Abraham Anderson

on leave yearlong

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–

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.

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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.

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Thinkers on the Right

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

The goal of the seminar is to investigate the development of the "Right" in European political thought after the French Revolution. We will read selections from Joseph de Maistre, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals, and other things yet to be determined.

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Aesthetics: the Romantics and Hegel

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

We will read German Romantic thought and Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics to understand the unfolding of modern aesthetics after Kant.

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First-Year Studies: From Homer to Plato

Open , FYS—Year

The habit of asking questions, which constitutes Western thought, has its primary origin in Greece. In this class, we will read Greek epics, tragedies, histories, comedies, and works of philosophy in order to think about how our thinking got started.

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