Rhetoric of Philosophical Discourse
108 | CCN: 77887
Dangerous Subjects: In Search of the Ancient Self, from Plato to Foucault
Instructor: James Porter
Date / Time: TuTh 930-11A, 209 DWINELLE
This course will consider the origins and emergence of the self in Greek and Roman antiquity. The first-person self is thought to have been inaugurated by Descartes (I think, therefore I am). Didn’t "selves" exist prior to Descartes? They did, but differently from today. Studying this history will change how you think about your own self.
We will look at how notions of the self, self-identity, interiority, introspective practices (the meditation, the dialogue, the letter), but also social definitions of selfhood, developed in antiquity. Plato’s Socratic dialogues will be the point of departure. Later writings will include meditations, letters, and philosophical reflections on life by Epicurus, Lucretius, Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Plotinus, and Augustine. Secondary writing by Michel Foucault, Pierre Hadot, Bernard Williams, and others will help guide us as we set up frameworks and questions for investigating these primary texts. Of particular interest will be the ways in which selves and subjects are the result of dangerous experimentations conducted at the limits of representation, often in the face a void or abyss that is found either within or without (in the world of nature and the universe).
No prerequisites. While much of the literature will be philosophical, no philosophical background is expected or required.
Requirements: one or two in-class presentations per student, short, weekly reaction pieces (to be posted on a course-blog, but not graded), and a final paper or project, which may be on any aspect of the texts, on related contextual matters, on issues of secondary interpretation, or on specific problems and their extensions to other areas (as defined by a student’s interests, in consultation with the instructor).
Readings: Books will be available at the UCB bookstore or at Amazon. Other readings will be in PDF format and will be made available once the term begins.
Augustine, Confessions, trans. Chadwick, Oxford
Epictetus, Discourses, tr. Dobbin (Penguin)
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, tr. Hard (Oxford)Plato, Phaedo, tr. Hackforth (Cambridge)—out of print, available for .01 cents on Amazon
Seneca, Selected Letters, tr. Fantham (Oxford)
M. Foucault, History of Sexuality, v3: The Care of the Self
Other Readings (PDFs)
Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus
Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, sels.
P Hadot (sel.)
B Williams (sel.)
and other secondary scholarship (TBA)