Philosophical Perspectives on the Humanities

Humanities Division

University of Chicago


General info on teaching in the college

Instructors and schedule for 2008-09

Syllabi from previous years

Texts and editions

Philosophical Perspectives texts and editions

This material is for the 2008-09 academic year.

Fall quarter

Texts we will all use:
  1. Homer, Iliad, Fagles translation. (Penguin)
  2. Sophocles I, edited by Grene and Lattimore (University of Chicago Press). [Contains Oedipus]
  3. Plato, Five Dialogues, edited by Grube (Hackett). [Contains the Apology, as well as other good choices]
  4. The Basic Works of Aristotle edited by McKeon (Modern Library) [contains the Ethics]


Syllabus template:
  1. First meeting covering practical matters, some discussion the nature of the Core as the instructor understands it, and some substantive textual discussion (perhaps of a fragment distributed in class, perhaps of a brief text previously assigned via notification on the Chalk site).
  2. Three or four meetings on the Iliad. We will read substantial chunks of the text, spread out over the whole work, to adequately cover the story as it develops. A possible selection (that aims to stick to the more significant bits): Books 1, 2 (up to line 583), 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 16, 18, 19, 22, 24.
  3. One or two meetings on Oedipus.
  4. One or two meetings on texts of the instructorís choosing (other tragedies, The Clouds, etc.)
  5. One or two meetings on The Apology.
  6. One or two meetings on Symposium, including the Alcibiades hagiography of Socrates.
  7. One to four meetings on other works of Plato, such as Republic, or on thematically related ancient philosophers other than Aristotle (for relevant selections from the Discourses of Epictetus, see Anton.)
  8. Three or four meetings on Nicomachean Ethics drawn particularly from books 1-4 and 10.
  9. Meeting 18 on some text of instructorís choice bridging the transition to the second quarter.


Supplementary Readings. People at the meeting recommended the following texts as background to the Iliad:
  1. Nature and Culture in the Iliad, Redfield.
  2. Homer on Life and Death, Griffin.
  3. The Iliad, or the Poem of Force, Weil.
  4. Oxford Readings in Homerís Iliad Cairns (ed.)
  5. A Companion to the Iliad, Willcock.

Winter quarter

Every section of Phil Perspectives will adhere to following template, in order:


  1. One week or so on texts engaging issues of scientific method or epistemology at the outset of the Enlightenment.  For example, one might read something of Galileo ("The Assayer", "The Starry Messenger", "Letter to Duchess Christina").  Some instructors have loved using Galileo, but some have found it hard to deploy absent a background in the history of science, given that Galileo tends to couch his larger methodological claims in the context of polemics against now forgotten contemporaries.  Another option is something from Bacon.  In his New Organon, Bacon delineates a method of inquiry, and in essays such as "Of Truth", "Of Atheism", and "Of Superstition" (the latter of which ought to be read as a pair), he discusses faith and the justification of belief.  (In addition, at the instructor's discretion, the course might begin with some text bridging the fall and winter quarters, such as something from the Bible, Augustine, or Aquinas.)
  2. Two or three weeks on Descartes' Meditations.  Recommended edition: Cambridge texts in the history of philosophy.  The consensus at the meeting was that for various reasons, including issues of accessibility and relevance to course themes, it would be a good idea to read only the first four dialogues.
  3. Two or three weeks on Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.  Recommended edition: Hackett.  One might also read some Pascal during this period: Thomas Pavel found Pascal to be very useful in delineating a reaction to Descartes' different from Hume's.  He has kindly made available the selections he read last year.  They are in this file.  (The bits on Montaigne included in these selections were relevant only because Montaigne was read last year.  The consensus at the meeting was that Montaigne doesn't work well in this course; thus we're not reading him this year.)
  4. A week or so on Hamlet.  Recommended edition: the Arden second series edition, edited by Jenkins.
  5. Two weeks or so on a philosopher continuing consideration of the epistemological issues raised by Descartes and Hume.  David Finkelstein recommend reading selections from Kant's First Critique; Thomas Pavel recommended reading selections from Thomas Reid's Principles of Common Sense.
  6. A week or so reading something both relevant and of interest to the instructor.

Spring quarter

The two core philosophy texts for the spring are the following:


  1. Kant's Groundwork. The new Cambridge edition is the most highly-regarded translation. But some think that the Hackett translation is easier for students to understand, and in any case it's cheaper.
  2. Hume's Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Oxford has a newish edition targeted to students. The Hackett edition is, as ever, cheaper.
As we aspire less to uniformity in the spring, instructors are free to choose their remaining readings. At least one novel must be included. The material ought, of course, to relate to the topics in moral philosophy pursued in class discussion of the above texts.

Some suggestions:

  1. Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem.
  2. Austen, Persuasion.
  3. Jonathan Bennett, "The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn".
  4. Coetzee, Disgrace or Waiting for the Barbarians.
  5. Conrad, Heart of Darkness (with the obvious film accompaniment).
  6. Melville, Billy Budd.
  7. Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (in conjunction with the sections on vanity in Hume's Treatise).