Philosophy Lectures

Carl Seaquist


I have been teaching an introductory course in philosophy at Middle Tennessee State University, and wanted to make more time in class for learning-centered activities, so I decided to move all my lectures online. This way students can view them at their leisure, as many times as they want. In all there are 17 lectures in all; I still am recording audio for some of them, so I'll be uploading additional lectures over the next couple of weeks as I get them ready to go live.

Please note: these lectures are designed to help students read the texts that I've assigned, so they are intended (1) to provide background to the subject of the readings, (2) focus students' attention on the different kinds of philosophizing illustrated in the readings, and (3) provide students with some strategies for approaching the readings. These lectures are NOT intended to summarize the texts students will read; rather, they are intended to help students do the readings on their own, in preparation for writing and class discussion. So they count as what is known as "courseware"; they are not intended to constitute a complete college course.

These lectures require the ability to play Flash files, so they probably won't work on Apple products. Since these lectures were produced for a particular course, they don't provide comprehensive introductions to their subject. Still, some people might find these lectures worth linking to or otherwise using, so I have put them on a publicly accessible site.

The Syllabus

Here is the syllabus that these lectures were designed to accompany. Since I'm a believer in letting syllabi be as long as they need to, I also produced a one-page precis of the syllabus.


Introduction to Online Lectures

This lecture provides a general introduction to these lectures. It shows you how they are set up, and how to navigate them.

This lecture goes into more detail about the educational reasoning behind why I'm producing online lectures in the first place, and why I'm producing them in the particular way that I do. It also talks a little about how these lectures fit into my philosophy course.


Introduction to Philosophy lecture

This is a lecture that I generally give, in one form or another, the first or second class of the semester, just to provide students with some general orientation to philosophy. I decided to put it online for two reasons: first, for students who add the course late; and second, for students who heard my in-class version but, because it was early in the semester, didn't fully absorb it.

I should warn viewers, particularly those who know something about contemporary philosophy, that some of what I say here may sound a little intemperate. That's not my intent. When providing an introduction to the field, it's hard to be sufficiently nuanced in this short a space. In any case, I didn't have as much time to put this lecture together as I would like, and when I have time I'll revisit my language and hopefully introduce a little more nuance. Still, I think the lecture serves its purpose of providing a broad overview in brief compass. Total time: about 15 minutes.


Areas of Philosophy

Here is a lecture on metaphysics. I also have one written on political philosophy. Over time I'll probably add more, but for the present I think that's all I'll need for my present course. When those are ready, they'll be posted in this section. Please keep in mind that to the extent possible, these are broad introductions to the major areas of philosophy, but given their length they really can't be comprehensive, and the main goal is the emphasize elements of these areas that are relevant to the readings students will be assigned in my course.


Ancient Philosophy in the West

At the moment, I've got one lecture on Greek philosophy. In its current form, this lecture runs about 20 minutes. When I have time, I'd like to add a little more to it, but it is sufficiently complete that I think it'll be useful to students. In time, I will probably break off the second half and turn it into a separate introduction to Plato, and add a similar introduction for Aristotle. I've got a second Greek philosophy lecture written, which I'll add shortly.

I'm teaching some Seneca in this course, and the present lecture, which runs 27 minutes, provides an introduction to the reading, in addition to a variety of background comments, on Roman law and government, and on Stoicism. It's an interesting question what kind of cultural background is necessary and helpful for students; I don't really know the answer to this question, though I have some intuitions, which I'm testing out by asking students what works. I'll update these lectures accordingly based on feedback. This lecture is really too long, but I'll wait to edit it (and probably break it into 2, or perhaps 3, lectures) until I have other lectures posted.


Chinese Philosophy

In the current version of the course I've got more lectures on Chinese than on Greek philosophy. To some extent this reflects my feeling that students find Chinese philosophy harder to approach, and that they have less cultural background to read it with understanding. But I'll probably end up adding to the Greek lectures as time permits, and this will minimize the imbalance.

I have a number of lectures written on classical Chinese philosophy. Since the readings focus on the passages where Mengzi and Xunzi discuss human nature, that's alsothe focus of these lectures. Specifically, I have one lecture on the Confucian tradition generally, and another on Kongzi, Mengzi, and Xunzi. Then I have an unfortunately long lecture where I work through one passage (Mengzi 6A4) in some detail, to illustrate how one might approach a classical Chinese text. I've split this lecture into three parts, along junctures that I think make sense: Mengzi 6A4 I, Mengzi 6A4 II, and Mengzi 6A4 III.

Then I have two lectures on human nature. The first lecture discusses the concept of human nature, then looks at the standard, textbook approach to the problem in ancient China; the second lecture draws heavily on Angus Graham's classic paper “The Background of the Mencian Theory of Human Nature” and presents specific texts that provide some context for the 'debate' between Mengzi and Xunzi.

I also have written an introductory lecture on Chinese geography and one on modern Chinese history, which, together with sections of the lecture on political philosophy, should be sufficient for the reading on contemporary Confucianism.

I also have a draft of one on Taoism, but since that's not needed for the current version of the course, it will take me longer to get that one produced and uploaded.


Other Lectures

Here is a lecture on Thomson's paper on the Trolley Problem.

The lecture on Descartes' Meditations will probably be the last to be uploaded. In general I'd like an introdution to every reading, but I think the metaphysics lecture above will be sufficient preparation for students to read Gracyk's Rhythm and Noise: An Aesthetics of Rock (chapter 1).

When I have time, I'd like to produce a lecture that discusses three basic ways of approaching ancient texts: (1) sometimes philosophers read ancient texts for inspiration in working on contemporary problems, and don't really worry whether their readings are anachronistic. (2) Sometimes they try to understand individual authors in their social and historical context; this involves historical and text-critical skills, and also introduces hermeneutical problems relating to the unity of texts that may have been edited together by someone other than the putative author. (3) Sometimes scholars determine that it's more important to understand the history of reception of a text than worry about what its ur-form may have looked like, or what the author originally intended. But that will probably not be done for some time.