The Philosophy class is focused on class participation and discussion of Philosophical concepts and texts (although there are exams). It uses both survey books which are designed to give an overview of philosophy and three primary sources; one Greek and two Islamic philosophers. The students were very excited about being able to study philosophy and some asked for the book list in advance so they could begin looking at the material.
We started with a general survey of philosophical thought that focused on Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas’ philosophies as presented in An introduction to Philosophy by Jacques Maritain. We then looked at Aristotle’s Metaphysics so the students could compare the survey with the actual text. At first the students were reluctant to give their comments in class; however, we had a real breakthrough when we began discussion the precepts of ontology (the study of being) and Aristotle’s concept of “substance” vs “accidents”. Some of the students were having difficulty understanding the concepts of “accidents” when all of a sudden a real conversation started with various students trying to explain the concepts with different examples. After that class participation greatly improved as the students realized they had made a valid contribution and it was fun.
In an effort to encourage the students to engage with the philosophers and work on their critical thinking, when we moved to Plato’s Republic, our first primary source, I gave the students the lead in the discussion. The students, working in pairs so that they could bounce ideas off of each other, were responsible for beginning the dialogue on a specific book of theRepublic. The students were responsible for providing a brief outline of the book and for beginning its analysis and discussion. Some of the students have commented on how much more they got out of the Republic though their preparation and it really shows in their presentations and discussions. The students have been making lots of observations about the Republic, such as when we were discussing the “guardians”, they saw a resemblance to the janissaries who were Baltic Christians who taken as slaves in the Ottoman Empire and trained to be the body guards for the sultan and as a standing army.
We will be finishing up the Republic and moving on to study Islamic Philosophy. We will begin with a survey using An Brief Introduction to Islamic Philosophy by Oliver Leaman. We will then move to our primary texts Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan and Averooë’sDecisive Treatise & Epistle Dedicatory. The students will again be asked to lead our discussion of these texts and I am looking forward to the discussions and observations they will make.