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Syllabus Showcase: What is Philosophy? Global Perspectives on Philosophical History, Christopher P. Noble

I’m a historian of philosophy at New College of Florida, a small, public liberal arts faculty. When I arrived first in 2018, considered one of my duties was to broaden the philosophy curriculum into areas past the Western custom, and I set about constructing a course introducing college students to the historical past of philosophy from a worldwide standpoint. This course most not too long ago passed off in Fall 2021 as a seminar for first-year college students entitled “What is Philosophy? Global Perspectives on Philosophical History.” As a first-year seminar, along with instructing commonplace disciplinary content material, the course goals to ease college students’ transitions to varsity by devoting time to growing educational expertise and familiarizing them with campus employees and sources. An superior undergraduate, Marina Sidlow, additionally served as a peer chief for the course.

The course is constructed round two distinct approaches to the worldwide historical past of philosophy, every occupying roughly one half or “module” of the semester. The first method is a “comparative” one which places distinct philosophical traditions into dialogue, and the second is a “historical” one which examines how philosophical concepts have engaged concrete historic circumstances. Both approaches ought to furnish customizable fashions for philosophers involved in adopting international views of their programs.

The comparative method forges factors of contact between philosophical traditions by emphasizing overlap within the ways in which they tackle particular philosophical issues. Moreover, by grouping texts thematically, a course might be constructed round subjects of curiosity each to the teacher in addition to the scholars. This time, the module studied conceptions of advantage and the self in Platonic dialogues together with the Euthyphro, Crito, and Phaedo alongside these of the Mengzi and Bhagavad Gita.

The historic module centered on the connection between philosophy and the venture of European colonization and subsequent decolonial wrestle. In what methods did philosophy form the colonial venture, and the way might have it helped critique it?

We began by inspecting the sixteenth-century debate between Bartolomé de las Casas and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda regarding Spanish colonial coverage concerning the indigenous peoples of the Americas. This debate turns on the query of the way to perceive and apply Aristotle’s time period “barbarian” and offers a disturbing and vital historic case examine of the concrete utility of philosophical concepts. Previous variations of the category have additionally mentioned Locke on property and Leibniz’s “Discourse on the Natural Theology of the Chinese” as additional examples of how fashionable European philosophers approached different cultures. From there, we examined how anti-colonial and anti-racist thinkers equivalent to Gandhi, King, and Fanon used philosophy to articulate types of critique and political motion. We additionally thought-about multicultural philosophy within the work of Linda Martín Alcoff and David Haekwon Kim, two authors who discover how philosophy has helped mixed-race and multiethnic topics make sense of the world and reply to historic conjunctures ensuing from the American empire.

The two modules had been bookended by readings instantly addressing the query “what is philosophy?” These included the preface to Diogenes Laërtius’s Lives of Eminent Philosophers, through which one of many first historians of philosophy defines philosophy as a apply by definition carried out in Greek (and therefore from which so-called “barbarians,” or non-Greek audio system are excluded), in addition to Brian Van Norden’s latest plea for conceiving philosophy globally in Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto. We closed with Justin E. H. Smith’s The Philosopher: A History in Six Types, a e book that traces historic instantiations of six distinct job descriptions of the thinker. While the primary two texts body the query as a selection between the native and the worldwide, Smith’s e book cautions in opposition to establishing a worldwide picture of the historical past of philosophy too neatly mirroring the native considerations of latest philosophers. Instead, Smith encourages us to think about sundry historic types of ascetic apply, folk-wisdom, and poetry incommensurate with the templates of latest Anglophone philosophy as candidates for inclusion inside philosophy. Professor Smith additionally kindly took the time to go to the category nearly to debate the e book and his apply as a historian of philosophy.

The query “what is philosophy?” was left open all through the course. In this spirit, the ultimate venture requested college students to learn texts of their selection individually (alternatives included The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Aristotle’s Poetics, and Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings) after which collectively focus on how they assist tackle the query “what is philosophy?” I can solely hope that this venture—and the course itself—conveyed the chance we’ve got to actively reimagine what philosophy has been and what it ought to grow to be. If you’ve got any ideas on the way to make the course higher and develop these approaches additional, please let me know.

The Syllabus Showcase of the APA Blog is designed to share insights into the syllabi of philosophy educators. We embody syllabi of their unique, unedited format that showcase all kinds of philosophy lessons. We would love so that you can be part of this venture. Please contact Series Editor, Dr. Matt Deaton by way of or Editor of the Teaching Beat, Dr. Sabrina D. MisirHiralall by way of with potential submissions.

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Christopher P. Noble

Christopher P. Noble is a historian of philosophy at New College of Florida. His analysis focuses on the metaphysics and pure philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and he has additional pursuits within the international historical past of philosophy, the historical past and philosophy of science, and Continental philosophy.


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