July 2009

What Can "the Dumbest Generation" Teach Us about Michael Jackson?
By Anonymous on July 01, 2009

Sitting in the Starbucks on Nassau Street, just across from Princeton this week, I overheard a conversation between two political philosophy undergraduates that strikes me as either simply humorous or deeply troubling. I report it here as a way of inviting a conversation on teaching students in today’s liberal arts environment.

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Encouraging the Philosophical Habit of Mind
By Gabriel Martinez on July 01, 2009

What can we do to encourage the philosophical habit of mind? Short of founding a new university or taking over Administration Hall by storm, what can we do? I would be very interested to hear other people's experiences with reading groups, lecture series, co-taught courses, and so on.

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Reading Thomas Bertonneau's Reflections on Teaching Western Civ
By Anonymous on July 02, 2009

Note: This was supposed to be pre-Summer Institute thoughts on some of the readings, specifically about Bertonneau's complaints about teaching students history and literature.

I have several responses to this. First of all, there are two sides to every story. One wonders how good a teacher Bertonneau is. This is a fair question to pose to anyone who complains about the consistent problems with his students. But beyond that and more generally, I am sympathetic with Bertonneau's complaints.

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Fitzgerald on Profs as Passing Bores
By Brian Domitrovic on July 04, 2009

Lehrman American Studies Center vets may wish to sup on the words F. Scott put into the pen of Amory Blaine, Princeton '17, and appearing in a student rag called "Nassau Lit." I think he would bid us do better than this professor:

Good Morning, Fool...
Three times a week
You hold us helpless while you speak,
Teasing our thirsty souls with the
Sleek 'yeas' of your philosophy....
Well, here we are, your hundred sheep,
Tune up, play on, pour forth...we sleep.
You'd sniffed through an era's must,
Filling your nostrils up with dust,
And then, arising from your knees,
Published, in one gigantic sneeze.

Cognitive Requirements of a Free Society -- Suggested Reading?
By Anonymous on July 06, 2009

My husband (a historian) and I (a philosopher) are planning a colloquium examining the cognitive requirements of a free society.

The general questions we want to raise for discussion are: Does liberty repend upon rationality? If so, rationality understood in what way? If free institutions require thinking men to conceive, create, and operate them, what habits of thinking are necessary to found and sustain a free society, and how can one inculcate such habits? Does liberty require that the majority of the people be habitually rational, or only the constitution makers or some ruling "natural aristocracy"?

For this proposed colloquium, participants will read and then discuss primary sources that raise these questions. For the reading list, we are considering excerpts from Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Jefferson, The Federalist, and Tocqueville, among other thinkers. Might anyone suggest specific texts that might be appropriate for our purposes? Thanks for your help!

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Education and Alienation from Mass Culture
By Anonymous on July 06, 2009

I've just read Albert J. Nock's essay "On the Disadvantages of Being Educated.” Great satire. How much truth is there? …

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Invasion of the Young Pragmatists
By Patrick M. Ford on July 07, 2009

Or, More Reflections on Liberal Learning.

Some recent posts and comments offer useful insights about the nature of liberal learning and the obstacles to genuine liberality in the classroom. Responding to the post "Heresy on the liberal arts?", one commentor is correct to remind us that teachers should challenge all students, and not just the "promising" ones, to take up the difficult but preeminently fulfilling pursuit of truth, and hope that each one will answer the challenge.

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Doing Political Philosophy after the Enlightenment's End
By Paul DeHart on July 07, 2009

I noted in an earlier post that the Enlightenment justified itself in light of a narrative demonstrably false at many crucial points. In a number of disciplines, the Enlightenment reached its culmination in logical and scientific positivism as well as in the fact-value dichotomy. The instrumentalization of reason was also a foundational program of the Enlightenment. These foundational programs of the Enlightenment have died. In particular, the empericist and positivistic claim that we can only predicate truth of that which is empirically verifiable is not itself empirically verifiable. But it was the requirement of empirical verifiability that moved theology out of the realm of "science" and that grounded the prohibition on invoking claims of faith when doing political philosophy or when assessing the truth of conclusions reached by political theorists, philosophers, and theologians from ages past.

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Do we really want to join big liberal institutions?
By Anonymous on July 08, 2009

In the world of work, the real go-getters are the ones who want to get out of IBM and start a small business. Why do conservative academics still have a yen for joining the old ossifying universities, as opposed to striking out on their own?

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Thomas Jefferson, Tacitus, and the Value of History
By David Pollio on July 09, 2009

Towards the end of his second term as President, Thomas Jefferson received a letter from his granddaughter, who mentioned that she had been reading from the works of the Roman historian Tacitus. In his reply, Jefferson wrote: “Tacitus I consider the first writer in the world without a single exception. His book is a compound of history and morality of which we have no other example.” Given that Jefferson was extraordinarily well-read, one cannot help but wonder what he found so compelling. I would suggest that in order to understand Jefferson’s unique claims for Tacitus we need to consider two questions from Jefferson’s perspective: What is the historian’s role in a democratic republic? and Does Tacitus fulfill that role?

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