Marina Vitkin

PhD, University of Toronto. Special interests in Hegel and his predecessors (modern philosophy) and successors (19th- and 20th-century continental philosophy), post-Hegelian Russian philosophy, and philosophical problems of intellectual diversity and pluralistic understanding. SLC, 2004–

Current undergraduate courses

First-Year Studies: Varieties of Intellectual Dissent

FYS

In this course, we will explore the question of what it means “to think differently” as a powerful approach to understanding human thought as such. To set the stage, we will begin with Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, a novel in which religious and political worldviews clash as The Devil pays a visit to the Moscow of the 1930s. We will be led to consider the processes of grafting a framework of religious and philosophical thought, Christianity in this case, onto a pre-existing cultural worldview and, in the aftermath that Bulgakov portrays, to tease out the logical issues of alternative modes of thinking from the political issues of standing up to power in the name of personal dignity or moral justice. Our next source will be a three-part play, Slings and Arrows, in which we will pay special attention to the challenges of bringing three of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies to life in a vastly altered historical context, that of contemporary North America. In addition to watching the performance, we will read Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear, as well as Oedipus Rex and several texts of Freud. We will then turn to Plato’s Republic and, while aiming to grasp the text as a whole, focus especially on the portrayal of Socrates. As a philosopher, Socrates both exemplifies and reflects on the fundamental incommensurability of his thought with those of his fellow citizens, as illustrated in the dialogue by the Allegory of the Cave and dramatized by Socrates’s trial and death sentence. Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, our next work, argues that periods of radical intellectual divergence are built into the very structure of science as a sociocultural institution. The book will equip us with further conceptual tools for thinking about thought and the complexities of its operation through social history. We will conclude the course with Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation: Life in a New Language, an autobiography that attends to the issues of thinking in incompatibly different ways from the perspective of someone brought up in one culture and then transplanted to another. When intellectual universes collide, when an earlier worldview comes alive across historical discontinuities, when individuals with powerful alternatives to our modes of thinking appear in our midst, when transitions to sweepingly novel conceptions constitute a normal part of an intellectual pursuit, when a subject of one cultural perspective translates herself into another...five works of different genres will provide us with rich and multifaceted material for a philosophical exploration of thinking in radically diverse ways.

Faculty

Philosophical Diversity: Hegel’s Phenomenology and Zilberman’s Modal Methodology

Year

In this course, we will focus on the plurality of philosophical positions as, itself, a problem for philosophical reflection. In the first semester, we will study Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. The Phenomenology is an extraordinary, difficult, immensely exciting, deeply influential text, and we will spend most of the semester working through its multifaceted richness. But our guiding focus will be the text's continuing and pervasive influence on the horizon of contemporary debates about “diversity,” including intellectual diversity, insofar as these debates have been lastingly defined by Hegel's early critics. Near the end of the first semester, we will briefly turn to some of these—Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, in particular—in order to appreciate both the authority and the problems that Hegel’s construction posed for those later thinkers who accuse him of misconstruing the genuine diversity of others. We will explicate the paradoxes of pluralistic understanding in order to illuminate the ultimate inability of Hegel’s critics to construct a methodology for addressing the plurality of philosophical positions. In the second semester, we will turn to Zilberman's approach to this plurality, “modal methodology,” by reading key chapters of his The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought. As with our study of Hegel, we will attend to the multiple fascinating depths of Zilberman’s texts while focusing on the central question of how thought needs to be understood if we are to appreciate both its capacity to issue in incompatible constructions and its capacity to deliver understanding of such constructions.

Faculty

Previous courses

Issues in 19th-Century German Philosophy

Year

One of philosophy’s abiding preoccupations is the nature and limits of human knowledge. This will be our focus in the course, as we study one fascinating period in the history of Western philosophy. Our story begins with Kant, who responds to Hume’s skepticism regarding human capacity for knowledge by embarking, in his Critique of Pure Reason, upon a revolutionary defense of thought’s power. Reading the key sections of the Critique will show us why Kant nevertheless concludes that our highest aspirations for knowledge are doomed to frustration. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, which claims to culminate in the standpoint of “Absolute Knowing,” is in large part a defense of thought’s power against the Kantian brand of skepticism. The Phenomenology is an extraordinary, difficult, immensely exciting, deeply influential text, and we will spend most of the year working through it in its entirety. Near the end of the course, we will briefly turn to anti-Hegelian philosophies, those of Kierkegaard and Marx in particular, in order to appreciate both the authority and the problems that Hegel’s construction posed for later thinkers. In our reading of the Phenomenology and the texts surrounding it, we will aim not only to grasp the significance and the rich legacy of Hegel’s philosophical enterprise but also to attend closely to the structural and rhetorical features of philosophical writing. 

Faculty

Knowledge and Power

Year

In this course, we will focus on the plurality of philosophical positions as, itself, a problem for philosophical reflection. Our study will be guided by the preoccupation with diversity, including diversity in thought, in many strands of contemporary Western philosophical reflection; yet, we will cast our net more widely for resources to address it. In considering how the nature of thought is to be understood if we are to take seriously both its power to construct incommensurable paradigms of knowledge and its power to navigate among them, we will set the stage by exploring several more familiar approaches to the problem, selecting from among those of Hegel, Nietzsche, Bakhtin, Foucault, Kuhn, et al. We will then focus on the approach proposed by Zilberman, first by explicating the paradoxes of pluralistic understanding as articulated in his essay, “On Cultural Relativism and Radical Doubt,” and then by moving on to several chapters of The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought and Analogy in Indian and Western Philosophical Thought. In conference, students will be able to explore, in greater depth, any of the thinkers whom we examine in class. A prior background in philosophy is desirable.

Faculty

Knowledge and Power: Plato and Nietzsche

Spring

The relationship between knowledge and power has been a central concern throughout the Western philosophical tradition. In this seminar, we will study two key texts of the tradition: Plato’s Republic in the fall semester and Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil in the spring. While aiming to grasp each text as a whole and in all of its complexity, we will pay special attention to its understanding of the nature of knowledge, as well as to its conception of how life in society is best organized. In this way, fundamental branches of philosophical inquiry—metaphysics, epistemology, and political philosophy—will be illuminated by way of their history. Plato’s examination of knowledge and power led him to hold that they must be fused in a society, while Nietzsche undertook a radical subversion of the tradition—aiming to reveal that knowledge is power in a different guise. We are still living out the complex consequences, both intellectual and political, of Nietzsche’s subversive project. As the course unfolds, the extraordinary breadth and depth of the two philosophers’ questioning and the diversity of their responses will lead us to reflect on the structure of philosophical thinking and its continuing importance in shaping the culture and politics of our present. 

Faculty

Semantic Destruction and Philosophical Thought

Year

In this course we will focus on the plurality of philosophical positions as itself a problem for philosophical reflection. We will set the stage by considering several approaches to this problem, among them those of Nietzsche, Bakhtin, Foucault, Kuhn. We will then focus on the approach proposed by Zilberman, first by learning to explicate the paradoxes of pluralistic understanding by studying his “Cultural Relativism and Radical Doubt” and then by moving on to selections from The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought. In the second semester we will concentrate on “Revelation in Advaita Vedanta as an Experiment in the Semantic Destruction of Language” (chapter 5 of the book) and its relation to Hegel’s philosophical project in the Phenomenology of Spirit (we will study the Introduction and several key chapters of the Phenomenology). In conference students will be able to explore in greater depth any of the thinkers we examine in class. A prior background in philosophy is required.  

Faculty