Philosophy

William Edelglass
Other faculty members who teach philosophy courses:
Meg Mott (see politics)
Amer Latif (see religion)

Philosophers question the assumptions that guide our thoughts and actions, exploring the nature of reality, how we understand the world, who we are and how we ought to live. The study of philosophy enables us to investigate our conceptions of ourselves and our place in the world, cultivating what Socrates called “the examined life.” Philosophy is distinguished from other disciplines by its breadth; it reflects on the subject matter and methods of all the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences and opens spaces of inquiry across the various realms of human experience.

The philosophy program at Marlboro introduces students to the history and diversity of philosophy while providing the necessary background and specialized skills for conducting original research and entering into contemporary philosophical debates. The philosophy curriculum is grounded in the study of canonical works that provide many of the concepts and strategies that inform the Western cultural heritage. These texts pose fundamental and challenging questions, offer a diversity of intellectual resources and possibilities for how we can understand ourselves and our world, and manifest the contemporary significance of the history of philosophy. At the same time, philosophy at Marlboro is shaped by an appreciation for the depth, richness and relevance of philosophical traditions from Asia, Africa and the Americas. It also recognizes that contemporary thinkers provide important insights for understanding contemporary problems—for example: environmental challenges; questions of race, gender and sexuality; modern technology; social structures of oppression; and postcolonialism. Philosophy courses at Marlboro are conducted as seminars, with class meetings devoted to clarification of the most prominent themes in the assigned text and collegial reflection on the questions and ideas they raise.

Philosophy courses aim to cultivate capacities for careful textual analysis, critical and integrative interpretation, precise verbal and written expression and clear and creative thinking. These skills, developed through reasoned dialogue with others and rigorous engagement with texts, enable us to transmute presuppositions and cherished views into questions, thereby challenging rigid thinking and calling forth intellectual honesty and flexibility and a willingness to reconsider what might appear obvious. They also enable creative understandings of both large scale questions, for example, of social justice, and more personal questions, such as finding meaning in one’s own life.

The creative, analytical and critical skills developed through the study of philosophy provide a strong foundation for a wide range of life paths. Some philosophy students pursue graduate training in preparation for a career of teaching and research in higher education. The majority, however, enter other fields such as public service, education, law, journalism and business where the fruits of philosophical training are highly valued.

My primary research areas are in 19th- and 20th-century European philosophy, environmental philosophy and Indo-Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. In addition, my research has addressed Greek thinkers, Early Modern philosophers and literary figures. These works engage questions in diverse philosophical areas, including ethics, aesthetics, phenomenology, deconstruction, epistemology, philosophy of religion, environmental thought, animal studies, climate ethics, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, phenomenology, feminism, philosophy of education, philosophy of technology, the body and cross-cultural philosophy.

Areas of Interest for Plan-level Work:

  • Environmental philosophy
  • Indo-Tibetan Buddhism
  • Aesthetics
  • Philosophy of religion
  • Environmental thought
  • Animal studies
  • Climate ethics
  • Philosophy of language
  • Philosophy of science
  • Philosophy of education
  • Cross-cultural philosophy

Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses)

ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHY (HUM1379)
This course will be devoted to careful readings of some of Plato and Aristotle’s most significant texts. Our primary focus will be on questions of love and friendship, ethics and justice, knowledge and wisdom, the structure of reality, the soul and the nature of philosophy. Ancient Greek Philosophy is a good introductory philosophy course. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

MODERN PHILOSOPHY (HUM1401)
Philosophers refer to the early modern period as the time between the late 16th and the early 19th centuries, when changes in European culture and scientific and political revolutions resulted in new modes of thought and practice that have come to characterize modernity. In this course we will primarily focus on the epistemological and metaphysical theories of some of the most prominent early modern philosophers, thinkers who sought to analyze and describe the new world that was emerging, but also contributed in significant ways to its shape. Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor     Introductory | Credits: 4

MORAL PHILOSOPHY (HUM1364)
What is a “good” life? What makes an action “good?” What is the foundation for moral action and ethics? Or, is there in fact no adequate foundation for morality? Through careful readings of classic and contemporary texts we will consider these questions, and other themes, including: the role of character, virtue, and vice in a good life; the properties of right or wrong actions; how our understanding of what it means to be human guides our understanding of the good; the relation between reason and emotion in ethics; morality and cultural context; ethics and the rejection of objective moral value; the relation between morality and luck; and the nature of moral claims in extreme situations. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

ENVIRONMENTAL PHILOSOPHY (HUM1332)
This course is an introduction to prominent questions and themes in environmental philosophy. We will begin with a study of moral and metaphysical approaches to philosophical questions of animals, nature and the place of human beings in the environment. Then we will consider a number of related issues in environmental philosophy, including questions of place, food and agriculture, biodiversity, technology, consumption, economics, education, eco-justice, wilderness, environmental aesthetics and the role of philosophy in the context of environmental crisis. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

PHILOSOPHICAL WRITING & ARGUMENTATION (HUM1380)
This course is an introduction to philosophical writing and argumentation. We will review principles of philosophical writing and work on papers assigned in other philosophy courses this semester. Additionally, we will discuss tools for constructing and assessing arguments, as well as other philosophical methods, conceptual distinctions and significant terms. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 1

INTRODUCTION TO POLITICAL THEORY (HUM1107)
This class considers how politics has been discussed within the Western tradition. Although the primary readings cover over 2,500 years of political writings, the themes are surprisingly few. In each era, political writers struggled to answer the problem of how best to grant power over people and how to enhance citizenship within that power structure. Along with primary readings, we will consider two cases that illuminate the role of political thinking in contemporary struggles to end poverty and racism. The first case promotes a radical humanist pedagogy, known as the Clemente series. The second case considers the Black Panthers’ efforts to dismantle America. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

EMERSON, PRAGMATISM AND DEMOCRACY (CDS539)
This class considers democratic practices through the writings of one man, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and through the essays of one philosophical movement, pragmatism. In the past few years, there has been a surge of activity as scholars try to decide what is pragmatism and who is a pragmatist. This class is less concerned with definitions and labels and much more interested in what pragmatism can tell us about the nature of American democracy. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

BUDDHIST PHILOSOPHY (HUM1381)
This course will be an exploration of Buddhist philosophical accounts of consciousness, language, knowledge and wisdom, the nature of reality, personal and social ethics and the nature and purpose of human existence. We will begin with a careful study of early Theravāda texts. Then we will devote several weeks to Nāgārjuna’s (second century, India) Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, which is often thought to be the most important text in Buddhist philosophy.  During the remainder of the course we will look at how later thinkers in India, Tibet, China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam engaged in diverse ways with each other and with the questions posed by Nāgārjuna and his Theravāda predecessors.     Intermediate | Credits: 4

EPISTEMOLOGY (HUM1286)
This is a course on the nature of knowledge, or “epistemology.” Our central project is to inquire into the scope and limits of human knowledge. What, if anything, can we know? How should we define “knowledge?” What is the structure of knowledge? What role does skepticism play? We will also be concerned with methodological questions about epistemology, such as whether epistemology should become a branch of cognitive science, and whether attempts to define concepts like “knowledge,” “truth,” and “certitude” will ever succeed. Prerequisite: One prior introductory philosophy course     Intermediate | Credits: 4

PHILOSOPHY OF ART & AESTHETICS (HUM1438)
This course is an introduction to the most significant philosophical issues raised by the production and experience of art: the nature of art, aesthetic experience, aesthetic properties, taste, beauty, imagination, art and truth, aesthetic judgment, aesthetic interpretation, expression, representation, aesthetic objects, art and emotion, art and ethics, art and society, art and nature, art and economics, art and culture, etc. We will address these issues through careful readings of some of the most important texts in the history of Western philosophy of art as well as significant contemporary writings in philosophical aesthetics. The final part of the course will be specifically devoted to the nature and questions raised by contemporary art. Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE (HUM1309)
Philosophy of Language is an attempt to understand the nature of language and its relationship with speakers, their thoughts and the world. Philosophers of language ask and attempt to answer abstract questions such as: What is language? What is meaning? Does language describe the world or does it in
some way construct (distort) our picture of reality? Can we think without a language? The answers, or attempts to answer such questions, are the source of various philosophical theories about language. Prerequisite: At least one introductory philosophy class     Intermediate | Credits: 4

THE SEARCH FOR SCIENTIFIC METHOD (CDS523)
A historical study of the scientific method, analyzing both the methodology used by practicing scientists and the questions about that methodology that have been raised by philosophers. Topics include: the roles of deduction and induction, the formation and evaluation of theories and the ontological status of theoretical entities. Discussion of these issues will emerge from reading on Plato’s cosmology, Aristotle’s biology, the Copernican revolution in astronomy, the development of the atomic theory of matter and Darwin’s theory of evolution. Prerequisite: One previous science course, one previous philosophy course, or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

FEMINIST POLITICAL AND SOCIAL THOUGHT (CDS531)
How do women talk about their lives, their social situation, their political condition? This class looks at the writings of theorists and essayists who use words to make sense of women’s place in the house, the community, the law.     Intermediate | Credits: 4

EARLY MODERN POLITICAL THOUGHT (SSC367)
The early modern era was a time of great change. The Enlightenment values of reason and individualism were gaining legitimacy. This shift had enormous political consequences, making it possible for the emergence of a state legitimated not by divine will or dynastic habits but by consent of the governed. Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Victoria and Spinoza were all influential political writers without political influence. This class looks at how two teachers, two exiles and an ex-communicant changed the way we think about political reasoning and social relationships. Along with studying their ideas we’ll look at how each one of them spoke to the power from a position of powerlessness, bringing the West into the modern era of politics with their words.     Intermediate | Credits: 4

THE BODY POLITIC (HUM1014)
The human body has always held a central place in political theory. In the Middle Ages, it served as the pre-eminent metaphor for the well-ordered state (Aquinas). In the early modern era, its foibles diminished the transcendental status of the king and his court (Montaigne). More recently, political theorists have used the body to describe the alienation of labor (Marx) and to locate technologies of power (Foucault).     Intermediate | Credits: 4

CLASSIC SOCIOLOGICAL THOUGHT (SSC6)
The major ideas, theories and methodologies of some of the European and American founders of sociology. The works of Marx, Weber, Simmel and Veblen will be evaluated in relation to the evolution of industrial society.     Advanced  | Credits: 4

HEGEL: THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF SPIRIT (HUM1400)
This course will consist of a careful study of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Hegel’s goal in the Phenomenology is the understanding of meaning and truth as it has been expressed in religion, art, philosophy, politics and, more generally, the unfolding of consciousness in human history. The Phenomenology, one of the most ambitious and significant texts in Western philosophy, seeks to disclose the ways in which self-consciousness arises historically and primarily through practical relations with others. Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor     Advanced | Credits: 4

MARX, KIERKEGAARD & NIETZSCHE: 19TH CENTURY RESPONSES TO HEGEL (HUM1414)
In the waning years of the Enlightenment, European philosophers were primarily concerned with questions of reason and the subject: How can reason justify itself? Is reason autonomous? Is the subject autonomous? Kant’s critical turn sought to understand the conditions of reason, thereby limiting its reach but also justifying it. Hegel attempted to extend and complete Kant’s project, providing both a more historically informed account of the conditions of reason and the promise of transcending Kantian limits. In this course we will examine the 19th century philosophers who posed some of the most significant challenges to Hegel’s project: Schopenhauer, Marx, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Our focus will be on the relation of the subject to history, ideology, reason, morality, religion, politics, economics and culture, and how philosophical reflections on these issues were dramatically transformed in the context of modernity. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor     Advanced | Credits: 4

PHENOMENOLOGY (HUM1333)
Phenomenology constitutes the most significant development in 20th-century European philosophy; it is the foundation for existentialism, hermeneutics, post-structuralism and deconstruction, and informs concepts and methods across the humanities and social sciences. We will begin with an analysis of the methodologies and foundational concepts of Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology, including the phenomenological reduction, the intentional structure of consciousness, the lifeworld, meaning, truth, knowledge, the proper relationship between philosophy and science and the critique of representationalism. We will move from Husserl’s transcendental and genetic phenomenology to the existential and hermeneutic phenomenology of his student, Martin Heidegger, and devote a little more than half the semester to Heidegger’s Being and Time. Being and Time is a phenomenological inquiry into the question of being that is most famous for its analyses of being-there, of existence in the world, with others, facing our death, authentic and inauthentic existence, freedom, meaning, conscience and care. Finally, we will turn to the work of Emmanuel Levinas; grounded in phenomenological descriptions, Levinas argued that ethics is first philosophy. Levinas, more than any other philosopher, put the question of alterity, the question of the Other, at the heart of much contemporary theory, and he is often considered the most important European philosopher of ethics in the later half of the 20th century.     Advanced | Credits: 4

CONTEMPORARY CONTINENTAL PHILOSOPHY (HUM1365)
This course will be an exploration of significant themes and questions in the work of five 20th century philosophers who have had an enormous impact across the humanities and social sciences: Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.     Advanced | Credits: 4

Good Foundation for Plan

If you think you might be interested in doing Plan-level work in philosophy, it would be good to take Greek Philosophy, Modern Philosophy and Moral Philosophy in your first few years, to get a grounding in the history and basic questions of Western philosophy. Then, it would also be good to take some of the advanced classes and develop more sophisticated approaches to reading and writing philosophy. Philosophy draws on and is found in many other disciplines, so taking courses in other areas of the humanities and social sciences is important, especially literature, classics, politics and religion.

If you are considering doing advanced work in philosophy it would also be helpful to set up a meeting with William Edelglass to explore your interests and to determine together what would make a suitable foundation for the Plan of Concentration that you might want to pursue. With relative ease, philosophy can be brought together in an interdisciplinary project with any other discipline. Thus, a suitable foundation for Plan really depends on your particular interests, both in other fields, and within the broad discipline of philosophy.

Guidelines for Tutorial Work

Students who request a tutorial must fill out a form that:

  • Describes the goals of the tutorial
  • Reviews relevant coursework and its connection to the proposed Plan
  • Lists books that would be appropriate in support of the work
  • Outlines a weekly schedule for the semester
  • Gives a title for the tutorial
  • Notes the number of credits

Sample Tutorial Topics

  • Freedom, Reason and the Role of Philosophy
  • Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
  • Heidegger, Language and Subjectivity
  • Intersubjectivity in the Phenomenological Tradition
  • Lacan’s Seminar XX: Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge
  • Meditation in Buddhist Traditions
  • Nietzsche & Kierkegaard: Individual Perspectives
  • 19th-Century Responses to Hegel: Marx, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche
  • Philosophy and Russian Literature
  • Philosophy, Art and Technology
  • Religion and the Ethical: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Levinas
  • Ricouer, Meaning and Metaphor
  • Rousseau, Kant and Hegel on Philosophy and the Political
  • Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason
  • Selfhood, Teleology and History in Hegel, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard
  • The Enlightenment and Its Critics
  • The Reception of Simone Weil
  • Theorizing Violence in Contemporary Continental Thought
  • Theory and Practice of Vippasana Meditation
  • Time, Freedom and Subjectivity in Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Steiner
  • Zen in Japan: Teachings, Practices and Culture
  • Zen Practice and Theory