Guided Reading in Philosophical Texts

Guided Reading in Philosophical Texts: Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy

Dr. Adrian Sackson

adrians@mail.tau.ac.il

 

Course no. 1662.1401.01

2018-9 fall semester

2 credits

Sunday 10:00-12:00

Office hours: by appointment

 

Course Description

In this class, students will engage in a close and careful examination of one of the central texts of modernity, Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy. Close reading of this text, in conjunction with guiding questions and class discussion, will enable students to reach a solid understanding of important elements of Cartesian philosophy and Descartes’ writing. But the course revolves around another central objective: to help students advance in their ability to read and interpret philosophical texts, to understand and analyze various forms of philosophical argument, and to articulate their own ideas clearly. Our study of Descartes' canonical text will thus model various strategies which can be employed when approaching philosophical texts in general. We will attempt to draw out the logical and argumentative structure of the text, its implicit assumptions and presuppositions, its use of rhetoric, its appeal to linguistic devices, as well as examining its historical and philosophical context. The course stresses the importance of actively partaking in the “philosophical experience” by reading, writing, and conversing about the text and its arguments. 

 

Assessment

Weekly reading & guiding questions (10%) – due: before each class

This is a guided reading course, and therefore preparing the weekly reading is essential to succeeding. Each week, students will be assigned a segment of text to read, and a set of guiding questions to answer. Students are expected to prepare written answers to the questions. The quality of the written answers themselves will not be assessed—they are for you, to assist you in grappling with the text. However, the task is compulsory: Students are required to submit their answers by email every week in advance of class. Proper and timely submission of answers that show engagement with the texts and the questions will ensure a full grade for this element of the course.

Midterm paper [3-4 pages] (30%) – due: Thursday, Nov 22

The task will be given out in the first week of class. The paper will be due mid-semester.

Final paper [6-8 pages] (50%) – due: TBA

The task will be given out in the first week of class. The due date is set by the program.

Participation (10%)

Attendance is mandatory. Active participation in class discussions is encouraged. Students are expected to be present—both physically and mentally.

 

 

Schedule

*This schedule is tentative and may change as the course progresses.

Important note:- This is a guided reading course in which we will closely examine one entire book: Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. As such, (almost) every week we will be reading a new section of this book. All assigned readings are from John Cottingham’s English translation of this text (see the course Moodle) unless specified otherwise. The readings may appear short but they are challenging and you are required to submit answers to the weekly guiding questions.

 

14.10.18 – Session 1: Introduction part I

We will discuss aims and goals, course expectations and logistics. In addition, we will ask: Why study philosophy? Why study old, dead philosophers? And why study Descartes?

  • No preparation required.

 

21.10.18 – Session 2: Introduction part II

Background: Who was Rene Descartes? What is the Meditations on First Philosophy?

  • Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated and edited by John Cottingham, Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 3-11.

 

28.10.18 – Session 3: Meditation 1

  • Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated and edited by John Cottingham, Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 12-15 [optional: pp. 63-67].

 

4.11.18 – Session 4: Meditation 2 (part I)

  • Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated and edited by John Cottingham, Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 16-19 [optional: pp. 68-76].

 

11.11.18 – Session 5: Meditation 2 (part II)

  • Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated and edited by John Cottingham, Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 20-23 [optional: pp. 76-77].

 

18.11.18 – Session 6: Meditation 3

  • Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated and edited by John Cottingham, Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 24-36.

 

25.11.18 – Session 7: Criticisms of Cartesian Foundationalism and Skepticism

After examining half of Descartes’ Meditations, we will pause for a week to place his approach in a broader philosophical discussion, to examine some of its implications, and to explore a critique.

  • Peirce, Charles Sanders. “Some consequences of Four Incapacities.” Journal of Speculative Philosophy, vol. 2, 1868, pp. 140-157.
  • Thagard, Paul, and Craig Beam. “Epistemological Metaphors and the Nature of Philosophy.” Metaphilosophy, vol. 35, 2004, pp. 504-516.

 

2.12.18 – Session 8: Meditation 4

  • Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated and edited by John Cottingham, Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 37-43 [optional: pp. 90-94].

 

16.12.18 – Session 9: Meditation 5

  • Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated and edited by John Cottingham, Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 44-49 [optional: pp. 95-106].

 

23.12.18 – Session 10: Meditation 6

  • Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated and edited by John Cottingham, Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 50-62 [optional: pp. 107-115].

 

30.12.18 – Session 11: Loose ends, critiques, and final paper

This session will be devoted to tying up loose ends from previous sessions and to reviewing the requirements for the final paper. In addition, we may devote time to the ‘Cartesian Circle’ critique and to placing Descartes’ in a broader discussion about mind and matter.

  • Preparation: Review the instructions for the final paper (see Moodle).

 

6.1.19 – Session 12: Al-Ghazali’s That Which Delivers from Error

We will examine excerpts from a short text by the 11th-century Persian Muslim philosopher, Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali. Scholars have noted some interesting affinities between Descartes and al-Ghazali, as well as some interesting differences, and we will look at these closely.

  • Al-Ghazali, Abu Hamid Muhammad. “That Which Delivers from Error.” The Islamic World, edited by William H. McNeill and Marylin Robinson Waldman, Oxford University Press, 1973, pp. 207-213.

 

13.1.19 – Session 13: Conclusion

We will recap and reflect on what we have studied, and examine the reverberations of Descartes’ ideas from his time till our own.

  • Preparation: Review course notes.

 

Attendance

Attendance is mandatory. Students are permitted a maximum of three unexcused absences without penalty. Any additional absences will affect the final grade and may result in failure of the course.

 

Academic conduct

Plagiarism is taken extremely seriously. Any instance of academic misconduct which includes: submitting someone else’s work as your own; failure to accurately cite sources; taking words from another source without using quotation marks; submission of work for which you have previously received credit; working in a group for individual assignments; using unauthorized materials in an exam and sharing your work with other students, will result in failure of the assignment and will likely lead to further disciplinary measures.

 

Bibliography

Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated and edited by John Cottingham, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

al-Ghazali, Abu Hamid Muhammad. “That Which Delivers from Error.” The Islamic World, edited by William H. McNeill and Marylin Robinson Waldman, Oxford University Press, 1973, pp. 207-239.

Peirce, Charles Sanders. “Some consequences of Four Incapacities.” Journal of Speculative Philosophy, vol. 2, 1868, pp. 140-157.

Thagard, Paul, and Craig Beam. “Epistemological Metaphors and the Nature of Philosophy.” Metaphilosophy, vol. 35, 2004, pp. 504-516.

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