Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.

— Immanuel Kant

About Me

A U.S. citizen born in Germany, I earned my BA degrees in philosophy and history at George Mason University and my MA and PhD degrees at the American University. I taught in the Department of Philosophy at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore from 1991-2007. Tenured in 1998 I taught core courses, honors ethics courses, and upper level courses in my area on Kant and 18th century aesthetic theory. To satisfy a special interest I expanded my AOS and taught courses in the history of science.

Since my retirement in 2007 (my 16-year old granddaughter Jessica was dying of a brain tumor and I opted to spend the last year of her life close by her side), I have found joy and stimulation teaching courses for the OLLI programs (Osher Life Long Learning in Retirement Institutes) both at George Mason and the American University. I also teach regularly for the Encore Learning Institute in Arlington which is similarly organized as the Ollies.

To teach for an intellectually engaged retirement community has over the years become the greatest academic enjoyment of my life — to engage some of the deep philosophical themes with students who bring sagacity, an undiminished joy of learning, and often their own rich professional knowledge to the study of philosophy, doing so late in life but without the distractions and nervous lifestyles associated with traditional-age students.

I have ventured into teaching philosophy beyond my expertise, a self-improvement that has expanded my mind and general well-being, beyond what I thought possible. My students have approved and not held it against me.

Recently I have taught a 6-week course at my local church: “The God of the Philosophers: Aspects of Faith and Reason”.

My Publications

(1995) The Crisis of Judgment in Kant’s Three Critiques (In Search of a Science of Aesthetics). New York/Berlin/Paris/Bern: Peter Lang Publishing Inc.

(1995) “Kant’s Eschatology in Zum Ewigen Frieden: The Concept of Purposiveness to Guarantee Perpetual Peace.” In Proceedings of the 8th International Congress, Memphis. Vol. 2: 437-444. Edited Hoke Robinson. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press.

(1997) co-authored with Daniel Rothbart. “Kant’s Critique of Judgment and the Scientific Investigation of Matter.” In Hyle International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry 3(1): 65-80.

(1998) “The Problem of the A Priori in Sensibility: Revisiting Kant’s and Hegel’s Theories of the Senses.” In Review of Metaphysics, 52(2):341-367.

(2001) “Revisiting Kant’s General Metaphysics: Completing a Transcendental Psychology.” In Proceedings of the 9th International Kant-Congress, “Kant und die Berliner Aufklaerung, Berlin.” Vol. 4: 424-432. Editors: V. Gerhardt, R-P. Horstmann, R. Schumacher. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

(2003) “Faith, Philosophy, Passions and Feminism.” In anthology Philosophy, Feminism and Faith, edited Ruth Groenhout and Marya Bower. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

(2003) “Kant’s Transcendental Psychology: A Prerequisite for Metaphysics and Bridge to the Divine.” In Proceedings Second World Conference of Metaphysics, 2003. Rome, July 2-5, 2003. Vol. II:245-251. Editor: David C. Murray. Pub. Fondazione Idente di Study e di Ricerca.

(2004) “Irrationalism in Eighteenth Century Aesthetic Theory.” Abstract in Proceedings of the 21st World Congress of Philosophy, (12:23-29); August 10-17, 2003, Istanbul, Turkey.

(2008) “Reflections on Kant’s Transcendental Psychology: a Bridge to the Transcendent.” In Proceedings of the 10th International Kant-Congress, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 4 -9 Sept. 2005. “Recht und Frieden in der Philosophie Kants.” Vol. 5:87-93. Editors: V. Rohden, R.R. Terra, G.A. de Almeida, M. Ruffing. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

My Repertory of Courses Taught in the Osher Program

  • Introduction to Kant
  • Philosophical Aesthetics
  • General Ethics or What is the Good Life?
  • Philosophy and Science: Kissing Cousins
  • Existentialism
  • Ancient Greek Roots of Modern Science
  • What is Philosophy Anyway (or the Enterprise of Philosophy)
  • Metaphysics: The Nature of Reality
  • Spinoza’s Ethics

I am mulling over a new course possibly under the title “Conceptions of Human Nature”. In recent decades “human nature” has become a hot-button issue, under attack in some circles as non-existent, and in others equally passionately defended as undeniably worthy of deep study. The impetus to create a course on this theme was provided by Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate (2002) which I have started to read for the first time, inspired by my non-philosopher son who read it with great enthusiasm.  As a Kantian and tending toward non-material explanations of the world I may come to slightly different conclusions on the subject of human nature, but thank Steven Pinker for his rich and wonderfully researched work.  My approach will be to profile relevant philosophers that have dealt with various problems of mind, body, consciousness and what can be experienced, in short how “human nature,” if there is such a thing, works and can be explained. Some of the featured thinkers I will consult are Locke (the original “blank slate, tabula rasa guy), Rousseau (of “noble savage” fame), Descartes (with his “ghost in the machine”), and Kant (with his transcendental psychology).  If time permits it would be nice to look at some theories of the soul as poetically discussed by Plato, biologically by Aristotle, and scientifically by Bacon, and the “science of psychology” of Spinoza. But covering all this may require 3 courses.

Encore Learning (Founder’s Hall, George Mason University).

Spring 2017: Course #755

Philosophies of Human Nature (A Survey)

March 22 to May 10, 2017 (8 sessions) | Wednesdays, 10:00am – 11:30am (8 sessions)

Your Friendly Tour Guide (Instructor): Irmgard Scherer

Précis: The idea of a unique human nature has been critiqued as non-existent but also defended as worthy of study. We will examine some theories of human nature as offered by ancient, medieval and modern thinkers, to see whether one can identify innate patterns of thinking, feeling, discerning, willing, specific to human nature. The goal is to expand our understanding of such concepts as soul, mind, body and their interrelationships.

We will begin by looking at 2 famous “odes” to the greatness of human nature, contrasting them with an account of the corruption & misery of human kind. Among the themes & philosophies we cover are: theories of the soul in Plato & Aristotle; Epicurus and Lucretius’s theories based on atomism; Rousseau’s noble savage view opposed to Augustine and Luther’s ignoble, fallen creature theology. Bacon, Descartes & Locke set the stage for “3 dogmas of human nature” (Pinker wants to debunk) — the ghost in the machine; the noble savage; the blank slate. We will conclude with Kant’s transcendental philosophy as an answer to these dogmas, as well as providing an “inventory”, i.e. a total composite of human nature.

Course Outline

Introduction. Praise and lamentation of human nature

  1. Pico Della Mirandola (15th c. CE), “Oration on the Dignity of Man” (3 pp.)
  2. St. Augustine (354-430 CE), “Man’s Natural Endowments” (2 pp.)
  3. David Hume, (list of) Miseries of human kind (2 pp.)

Ancient theories of the soul

  1. Plato (427-347 BC), The chariot allegory in Phaedrus (2 pp.)
  2. _____________, Is the soul one or many? in Republic, Bk. iv (4 pp.)
  3. Aristotle (385-323 BC). On the soul (selections in DeAnima) (7 pp.) (questions about perception, thinking, and soul-body relations)

From ancient to medieval perspectives

  1. Epicureanism, Stoicism: based on Democritus’s atomism
  2. Epicurus (341-270 BC), Human nature and happiness (3 pp.)
  3. Lucretius (b.99BC), On the Nature of the Universe (2 pp.)

St. Augustine, Luther, Rousseau

  1. St. Augustine. Free Choice of the Will. “Original Sin” (2 pp.)
  2. Martin Luther (1483-1546). Freedom of a Christian. Liberation from sin by faith (2 pp.)
  3. Jean-J.Rousseau (1712-1778). Emile (or on Education). “The noble savage, Man born good but corrupted by society” (4 pp.)

The Dawn of Modern Philosophy

  1. Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Novum Organum: “Idols of the Mind”
  2. Rene Descartes (1596-1650). Selections from Meditations on First Philosophy: “The ghost in the machine”
  3. John Locke (1632-1704). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding: “The blank slate”

18th Century’s dominant philosopher: Immanuel Kant & his Transcendental Philosophy

  1. Kant (1724-1804). Critique of Pure Reason: Proposing “a complete inventory of human nature”