“The Whole of Human Existence”: An introduction to Philosophy through key texts

The aspiration to understand human existence conflicts with the dominant convictions of our time, including the belief that the various sciences can provide this knowledge, or the belief that all knowledge is relative to one’s history, economic background, linguistic inheritance, and so forth.

In a sense, this opposition reflects the original discovery of philosophy in Ancient Greece as a way of life guided by human reason alone: a way of life that is always in potential conflict with the dominant opinions of the time. Philosophy raises questions such as: What is happiness? What is justice? and What is human excellence? By contrast, political communities consist of answers to those questions.

In another sense, this opposition reflects the modern philosophical project to make science and reason not just respected, but the main benefactor of social life. This revolution sought to place philosophy and all of the sciences on new and certain foundations and to reinvent the relation between philosophy and politics. The great success of modern natural science has seen philosophers try to complete the modern project by subjecting all thought to the methods modelled on natural science. The paradoxical result has been the rejection of reason by the reduction of human thought to non-human processes or powers.

To be introduced to philosophy means to enter the human activity of trying to make sense of the whole of life. In this course we will discuss key texts of philosophers whose thought is of fundamental importance for our self-understanding. A general discussion of the broader implications of the various approaches to philosophy that they represent will be accompanied by a detailed reading of one or two extended passages.