Philosophy in 12 Key Steps with Mark Vernon

New at The Idler Academy!


Monday 23rd September – Monday 9th December 2013

‘I never spent Sunday afternoons looking forward to Monday until I joined this course!’


A twelve week crash course in philosophy, ancient and modern, western and eastern, examining key thinkers and key texts.

‘Mark is a great teacher who helps to bring clarity to some potentially very intimidating subjects.’


New to this course:
– Read three key texts!
– Explore Eastern philosophy!
– Shine a light on the so-called dark ages!


1. Monday 23rd September 2013

Before Socrates: the birth of Western thought

We will consider the thought of individuals from Thales, sometimes called the father of philosophy, to the big hitters Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Parmenides, who argued over whether everything is in a state of flux or is, ultimately, one. The surviving texts of these philosophers are fragmentary but we can build up a fascinating picture of their extraordinary take on the world, ideas that have echoed across the centuries to our own day.


2. Monday 30th September 2013

Plato and Aristotle: the disciples of Socrates

Socrates is arguably the most influential figure in western philosophy. The richest picture of him comes to us via Plato, from the notion that the unexamined life is not worth living, to that knowing that he knows little or nothing. What are his great insights? Why is he so important? Plato taught Aristotle with whom we ask further questions. How to be happy? What does it mean to have a friend? How should we organise society so as to flourish?


3. Monday 7th October 2013

Stoicism and Epicureanism: ancient philosophy’s success stories

The Stoics offered probably the most successful practical philosophy of life right up to the Christian period. Notions about ‘going with the flow’ and challenging one’s emotions can be traced back to Stoic ideas. Second most successful was Epicureanism, a kind of hedonism though one that severely critiques our consumer way of life. The trick, they thought, is to enjoy small pleasures rather than become addicted to ever bigger, unsustainable highs and kicks.


4. Monday 14th October 2013

Immanuel Kant, politics and the Enlightenment

After Descartes two different attitudes towards the world took root. Empiricism claimed that only the senses could be trusted as a source of knowledge. Idealism argued that our mental construction of the world must come first. Kant is the towering figure of the Enlightenment, attempting to outline the limits of human knowledge. His essays, What Is Enlightenment?, answers with the clarion call to dare to know for yourself. Though he was also a conservative figure, arguing that society must decide on truth, as well as seeking to synthesis empirical and idealist assumptions.


5. Monday 21st October 2013

Karl Popper and the philosophy of science

Modern science is indisputably one of humankind’s most powerful inventions, but just what it discovers and how it works is widely contested. Popper is a crucial figure in this debate, with his measure of falsifiability. He also wrote very well about history and Darwinism. We will also consider Thomas Kuhn, and the notion of paradigm shifts, and other contemporary interpretations. This evening will help you to get a grip on what science can and can’t address, equipping you for living in a scientific age.


6. Monday 28th October 2013

Friedrich Nietzsche and philosophies of the self

In this session, we cast an eye towards what is known as continental philosophy, which is generally as interested in questions of how to live alongside those of analytic philosophy’s how can we know. Some regard Nietzsche as the most important philosopher of the last century or so. A psychologist and poet too, he never fails to provoke. Foucault provides another stimulating way into this different world. A disciple of Nietzsche, theorist of the self and sexuality, his ideas have also percolated very widely.


7. Monday 4th November 2013

Eastern philosophy today: Indian idealism and Buddhism

Recent philosophy in the West has been dominated by various forms of scientific materialism, which is perhaps why the ancient systems of India are of growing interesting. They offer an idealist conceptions of things, the notion that mind is the fundamental way in which we relate to the cosmos. Buddhist thought represents another development of this approach, a practical philosophy that seeks to address the problem of suffering and discontent, simultaneously raising key questions about the nature of the self and how to live.


8. Monday 11th November 2013

Eastern philosophy today: Confucianism and Taoism

The great philosophical systems of China used to be curiosities for a few students of the Far East. Today, their impact can be felt on lives in the West, partly as a result of globalisation, partly as a result of growing interest in non-Christian spirituality. We will examine the basics of Confucianism and Taoism, have a brief look at some of the key texts, and origins. There will be time to discuss their relevance today.


9. Monday 18th November 2013

Medieval philosophy today: Plotinus and Thomas Aquinas

Although, the medieval period is known as the dark ages, it produced some of the greatest philosophers of all time. Boethius’ Consolations of Philosophy was a best-selling for centuries, teaching that a right mind and heart can withstand all the pains of fate. And then came Thomas Aquinas, a monk in the new hippy order of Dominicans, whose interpretation of Aristotle is marked by genuine genius. His insights on the good life, on human psychology and on God, are still important today.


10. Monday 25th November 2013

Going deeper with a key text: Plato’s Symposium

It is said that sometime in 416BC, a group of notable Athenians, not least Socrates, sat down to discuss love. That’s Plato’s conceit, in his Symposium – one of those texts that you will recognise has influenced the way you think about love and beauty, truth and the highest vision to which mortals can aspire. It is a text to which you can return time and time again and always discover sometime new. We will do so in this reading-group style symposium.


’11. Monday 2nd December 2013”

Going deeper with a key text: Descartes’ Meditations

Descartes personal and highly readable reflection on what it is to be human stands on the threshold of a new way of being in the world, now called being modern. It turns doubt on itself to see what can be known for certain, and controversially concludes, ‘I think therefore I am’. Descartes is widely held responsible for mind/body dualism. In this symposium we will look his book, which he regarded as a spiritual reflection, and at what it means to live in his shadow.


12. Monday 9th December 2013

Going deeper with a key text: William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience

Delivered as lectures, this set of reflections on religious experience have not really been beaten in the one hundred years since their publication. James – the brother of the novelist Henry – is a brilliant writer: witty, insightful, arresting and scholarly in equal measure. He writes in the period before philosophy became separate from theology and psychology, even more so from spirituality, a change that would have astonished the ancient philosophers. His book offers a way back to integrating these key domains of human interest and concern.


‘It is much better to be talk philosophy than to read it.’

Sign up for all 12 weeks – £300 (2 weeks free), 6 weeks £150 (1 week free) or individual evenings – £30 an evening.

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