I’m teaching an Intro to Philosophy class, in which I want to provide a sampling of different philosophical topics and styles. I also want to infuse the reading list with marginalized voices: PoCs, women, philosophers outside of Europe, etc. If anyone has suggestions of favorite pieces of philosophy or pieces that would be good for an intro class, let me know!
What I’m looking for more specifically:
–Ancient philosophy not from Europe (I have Maimonides, if he counts)
–philosophy of religion / metaphysics of God
–existentialism (I have de Beauvoir)
–ethics (I have Judith Jarvis Thomson)
–philosophy of sexuality (I have Butler)
–philosophy of embodiment, ability & disability
–lesser known political philosophers who discuss origin myths (a la Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau etc.)
10 thoughts on “Reader Seeks Suggestions for Intro Class”
In my humble opinion, Martha Nussbaum’s “capabilities approach to ethics” is perhaps one of the most practical philosophical contributions made in history. I realize that’s a grand claim, but I believe it to be true.
I’ve built my Intro syllabus with similar goals in mind — though obviously very different subject areas! I’m currently teaching the third iteration of this class. What works well (and not):
(-) The quick tour of comparative ethics during the first few weeks are really fun, and a nice way to warm things up. The students find all of this fairly interesting.
(-) The pieces by Kant, Nussbaum, and MacIntyre are quite difficult. I’ve tried cutting down Nussbaum in particular, but something about the way she writes leaves students profoundly puzzled. This semester, I’ve cut out Kant, giving Stanton and Mill a little more time. Next semester, I’ll replace Nussbaum and MacIntyre with an extra day or so on logic and James Rachel’s `The challenge of cultural relativism’.
(-) I love, love, LOVE teaching The racial contract. It’s a tough read for an Intro class (I make sure to say repeatedly that I don’t want them to write like Mills), but the topic motivates students to really work on it. Since Mills is drawing on classical social contract theory and is critiquing Rawls and Nozick, the time spent on the mainstream philosophers is worthwhile.
(-) The philosophy of science unit has been the most difficult to get right. Students (especially science majors) don’t respond well to any explicitly feminist suggestion that values should play a role in science.
I’m happy to share specific citations or talk about other aspects of the syllabus, either on here or via email. Good luck, and have fun!
the racial contract is indeed a good book. i’ve never taught it in intro but its a great idea, thanks!
i know we made fun of simon critchley when he did it on the stone, but i usually start with the story that philosophy tells about itself about its own origins: thales falling in the well. i spend a lot of time talking about what conditions, material and political, are necessary for the practice of philosophy, and what the thracian slave girl tells us about that. i find it helpful.
i also often teach du bois’ souls of black folk, because its beautiful, and there’s a lot of great philosophy going on there. teaching de beauvoir’s intro to the second sex and du bois on double conscious is particularly enlightening, i think.
as for sexuality, you might look at sedgwick (epistemology of the closet or her essay “how to bring your kids up gay”) or eli clare’s exile and pride. depending on the concepts you are focusing on in intro, of course. if you focus on epistemology, i think lorraine code and linda martin alcoff have some really great essays (and they match up really well with mills’ the racial contract as well).
I don’t mean this remark to be in any way disrespectful of Judy Thomson and her very important work, but there are many other women doing ethics besides Thomson. I was very bothered in glancing through the contents of Oxford’s many introductory texts to see that it was not only the case that there were very few women included in a typical anthology, but when there were one or two, they tended to be exactly the same one or two of which Thomson was the first and chief.
If you’re looking to cover issues of moral responsibility, particularly as it relates to issues of cultural ignorance, the Michele Moody-Adams article “Culture, Responsibility, and Affected Ignorance” is fantastic. I haven’t taught it in an Intro class because I’m a grad student and have not yet taught Intro, but I was a TA in a course where it was on the reading list and students were really eager to talk about it.
For non-European ancient (depending on your definition of ancient, this is from around 400 CE), I think the Nyaya are always fun. There’s some stuff that I think is not too difficult on epistemology and skepticism in the Nyaya Sutras of Gautama (in the translation by Ganganatha Jha I think it’s somewhere between pg. 600 and 620).
In philosophy of religion I think Ibn Rushd is interesting (I think some of the work from Indian philosophy on the metaphysics of God is interesting too, but a bit more difficult).
With respect to philosophy of embodiment, ability and disability I would maybe check out Eva Kittay.
Dan, have had them read Helen Longino? I have found my students to be receptive to her feminist philosophy of science work in particular. It also helps to give them specific examples where the role of values is undeniable. See, e.g., Kathleen Okruhlik, “Gender and the Biological Sciences”
justanotherfemalephilosopher – I’ve tried a few different things by Longino, but my students (maybe it’s just at this school?) are extremely resistant. They accuse her of trying to force feminist values on scientists, no matter how much work I do to explain that this isn’t even entirely coherent on her view. This time around, I’m trying bits and pieces of Science as social knowledge that involve case studies of values. If that doesn’t work, I’ll be sure to take a look at Okruhlik.
btw, Dan, your syllabus is very impressive! That is, interesting, thoughtful, etc.
@Dan, I am just this week struggling with Kant as an under graduate student. However, my breakthrough in understanding has come in the linked articles to Kant’s work that discussed in detail and in less puzzling language what he was all about. In the last 48 hours I’ve come to a complete turn around in my understanding and appreciation. Just thought I’d mention in case it was useful to you.
Although European, I love, love, love, Luce Irigaray for identity, sexuality, autonomy, love, boundaries and language. A reading I did from her piece “I love to you” actually brought me to tears.
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