Yale for Life
Histories of The Self
June 24-30, 2018
What did the ‘self’ mean to Plato or to Aristotle? And how should we understand it now, in the midst of public discussions about religious pluralism, diversity, and technological change as forces that shape our experience of the world? These are huge questions, and this course tackles them with the ambition they deserve. In this class, we range across many periods, regions, and disciplines, getting to know the complicated history of selfhood and reflecting on the different questions, methods, and approaches it has inspired. We also consider how these diverse, long-standing traditions of thought and inquiry can illuminate the way we describe our selves today.
“Histories of the Self” marries a strong commitment to literary and intellectual history, with an awareness of the tensions and debates of our present moment. It explores time-honored philosophical concepts such as authenticity, consciousness, introspection, character, and mutual recognition, which still persist within current discussions about personal identity. It also follows the long, complicated genealogies that categories such as race and gender–which we might think of as merely contemporary–have in these long-standing conceptual debates. The course develops tools for thinking about our world and ourselves within it, with a view to becoming more cognizant citizens both of our local home environments and of the globe. We devote special attention to aspects of our personal identities that are most hotly debated today, including faith, gender expression, and the relationship between religious and scientific self-knowledge.
This course brings back one of Y4L’s most popular faculty members, Prof. Ayesha Ramachandran, who co-taught our Renaissance course from a couple years back, and also introduces us to Prof. Marta Figlerowicz, another extremely popular teacher and rising star at Yale. In addition, students can expect some very compelling guest faculty throughout the week, including the Dean of Yale College, Professor Tamar Gendler. The authors we discuss come from Western and Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East; the genres in which they express themselves include philosophical treatises as well as poems, novels, memoirs, feature films, graphic novels, personal essays, and pieces of journalism. Over the first few days, we begin by reviewing major philosophical perspectives from Antiquity to the Enlightenment: works by Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Montaigne, Descartes, Hume, and Kant, among others. We then go on to discuss how these theories were inspired, but also complicated, by religious conflicts, imperial politics, and changing scientific and cultural views about the human body. One day of the course is devoted to exploring the long histories of religious revelation, conversion, and strife in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe, and the impact these histories have had on our notions of religious, ethnic, and even racial identity. Others involve discussions of the science and philosophy of gender from antiquity to the present, and of the huge philosophical and political upheavals that followed the Western imperial expansion.
As we examine various historical communities’ perspectives on, and relations to, these conceptual shifts and sociopolitical events, we juxtapose familiar and canonical narratives against lesser-known or more experimental ones. Our students can expect an intense, extensive engagement with the Western canon, as well as inspirations and guidance for reaching beyond it. As we look forward as well as backward, and in all cardinal directions, we establish a deliberately and inherently multi-generational, many-sided view of the kinds of wisdom past centuries still offer, and of the selves we feel ourselves to be today.
Our Lead Faculty:
Our morning seminars with lead faculty will be followed in the afternoons by a seminar with an amazing guest professor. These scholars bring a variety of different perspectives to our subject, from the revolution in thinking of the Self around the Enlightenment, the intersection of traditional philosophy with insights from cognitive science, and more. Yale for Life continues its emphasis on interdisciplinary study, not only through the variety in the core syllabus, but through these world-class leaders of Yale’s intellectual portfolio.
All Yale for Life courses actually start months before our June meeting. After registration, you will receive all books and scholarly articles for the course, and will immerse yourself in great works curated by our faculty. “Histories of The Self” is no exception, with works ranging from contemporaneous writings to great books written by your own Yale for Life professors. Primary sources will mix with authoritative texts to produce night after night of joy as you prepare for your return to the life of the mind.
One of Yale for Life’s unique and most beloved features are our Special Events; sessions at a number of Yale’s well-known (such as the Yale Art Gallery) or less-known (such as a 2012 session at the not-yet-processed Kissinger Papers) centers of collection and learning. “Histories of The Self” is no exception.
Details on the Special Events will be posted soon.
Beyond the Classroom
Everything that happens during the Yale for Life program is colored by the fact that it takes place at Yale. Learn more about the experience!