I start summer school next week and one of the two courses I'm doing is Intro again. I want to change the structure slightly in order to maximize what went well and minimize what didn't.
What went well was the first half of the course where I concentrated on value issues as they arise in Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics and the Epicureans. The students saw the point of thinking about the nature of the good life and could understand and mostly appreciate the different perspectives offered. But when I switched away from ethics to metaphysics and epistemology with Descartes and Berkeley, they lost most of their interest.
I'm going to try to correct this by tieing the metaphysics and epistemology to the ethics. Ethics will continue to be the foundation but then I plan to point out that what kind of universe we inhabit makes a difference to what kind of life it is sensible to live. The epicureans are materialists and their hedonism makes sense from that perspective. The Stoics take a more spiritual view of reality and their insistence that virtue is necessary and sufficient for happiness makes sense from that perspective. So, making a rational choice between Epicureanism and Stoicism would require figuring out if the world was fundamentally spiritual or material. Now when we ask: how do the Stoics know that the world is fundamentally spiritual skepticism takes on a more practical aspect.
Concretely I plan to bounce around from one philosopher to another much more than I did in the Spring. I want to show the students how all the particular topics covered in philosophy are interrelated and form part of one BIG conversation.
This is a somewhat risky strategy. Bouncing around too much may look more chaotic and less unified if I don't do it well. But if I do it right, it should produce a greater sense of unity.
I plan to post a few comments to report how this is going and if there seems to be any interest I will continue posting comments.