GER 214 What Makes Us Think? Critical Judgment and Moments of Crisis
What makes us think? And why does that question matter? Our starting point, in exploring these questions, will be Hannah Arendt’s last book project, The Life of the Mind, in which she asks whether it’s possible that the activity of thinking may condition human beings to abstain from evil-doing. She cites the case of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, whose great moral fault, she argues, was thoughtlessness. We’ll read her book on the Eichmann trial (Eichmann in Jerusalem) and follow how in The Life of the Mind and related texts she tries to discern what makes us think, and what thinking has to do with ethical, political and aesthetic judgments. We will also read some of Arendt’s predecessors and interlocutors, including Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Kafka, Brecht, and Heidegger, and we will look at some recent scholarship on thinking. All readings will be in English. Throughout the semester, we’ll also be considering our contemporary moment, looking for and analyzing specific phenomenon—arising in politics, the arts, and everyday life—that make us think. Arendt argues that the activity of thinking may prevent catastrophes in moments of crisis. We shall see what we think about that.
HR 235 Dignity and the Human Rights Tradition
We live at a time when the claim to human rights is both taken for granted and regularly disregarded. One reason for the disconnect between the reality and the ideal of human rights is that human rights have never been given a secure philosophical foundation. Indeed, many have argued that absent a religiously grounded faith in human dignity, there is no legal ground for human rights. Might it be that human rights are simply well-meaning aspirations without legal or philosophical foundation? And what is dignity anyway? Ought we to abandon talk about dignity and admit that human rights are groundless? Against this view, human rights advocates, international lawyers, and constitutional judges continue to speak of dignity as the core value of the international legal system. Indeed, lawyers in Germany and South Africa are developing a "dignity jurisprudence" that might guarantee human rights on the foundation of human dignity. Is it possible, therefore, to develop a secular and legally meaningful idea of dignity that can offer a ground for human rights? This class explores both the modern challenge to dignity and human rights, the historical foundations of human rights, and modern attempts to resuscitate a new and more coherent secular ideal of dignity as a legally valid guarantee of human rights. In addition to texts including Hannah Arendt's book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, we read legal cases, and documents from international law. This course satisfies the requirement for a core course in the Human Rights Program. This course also satisfies the Philosophy program's Histories of Philosophy requirement. All philosophy majors are required to take two courses fulfilling this requirement, starting with the class of 2025.
PHIL / LIT 337 Life of the Mind: Hannah Arendt - Thomas Bartscherer
Cross-listed: German Studies; Literature What is the life of the mind? What makes us think and where are we when we think? What is the relationship between thinking and willing, between thought and action? What is the history and meaning of the concept of a “free will”? Hannah Arendt engaged these and related questions intensively in the last several years of her life, in conversation with a wide array of predecessors, including Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Duns Scotus, Descartes, Kant, Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Kafka. Our objective in this course will be a careful study of that engagement. The posthumously published book called The Life of the Mind, comprised of two volumes, "Thinking" and "Willing," was assembled on the basis of manuscripts Arendt left incomplete at the time of her death. We shall be reading not only from the published text, but also from the manuscripts on which that text is based and from the newly constituted texts that are to be published in the forthcoming critical edition of this material. The philological and interpretative questions that emerge from this state of affairs will also be on our agenda. Put differently, we will be asking not only, with Arendt, the philosophical question, “what is the life of the mind?,” but also the philological question, “what is The Life of the Mind?”
GER 331 Poetry and Philosophy, Thomas Wild
Is there something like a sensory reasoning? Who has the capacity to formulate the unspeakable? How can we address— with words— the crisis of language? Is humor a thought or a sentiment? Poetry and philosophy have for centuries offered fascinating responses to such questions— not least in the German tradition. Poets, philosophers, and poetic thinkers—from Goethe, Kant, and Schiller, to Hölderlin, Heidegger, and Rilke, or from Heine, Nietzsche, and Kafka, to writers of the Avant-Garde, and on to Benjamin, Brecht, and Arendt—have all had something to say on these questions. The beauty and precision of their language(s) will foster our analytical vocabulary and will (we hope!) inspire ambitious and playful writing experiments and provoke a semester of joyful conversations with these thinkers of and in the German language. Conducted in German