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Key Philosophical Attitudes

Lecturer: Valery Vinogradovs

Originally Taught: Evening School Semester 1 2021

The history of philosophy and, correspondingly, contemporary philosophical education can be approached in a number of related ways. For example, Western philosophical tradition can be severed into cultural epochs, e.g. classical antiquity and modernity. Another way is to consider sub-branches and their intersections, such as ethics and political ethics, or philosophical movements, such as idealism and feminism. It is also common to overview the oeuvre of a philosopher, their individual works, or else to reconstruct a genealogical relationship between a cluster of thinkers and ideas. One day we may even take a course dedicated to the biographies of philosophers, to learn about philosophers’ being in the world, but this lecture series draws our attention to another traditionally neglected aspect of philosophical education: namely, key philosophical attitudes.

Engaging with the history of philosophy, as it has survived, one encounters all kinds of open-ended insights, incongruities and contradictions. Interestingly, searching for their meaning in a given cultural context, philosophers not only practice philosophy in dissimilar ways, but also tend to disagree on the most fundamental questions. What is human and meaning? Dialogue or/and dialectics? What is the value of nature and mathematics? Where to direct our critical efforts, into the political realm or/and the realm of personal ties, and how? Do we have an obligation to disobey unjust laws?  What may violence and creation, health and freedom, crisis and philosophy stand for?

When the plague is over, will the “normal” life return? What power drives one to think that the plague will be over, that the “normal” is worth restoring? Naturally, one may feel puzzled by a mass of possible responses to these and other philosophical problems explored in our course. Still, one should be prepared to adopt a personal attitude toward the ambivalence characterising the human condition, an enigma. Otherwise, this state of puzzlement will surely be manipulated by someone/something else than you. Attempting to prevent this misfortune, our classes investigate a kaleidoscope of cross-cutting attitudes:

Scepticism: Socrates’ Confusion with Sophists

Losev, A (2000). A History of Ancient Aesthetics vol. 2. Moscow: AST

Plato (2002). The Trials of Socrates: Six Classic Texts. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing

Cynicism: Diogenes the Dog and Street Discourse

Laertius, Diogenes (1925). Lives of Eminent Philosophers vol. 2. London: William Heinemann

Pessimism: Hegesias the Death-Persuader and Illusion of Happiness

Murray, J. Clark (1893). ‘Ancient Pessimist’. The Philosophical Review, vol. 2 (1): 24-34

Lampe, Kurt (2014). ‘Hegesias’s Pessimism’. In The Birth of Hedonism. New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Aestheticism: Epicurus, the Threshold of Feeling and Life

Epicurus (2011). Fragments. Translated by Peter Saint Andre. Online version

Rosenbaum, Stephen (1985). ‘How to be Dead and Not Care: A Defence of Epicurus’. American Philosophical Quarterly vol 23 (2): 217-225

Aestheticism with Justin Clemens: Foucault and Nietzsche on Self-Creation

Foucault, Michel (2001). The Hermeneutics of the Subject. New York: Palgrave McMillan

Nietzsche, Friedrich (2002). Beyond Good and Evil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Pessimism: Disillusionment in Baltasar Gracián

Gracián, Baltasar (2016). The Art of Worldly Wisdom. New York: Currency Doubleday

Cynicism: Sloterdijk's Critique of Cynical Reason

Sloterdijk, Peter (1988). Critique of Cynical Reason. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press

Scepticism: Maleness of Philosophy and Culture

Bordo, Susan (1988). ‘Feminist Scepticism and the “Maleness” of Philosophy’. The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 88 (11): 619-629

Scepticism: Montaigne’s Essaying Self

Montaigne, Michel (1993). The Complete Essays. London: Penguin Classics

Cynicism: Dying Foucault on parrhesia

Foucault, Michel (2001). Fearless Speech. Cambridge: MIT Press

Pessimism: Colonial Plague and Progress

Wilderson III, Frank B (2020). Afropessimism. New York: Liveright Publishing

Munro, Thomas (1958). ‘The Failure Story: A Study of Contemporary Pessimism’. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol 17 (2): 143-168

Absurdism: Camus’ Rebellion

Camus, Albert (2000). The Rebel. London: Penguin Classics

Todd, Oliver (2000). Camus: A Life. New York: Carroll & Graf

Camus, Albert (2009). The Plague. London: Penguin Press