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Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Western Philosophy

Philosophy is amazing, it gives us humans tools to experience the world, it teaches critical thinking, close reading, clear writing, and logical analysis; it uses these to understand the language we use to describe the world and our place within it.

Hillsdale College is an independent institution of higher learning founded in 1844 by men and women “grateful to God for the inestimable blessings” resulting from civil and religious liberty and “believing that the diffusion of learning is essential to the perpetuity of these blessings.” It pursues the stated object of the founders: “to furnish all persons who wish, irrespective of nation, color, or sex, a literary, scientific, [and] theological education” outstanding among American colleges “and to combine with this such moral and social instruction as will best develop the minds and improve the hearts of its pupils.” As a nonsectarian Christian institution, Hillsdale College maintains “by precept and example” the immemorial teachings and practices of the Christian faith.

Hillsdale College, Hillsdale’s charter prohibits any discrimination based on race, religion, or sex, and the college has been credited as the first American college to prohibit this type of discrimination in a charter. Notably, Hillsdale’s football team refused to play in the 1956 Tangerine Bowl in Florida when the governing committee of the bowl would not allow the team’s black players to join the white players on the field; the committee then selected Juniata College instead.

The College also considers itself a trustee of our Western philosophical and theological inheritance tracing to Athens and Jerusalem, a heritage finding its clearest expression in the American experiment of self-government under law.

By training the young in the liberal arts, Hillsdale College prepares students to become leaders worthy of that legacy. By encouraging the scholarship of its faculty, it contributes to the preservation of that legacy for future generations. By publicly defending that legacy, it enlists the aid of other friends of free civilization and thus secures the conditions of its own survival and independence.

Is this about Marxism? Almost certainly not. Marx is certainly a prominent figure in western philosophy but given that this is an introduction to the field as a whole and that Hillsdale is a pretty pro-capitalist school, I would imagine from the trailer that the course covers mostly ancient philosophy (Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, etc.) and probably some more modern western philosophy like Kant or Nietzsche, but probably relatively little Marx or Engels.

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Introduction to Western Philosophy | Online Course

Course Overview

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Hillsdale College was founded in 1844 to provide to all who wish to learn the education necessary to perpetuate the blessings of civil and religious liberty. In 2011, the College began producing free online courses in order to extend that mission.

These free, not-for-credit courses are taught by Hillsdale College faculty and are patterned after the education offered on the Hillsdale College campus. They aim to provide students with an education that pursues knowledge of the highest things, provides insight into the nature of God and man, forms character, and defends constitutional government.

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Course Overview

Western philosophy began in ancient Greece as a pursuit of knowledge about human nature and the best way of life. Later, medieval Christian philosophers sought to understand the relationship between faith and reason. However, modern philosophy dismissed much of this philosophical tradition in favor of a radical skepticism, which culminated in the postmodern rejection of reason and truth. This course will examine the history and ideas of Western philosophy from Plato to C.S. Lewis.

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Course Lectures

01 Introduction: Wonder and the Good

Philosophy a word that means love of wisdom seeks to know the ultimate or eternal things. Human beings are drawn to this pursuit because of our innate sense of wonder and a concern with the good.

02 Plato: Music, Poetry, and Justice

In the Republic, Plato attempts to describe justice, first in the city, and then in the human soul. He argues that a man’s soul must be prepared by a good musical education to recognize the truth.

03 Plato: Philosophy and Liberal Education

In Book VI of the Republic, Plato reveals the nature of philosophy through two famous images: the divided line and the allegory of the cave. He depicts philosophy as a dramatic journey in which the human soul is turned from false opinions and images and toward a true understanding of reality.

04 Aristotle: The Moral and Intellectual Virtues

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle seeks to discuss the best way of life that fulfills our human nature. The two possibilities philosophy and politics encompass the highest human activity and the conditions necessary to promote that activity.

05 Aristotle: Metaphysics, Physics, and the Soul

In the first line of the Metaphysics, Aristotle writes, “All human beings desire to know.” He adds that wonder leads us to investigate the four kinds of causes of natural things: material, efficient, formal, and final.

06 Aristotle: Logic and Reasoning

Logic is concerned with the right reasoning about reality. In his six books on logic collectively known as the Organon Aristotle demonstrates how we can gain a deeper understanding of reality through inductive and deductive reasoning and dialectical arguments.

07 Aquinas: The Existence of God

Medieval Christian philosophy is characterized by a dramatic encounter between ancient philosophy and revelation. In the first part of the Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas reveals the beauty and power of these traditions in his argument for the existence of God.

08 Aquinas: The Natural Law

Thomas Aquinas argues that God governs the universe by directing all things to the good or to their perfection. In the second part of the Summa Theologiae, Aquinas explains that rational beings participate in this divine plan through natural law.

09 Bacon: The Emergence of Modern Philosophy

Francis Bacon criticized the Western philosophical tradition for being barren of utility and built on a poor foundation. In The Great Instauration, he outlines a plan for the construction of a radically new philosophy that seeks to command, rather than understand, nature.

10 Descartes: Radical Doubt and Rationalism

In Meditations on First Philosophy, René Descartes argues for a radical skepticism of the senses. He makes the case for a rationalist philosophy grounded in the self “I think, therefore I am.”

11 Hume: Radical Doubt and Empiricism

David Hume like Descartes before him questions man’s ability to acquire scientific knowledge. Contrary to Descartes, Hume adopts an empirical approach that attempts to account for the apparent limitations of experience and observation.

12 Kant: The Grand Modern Synthesis

Immanuel Kant offers a synthesis of the competing strains of modern philosophy and presents an account of morality that seeks to preserve human freedom. Kant concludes that morality must be based on duty for its own sake and governed by the categorical imperative.

13 Nietzsche: The Crisis of Reason

Friedrich Nietzsche argues that modern philosophy and science destroyed our ability to believe that the world is intelligible and ordered. Nietzsche argues that man cannot escape the cave and understand the truth about reality. Therefore, the philosopher must create a fiction to direct human life.

14 C.S. Lewis: The Recovery of Reason

In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis confronts a false image of human reason that promotes a corrosive skepticism and often culminates in irrationalism. Lewis looks to a universal order of values in the Tao as an antidote to the “men without chests” produced by modern philosophy.

Course Lectures → Click Here