Learning Unlimited
Winter 2018 Tuesday Lecture Series

Tuesdays, January 9 to March 13, 10:00 A.M. to 12 Noon
Fairfield Senior’s Centre, 81 Lothian Avenue, Etobicoke

Who are We?  Human Nature in the Western Tradition”


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Coordinator and Presenter: Dr. Jonathan Salem-WisemanProfessor of Philosophy, Humber College

Course Overview: This course is an interdisciplinary examination of human nature. We will begin with the earliest reflections on “who we are” in the Greek and Biblical traditions, and conclude with the most recent theories drawn from the new super-disciplines like evolutionary psychology. Questions will guide our investigation: Is human nature fixed or changing? Are we shaped by nature or nurture (or both)? Are we unified or divided creatures? Are we motivated by reason or desire? Are we free, or are we shaped by external forces beyond our control? To help find some answers we will read some of the most powerful and influential texts of the Western tradition.

January 9. The Sinning Animal. Some of the earliest Biblical views of human nature, include the creation story in Genesis II and III, and the Book of Job. What is the relationship between human beings and God? How should we try to reconcile the inescapability of human suffering with God’s perfect nature?

January 16. The Fated Animal. Sophocles’ tragedy, Oedipus the King, provides a vivid portrait of what it means to be a human being. In particular, the relationship between free will and fate, the limits of human reason, and the origins of the so-called “Oedipus Complex.”

January 23. The Loving Animal. Using, Plato’s Symposium, a dialogue about love and philosophy, we will look at the various views of homo- and heterosexual love as articulated in the dialogue, including the famous “erotic ascent” described by Socrates, before examining the real-life love relationship between Socrates and Alcibiades.

January 30. The Pleasure-Seeking Animal. Lucretius, the ancient Roman Epicurean philosopher, wrote an epic poem outlining the nature of the physical universe and the place of human beings within it. His strictly “materialistic” view of reality is both irreligious and strikingly modern, which perhaps explains why The Nature of Things was thought lost until it was re-discovered in a fifteenth century library!

February 6. The Free Animal. Augustine offers a Christian interpretation of what it means to be human in his On the Free Choice of the Will. His efforts to explain free will, sin, and how human freedom can be reconciled with divine foreknowledge are assessed.

February 13. The Divided Animal. In the wake of the scientific revolution, philosophers in the 17th and 18th century argued for and against the view that human beings are “dualistic” creatures, possessing both material bodies and spiritual souls. Thinkers like Descartes, Hobbes, Leibniz, and Hume contributed to this ongoing debate.

February 20. The Corrupted Animal. At the dawn of the industrial revolution, figures like Rousseau and Marx suspected that civilization had not improved our nature, but had instead contributed to its corruption. We will specifically examine Rousseau’s book, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, to see how the “fall of man” has unfolded historically, and why we were happiest in a primitive “state of nature.”

The February 27. Unconscious Animal. Freud directly challenged many assumptions about human nature, particularly the claims that we are conscious of our motives, and are autonomous, rational animals. We will examine Freud’s work to show how theoretical problems and clinical issues motivated the major transitions in his thought.

March 6. The Evil Animal. In her controversial book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt claims that Eichmann was not so much a “monster,” but rather a thoughtless bureaucrat who committed unspeakable evil merely by following orders. Social-scientific research that sheds further light on Arendt’s conclusions will be examined.

March 13. The Complicated Animal. Steven Punker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, challenges the assumption that we are primarily shaped by nurture. Using the most recent interdisciplinary research from the “sciences” of human nature, Pinker reveals a detailed complex portrait of what it is to be a human being.

Researcher/Committee Contact and Chair: Shirley Hartt