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Best colleges for studying philosophy?

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I'll be going to college in the fall of 2005 and one of the majors that I'm interested in is philosophy. I'm not exactly sure how and where to start evaluating colleges on whether they'll provide a rational education on philosophy. I've read that the Ivy Leagues are definitely not the best place to learn philosophy for students of Objectivism. Can you guys recommend some colleges (in the US) that are not inimical (and might actually be amicable) to students of Objectivism and provides an excellent education in Philosophy?

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I would definitely recommend my own college: St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. Check out the website at www.sjca.edu .

The virtues of the college are: it uses original texts rather than second-hand textbooks; it is chronological; science is taught inductively, through a chronological study of original scientific treatises; we study the important people, with most emphasis on Ancient philosophy, and almost no time spent on anything after the year 1900; we learn Ancient Greek, which is important for anyone serious about philosophy; the students are very intellectual and knowledgeable; we do lots of writing, with a final paper each year that, unlike the average term paper, is supposed to be something breathtaking (there are prizes for the best final papers); integration among subjects is encouraged both directly, by the faculty, and indirectly, by the way the curriculum is designed. There are more virtues, but I'll leave it there for now.

The college isn't quite perfect. There are only three lectures each month, and sometimes they aren't the best. The discussion-centered classes usually work well, but have the potential to cause frustration. Tutors (that's what we call the teachers) teach every subject. While this has the advantage of encouraging integration among subjects, it means you'll often be talking to someone who isn't specializing in what you're studying in his class.

I love the college, and find it to be the perfect college for Objectivists. The students and tutors are often hostile towards Objectivism (what college isn't?), but I'm able to ignore that, because the people are nevertheless rational and the curriculum is great. (And now, we have an Objectivist club)

This is a college of people who understand the value of reason and the importance of philosophy. Come into class and approach the texts honestly, and you will get a lot out of it.

I'd recommend you read over the St. John's website thoroughly, and if it interests you, visit the college, stay overnight in a dorm room, observe some classes.

As far as other colleges go, I'd suggest looking at their course catalogs. If their classes are like "Aristotle's Ethics" and "Aquinas and the Renaissance" you should consider it. If the classes are like "Feminist Philosophy" and "Quantum Physics and the Refutation of Reality" you might want to think twice.

Aside from St. John's, I would suggest looking into the University of Chicago.

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Hey I got two booklets from St. John's a few months ago! When I first read them I got quite excited especially when I got to the section "The Triumph of Reason". I thought it would be a great college to go to--though after reading some of the college president's speeches in the website--and the fact that Atlas Shrugged is excluded from the "Great Books" reading list--I became a bit skeptical about how rational they really are. I guess I would be able to tolerate their hostility.

Thanks for the info ;)

When you said you study Ancient Greek, did you mean the language!? Do you guys actually read Plato's and Aristotle's works in the original Greek?

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college president's speeches in the website
His speeches aren't all that bad, especially compared to what you get at other colleges. He did have one especially bad one, though. But the good thing is, that he doesn't do the teaching, and you'll hardly ever notice he's there.

Atlas Shrugged is excluded from the "Great Books" reading list--

Now wait just a minute. How many colleges require you to read Atlas Shrugged? None. In this whole country, about three even have any courses that make use of it. Atlas Shrugged is a long novel, and it would take a real commitment to include it. Since it's a relatively recent work, I would accept their excluding it based only on the fact that it's too recent. But that isn't even the case. Atlas isn't EXCLUDED. It just isn't included. And what's the big deal? You're going to college to learn, so isn't it better to read more of what you haven't yet read?

I guess I would be able to tolerate their hostility.
I haven't personally encountered any hostility from tutors, but rather from students. I find that I can have very rational discussions with most students and tutors. Even those who dislike Objectivism are open to reason.

When you said you study Ancient Greek, did you mean the language!?   Do you guys actually read Plato's and Aristotle's works in the original Greek?

Yes, I meant the language. But reading Greek isn't easy, certainly not with a couple of years of it. Freshmen translate Plato's Meno, and some translate part of Aristotle's Ethics. Sophomores translate Sophocles' Antigone. But it takes lots of time. I wouldn't call it reading, unless you consider spending three minutes on a sentence reading. We read primarily in English, however by the spring of freshman year we are able to keep the Greek text alongside the English in case we want to check the original. (Junior and senior years we learn French)

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Other schools that you might want to consider if you want to go somewhere with an Objectivist presence on campus would be the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Pittsburgh. Plus, both are good schools in their own right (apart from having Objectivist faculty) and have highly ranked philosophy departments.

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Speaking of St. John's, I actually saw, for the first and only time anywhere, a presentation of AR's play "Night of Jan 16th." Mind you, this was quite a few years ago, but it does show you the college has had a fairly persistant Objectivist presence.

That and Annapolis is a very lovely place to live

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This quote from a St. John Alumni Cindy Lutz in the "Profiles of St. John's Alumni" of the website makes me very doubtful:

"I have always been interested in science, but before coming to St. John's I had only seen its ideas through the distorting lens of textbooks. Their portrayal of science as a world of definite answers and facts and figures was quickly overturned by what I learned in lab at St. John's. Science is full of unanswerable questions, difficult ambiguities, and moral dilemmas as any of the liberal arts. I strive constantly to remind my students that there is nothing certain or absolute about our knowledge of the world." (emphasis by me)

Can anyone of you confirm this? Is this really what St. John teaches about knowledge and particularly science? I hope she meant that we are not omniscient but are capable of acquiring contextually absolute knowledge. Either that or she's a skeptic.

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Can anyone of you confirm this?  Is this really what St. John teaches about knowledge and particularly science?  I hope she meant that we are not omniscient but are capable of acquiring contextually absolute knowledge.  Either that or she's a skeptic.
I can confirm that such students exist at St. John's as they exist at any college. I strongly deny that St. John's teaches skepticism in the name of science. We read original scientific treatises. She somehow reached that conclusion from them, but each student is free to reach his own conclusions from the text.

Speaking of St. John's, I actually saw, for the first and only time anywhere, a presentation of AR's play "Night of Jan 16th." Mind you, this was quite a few years ago, but it does show you the college has had a fairly persistant Objectivist presence.

I wasn't aware we had already done Night of Jan 16th. I guess I can forget about my hopes to have it produced, if it's already been done.

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A new article about St. John's is out. I recommend it: http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/college/a...johns_brief.php

It gives an accurate idea of the college.

By the way, the part about the Metaphysics is from my seminar (the reporter who wrote the article sat in on both my seminar and my Greek class, and interviewed me for about ten minutes). I think I'm the last one quoted in the Metaphysics paragraph, but I'm sure I gave more of an explanation that what's included in the paragraph.

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  • 2 months later...

Anybody know much about Hillsdale College (in Michigan)? It seems to be very traditional and heavily classics-based, although also with an emphasis on the Judeo-Christian heritage of our culture.

That quote about science may not be as bad as it looks. Science is often taught in high schools as simply a body of absolute facts to be memorized. Real science recognizes that knowledge is contextual. A theory will be accepted if there is much evidence for it and none against it, but always with the proviso that it may have to be rejected or revised if new evidence is found that contradicts the theory.

Daniel, surely you don't study science only by reading original treatises?? That is useful for historical perspective, but surely you must have lectures on current knowledge and labs to do experiments for yourself.

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Daniel, surely you don't study science only by reading original treatises?? That is useful for historical perspective, but surely you must have lectures on current knowledge and labs to do experiments for yourself.

Of course. Here's some more detail:

The focus of the lab is definitely on original treatises. But with each treatise we would also perform the relevant experiments. Heavily scientific lectures are rare, since the curriculum is not lecture-based, but they do happen occassionally. This Friday, for instance, we will have a lecture titled: "On scientific and ethical problems of stem cell research."

For example, freshmen read Theophrastus' On Plants, and then dissect parts of a Magnolia Tree; they read Aristotle's Parts of Animals, and then dissect a fish; they read William Harvey on the heart, and then dissect a cow's heart; they read Archimedes on levers, and then experiment with levers; and so on, with other writers, including Pascal, Gay-Lussac, Avogadro, Lavoisier, and many more.

Students use a lab manual which typically includes the relevant treatise, along with directions for relevant experiments, and explanations or clarifications that go along with the subject.

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Interesting ... how do they incorporate modern knowledge of anatomy and so on? I would think that just going through major original treatises in chronological order would make it impossible to have any systematic presentation; ie you would just be jumping around randomly. I assume not, but how do they organize the order of concepts taught?

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Interesting ... how do they incorporate modern knowledge of anatomy and so on? I would think that just going through major original treatises in chronological order would make it impossible to have any systematic presentation; ie you would just be jumping around randomly. I assume not, but how do they organize the order of concepts taught?

What does William Harvey give us if not modern knowledge of anatomy? There are lots of details in modern anatomy that are considered relatively unimportant for the majority of us who will never need it; we have a nice library for those interested in pursuing the subject further.

It's not random at all! It's sort of half-chronological, half-thematic. For example, here is the order of some of what we read last year: Lavoiser's Elements of Chemistry (not all of it, but lots), Dalton's A New System of Chemical Philosophy excerpts, Thomson's System of Chemistry excerpts, Gay-Lussac's Memoire on the Combination of Gaseous Substances With Each Other, Avogadro's Essay on a Manner of Determining the Relative Masses of the Elementary Particles of Bodies, then something by Cannizzaro, then Mendeleev on a Periodic Law of the Chemical Elements.

We basically isolate a theme and then follow it through history as scientists discovered more about it. Since the later knowledge builds on the earlier knowledge, this chronological study is important, allowing for an inductive and hierarchical study.

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  • 2 years later...

Curious to see if anyone knows of any private colleges that offer a bachelors degree in philosophy. Ive tried google, but I keep getting state schools. I dont care what state the school is in, just as long as its in the USA.

(Mod's note: Merged with an earlier thread on a simlar topic. -sN)

Edited by softwareNerd
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Brandeis has one of the top ones, particularly as a bastion of Kripke disciples. University of Phoenix (in ancient philosophy), Stanford (philosophy of language), Northwestern (in biomedical ethics), Duquesne (in continentalism), CMU (in philosophy of math).

Depends on what you're looking for.

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Duke has a course that requires Atlas Shrugged taught by Ayn Rand Institute member, Gary Hull. It also has (starting this year) a course that is basically Objectivism (with a different name, in order to get around the administration). Also, while not directly related to Objectivism, another professor, Michael Ferejohn, is a highly-regarded expert on Aristotle.

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I got my degree in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin and think it has a great philosophy and classics department. If you are interested in ancient philosophy, there is a lot of cross-indexed courses involving classics, greek, latin and philosophy. Too, Professor White is a great ancient philosophy teacher who teaches small section courses on Aristotle which I greatly enjoyed.

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  • 1 month later...

Rutgers University's undergraduate philosophy program is considered tops in the country, interestingly. If you can survive living in New Brunswick and dealing with the thousands of miles of red tape, Rutgers is a pretty good value.

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  • 4 months later...
This quote from a St. John Alumni Cindy Lutz in the "Profiles of St. John's Alumni" of the website makes me very doubtful:

"I have always been interested in science, but before coming to St. John's I had only seen its ideas through the distorting lens of textbooks. Their portrayal of science as a world of definite answers and facts and figures was quickly overturned by what I learned in lab at St. John's. Science is full of unanswerable questions, difficult ambiguities, and moral dilemmas as any of the liberal arts. I strive constantly to remind my students that there is nothing certain or absolute about our knowledge of the world." (emphasis by me)

Can anyone of you confirm this? Is this really what St. John teaches about knowledge and particularly science? I hope she meant that we are not omniscient but are capable of acquiring contextually absolute knowledge. Either that or she's a skeptic.

I am the very Cindy Lutz who was quoted above. I recognize that this thread is quite old, but since I only just now came across it, I wanted to respond.

To clarify the statement, I made it a point to emphasize to my students that our knowledge of science at any given time is simply our best understanding at that moment. We must recognize in science the potential that new information may become evident at any moment that may turn our understanding in a new direction. At St. John's we were certainly not taught that there are no facts. There are most definitely facts -- the wavelength of light emitted by an excited pure gas is MEASURABLE and is specific to that particular element, the speed of light is MEASURABLE and known to a high degree of accuracy, etc. We know with at least some certainty what we can measure, but we must admit for the possibility that 100 or a 1000 years from now that the tools with which we measure may be better, and that people in those times may look back on us as bumblers in the dark.

I was taught as a student in high school that the facts in the book were TRUE, unquestionable, and unchanging. This is a mistaken picture of what science does, since it fails entirely to capture the idea that science is forever evolving, incorporating new information, adjusting theories to meet new evidence, or discarding theories alltogether if the evidence and the theory fail to match each other. One of the things that I truly enjoyed and found to be enlightening about the historical approach to science at St. John's College was that it strongly emphasized the evolving nature of Science, and made it very clear that even now we are still learning.

The individual who quoted me seemed quite concerned that I was skeptical about our ability to acquire absolute knowledge. Absolute is a loaded word if ever there was one! However I would continue to stand by my statement that there are no absolutes even in science. I think even established facts (eg. the speed of light, etc.) are not absolute, since we may yet learn more about them -- we may refine the speed to a higher level of accuracy, we may learn someday that there are exceptions to the rule that "c" is the speed limit of the universe, etc. I just don't think that we as humans can ever know it all. We can know a great deal, we can continue to build on our knowledge, but we will never know it ALL, therefore I do believe that we will never have absolute knowledge. This does NOT mean that I think that we know nothing, it just means that I believe we should maintain a humility about our knowledge and recognize that there is always, always more to learn.

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My "big deal" is their not recognizing Atlas Shrugged as one of the "Great Books" when they claim to be champions of reason, not that I won't be able to read it for a college class. Oh well, it's an unrealistic expectation in these place and times. I know.

The number of books left off of the program exceeds by thousands the number that are on it. Books that are chosen for inclusion are picked because of a number of reasons, but these include length. AS is a long book, and it would be a lot to read in 2 nights when you have a ton of other work to do! (And yes, that's how long you'd have to read it at SJC. The students there read an enormous quantity, and there's very little time to devote to long works. So sometimes, the best works are left out. I remember meeting someone once who looked positively disgusted that Moby Dick isn't included on the list either. Too long, sorry.)

I would suggest that you not pick any single book and determine that its presence or absence is an indicator of the worth of the college. Rationality is very much appreciated at St. John's and there are many works that allow for exploration of reason and rational thought. St. John's is trying to cover a huge amount of material, and not everything is going to make it in.

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The individual who quoted me seemed quite concerned that I was skeptical about our ability to acquire absolute knowledge.
I can't speak for Tom Rexton, but I can speak for myself, and I will direct your attention to something more specific in your quote: "I strive constantly to remind my students that there is nothing certain or absolute about our knowledge of the world." This is where the error lies -- not in absoluteness, but in the denial of certainty. I assume you're not familiar with Peikoff's book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, and I can't do it justice in a small space, but chapter 5 and pp. 165-182 in particular develops the Objectivist epistemology in an important way, in giving what I consider to be a proper account of a proposition's certainty. In particular (p. 179)
A conclusion is "certain" when the evidence in its favor is conclusive; i.e., when it has been logically validated. At this stage, one has gone beyond "substantial" evidence. Rather, the total of the available evidence points in a single direction, and this evidence fulfills the standard of proof. In such a context, there is nothing to suggest even the possibility of another interpretation. There are, therefore, no longer any grounds for doubt.
As you will see, Peikoff is clear that knowledge is contextual, not absolute, and your response focused on the absoluteness part of your quote. We can blame Tom for that mistake. However: it is untrue that there is nothing certain about our knowledge. It is true that we are not always certain of our conclusions, but your claim was much too strong, in saying that there exists no certainty. In fact, if one doesn't overstate one's scientific conclusions and make unsupported statements, certainty is not that hard to attain. What is hard to attain is the discipline necessary to not make exciting but empirically unsupported claims.
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