get a broad introduction to the Western intellectual tradition. Most college courses -- even those labelled as "introductory" -- immediately dive into an in-depth examination of a small group of individuals or issues. A course like this gives a perspective that allows one to build and move forward into those areas. I've enjoyed some TTC courses more and been more thrilled or excited by others, but this was probably the most valuable. Listen to it first, and then explore the areas you want to experience more deeply.
Date published: 2010-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth the time A thoughtful, provocative survey of philosophy from the pre-Socratic times to the modern day. On whole, the quality of presentation is excellent; the material is judiciously selected and the professors elucidate the main points of the idea under consideration clearly and concisely. Contrary to the opinion of some, I enjoyed the contributions of all the professors. I attribute my somewhat greater enjoyment of the earlier part of the lecture series not to a bona fide superior merit of the material, but to my personal preference for ancient philosophy due to its easier digestibility. Indeed, both halves weighed about equally with me so far as quality goes. I alternated this lecture series with Robinson's and found the journey a delightful philosophical feast from beginning to end. Recommended.
Date published: 2010-07-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I had a very bad impression from the professors that presented the material. Almost all of them had to read from notes, what showed a non existant mastery of the subject - I expect mastery from a person that does this for a living. Sometimes it got extremely disappointing to see or listen to some of the presenters - I am not looking for someone to read notes for me, but to explain the subject. If it is only to read notes, I rather have my computer do it for me, since it is free. Mr Staloff was especially disappointing (when the video started and it was him presenting, i thought: "oh no, this guy again"). The only exeption was Prof. Kathleen Higgings, which performed quite well and showed understanding about the subject.
Date published: 2010-05-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Wading in Deep Waters This was undoubtedly the first course I have listened to that I found actually boring. The discussions of ancient philosophers were moderately interesting; but the closer we approached the present, the more it seemed to be discussions of the ideas of men (and all men) with way too much time on their hands (maybe that's the dictionary definition of a philosopher). Unlike some others, I did enjoy hearing Marx's ideas presented in a neutral-to-positive way. I would consider this to be much a better approach than hearing an antagonistic discussion pointing out its many practical application problems. Marxism obviously has had a very strong attraction to at least some intelligent people for two centuries. Prof.'s Staloff & Dalton presentations helped explain what they saw (or thought they saw) in it? But like several other reviewers, I found Dalton's personal notes and his discussion of the route to Marx's tomb to be an annoying waste of time. When considering this course, keep in mind that it's not easy fare for the work commute, and it could become deadly if you listen to it during a long boring cross country trip.
Date published: 2010-04-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from not enough linkages between presentations This course didn't work very well for me. The lectures jumped from one professor to another, and most were not very enthusiastic. There was not enough discussion of how one school of thought was linked to another, which I also found annoying . It seemed more like training for being a Jeopardy contestant than a joy to listen to, although I admit I didn't slog through all of the CDs. Perhaps it gets more exciting around lecture 60... I'll try listening again in a year or so, but I prefer listening to more focused courses I have subsequently purchased rather than the smorgasbord approach.
Date published: 2010-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 42 hours and yet just a brief review This series of lectures delivers just what it promises a comprehensive review of the western intellectual tradition. As should be expected one is continually left wanting more, but isn't that what a good couse should do. I liked some lecturers more than others and some thinkers more than others. Once again that is what I expected. I learned quite a bit despite the brevity of coverage on each subject and finished the course inspired to learn more. As a busy physician I have little free time at home and the CD format allowed me to learn a broad overview of western thought in during my car time.
Date published: 2010-04-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Tired of Dalton This is an excellent overview of Philosophy. I advanced to the point however where I dreaded lectures given by Dennis Dalton. Why does Prof. Dalton go on and on about subway stops in North London where one can visit the grave of Marks or contemplate the library of Freud? Is the man a tour guide or a philosophy professor? The other problem is Prof. Dalton's obvious politics. I suppose that it makes sense to have a communist lecture on Marx, but political correctness drips from his essence. Annoying to say the least. I recommend this course but advise the Teaching Company that they would do better to replace Dalton with one of the other excellent professors who teach this course.
Date published: 2010-02-24
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