Introduction to Ancient and Modern Western Thought

Days: Tuesday from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
Language: English
Taught by: Dr. Renaud Fabbri
​University: Georgetown University in Qatar

Course Description:

The course provides a general introduction to some of the great tracks of western philosophy including epistemology, ethical philosophy, philosophy of religion, philosophy of history and metaphysics. The course is based on the reading of excerpts from authors such as Plato, Kant and Nietzsche. No prior knowledge of philosophy is required, only the ability to read carefully and attentively.

Course Goals & Objectives

According to René Descartes, “to live without philosophizing is in truth the same as keeping the eyes closed without attempting to open them.” The course has been designed to offer more than a simple history of ideas. Its goal is also to initiate students to the transformative and practical dimension of philosophy – a dimension that was very clear to the founders of Western Philosophy but that has a tendency to fall into obscurity in today’s times.

Desired Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, students will have familiarized themselves with great names and major philosophical theories and controversies. Most importantly they will realize that in and of itself, the practice of philosophy does not bring about definitive answers, rather more questions about who we are and the reality we live in.

Weekly schedule of topics/materials to be covered

Each week, students are assigned short but challenging excerpts from major philosophical texts (on average 10 pages per week).

Week 1: What is it to be wise? (full readings, video)

In this introductory class, we work to define the practice of philosophizing, emphasizing the difference between the modern and the classical conceptions of wisdom.

Plato, The Republic

Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment?

Week 2: What is the basis of morality? (full readings)

We intuitively think we know what is right and what is wrong. But what is the basis of this knowledge? Is it possible to provide a rational basis for morality? On the contrary, do feelings such as empathy teach us more about the ground of morality? Or is morality only a delusion, a mask for our will to power?

Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals

Arthur Schopenhauer, On The Basis of Morality

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

Week 3: Is evil always diabolical? (full readings and video)

In Christianity, Islam or Judaism, the origin of evil is generally traced back a satanic figure and to a revolt of man against God. In this class we analyze the evolution of the reflection on evil from Plato to the modern experience with genocide and the human, too human “banality of evil.”

Plato, Meno

Augustine, The City of God

Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind

Week 4: Can we demonstrate the existence of God? (full readings)

This class discusses the different types of philosophical demonstration of the existence of God and the criticism that have been addressed to them.

René Descartes, Meditations

Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.


Week 5: What can we know? (full readings)

What are the limits of human knowledge? Is it true that our knowledge is limited to sense perception? What does it mean to say that we know ourselves?

Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

Schopenhauer, The World As Will and as Representation


Week 6: Is there a meaning to history? (full readings)

With the American and French Revolutions, a new concept of political revolution emerged, thus creating the philosophical problem of an “end to history” but also a political mythology responsible for some of the worst catastrophes of the 20th century. In this last course, we deconstruct the modern philosophy of history, showing both its historical and religious roots.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Kant, Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View

Eric Voegelin, Autobiographical reflections

For more informations:

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