The Plan and the Reading List

The Philosophical Circus will meet on the first Wednesdays and the first Sundays of each month at University Press Books in Berkeley, starting on October 1, 2014.

Our goal is to explore a non-supernatural understanding of the world and our place in it.

Join us!

If you would like more of an overview of what we are doing… please click here.

Reading List for the Philosophical Circus, 2014 – 2016

Please note that this reading list features only non-fiction. Novels, poetry, music and art will also feature in the discussions, of course, but they have not been included.

(See the “Supplementary List of Non-Supernatural Writers and Poets,” below, for a selection of novelists, poets, musicians and playwrights, who may feature in discussions as well.)

 1. OCTOBER 2014

Pre-History: When We Still Knew We Were Animals

Readings from anthropology, paleontology, etc.

How did people live in pre-history?

What do we currently know about how such men and women – our distant ancestors – saw themselves and their relationship with the world around them?

Although not strictly philosophical, this deserves its own meeting, to be sure, considering that this is how humans lived for hundreds of thousands of years before the invention of agriculture, writing, etc.

(Visiting lecturer from UC Berkeley’s anthropology department?)

2. NOVEMBER 2014

The Pre-Socratic philosophers: Earliest Stirrings of a Non-Supernatural View

Anaximander (610 – 546)

Pythagoras (582 – 496)

Democritus (460 – 370)

Protagoras (490 – 390) “Man is the measure of all things”

(Visiting lecturer from UC Berkeley’s philosophy or classics departments?)

2. DECEMBER 2014

Buddhism: The Practice of Rejecting Duality and the Mind/Body Divide

Siddhartha Guatama / Buddha (563 – 483 BCE)

Although not strictly part of the Western tradition, this seems too important, as an epiphany and a practice, to ignore. Many secularists in the West turn to this tradition to escape the conceits and supernatural claims of monotheism…

(Visiting lecturer from a local Buddhist temple?)

3. JANUARY 2015

The Greek Way(s): Contrasting Definitions of What It Is to Be Fully Human

Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE) vs. Plato (428 -347 BCE)

Epicurus (341 – 270 BCE)

Zeno of Citium / Stoicism (334 – 262 BCE)

We will discuss Aristotle’s notion of humans as social animals (“politikon zoan”), his golden mean, etc. Epicurianism and Stoicism will be compared.

(Visiting lecturer from the philosophy or classic departments?)

4. FEBRUARY 2015

The Swerve: Materialist and Skeptical Maneuvers in the Ancient World

Lucretius (99 – 55 BCE)

Lucian (125 – 180)

Discussion among the members of the group.

An attempt to see where we have gotten so far – just before Europe falls under the spell of monotheism for a long thousand years…

5. MARCH 2015

The Renaissance: The Re-Birth of Doubt

Copernicus (1473 – 1543)

Machiavelli (1469-1527)

Galileo (1564 – 1642)

What does it take to abandon long-held assumptions? What are these new values of science that are emerging? (Evidence, parsimony, verifiability, etc.)

(Visiting lecturer from UC Berkeley’s astronomy department – or history of science?)

6. FEBRUARY 2015

To Be or Not to Be… That Is… but Is That the Question?

Montaigne (1533-1592)

Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)

New ideas of plurality and skepticism. Shakespeare’s whirligig of time and multiple perspectives. Montaigne’s self-doubt. Bacon’s scientific mind.

(Visiting lecturer from the French department, to speak on Montaigne?)

7. MAY 2015

The French Enlightenment and the American Experiment

Montesquieu (1689 – 1755)

Voltaire (1694 – 1778)

Diderot (1713-1784)

Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)

Thomas Jefferson (1743 -1826)

James Madison (1751 – 1836)

What did the Enlightenment contribute? What were its blind spots?

(Visiting lecturer from Berkeley’s American history or political science department?)

8. JUNE 2015

The Scottish Enlightenment: Empiricism Takes Root

David Hume (1711 – 1776)

Adam Smith (1723 – 1790)

Discussion among the members of the group.

9. JULY 2015

British Freethinkers and Utilitarians

Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809)

J. S. Mill (1806 -1873)

Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1842)

10. AUGUST 2015

Thus Spake the Germans

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860)

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

(Visiting lecturer from U.C. Berkeley’s German department? Or from the philosophy department? Comp lit?)

11. SEPTEMBER 2015

The Theory of Evolution: One Bipedal Primate in Particular Has a Big Idea

Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882)

Gregor Mendel (1822 – 1884)

(Visiting lecturer from the UC Berkeley biology department?)

12. OCTOBER 205

The American Pragmatists

William James (1842 – 1910)

John Dewey (1859 – 1952)

George Santayana (1863 – 1952)

13. NOVEMBER 2015

The Emergence of Psychology

Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

Carl Jung (1875 – 1970)

14. DECEMBER 2015

Looking Outward with Sociology

Émile Durkheim (1858 – 1917)

Max Weber (1864 – 1920)

15. JANUARY 2016

Early 20th Century Efforts to Find a Hand Hold

Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970)

Miguel de Unamuno (1864 – 1936)

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951)

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 – 1980)

16. FEBRUARY 2016

Learning to Accept the Crooked Timber of Humanity

Isaiah Berlin (1909 – 1997)

Richard Rorty (1931 – 2007)

17. MARCH 2016

Naturalism and Science

E. O. Wilson (1929 – Present)

Neuroscience readings (e.g. Dean Buonomano Brain Bugs)

18. APRIL 2016

21st Century “New” Atheists

Richard Dawkins (1941 – Present)

Sam Harris (1967 – Present)

Daniel Dennett (1942 – Present)

John Gray (1948 – Present)

(Visiting lecture from Sam Harris?)

19. MAY 2016

Where are we now?

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Naturalist Novelists, Poets, Musicians, Playwrights

 Supplementary List of Non-Supernaturalist Writers and Poets

(Just a Start… More to Be Added As We Go)

 

British

Laurence Sterne (1713 – 1768) – digression being the point

William Blake (1757 – 1827) – for his fiercely individualistic vision

George Eliot (1818 – 1880) – stark realism about this life

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) – the way of the aesthete

George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950) – a dialectic mind

Joseph Conrad (1857 – 1924) – grappling with the heart of darkness

A.E. Housman (1859 – 1936) – beauty and love, passively observed

H.G. Wells (1866 – 1946) – alive in the world

E.M. Forster (1879 – 1970) – “only connect”

Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) – the interrupted moment

Graham Greene (1904 – 1991) – irreconcilables

George Orwell (1902 – 1921) – meaning as commitment

Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985) – refusing sentimentality

Iris Murdoch (1919 – 1999) – madness and masquerades

John Lennon (1940 – 1980) – restless iconoclasm

Ian McEwan (1948 – Present) – brutal truths underneath

Martin Amis (1949 – Present) – living to the full

 

European

Miguel de Cervantes (1547 –1616) – the comic futility of life

Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749 – 1832) – investigations into everything

Leopardi (1798-1837) – the nihilistic view

Anatole France (1844 – 1924) – playing with language to break convention

Anton Chekov (1860 – 1904) – empathy for flawed people

Marcel Proust (1871 – 1922) – art as the sacred

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926) – bravely personal journeys

Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924) – disorientation and subjectivity

Fernando Pessoa (1888 – 1935) – rejecting illusion

Arnulf Øverland (1889-1968) – the secular martyr

André Breton (1896 – 1966) – the surrealist reponse

Antonin Artaud (1896 – 1948) – the radical

Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1956) – justice as ineluctably human

Albert Camus (1913 – 1960) – the will as all

 

American

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) – the life of the mind

Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) – secular visionary

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892) – embracing the ecstatic

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886) – the introvert as genius

Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) – genius provocateur

Jack London (1876 – 1916) – seeking the primal

Robinson Jeffers (1887 – 1962) – anti-humanism

Kurt Vonnegut (1922 – 2007) – skepticism in the Nuclear age

Maurice Sendak (1928 – 2012) – the pleasure of play