Marina Vitkin

on leave fall semester

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–

Undergraduate Courses 2017-2018

Philosophy

Philosophy and Religion: Hegel

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Prior background in philosophy is required.​

The religious dimension of Hegel’s thought will be the focus of our seminar. Hegel's philosophical achievement was of such magnitude as to have dominated his own time and profoundly affected the thought of his successors down to the present day. Because Hegel's claim to have completed the history of philosophy in a comprehensive presentation of truth is intimately linked to his claim to have comprehended the truth of religion by translating it into its highest, philosophical form, Hegel’s philosophy cannot be understood fully except in light of his philosophy of religion. In this course, we will begin with an overview of Hegel’s system in order to grasp the scope of his endeavor and then work closely with the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion and the relevant sections of the Phenomenology of Spirit. While our central aim in studying Hegel's conception of the place of religion in human thought will be to enrich our understanding of Hegel’s great philosophical synthesis, we will also aim more generally to articulate what the relationship between religion and philosophy in Hegel’s thought can contribute to our understanding of the nature of philosophical thought. For this purpose, we will draw upon the thought of other philosophers, both Hegel’s predecessors (Kant, Schelling) and his successors (Kierkegaard, Marx, Zilberman).

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Hobbes’s Leviathan

Open , Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will study a key text of the Western philosophical tradition: Hobbes’s Leviathan.We will aim to understand the text as a whole, paying as much attention to Hobbes’s conceptions of reality and of human knowledge (perception, cognition, science, method) as to his proposals for how life in society is best organized.In this way, fundamental branches of philosophical enquiry—metaphysics and epistemology, as well as political philosophy—will be illuminated by way of their history and point to the continuing influence of Hobbes’s ideas on the thought and politics of our present.There is no better way to learn how to read philosophical texts—that is, to acquire the skills needed to appreciate the power and subtlety with which great thinkers formulate philosophical problems and articulate solutions—than to engage closely with every dimension of a classic text like the Leviathan.

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Previous Courses

Issues in 19th-Century German Philosophy

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

In the first half of this course, we will focus on Hegel’s conception of knowledge, drawing on readings from the Phenomenology of Spirit, History of Philosophy, and Philosophy of History, among others. For Hegel, the plurality of philosophical positions is, itself, a problem for philosophical reflection; and we will study how Hegel addresses both the power of thought to construct alternative paradigms and its power to navigate among them. Hegel’s immediate predecessors (Fichte, Schelling) will set the stage for our exploration. In the second half of the course, we will consider a plurality of reactions by Hegel’s successors to his method of dealing with plurality, drawing on readings from Kierkegaard, Marx, Foucault, and Zilberman.

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Nietzsche

Open , Seminar—Spring

This seminar will be devoted to a close reading of Beyond Good and Evil, focusing especially on Nietzsche’s understanding and critique of the Western philosophical tradition. Nietzsche’s mode of engagement with philosophical thought has profoundly influenced some of the 20th century's most important thinkers. One of the aims of our close reading will be to grasp the fundamental philosophical disposition that Nietzsche’s “postmodern” successors have inherited from him, however great the differences among them. Keeping the Nietzschean legacy in mind will help us discern its continuing influence in shaping the culture and politics of our present, as well as reflect on roads not taken. A prior background in philosophy is desirable.

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First-Year Studies: Varieties of Intellectual Dissent

Open , 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.

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

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

Prior background in philosophy is required.

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.

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Knowledge and Power

Open , Seminar—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.

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