Dec 7, 2010

The Holistic and Narrative Approach

Here I would like to share an idea for a course that strives to keep together what, unfortunately, is usually held separate: human beings, societies and cultures. A society — and who lives within/outside it — cannot be understood without its culture. And I am not just talking about socio-anthropological culture (values, attitudes etc.); literature, art, high and popular culture need to be addressed all together. The sociologist (cultural anthropologist, psychologist, etc.) shall adopt what I called a “Holistic and Narrative Approach”: social sciences and humanities ought to walk again hand in hand. For instance, I cannot understand Italians, Italian society and Italian culture without historical depth, philosophical insights and, of course, geography: the Italian peninsula stretches into the Mediterranean Sea and constitutes a natural conjunction between West and East. Obviously, in this intellectual enterprise you need to be creative: imagination is fundamental. Let me give you an example: just think about the Mediterranean Sea as the “Web” of a traditional world. You need these metaphors to catch the students sitting in front of you.  Let me give you a much more articulated example with a course description.
Social &Cultural Development from the Early Modern Age to the Age of Scientific Discovery: A Traveller’s View 
The course will have a seminar format. Lectures will introduce the main topic, with the support of slides synthesizing concepts, paradigms, theories and examples extracted from the readings. Sometimes students will carry out in-class exercises (individually or in groups) and report on them. Students’ social and cultural experiences will be used to elaborate concepts raised throughout the course. Therefore I will foster the students’ capacity of linking past, present and future, à la S. Augustine: present of the past, present of the present, present of the future. At the beginning of every week — adopting a maieutic approach — I will start the lesson asking for the students comments upon a social, cultural, political theme of the present that is clearly connected with our cognitive travel in the past. Furthermore, I will use the hermeneutic framework of “travel” and a narrative style to connect all the concepts, theories, paradigms. The course clearly allow for an interdisciplinary approach —including Philosophy, History, Sociology, Psychology and Cultural Anthropology.
Conceptual itinerary
The incipit of the course will focus on the passages dedicated by Dante in the Divine Comedy to Averroes and Avicenna. Then I will move to Al-Farabi underlying his break with the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, and the passage from metaphysics to methodology (as an anticipation of modernity). Particular attention will be given to al-Farabi’s treatment of the soul’s imaginative faculty and to the realization of “true happiness” in the ideal society (and, of course, to the notion of “vicious” and “virtuous” societies). The concept of “ignorant” societies —where the pursuit of happiness is supplanted by wealth, gratification or power — will offer an interesting comparison with the present of the so called knowledge society. A brief reference to Averroes’s “gender equality” constitutes another interesting link with the present.
Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae will also be introduced by a passage of the Divine Comedy. In this section of the course I will focus on:
-     the clarification of God’s absolute power (transcending any principles of logic, see Aristotle and Averroes);
-     the concept of virtue — the statement “Virtue denotes a certain perfection of a power. Now a thing’s perfection is considered chiefly in regard to its end. But the end of power is act” will lead us toward Machiavelli’s Prince;
-     the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues.
Aquinas’s opposition to non-procreative sexual activity will also be discussed.  Macintyre’s viewpoint (After Virtue) on Aquinas’s virtue ethics (as way to avoid utilitarianism) will be briefly mentioned.
The idea of Niccolò Machiavelli (Prince) as an “originator” of modernity (Leo Strauss 1958) will be discussed and critically tackled. The importance of Machiavelli’s “realism” will be comprehended also through the conceptual lenses of Bacon, Descartes, Rousseau, Hume. Mansfield’s viewpoint on Machiavelli’s Political Science will also be discussed.
Gramsci’s inspiration from Machiavelli’s writings on ethics, morals, and how they relate to the State (Passive Revolution) will conclude this section. Finally — if we are lucky in such imaginary course — I would like to take my imaginary students to see The Mandrake.
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and his De hominis dignitate (1486) — the Manifesto of the Renaissance — will complete this part of the course.  Pico’s underlying of the importance of the human quest for knowledge, a key passage for Renaissance humanism — and the universalism of the pursuit of perfection (as moral self-discipline) — will be discussed and linked to key themes of today’s debate upon Globalization: Multiculturalism and Cosmopolitanism (Rapport 2007). A brief introduction to Utopia, and a possible interpretation of Thomas More’s masterpiece from the youngster human development point of view — a research project that I am carrying on and that is too difficult to explain in two words — will also be made.
Erasmus initial sympathy with Martin Luther’s criticism of the Catholic Church will constitute the incipit for the introduction to the Reformation. Consequently, we will concentrate on the critique contained in De libero arbitrio (1524) and the Martin Luther’s answer De servo arbitrio. The “spirit” of the Reform will be examined and linked to modernity with Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic. Another fil rouge of the course — the student intellectual growth and the vitality of these readings for his/her passage towards adulthood — will be conveyed thorough Eric Erikson’s Young Man Luther. A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (1967) and Erich Fromm’s The Fear of Freedom (1941). Late Luther’s  anti-semitism will conclude this section and, after a brief discussion of  Zygmunt Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust, we will move towards Thomas Hobbes —analyzed through the contributions of Leo Strauss The Political Philosophy of Hobbes; Its Basis and Its Genesis (1936) and Ferdinand Tönnies’s Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft.
John Locke (1690) An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, will be discussed as one of the origins of modern conception of the concept of identity and self. Locke arguing against both Augustinian and Cartesian view will allow us to touch even these two fundamentals thinkers. The “Tabula Rasa” idea will be examined in profundity and be linked to the past — the influence of the 17th century Latin translation Philosophus Autodidactus of the Arabic philosophical novel Hayy ibn Yaqzan (Ibn Tufail) — and to the modern thinker  George Herbert Mead (“John Locke”, in  Oberlin Review).
Aquinas, Summa theologiae
Corbin, History of Islamic Philosophy
Macchiavelli, The Prince
MacIntyre, After Virtue.
Rapport, Cosmopolitan Turn - or Return?
Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration
Pico della Mirandola, De hominis dignitate
Mansfield, Machiavelli's Political Science
Hendrix, The Controversial Luther
Thomas More, Utopia
Erasmus, De libero arbitrio 
Martin Luther, De servo arbitrio
Eric Erikson, Young man Luther
Strauss, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes
George Herbert Mead, Mind, Self and Society
Fromm, The Fear of Freedom 
Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust; Does ethic have a chance in a world of consumers
Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft.
Montaigne, Essays
Koyre, From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe
Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church
The Penguin Atlas of World History, Prehistory to the Eve of the French Revolution; From the French Revolution to the Present
… Have a nice day J