- Encouraging excellence in reasoning abilities by engaging in direct conversations about substantive and complex issues -
- Offering college level material in a seminar setting for motivated juniors and seniors. University expectations pertain -
- Strengthening the foundations for the passionate pursuit of what truly matters in an always troubled world
The intent of the Senior Seminar is two-fold; to introduce the students to some of the structures, materials, and expectations they will encounter in a typical 100 – 300 level college course, and to establish a forum for research, investigation, and cooperative inquiry about the problems inherent in the course topic.
We act under the assumption that human knowledge is both encyclopedic and unified. Consequently, the approach to seminar topics is interdisciplinary in scope, ranging across and throughout the arts and sciences. Depending upon the extent and possibility of each course, materials and readings will often draw from multiple fields: the arts, humanities and social sciences, the physical, earth, and biological sciences, history and law, economics and public policy, and the behavioral and cognitive sciences.
While our use of the concept “seminar” realizes its typical meaning: a group of students meeting for systematic instruction and discussion, our understanding of it appreciates its etymological heritage as a nursery ground, a place to sow and cultivate.
The Senior Seminar is a group activity intended to increase critical thinking, self-responsibility and self-reliance: the qualities necessary to secure a functioning democracy. Enhancing the ability of students to participate toward the democratic ideal means preparing them to participate in both negotiating and communicative dialogues and encouraging their desire for the fostering of their own self-culture.
Self-culture in this context simply refers to the inner shape human beings can attain when developing their aptitudes in touch with and through the agencies of the intellectual and moral contents found in their environment. The term not only implies the dimensions of learning, knowledge and skills, but also values, ethos, personality, authenticity and humanity.
Developing self-culture is also a process of assuming the responsibilities of an adult member of a community. It means becoming an active part of our continuous human history, to have a chance to participate in “the Great Conversation” of mankind. This conversation includes the complexities of current problems as well as the ideas, problems and mysteries that have puzzled and occupied us since the beginning of human experience. Aside from basic dialogic rules, the seminar does not teach a set of values attributed to be correct. Its mission is to foster the dispositions, intellectual comportments, or habits of mind that allow students to develop practical wisdom, that is, finding ways to act when confronted with a multiplicity of ideas and incongruent values. A fairly simple methodology is utilized to improve the complex interplay of dialogical and intellectual skills.
- dialogic method and rules, a restrained form of the Socratic elenchus (ελεγχος)
- reading primary sources
- instructor as co-inquirer and facilitator
- student led analysis and discussion
- close and attentive reading and listening
- the fundamentals of thinking and writing: organizing, capturing accuracy, expressing depth
- careful attention to differing justifications of beliefs (logical, emotional, psychological, spiritual)
- critical analysis of reasoning structures –continual aim towards the more elegant, coherent and harmonious logical support
- reciprocal encouragement
- self-reflective and mutual critique
Our focus is on the texts and the problems the texts illuminate. The inspiration they provide allows us to develop and refine the following explicit skills:
- analysis: evaluative, logical, and comparative
- expansion and summarizing
A typical semester-long seminar generally consists of 36 instructional or discussion hours with 600 to 700 pages of readings and 40 to 50 pages of writing. Students are graded in three general areas: participation and preparedness; weekly written summaries or questions of the readings; and three medium length essays. Throughout the seminar, participants aim for developing full student initiated analysis.
Past Courses Include:
Environmental Ethics – Philosophy and the Human Place in Nature
This course investigates the ever changing human relationship with nature through an examination of the concepts and self-understandings that have characterize our different cultural and scientific ways of inhabiting the earth from the Neolithic period to the present technocratic age. We specifically chart the changing concepts of rationality and reverence, with a particular emphasis on how the action of perception determines relevant facts. We also investigate the emerging philosophical discipline of environmental ethics in all of its problematic relationships with traditional moral theory and the possibilities it offers for an adult assumption of our full human responsibilities. Through the readings and discussions, the student will be encouraged to uncover and explore their own assumptions and evaluations concerning their relationship with the natural world.
The Problem of Human Relationship: The Voice of the Other – The Voice of Nature
This course investigates the problems of human relationship through an examination of the work of three 20th century philosophers; Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. We first examine Buber’s “dialogic principle,” his realization that human existence is determined by two fundamentally different types of relating: the I-It relation, or relating to things, persons, or entities as objects to be used, or means to an end, and the I-Thou relation, relating to things and persons without preconceptions, encountering them as ends in themselves. We then investigate Emmanuel Levinas’ claim that the encounter between persons is ‘ethical’ in its source for the simple reason that an ‘I’ discovers its own particularity when it is singled out by the gaze of another, whose gaze, as a force, is interrogative and imperative. Finally, we explore Merleau-Ponty’s work concerning the mutual and participatory nature of embodied perception and the consequences it has for a relationship with the natural world based upon the recognition of that world’s mutual constitution by a diversity of the lived experiences of countless organisms.
We also investigate contemporary theories of identity development, how one forms an ethical orientation, as well as exploring the underlying moral significance of language. The readings draw from a variety of sources: psychology, sociology, literature, poetry, behavioral and cognitive science, ecology, philosophy, and theology.
- Fall 2011 – How to Become Who You Are! A reading of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Courses in Development
- Sustainability: Myth – Fact – Aspiration
- Philosophy, Religion, & The Meaning of Life
- No Excuses – The Philosophy of Existentialism
 Seminar: from the German seminar; group of students meeting for systematic instruction and discussion; adoption of the Latin sēminārium, substantive use of the neuter of sēminārius, formed on sēmin, formed on the base of severe, past participle of satus, to sow. Sēminārium: plant nursery, breeding ground. Also pertinent is seminary; place of production, cultivation, or education. Onions, C. T. (1966). (Ed.). The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Oxford University Press
 Elenchus, ελεγχος, (e len kis) to examine, refute, or put to shame, Socrates’ dialogic method. The outstanding method of questioning in Plato’s earlier dialogues is the Socratic elenchus. ‘Elenchus’ in a broad sense means examining a statement that someone has made by putting to her additional questions calling for further statements, in the hope that these will determine the meaning and the truth-value of the initial statement. This process normally results in a contradiction of the primary statement. Propositions to which the answerer feels she must agree have entailed the falsehood of her original assertion. Robinson, R. (1953). Plato’s Earlier Dialectic, 2nd edition. Clarendon Press, Oxford. Reprinted in Gregory Vlastos (1971). (Ed.). The Philosophy of Socrates. Anchor Press.