Irmgard Scherer

Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.

— Immanuel Kant

About Me

A U.S. citizen born in Germany, I earned BA degrees in philosophy and history at George Mason University in 1985, and MA and PhD degrees at the American University in 1991. My teaching career started in the philosophy department at Loyola University Maryland in 1991 until 2007. I taught courses in philosophical anthropology, honors ethics courses, as well as upper-level courses in my area on Kant and 18th century aesthetic theory. While at Loyola, I expanded my AOC to satisfy an interest in science and designed and taught a special course in the history and philosophy of science.

My 16-year old granddaughter was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor in 2006 and I opted to retire from academic life in 2007 to be with her in the last year of her life. Since that time I have found new joy and satisfaction in teaching philosophy for the Osher Life Long Learning in Retirement Institutes at George Mason University and at the American University, as well as for a similarly organized program at Encore Learning in Arlington.

I never imagined that giving up a satisfying academic tenure-track position would lead to something even more rewarding, that is to a brand-new adventure to teach an intellectually engaged retirement community — genuine seekers of wisdom after a lifetime of having had careers in science, law, medicine, government. This for me has become the greatest academic highlight, to engage students in philosophical debates on a variety of issues, who bring sagacity and infectious joy of learning to the study of philosophy, adding their rich professional backgrounds and insights to class debates. I’d say, it can’t get any better than that. To design new courses and amass a certain repertoire I have ventured beyond my area of competence (see my course offerings on this page). I have also taught a course at my local church, titled “The God of the Philosophers”, to talk about the close relationship between 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 and Encore 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
  • Philosophies of Human Nature (A Survey)

Osher Life Long Learning Institute
At George Mason University

Fall 2021
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

  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 (1711-76), “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion,” (2 pp.)

Ancient theories of the soul

  1. Plato (427-347 BC), The chariot allegory, Phaedrus (2 pp.)
  2. _______, Is the soul one or many? Republic, Bk. iv (4 pp.)
  3. Aristotle (385-323 BC), Levels of knowing, Metaphysics, Bk. i (2 pp.)
  4. ­­­­_______, On the Soul, DeAnima (selections) (7 pp.)

Transition to medieval perspectives of human existence

  1. Epicureanism, Stoicism, based on theory of classical atomism
  2. Epicurus (341-270 BC), Human nature and happiness (3 pp.)
  3. Lucretius (b.99BC), On the Nature of the Universe, Bk. ii (2 pp.)

St. Augustine, Luther, Rousseau

  1. St. Augustine (1225-1274). Free Choice of the Will. “Original Sin”, Bk. iii (2 pp.)
  2. Martin Luther (1483-1546). Freedom of a Christian. From sin to faith (2 pp.)
  3. Jean-Jacques.Rousseau (1712-1778). Emile (or on Education). “The noble savage”,
    Man born good but corrupted by society, Bk. i (4 pp.)

Vignettes of human nature at 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 Enlightenment: Immanuel Kant & Transcendental psychology

I. Kant (1724-1804). Critique of Pure Reason (1787)

  1. Human consciousness: An inventory
  2. What may I hope? What can I know? How am I to act?