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Phenomenology

Professor Robert Frodeman Classroom: Wooten Hall 216; TR 2:00-3:20


Office: ENV 320F Office Hours: T/R 10:50-11:50 & by appt
NB: I don’t have an office phone Contact me: via Blackboard email

This course continues the project of reframing academic philosophy as field philosophy, now developed
through themes in phenomenology. Your first assignment is to read the article linked to above, which
describes field philosophy.

Course Thesis

What are the implications (personal), and social-political) if phenomenology is correct in its
account of reality? How would this change of viewpoint affect our acceptance of science as our
theory of the real, or our embrace of technology as our definition of progress? Does
phenomenology reveal transhumanism to be the reductio ad absurdum of modernity? And does a
phenomenological critique imply that it is time to place limits on technoscientific advance?

Class Summary

This course focuses on the greatest innovation of 20th century philosophical thought: phenomenology.

The term has a history: Hegel wrote the Phenomenologie des Geistes in 1807. Husserl based a
philosophical movement on the term in the early 20th century. And Heidegger reworked the meaning of
the term in Being and Time (1927). Today the term is no longer au courant; the philosophical prominence
of phenomenology peaked in the mid-20th century (cf. the founding of SPEP 1962). But phenomenology
continues to influence culture through its subterranean presence. Indeed, the idea of phenomenology is a
perennial one, reaching back to our earliest thinking and forward to our present moment.

Phenomenology developed out of the urge to return ‘to the things themselves’—to the most real and
pressing concerns we have: love, fear, commitment, and death—and to see how these things set the stage
for all that follows (science, technology, religion, art, etc.). We will be reading selections of works from
crucial figures in phenomenology: Friedrich Nietzsche, Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Maurice
Merleau-Ponty, and Simone de Beauvoir.

This class emphasizes an existentialist approach to phenomenology. In particular, the approach to


philosophy developed by Adam Briggle and myself (and others; cf. Brister and Frodeman, forthcoming1)
called field philosophy has its roots in the tradition of existential phenomenology.

We will also be contextualizing this philosophical approach through the case study of transhumanism.
Transhumanism is “the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and
mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.”

1
A Guide to Field Philosophy: How to Use Philosophy to Change the World, Evelyn Brister and Robert
Frodeman, editors.

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Phenomenology

Readings -note, these are liable to change

Introduction: phenomenology in a general sense (2 weeks)

Friedrich Nietzsche, Gay Science, Preface to 2nd Edition; Beyond Good and Evil, ‘Our Virtues’; Woolf,
To the Lighthouse

The philosopher’s sense of phenomenology (2 weeks)

Merleau-Ponty, Preface, The Phenomenology of Perception; ‘The Philosopher and his Shadow’, ‘Eye and
Mind’

A Deeper Dive: Heidegger (7 weeks)

Heidegger, Being and Time, ‘On the Essence of Truth’ The Origin of the Work of Art; The Question
concerning Technology

Expanded views (4 weeks)

de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity, Paz, Labyrinth of Solitude, Husserl, Crisis in the European
Sciences

Transhumanism-related readings -sprinkled throughout the semester…

Boyle, The Relive Box


Douthat, The Virtues of Reality
Frodeman, Transhumanism and the Limits of Knowledge, selections
Fuller, The Fork in the Road for Homo Futura
Fuller, Humanity 2.0, Introduction
Fuller, Proactionary Manifesto
Fuller, Stephen Hawking is Wrong
Kaczynski, Letter to Gelernter

Learning Outcomes

This course seeks to

 get you up to speed on contemporary thinking on phenomenology and its impact on social and
political matters
 aid you in spotting and responding to the philosophic elements in your personal, social, and
professional life
 improve your writing
 prompt you to be a more thoughtful and self-aware person

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Course Design

This course is ‘live’, not canned. It reflects 30 years of thinking and research on reshaping the role of
philosophy in contemporary society. The course embodies the Humboldtian2 belief that faculty should be
teacher-researchers who test their research in the classroom. This breaks with the corporate model of
education where a professor is an interchangeable cog, teaching the same materials that could be gotten at
any university worldwide – or via Google.

Note: my lectures do not go “off-topic.” Your job is to figure out how the flow of the lecture illustrates
the day’s points (see ‘learning outcomes’ above). For additional insight to my approach to teaching, see
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bqa1s4jhkQ8

Class Conduct

We live in volatile times. It is crucial that we conduct ourselves in class with courtesy and toleration. You
will hear points of view that are uncongenial to you. That’s how philosophy works: it requires that you
entertain ideas from all points of view.

Assignments

This class has only one assignment: a class journal. Each Sunday by 7pm you will turn in a Word doc via
Blackboard, where you will have written a minimum of 500 words on the previous week’s lecture,
reading, and discussion.

Missing the 7pm deadline (by time stamp) will result in an F. There will be no chance of a redo. This
means: 7:01pm is an ‘F’.

Each week you turn in the same Word document with an additional 500 (+) words.

These accounts need to involve the careful analysis of an issue, and not just be an expression of your
‘feelings’ on a subject. They will be graded in terms of grammar, fidelity to readings and lecture, and
logical precision and succinctness. Polish your writing.

See Niapaul’s rules of writing: https://lithub.com/ten-rules-of-writing/

With so many assignments, I cannot do much in the way of comments, but you should be able to make
sense of your grade by comparing it to what I present in lecture.

Class rules

 Turn off and put away your cell phones for class
 No computers in class or recording devices allowed in class
 No eating in class

Please see the accompanying “Hints” sheet for further guidelines on these points.

2
Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), Prussian philosopher, linguist, government functionary, and
diplomat; also founded the Humboldt University of Berlin, the first modern university.

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Writing Center (use it—writing well is incredibly important)


http://www.engl.unt.edu/facilities/facilities_university_writing.htm Student Code of Conduct
http://www.unt.edu/policy/UNT_Policy/volume3/18_1_11.html

Rubric for Reading and Writing

Reading Levels

Level 1 – skimming without understanding or being able to summarize.

Level 2 – grasping isolated points here and there.

Level 3 – possessing a systematic understanding that grasps the logos of the piece so that you can give
a good summary.

Level 4 – understanding not just the logic and structure of the argument, but also penetrating beneath it
to see the assumptions that guide and frame the argument.

Level 5 – integrating the reading into your life, being able to apply it in a variety of situations.

Writing Elements

1. Grammar, syntax, diction, spelling


1. Well-formulated sentences, paragraphs, and sections
2. Thoughtful, appropriate, and precise word choice
3. Words spelled correctly, no basic grammatical errors
2. Organization/structure:
1. Clear statement of purpose/thesis
2. Informs reader of what essay will accomplish
3. Logically organized, good transitions, coheres as a whole
3. Scholarship
1. Adequate research of relevant resources (appropriate content included)
2. Follows stated format guidelines
3. Appropriate tone and style for intended audience, clean presentation
4. Reasoning
1. Comprehension of material, demonstrated grasp of key concepts
2. Well-reasoned and supported arguments and interpretations
3. Analysis stays focused and builds on itself, does not wander or fade
4. Original and/or fruitful insights developed in clear ways

Hints for Doing Well

1) Enjoy the class. Reading philosophy texts, while not the easiest thing in the world to do, can be a
source of real satisfaction. Don’t be discouraged by the difficulty of our texts. My role is to be the bridge
between you and the readings.

2) Read the material more than once (both before and after we discuss it). It is crucial to reread and mull
over our texts. Use your own judgment about what places in the text require such mulling over.

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3) Ask questions of the text, e.g., “Why does the writer begin where she begins?” “Does this example fit
his point?” “What’s the main point of this chapter?” “How does this argument connect to the argument of
a few pages before?” Read actively, with a dictionary, pen and paper, looking up the words you’re not
sure of. Write down those ideas in the text that strike you as particularly interesting, brilliant, or stupid.
This will help you prepare for your quizzes, exams and papers.

4) If you are bored or confused by the text or lecture, articulate your boredom or confusion. Write down
what you think is wrong with the argument, and speak up when the book or class debate sounds like
nonsense.

5) Come to each class with a list of issues or questions you have concerning our texts. Note that a good
question goes far in laying out the options for an answer.

6) Stop by during office hours. This is your time to come ask questions, continue a conversation left
unfinished in class, or just visit.

7) Participate in the discussions. Ask questions: if you are unsure about something, chances are that other
students are as well. Challenge your own opinions as well as the opinions of others, while remaining
respectful of the individual.

Americans with Disabilities Act Accommodation

The University of North Texas is on record as being committed to both the spirit and letter of federal
equal opportunity legislation; reference Public Law 92-112 – The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended.
With the passage of new federal legislation entitled Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), pursuant to
section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, there is renewed focus on providing this population with the same
opportunities enjoyed by all citizens.

As a faculty member, I am required by law to provide "reasonable accommodations" to students with


disabilities, so as not to discriminate on the basis of that disability. Student responsibility primarily rests
with informing faculty of their need for accommodation and in providing authorized documentation
through designated administrative channels. Information regarding specific diagnostic criteria and
policies for obtaining academic accommodations can be found at
http://www.unt.edu/oda/apply/index.html. Also, you may visit the Office of Disability Accommodation in
the University Union (room 321) or call them at (940) 565-4323.