Monday, March 30, 2015

“End of Teaching Term”

7 months ago 250 undergraduate students and I started an intellectual journey through the history of ideas, from Plato to Marx, in my Introduction to Political Theory evening course.

We transcended our time and location in search of knowledge and wisdom concerning how we ought to live, collectively together, as a society.

Our journey started with the Ancient Greeks- Is democracy simply “rule by the ignorant”, as Plato argued in The Republic? Is the “unexamined life not worth living”, as Socrates asserted when threatened with the death penalty for challenging the beliefs of his contemporaries? We also explored Hobbes’s state of nature, contemplated Rousseau’s diagnosis of inequality, debated Burke’s defence of tradition, considered Wollstonecraft’s argument for equality of the sexes, examined the pros and cons of utilitarianism and finished by pondering Marx’s critique of capitalism. Our collective goal was to engage in, and critically assess, the intellectual project of positing and refining a “science of politics”.

What is human nature? What constitutes the good life? What are the legitimate functions, and limitations, of state coercion? What is freedom and equality? These questions remain persistent, live questions for us today as we ponder the collective fate of humanity this century. By turning to the past we can understand where many of these ideas originated, how others attempted (either successfully or unsuccessfully) to meet the challenges of their times, and we can assess which aspects of their ideas should be rejected, refined or revived. The past contains a wealth of wisdom that we ignore at our folly.

Tonight the intellectual journey with my students came to an end, with our last lecture. I really love teaching this class. And I look forward to doing so again next year!

For the next few months I will be hunkering down to the solitary exercise of making the final revisions and edits to a book on justice and the genetic revolution, a project I must complete before teaching re-starts in September. Oscillating as I do between the concerns of the past and those of the future helps keep me as grounded as I could hope to be in the all too elusive "present"!