Osher Life Long Learning Institute
At George Mason University
Philosophies of Human Nature
September 21 to November 9; Tuesdays 11:50-1:15 p.m.
(8 on-line sessions)
Your friendly tour guide (instructor): Irmgard Scherer, PhD.
Précis: This course will focus on humanistic, philosophical views in contrast to empirical descriptive-materialistic views of human nature. We ask, Is there a special human nature and can we identify innate patterns of human thinking, feeling, willing-deciding, not captured by non-human nature in natural science? How can one incorporate non-material concepts of soul, mind, consciousness in understanding human nature?
We read two famous “odes” to the greatness of human nature, Pico Mirandola and Augustine, which are contrasted with corrupt human nature in David Hume. Plato and Aristotle offer theories of the soul, amazingly consistent with modern insights. Epicurus and Lucretius present atomistic, deterministic theories of human nature. In Rousseau we meet the famous “noble savage” idea of human nature, in contrast to Augustine’s and Luther’s “fallen creature theology”. Bacon, Descartes & Locke set the stage for what Steven Pinker calls “three dogmas” of human nature–the ghost in the machine; the noble savage; and the blank slate which we take up. Finally, we look at Kant’s transcendental philosophy, an attempt to answer three central questions belonging to human existence: What may I hope? What can I know? How am I to act?
Introduction. Praise and lamentation of human nature
- Pico Della Mirandola (15th c. CE). Oration on the Dignity of Man
- St. Augustine (354-430 CE). City of God. Man’s Natural Endowments
- David Hume (1711-76). Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
Ancient theories of the soul
- Plato (427-347 BC), Phaedrus. The chariot allegory
- _______, Republic. Is the soul one or many?
- Aristotle (385-323 BC), Metaphysics. Levels of knowing
- _______, DeAnima (selections). The physiological nature of the soul
Transition to medieval perspectives of human existence
- Epicureanism, Stoicism, based on classical atomism
- Epicurus (341-270 BC), Human nature and happiness
- Lucretius (b.99BC), On the Nature of the Universe.
St. Augustine, Luther, Rousseau
- St. Augustine (1225-1274). Free Choice of the Will. On Original Sin
- Martin Luther (1483-1546). Freedom of a Christian. From Sin to Faith
- Jean-Jacques.Rousseau (1712-1778). Emile (or on Education). The Noble Savage, Man born good but corrupted by society
Vignettes of human nature at the dawn of modern philosophy
- Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Novum Organum. On the Idols of the Mind
- Rene Descartes (1596-1650). Selections from Meditations on First Philosophy. The Ghost in the Machine
- John Locke (1632-1704). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The Blank Slate
18th Century Enlightenment: Immanuel Kant & Transcendental psychology
I. Kant (1724-1804). Critique of Pure Reason (1787)
- Human consciousness: An inventory of the mind’s powers
- What may I hope? What can I know? How am I to act?
THANKS FOR ZOOMING WITH ME! FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME BY E-MAIL.