The Wonders of Nature: Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral (Fall Semester Only)
Description: “Wisdom begins with Wonder” it has been said. Rather than merely focusing on the writings of the western philosophical tradition, this course begins with the more common and more accessible things that make us wonder. Focus is placed upon these things through guided adventures, or “field assignments” as we call them. Field assignments include everything from stargazing to watching classic films, from making cookies to saying prayers. These experiences, when approached critically, give rise to moments of perplexity, lines of questioning, and revelations of beauty and mystery. In these moments we find the goal of the assignments—to help the students form the firm footing of wisdom through close and critical contact with the true, good, and beautiful things of the world and behind them the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty. Assigned readings drawn from literary and philosophical sources find their proper place at this point, providing insight, direction, and the genius of great minds who share the students’ experiences and perplexities. The students come together having each experienced the adventure and read the texts to discuss these, providing the dialectical element necessary for any truly human understanding of things.
This one semester course focuses upon the experiences to be gained in the world of ‘natures’ (not ‘nature’ in the modern sense). Students are asked to observe various phenomena closely, to re-enact some famous experiments in natural philosophy, and to interact with various types of things in various types of ways. Discussions will likely cover topics like the wisdom of nature and the limitations of that wisdom; the order of nature; what math is and its relation to nature; how to tell a cow from a horse; the idea of a creative God; what is life; what is silly and worthwhile about environmentalism; why we eat animals; the ontological value of mud; and many others. Students will be tasked with various writing assignments, including: close descriptions of physical phenomenon, summarizations of texts, analysis of arguments, persuasive essays for and against arguments in our readings, and reflections on the significance of experiences. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, students will be called upon to participate in discussions, asserting positions and working out reasons for and against them in courtesy and good humor.
In summary, this course can be taken as an introduction to philosophy or a survey of the earliest Greek philosophers that begins where these first philosophers began, with the ‘problem of the world’ and all of the things we find in it. It operates on the assumption that speculation must flow from the things that we are given to know through our senses. It attempts to move students toward wisdom, by helping them see what things are and why they are that way. This is Aristotle’s approach, and it is a good one. The authors covered will include the natural or pre-Socratic philosophers, Plato, Aristotle, and some other more recent selections. The skills the course will teach are to read, to write, and to speak carefully and well.
(This is a Philosophical Adventures course. For an explanation of the course concept, click here.)
Instructor: Kenneth Rolling
Age Range: open to 10th–12th grades
Live Class Time: Wednesdays 5:00 pm ET
Course Information Packet: The Wonders of Nature (updated 08/18/2011)