This is a free syllabus in philosophy for all those students who can’t afford to attend a school where these courses are offered. Though it’s not a perfect substitute for an undergraduate education, with increasing pressure for funding among departments, skyrocketing tuition costs, and a general opposition to education in the humanities, I believe that it is important to gather these resources for the 70% of the population that will likely never be able to pursue a Bachelor’s degree.
Here’s how it works: combine the free online offerings of MIT’s Open Courseware, Academic Earth, Itunes U, and Youtube with other free web resources that would suffice to supply what could once only be gained by taking out student loans. Though it is based on my initial post, How to get a philosophical education for free, this page is a work in progress and I invite suggestions.
Start with Oxford’s Peter Millican at Itunes U.
Michael Sandel’s Justice course has drawn tens of thousands of Harvard students and focuses on themes and problems in the good life and the good society. Steven B. Smith offers a historical approach at Yale on Academic Earth. Also at Yale, Ian Shapiro offers a similar course on the Moral Foundations of Politics. Explore special topics the BBC’s Ethics Bites or spend a semester with Berkley’s Michael Nagler considering the case for Nonviolence.
I haven’t been able to find an introductory course just on metaphysics, but how about John Searle’s lectures on the Philosophy of Mind? Alternatively, take a look at this course on the ethics and metaphysics of Death by Yale’s Shelly Kagan.
Kent State’s Jeffrey Wattles offers an Introduction.
So far, the courses available online might supply the first two years of a philosophy degree. A disciplined person pursing this syllabus would have a good sense of the overall discipline, but could not be said to have “majored” in philosophy, because the free university offerings become a bit sparser at the advanced level. Courses at this level become specialized, focusing on epochs, figures, problems, and themes. Plus, this is the stage when we start really pushing students to see which ones have potential to become professional scholars, if not in philosophy than in a proximate academic discipline or as lawyers. That means it’s a much more interactive and much more textual education, and it may be less easily-suppled online.
However, it’s always possible glean specific insights and avenues for research from Philosophy Bites or the Guardian’s How to Believe series. You can dig deeper into any topic using the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
For a while Susan Stuart’s lectures on Kant’s epistemology offered a pretty thorough guide to The Critique of Pure Reason, but they’ve been removed. Perhaps they’ll be back. I wouldn’t ask DIY-ers to brave the first Critique without a guide, but perhaps Robert Paul Wolff’s introduction could fill the gap?
If Kant is difficult, Hegel is nearly impossible to read without backup, and there are even fewer resources available online. One such resource is Robert Brandom’s lectures on the Introduction to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.
Herbert Dreyfus takes students through Heidegger’s Being and Time (continued here), which you can supplement with Simon Critchley’s series in the Guardian. Also at the Guardian, Mark Vernon blogs The Platonic Dialogues, and in the same vein, Chris Long offers a series of interviews on Socratic Political themes. (More from the Guardian: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Hume, Wittgenstein, and Hobbes.)
Robert Paul Wolff offers “micro-tutorials” to encourage his readers to re-acquaint themselves with the classics of what might be called the Heroic Age in the study of society — the writings of Marx, Freud, Weber, Ricardo, Mannheim, and others.
An amateur philosophy student has learned enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be useful. So in a sense, my free syllabus is a failure: you can get a philosophical education for free, online, but it takes bit more than that to garner the benefits of studying philosophy.
Self-regard prevents me from really believing that the education available online is better than the one you can get in my classroom, but I’m not so arrogant to think that I’m a better lecturer than Michael Sandel. Notable is what’s lost when all you have are these kinds of courses: you lose feedback and the interrogative experience of a seminar room, you lose the cohort of fellow students who will stay up late hashing out a passage from Aristotle, you lose the synchronicity of associations between very different courses taken simultaneously, and you lose the assessment and professionalization that a professor’s comments and counseling supply.
What makes my classroom work is the seminar-style I learned as an undergraduate at Bard College, and which I try to foster wherever I teach. That’s the practice of philosophy as a liberal art, a technique for free citizens to inquire together into matters of fundamental concern. You can’t learn the habitus of philosophy from an online video.
The quickest way to get feedback on an idea or argument is to start blogging about it. A really ambitious DIY student could recruit a cohort of fellow DIY-ers to work with her. Start a WordPress or Blogger blog and join a community like Big Big Question, Ephilosopher, Metafilter, or Less Wrong. Start writing, reading, responding, and linking, and the commentary will come. Some of it will be critical, some helpful, some mean, but you’ll learn and make connections, develop insights and obsessions, just like a traditional student.
This style of learning won’t prepare you for a lifetime in the academy writing and teaching philosophy. I’m not sure that this should be the goal of a philosophical education.
To my colleagues who worry that these resources undercut the demand for our courses: if we love our discipline as much as the paycheck and status it promises, we have to work to combat the exclusivity of an examined life available only to those who can pay. Plus, giving samples away for free is good marketing (if it works for drug dealers and Justin Bieber, it might work for us.)