The Philosophy Behind A Raisin in the Sun

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

A landmark of American and African-American theater since its debut on Broadway in 1959 and as a Hollywood film in 1961, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is a disarmingly simple play that uses traditional techniques to craft a revolutionary message. It is also an extremely subtle work whose meaning lies largely in its unspoken sub-texts, assumed con-texts, and unacknowledged co-texts. This course will explore some of the implicit philosophical influences — including Aritotle’s Poetics and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex as well as the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus — that form part of the foundation beneath Hansberry’s work. We will also consider some of Hansberry’s thoughts about her own art. Students may wish to see Court Theatre’s concurrent production of A Raisin in the Sun in conjunction with this course and/or prepare for the course by taking the preceding course, “A Raisin in the Sun Deep Dive”. Continue reading

“Condemned to be Free”: Introduction to the “Existential Phenomenology” of Jean-Paul Sartre

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

An intellectual titan of the 20th century who influenced many — including his romantic partner Simone de Beauvoir, author of the feminist manifesto The Second Sex — Jean-Paul Sartre articulated a philosophy of “existential phenomenology” through treatises, novels, and plays. Grounded in the theoretical claim that “existence precedes essence”, this philosophy culminates in the practical claim that every human being in unavoidably “condemned to be free”. Denial of this radical freedom is characterized as “bad faith”. This course will introduce Sartre’s perspective through a close reading and discussion of selections of his major theoretical work, his most famous novel, and three of his plays. It will also set the stage for a subsequent consideration of the political philosophy of Albert Camus, who started as Sartre’s friend and ended as his enemy. Continue reading

“In the Midst of Winter, I Discovered Within Me an Invincible Summer”: Albert Camus’s The Rebel

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion. A slave who has taken orders all his life suddenly decides that he cannot obey some new command. What does he mean by saying “no”?
— Albert Camus, The Rebel

Although Albert Camus is better known for his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” and his novel The Stranger, his essay The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt is perhaps his most important and underappreciated work. Part philosophy, part history, Camus’s essay surveys various aspects of rebellion — including “Metaphysical Rebellion”, “Historical Rebellion”, and “Rebellion and Art” — and differentiates rebellion from revolution. Indeed, it was just this analysis that led to Sartre’s repudiation of Camus, despite the fact that Camus’s perspective arguably builds on Sartre’s notion that “man is condemned to be free”. Continue reading

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM / ZMM) “Sidecar”

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

This course is a synchronized supplement to a parallel reading of Robert Pirsig’s classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM / ZMM) and Plato’s Phaedrus. As such, it functions something like a sidecar to a motorcycle. The core sidecar readings include (selections from) works on Zen/Buddhism, a “guidebook” to Pirsig’s novel, the book whose title was the model for Pirsig’s title, and the philosophical text that first introduced Pirsig’s narrator to the “classic and romantic modes of reality and probably shaped these terms in his mind more than he ever knew.” Two bonus readings and a film are the subject of a separate stand-alone session several weeks after the completion of both the primary readings and the core sidecar readings. Continue reading

Reading Machiavelli and Macbeth … Twice!

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is sometimes read as a rebuttal of Machiavelli’s Prince. We’ll explore this notion by using the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, to read each work twice, once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details. Along the way, we’ll pay careful attention to the literary, philosophical, and political aspects of each classic work as well as the relationships between the two. Continue reading

Reading Rousseau’s Origin and Foundations of Inequality … Twice!

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Using the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, this course is devoted to developing a solid understanding of Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality (aka: The Second Discourse) by reading it once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details. Along the way, we’ll pay careful attention to the literary, religious, and philosophical features that are woven together in the Enlightenment’s greatest account of “The Fall of Man” and a work that helped paved the way for the French Revolution and the development of Communism.
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Reading Descartes’s Meditations … Twice!

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Using the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, this course is devoted to developing a thorough understanding of Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy by reading it once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details. Along the way, we’ll pay careful attention to both the dramatic and the philosophic features that Descartes interweaves in this philosophical creation story. Whether you’ve attempted Descartes’s Meditations before or never cracked the cover, this course is for you. Continue reading

How to Read Plato’s Dialogues as Literature

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Like its counterparts in the “How to Read Classic Texts” series, this course is designed to help students improve their reading skills. In this case, by learning how to read Plato’s dialogues as “philosophical dramas,” the full appreciation of which requires attention to each work’s dramatic and philosophical dimensions (sometimes referred to as “form” and “content”) — as well as (sometimes) to its connections to other dialogues in Plato’s canon. Discover what folks who read Plato’s dialogues as thinly-veiled manifestoes are missing! Continue reading

Reading Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals … Twice!

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Using the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, this course is devoted to developing a thorough understanding of Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals by reading it once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details. Along the way, we’ll pay careful attention to both the dramatic and the philosophic features that Nietzsche interweaves in this “polemic”. Whether you’ve attempted Nietzsche’s Genealogy before or never cracked the cover, this course is for you.
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Reading Prometheus Bound and Frankenstein … Twice!

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Although Mary Shelley subtitled her most famous work “The Modern Prometheus,” few modern readers consider her novel in light of its ancient antecedent. This course will explore the full significance of Shelley’s Frankenstein by reading it closely in conjunction with a close reading of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. We’ll use the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book of reading each work once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details as we attempt to understand each work in its own right as well as the relationships between them. Continue reading