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Perspectives I, Perspectives on Western Culture

philosophy department

Six credits philosophy
Six credits theology

Perspectives I is structured either implicitly or explicitly by the Socratic question, "what is the best way to live"? In the first semester, students deal with two of what may be termed "spiritual eruptions": the rise of Greek philosophy, and the Judeo-Christian experience of God's self revelation in history. These two spiritual eruptions are the principle foundations of Western Civilization, the relationship between Athens and Jerusalem.

The second semester begins by focusing on the ideas that mark the thinkers of the renaissance as typically and emphatically modern, despite their substantial differences. Instead of treating modernity as a simple process of secularization, the semester proceeds to examine not only the theological reactions to secularism say in Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Newman, but also the way theological concerns shape modernity, e.g., Luther, Kant, Hegel, Barth.

Reading List

First Semester: Ancient and Medieval Thought

Where is this Athens that everyone is talking about?
  • Plato, Ion, Meno, Republic, Apology, and Crito
  • Aristosphanes, The Clouds
  • Sophocles, Antigone or Oedipus the King or both
  • Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics and Politics (selections)
“He has showed you, O man, what is good”
  • The books of Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy (selections), Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah (selections), and Amos
  • The Code of Hammurabi and the Gilgamesh Epic (selections)
  • The Book of Job and the Wisdom of Solomon (selections)
  • The Gospel of Matthew (selections), the Gospel of John, and the Letter of Paul to the Galatians
“What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”
  • The letter of Pliny the Younger to Trajan
  • The so-called Letter to Diognetus
  • Excerpts from the writings of Tertullian, Basil, Jerome, and Gregory of Nazianzus
  • Augustine, Confessions (selections) and The City of God (Book XIX)
  • Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles (selections) and the Summa Theologiae (selections)

Second Semester: From the Renaissance to the Present

The emergence of modern thought:
  • Machiavelli, The Prince and the Discourses (selections)
  • Hobbes, Leviathan (selections)
  • Locke, Second Treatise of Government (selections) and A Letter Concerning Toleration
  • Bacon, The Great Insaturation (selections) and The New Organon (selections)
  • Luther, On Christian Liberty
  • Pascal, Pensees (selections)
  • Descartes, Discourse on Method or the Meditations or both
The crisis of modern thought:
  • Rousseau, the first and second Discourses; Social Contract (selections)
  • Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals and essays on universal history and eternal peace
  • Hegel, Reason in History and Philosophy of Right (selections)
  • Marx, The Communist Manifesto, German Ideology (selections) and the Theses on Feuerbach (selections)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. “A Letter from Birmingham Jail
The demise of rationalism: contemporary philosophical and theological thought:
  • Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, either/or (selections) and The Present Age
  • Nietzsche, On the Advantages and Disadvantages of History, Beyond Good and Evil (selections), and Thus Spake Zarathustra
  • Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents
  • Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (selections)
  • Barth, The Humanity of God
  • Weil, Simone, Waiting for Go