Abraham Anderson

AB, Harvard College. PhD, Columbia University. Fellowships at École Normale Supérieure and the University of Munich. Interests in philosophy and history of science, history of modern philosophy, and the Enlightenment. Author of The Treatise of the Three Impostors and the Problem of Enlightenment, as well as articles on Kant, Descartes, and other topics. Contributor to the new Kant-Lexikon. Has taught at the Collège International de Philosophie, St. John’s College, Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas, and elsewhere. SLC, 2007–

Undergraduate Courses 2022-2023


First-Year Studies: Literature and Philosophy: Enthusiasm, Fanaticism, Superstition


We live at a time when fanaticism, religious and otherwise, has become a subject of great concern. This is not a new problem: Western literature and philosophy have been concerned with fanaticism since the beginning, and we cannot understand the way the problem of fanaticism appears to us now without going back to the earlier discussions and transformations of that question. The reading list, which may be modified, is Euripides, Bacchae; Plato, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedrus, Lucretius, On the Nature of Things; St. Paul, Epistle to the Romans; Montaigne, “On Presumption”; Shaftesbury, Characteristics; Swift, Gulliver’s Travels; Hume, “The Natural History of Religion,” “Of Superstition and Enthusiasm,” “Of Parties,” History of England, Vol. 5, an excerpt on the New Model Army; Kant, Dreams of a Spirit-Seer; Lessing, Nathan the Wise; Bentham, “Anarchistical Fallacies”; Orwell, Animal Farm, 1984. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences with some opportunities for small-group meetings; in the spring, we will normally meet every other week.


Gender and Sexuality in Greek Literature and Philosophy

Open, Seminar—Fall

Modern discussions of gender and sexuality have a predecessor in the literature and philosophy of ancient Greece, which have informed recent thought on the topic. Of the Greek discussions, we shall focus on just a few. We shall begin with poetry by Sappho, Sophocles’ Antigone, and Euripides’ Bacchae. We shall go on to Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae, Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae, and Book Five of Plato’s Republic.



Open, Seminar—Spring

Is there truth over and above the point of view of the individual or group? This topic received considerable discussion in the philosophy of Plato, whose treatment of the topic remains indispensable for grappling with it. We shall read the Euthyphro, on piety; The Apology, in which Socrates defends himself against the charge of subverting the religion of Athens; and selections from The Republic, in which Socrates considers whether justice is just a matter of convention. We shall then go on to the Theaetetus, on knowledge, and the Sophist, on falsehood.


Previous Courses


Economics and Moral Philosophy

Open, Seminar—Year

In the history of economic thought, one of the classic topics has been the “Adam Smith problem,” the problem of how Smith—whose The Wealth of Nations was thought to teach that selfishness is, and ought to be, the primary motive of human behavior—could also have written The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which makes sympathy and benevolence central to human moral psychology. In this course, we shall attempt to understand whether there really is an “Adam Smith problem.” We shall do so by beginning before Smith, with Shaftesbury‘s Inquiry Concerning Virtue and Merit, which teaches that human beings are fundamentally sociable, and Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees, which argues for the political and economic value of selfishness. We shall then go on to read The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. Our focus will not be on economic theory. Rather, we shall be interested in the question of human nature and its relevance to politics and political economy—and, for example, to disagreements among American “conservatives,” many of whom defend the virtue of selfishness, and American “liberals,” many of whom wish to regard human beings as fundamentally sociable and who wish to cultivate a universal benevolence. Reading these four books slowly and carefully may take us the whole year.


Philosophy as Therapy

Open, Lecture—Year

Since Socrates, philosophy has understood itself as therapy—of “opinion” (Socrates, Plato), of anxiety and passion (the Stoa), of superstition (the Epicureans), and of dogmatism (the Pyrrhonian skeptics and the New Academy). This conception of philosophy receded in the Middle Ages—when philosophy in Christian Europe was conceived of as a “handmaiden to theology”—but returned in the Renaissance and continued to be important in the Enlightenment. Among the moderns, thinkers who understand philosophy as involving therapy include Montaigne, Descartes, Shaftesbury, and Kant, as well as some in the 20th century. In the fall semester, we shall focus on the ancients; in the spring, on the moderns.