Steven Lubin  pianist and fortepianist


Outline for a Gen-Ed Program for Purchase College

Steven Lubin ©2007

Excerpted readings, mainly from primary sources, visual and auditory aids (power point), lectures and discussion sections. Principal aim: give students some critical categories by which to evaluate the merits of the various schemes humans have used to try to learn about the world. Four rubrics emerge: scientific conceptual schemes (SCS), cultural belief systems (CBS); philosophy (PHIL) and art (ART). I've tried to give out material that represents the three traditional branches of academic learning (hum, nat sci, soc sci), and have tried to touch on a reasonable number of high spots. In doing this, I found myself avoiding a chronological flow and opting instead for a sequence of topics handled (I hope) in such a way that things move from obvious to less obvious in a directed fashion.

To relieve the reader's eye, some images by SL are included here.

I. Outline Sketch of Our Universe's First 14 Billion Years

1) Outline of principal events:

  1. Big bang; plasma of hot elementary particles; rapid expansion

  2. Uncoupling of photons

  3. Slight lumpiness of matter-- the cosmic background radiation; Penzias, Wilson and Peebles; evidence of the COBE experiment

  4. Formation of stars, galaxies, heavy elements

  5. Our solar system and planet formed 4.6 billion years BP; stage set for the evolution of life

2) First paradox of spacetime—time vanishes into the big bang "singularity" when you run time backwards. This is because according to the theory of relativity, time (as observed from a faraway reference frame) slows down in the vicinity of a very massive object. The big-bang singularity was the ultimate massive object—its mass was theoretically infinite. In its vicinity, time would slow down and stop! So if in your mind you scroll back history and reach the point where everything aggregates into the primordial black hole, you realize you can't really ask what happened before the big bang! "Before" loses its meaning.

3) Second paradox—spacetime curves back on itself because of gravity—so you can't really ask what's beyond the end of the universe. If you try to trust a wave/particle of light (photon) from very, very far away to tell you what's out there at the edge, you suddenly realize that that photon must have curved on its way to your eye because of all the mass lying between you and its point of origin. So there exists no sort of medium of information to tell you about an edge. So there's another assault on common sense! Everything has to have a boundary!

Science requires the toleration of frustration in the face of failing to acquire intuitively satisfying explanations for burning questions. Discussion: Have pre-scientific creation myths really done any better?

4) Third paradox—the universe contains (almost) none of the hospitable, reassuring features of the households we all grew up in, that gave us reflexive beliefs that the things around us were designed to fulfill our purposes. Alienation of the universe as science presents it. Apparent exceptions to this that have tantalized and confused us:

  1. Natural laws—universe seems (partly) rational

  2. Applicability of mathematics to nature

  3. Statistically unexpected—and theoretically unexplained—features of the universe that seem to predispose it to life—fine-structure constant, Pauli's exclusion principle, anthropic principle

  4. Beauty. The rainbow and the olive branch in the story of Noah as signs of the universe's supposed hospitality. The irreducible role of beauty in scientific decision-making. Ockham's razor.

Discussion: the apparent purposelessness of the scientifically described universe

5) Rapid sketch of 3.8 billion years of evolution on our planet:
  1. Plausibility of spontaneous generation of life in anaerobic conditions

  2. Theory of punctuated equilibrium, initial variety of multicellular life, Cambrian explosion, falsity of "ladder of ascent" myth. Opportunism and myopia of evolutionary development. Darwin and Wallace.

  3. Central features of evolution: genetic variants and mechanism for inheritance of these, reproductive edges, specialization, radiation, extinctions, vertebrate evolution, stages of brain complexity, K/T event, primate evolution, studies of advanced primates as social animals

  4. Tribal tendencies toward formation of belief-systems, arguably wired in in hominid evolution—the reproductive advantage they confer. Tribal inculcation of belief systems—their slowness to evolve. Anthropological examples show vast variety of detail, with the common thread being stability of society under local conditions. Components of belief systems: cosmology, eschatology, mores, theories of causality; behavior-controlling roles of anger, guilt
Reading and Discussion: Example of a Cultural Belief System (CBS—a.k.a. Tribal Belief System)—from Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture

Cosmology and mores of the Dobu people of New Guinea, early in the 20th century. Features: general state of war; matrilineal organization; magical view of the world; ubiquitous danger perceived; harsh, infertile environment; malevolent incantation rituals; clan-magic in growing yams (the principal food); etc. Demonstrate from the example that the logic by which rituals and mores are traditionally practiced is based upon (a) analogy, and (b) a false ontological priority conferred upon language. Looking at our past through the wrong end of the telescope: these default methods of understanding the world arose as part of the evolution of socially organized advanced primates. Alternative ways of approaching an understanding of the world go against the grain, and are astonishingly recent (several hundred years vs. hundreds of thousands or millions of years): an eyeblink compared with an eon.

II. Cultural Belief Systems vs. Scientific Conceptual Schemes

(Strategy here is to prepare the eventual drawing of comparisons and contrasts among cultural belief systems, scientific conceptual schemes, philosophical systems and artistic statements.)

Case study of a shifting scientific conceptual scheme: the Copernican Revolution
Text: The Copernican Revolution, T.S. Kuhn

(1) The data of naked-eye astronomy—solar, sidereal day; circumpolar stars; relationship between observer's latitude and elevation of the pole star; dome of "fixed stars," geometry of the celestial sphere; sun's annual motion through the ecliptic, seasonal variations in its daily path through the sky; the planets and their motions; retrograde motion and the deferent/epicycle theory of Hipparchus/Ptolemy; the odd behavior of Mercury and Venus in hugging the sun; motions and phases of the moon.

(2) Copernicus the man and his milieu: cleric; astronomer; experiences as student of Italian neo-Platonism.

(3) Thumbnail sketch of the closed medieval world-picture (a subject to be returned to), incorporating the Ptolemaic view. Excerpts from Dante's Inferno. Dominance in Europe of the medieval Greek/Christian cosmology/cosmogony.

(4) Excellence, usefulness of the Ptolemaic view. Nature, role of a conceptual scheme: success as an explanatory and correlative device. Stability of Ptolemaic view for 1400 years. Ontological reassurance of a closed world-picture. Glimpse of the classical phase of the Italian Renaissance (1430-1530), contemporaneous with Copernicus's work, as an indicator of the psychological/sociological reassurance of an internally harmonious world-picture, and its resistance to change: Santa Maria del Fiore; Raphael; Josquin des Prés; excerpts from Castiglione; Leonardo as symbolic figure.

(5) Why Copernicus turned against Ptolemy—graphic of astronomical details in the explanation of Venus's orbit. Critical role of aesthetic considerations in science. Students, now adopting the new scheme, give careful consideration to the same astronomical details previously framed within the Polemaic scheme—the data now become transformed by their changed surrounding context. Initially, historically, adherence to circular orbits required retention of most of the old theoretical apparatus (deferents, epicycles); but the great impact of the framework switch, as seen by 16th-century eyes (and ours) is jolting. In experiencing the shift, one learns about a deep, default propensity of the human brain: i.e., to learn a framework for giving an order and shape to mountains of data, and then to embrace the framework, to insist on its truth, with an undreamed-of ferocity.

(6) Wave of ontological malaise in 16th-century Western Europe, after first quarter of the century. Mannerism, Counter- Reformation. Questioning of old organon—Aristotle. Origins of experimental science: Francis Bacon—New Organon. Tycho's improved naked-eye astronomical data (orbit of Mars) and Kepler's use of them.

(7) Kepler the man—layered figure, transitional. Kepler as Pythagorean. The Pythagorean Myth sketched—Pythagoras, from the ancient scraps of second- and third-hand information, seems to say: "Nature surrounds itself with a shell that hides its inner workings from us. But you can use your intellects to find the rare peepholes ("portals") in this shell through which you can penetrate to the truths inside. You'll know them when you see them, by their dazzling beauty. The more of these you discover, the more they'll all fit together with each other and so become even more beautiful. While you're doing this, don't be afraid to think that you're herein dealing with the Divine! But be careful that your notions of divinity don't get tangled up with any lore other than what you glean from portals, or your quest will fail. In short: use your intellect to find beauty in the universe, and you'll find you've achieved spirituality too." Thumbnail sketch of the historic transmission of this myth from the ancient to the medieval Western world.

Kepler's aesthetic enthusiasm as constructor of a beautiful worldview—continuum of artistic and scientific construction—both portraits of reality. Kepler's scrupulousness about experimental detail contrasted with his conceptual backwardness. His mathematically dramatic empirical laws. His stroke of flexibility in embracing the concept of an elliptical orbit and the grand significance of this: abandonment of an established sphere of self-consistent beauty in order to allow a more encompassing sphere to replace it, one that eventually showed itself to be even more grandly beautiful: the pain of ontological sacrifice.

(8) Heuristic element of a conceptual scheme, along with its explanatory and correlative roles. Explosion of fresh investigation after Copernicus. The telescope, Galileo as astronomer. The search for parallax and the vastly expanded universe. Loss of the conception of the universe as designed to a human scale.

(9) Galileo the man—clash with the Counter-Reformation and his defiance. His role as experimental physicist. His foray into mathematical physics ran parallel to Kepler's mathematical astronomical investigations—Galileo's were directed toward terrestrial phenomena.

(10) Newton's consummation of the Copernican Revolution. Newton the man. Synthesis of Kepler's and Galileo's contributions. Idea of similarity between the fall of a terrestrial object and the "fall" of the moon. Abstractification of scientific explanation—replacement of an intuitively satisfying "why" answer as the criterion for persuasiveness by a "merely" aesthetically satisfying "how" answer (the latter persuasive because of its mathematical elegance, and also, it turned out, its practical utility). Consideration of the first "proposition" from Principia Mathematica, and its putting together of ideas and themes from diverse sources and eras: it incorporates principles from Euclidean geometry, Archimedes' method of exhaustion, Kepler's first empirical (unrationalized) law of planetary motion, and Newton's own analytic method of drawing a tangent to a curve (non-arc).

Glimpse ahead—the impact of the Newtonian synthesis: the Enlightenment. Newton's synthesis here implies a faith that nature can be trusted to reward investigative efforts that converge on a conclusion from varying starting points: nature, behind its baffling surface, is rational and integrated. Whewell's concept of "consilience" and Wilson's use of it.

Enlightenment isomorphism: Mozart's Prague Symphony, first movement. The development section is a construction assembled from themes from different parts of the exposition, and combined in fresh and unforeseen ways. The musical system as a metaphor for nature. Short quotes from Pope and Voltaire.

(11) Summary, conclusions about conceptual schemes.

Discussion: what is the relationship between a CBS, like that of the Dobu, studied earlier, and a scientific conceptual scheme?

Successful belief systems are almost irresistibly compelling to a member. A scientific conceptual scheme is a special form of belief system, with characteristics that should work as quick-release mechanisms when needed. But even so, a scientific conceptual scheme can be irresistibly compelling; the experience of shifting out of it to another can be vertiginous or traumatic. Once through it, you understand that there is a relativistic feature to a scientific conceptual scheme—it is at least partly a human construction—the grounds for belief in it are never absolutely reliable.

The relativity of the grounds for belief in a belief system is an important theme of 20th-century philosophy, since the 20th century was an epoch horrified by the large-scale devastation wreaked by CBSs gone amok (in instances of colonial and totalitarian oppression and genocide). This horror is wholly called for, and crucial for us all to experience; but we should not conclude falsely from it that a thorough-going relativism regarding conceptual schemes is a moral antidote to tribal oppression. Conceptual schemes made us do this…ergo, death to all conceptual schemes!! (This is a little like the following reasoning: My homestead burned down while I was away; my pigs were caught inside and got roasted; I discovered the joys of roast pork; ergo: let's all burn down our homesteads!!)

A scientific conceptual scheme is a construction in one sense, but this doesn't mean that the reality it explains is non-existent apart from its constructed existence. This would be positivism run amok! Scientific conceptual schemes help us perceive reality, not just construct it. And the history of science has taught us that one conceptual scheme succeeds another not because of random factors or politics or fashions, but, generally, because the new scheme does a better job than the old one of perceiving reality— it perceives more of reality, at a finer or grander scale perhaps, or construes it in a more persuasive (and usually more beautiful) manner.

Now compare a scientific conceptual scheme, like the Copernican theory, to a tribal belief system, like, say, the CBS of the Dobu people discussed earlier. Recall our claim that a CBS is overwhelmingly likely to rely upon default, pre-scientific forms of reasoning to make its way in explaining the world. Two of these are particularly important: analogy-based and language-based reasoning. The analogies are typically between internally experienced impulses and purposes, on the one hand, and on the other, external events, animate and inanimate, that one hopes to realize or prevent. Analogies lead to a causality of (psychological) projection. The language factor consists in endowing signs (conventions used for communication, like words and names) with the same degree of reality possessed by things—this is a causality of signs. Both these causalities are, in their way, magical.

A scientific conceptual scheme, by contrast, tries to be scrupulously careful about the kind of causality it accepts as plausible. It tries to establish causal relations among events by demonstrations that are repeatable, open to evaluation by multiple observers, and quantifiable if at all possible; and beliefs are expected to have heuristic value—to predict previously unknown facts that can be verified or falsified by reality checks. Science involves critical causal thinking, a brand-new intellectual feature in our long history as a species—from all we know, tribal belief systems have been our ubiquitous default approach to causal understanding all along.

III. Philosophical Systems—How They Differ From and Overlap With CBSs and SCSs

(1) Read Plato's Republic (Cornford or Cooper?)

(2) What are Plato's strategies of persuasion? Does he use a causality of projection? A causality of signs? Yes, both—examination of Socrates's arguments. Consideration of ways in which Republic is a manifesto of a CBS already in place; and also a blueprint for a prescribed, recommended, CBS. And in what ways does it differ from a CBS? Is it at all scientific?

Discussion: What is a "philosophy?" How does the knowledge philosophy offers, or purports to offer, differ from scientific knowledge, and from the lore of a cultural (tribal) belief system? A philosophy is ordinarily an individual's offering, a proposal, rather than a culturally generated scheme. And in general a philosophy, though conjectural, involves a critical mentality—so that philosophies sometimes can counter or modify the force of a CBS. (Though the anonymity of the genesis of a CBS gives it a semblance of "natural" authority—Plato's Cratylus.) Also, philosophy has resided in the spaces of uncertainty, varying from era to era, that coeval science has failed to fill in with knowledge, so science has, down through its history, gradually encroached on philosophy's purview. Generally, philosophy has tried to apply certain scientific attitudes (particularly an attempt at self-consistency, systematization and anti-gullibility) to subject matter that science hasn't known how to confront. (This situation obtains in the present day with respect to human consciousness and supposed free will.) And like science, philosophy has typically relied on an aesthetic of leanness, neatness, concinnity, elegance. The structural aesthetics of the CBS is very different from that of science and philosophy. The contrast involves an important issue for the 21st century to focus on: ontological aesthetics.

Features of the particular CBS imbedded in Republic:

  1. Intellectual elitism (anti-democratic)

  2. Belief in two worlds: a here-and-now, concrete world of the senses, and an abstract other-world, accessible only by the intellect, and only to those with special intellectual training

  3. Value-system based on the superiority and causal priority of the abstract world

  4. Ethics (the just man) based on a harmonic analogy
Discussion: Glimpse of previous Greek science: Thales, Leucippus and Democritus, Geometers—Hippocrates and Archytus; and glimpse of democracy in 6th- and 5th-century Athens. Thucydides. Is Plato's Republic a regression in some ways? But does it display elegance, poetic grace, rhetorical inventiveness, and literary charm?

IV. Philosophies of How People Should Get Along

Republic is an early and influential example of a philosophy of how people should get along. Philosophies of government, social interaction and normative ethics are endemically out of range of scientific criticism because they centrally involve value judgements. (Clarify the two issues of ethics—normative and descriptive.) Paradox: What seems most important for our purposes to understand, seems least amenable to scientific analysis. What should be done? "Should," when you think about it, is a CBS concept—it's imbedded in us by our upbringing long before we can deal with it critically. Much social and ethical philosophy spins its wheels trying to rationalize "shoulds" that are given by one CBS or another.

Succession of excerpted readings: various schemes of social polity and normative ethics, to be contrasted and compared with those of Republic:

  1. Old Testament—passages from Pentateuch, Job—relationship of individual to God

  2. Augustine—City of God—Christian world-view, Alexandrian synthesis of Old Testament with Plato: two worlds, earthly and heavenly; souls (spirits) vs. the material world; freedom of choice, denial of individual somatic impulses; cosmic reward-and-punishment system; original sin; God's grace, Christ's gift of an earthly resource of redemption.

  3. Medieval synthesizers and summists: Boethius, Cassiodorus, Vincent de Beauvais, Aquinas, Dante. Hierarchical closed system of nature, incorporating some elements of ancient learning along with pervasive Christian culture (Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy, et al.).

  4. Macchiavelli—idea of individual prince as autonomous, independent of the moral system—era of cracks and fissures appearing in the universal Western CBS

  5. Hobbes—idea of a secular social polity with a rightful destiny of its own, in grim conflict with a rigid customary system and with the dark impulses of human nature

  6. Locke, Montesquieu and Diderot, riding high on the English Revolution of 1688 and the Newtonian synthesis, frame the metaphysics of democracy. But the Enlightenment qua attempt to scientize social relations and normative ethics fails. Subsequent attempts at repair.

  7. Marx hitches his moral imperative to the low end of the economic order, with a rhetoric of righteous wrath.

  8. Discovery of the analytic strategy of seeking historical, mechanical or biological bases for the social, political and ethical imperatives of CBSs, including our Western one—Nietzsche (Geneology of Morals), Dostoyevsky (Brothers K., Grand Inquisitor scene), Freud (Civilization and its Discontents), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World). The value-relativism established by anthropological studies.

  9. Post-anthropological efforts at establishing a workable ethics, including the agora of political attitudes in present-day America.

Discussion—Liberalism vs. Conservatism in America—search for working definitions, and for an accurate account of underlying moral and psychological assumptions to explain surface attitudes and habits of thought. E.g., in deciding what the domestic role of government should be (issues of tax structure, initiatives of economic assistance, regulation, etc.), how do we weigh the impulse to reward individual will and industry in overcoming obstacles against the opposing tendency to explain individuals' ability to thrive or cope in terms of heredity and environment? Other issues: the entitlement of private enterprise vs. the common good (Max Weber); issue of whether there should be individual obligation to larger social units than the family; role of society in protecting wealth and stability, and the issue of a general obligation by individuals to support this role; separation of church and state; attitude toward the environment as a communal resource; attitude of cooperation toward, or sense of conflict with, foreign powers; etc., etc.

{If one takes the four-rubrics idea (SCS, CBS, PHIL and ART) as a basis for general education seriously enough to think through its pedagogical implications, it becomes plain that the social sciences and humanities are both going to be analyzed into disciplines that employ, each in their own ways, a combination of the epistemological approaches of natural science and philosophy to carry out their work. Social scientists, when they report on facts, interpret evidence in methodologically disciplined ways and seek out new data in a controlled, accredited manner, are doing work closely akin to what natural scientists do. And when they offer conjectural (albeit critically disciplined and systematic) interpretations of issues that—like value issues, e.g.—are inherently out of the range of scientific decideability, then they behave very much like philosophers. Something quite analogous could be said for workers in the humanities. So from the four-rubrics (epistemological) standpoint, social scientists and humanists work with a combination of SCS and PHIL.

This is assuredly not any sort of attempt to "reduce" the social sciences and humanities to other disciplines. At Purchase, whenever students take any courses other than dedicated general-education ones, they'll instantly be in contact with nat sci or soc sci or hum styles of doing business academically. But for gen-ed purposes exclusively, it might serve our students well to follow a curriculum that constantly scrutinizes how we know what we think we know—that sticks closely to the sources of putative knowledge, and saves the more stylized ways in which we typically organize our teaching (re: soc sci and hum) for courses in the major or electives.

Faculty teaching this general-education program, whatever their discipline, will want to make themselves hyperaware of what the epistemological categories are that characterize the various items of the curriculum. They won't teach, ideally, qua social scientist or humanist or natural scientist, but qua epistemologically savvy scholar interested as much in conveying how things are known as what things are worth knowing.

One important corollary of all this for Purchase, in my view, is that arts faculty, if and when they teach general education, ought to do so in the same manner. ART (discussed below) is an important epistemological category along with the others (CBS, PHIL and ART), and needs to be part of general education, but only qua such an epistemological category: one source of knowledge among several, interacting with the others. How to make art ought not to be a part of this general-education program, if we're going to be consistent and integrated about it, and we shouldn't expect arts faculty, insofar as they act as general-education teachers, to teach hands-on arts courses.}

V. Some Ideas that Have Contributed to Modernity (from Philosophy)

According to a well-known Hopi creation myth, the human race originated under the ground, and finally came up to the surface through a long vertical shaft. Creation is like the ascent of a shoot generated by a planted seed (the Hopi developed as an agricultural people), or the journey of a newborn child through the birth canal.

We now live in an era that resembles the very first emergence into the light. For us the light is that of a modern, objective perspective on ourselves and our surroundings, a perspective that is just starting to dispel the darkness of the CBSs we originate out of. So far we have touched upon a few ways in which we have, by luck or happenstance, learned to pull ourselves up by the shoestrings. Here are a few more ideas that have helped precipitate this unprecedented change in the life of our species.

  1. The ancient Greek atomists Leucippus and Democritus (and their later followers Epicurus and Lucretius) offered the idea of a mechanical explanation for the world's modus operandi. The simplification of the world's surface complexity accomplished by this ended up, much later, providing us with an indispensable explanatory tool.

  2. Plato promulgated the idea that mathematics—which often seems to inhabit a separate reality—can illuminate everyday reality, both by providing a set of ideal models for how things work here, and by lending to everyday reality an intimation of a kind of ideal, pristine beauty. (Symposium) Plato has been widely attacked for the negative, elitist implications of this view, even leading sometimes to a general mistrust of beauty (Russell); but the positive side of the contribution is unmistakable.

  3. Aristotle had the idea that the sense of necessity intuited in mathematical arguments could have a counterpart in ordinary language. His inauguration of logic had a huge effect in buttressing confidence in intellectual endeavor, and became a powerful tool of investigation.

  4. Euclid's Elements was the apotheosis of an ongoing Greek idea that we live in a cosmos with internally harmonious proportions, and an ostensibly designed-in completeness, roundedness and concinnity; and that the cosmos can be echoed in a microcosm, a work of man/woman. It was arguably a model for many pivotal summist works in the West for the next 2300 years, including Dante's cycle of cosmological poems (14,000 lines of terza rima), the great medieval cathedrals (e.g. at Chartres and Florence), Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling, Shakespeare's grand plans (though he defends against excessive symmetry), Bach's late large-scale pieces (e.g., the B-Minor Mass), Milton's, Newton's and Einstein's summae, etc., etc. (Of course, Homer and Virgil gave us models for epic plans too.)

  5. In more recent times we owe to Descartes a modern philosophical voice, one of introspection, and of a disarming, Montaigne-like frankness and intimacy. He gave us the idea that we can discover something of great gravity not by consulting experts or anointed authorities or ancient sages, but by looking inside ourselves.

  6. To the great Scottish philosopher David Hume we owe several insights that separate off modernity from everything that precedes.

    1. Mechanical causality, when you watch it happening, produces a strong intuition of necessity—when the cueball hits the sixball, the six has to move. But Hume realized that that necessity is in the mind of the beholder. This realization was part of Hume's general effort to debunk traditional notions of causal projection.

    2. The only sort of necessity we have warranty to believe in, said Hume, was the necessity involved in mathematical and logical inference—and this, he insisted, was because these inferences were tautological. Statements, he averred, could involve either "relations of ideas" or "matters of fact." Only valid statements in the prior category could have necessity; matters of fact admitted only of probability. But only statements of the latter category purported to say anything explicit about the real world. This was a part of Hume's effort to debunk a causality of signs.

    3. Hume debunked the notion of immortal souls, as unsupported by any evidence; and helped found a skeptical attitude toward the notion of a soul as a discreet entity separate from the body.

    4. He attacked the propriety of a belief in miracles, as likewise bereft of evidence; and argued for the notion of an exhaustively law-bound M.O. in nature. (In the 20th century, the rigidly deterministic implications of this sort of belief came loose on account of quantum uncertainty, chaotic complexity, the three-body problem, the vast feedback complexity of brains, and the like.)

    5. Hume attacked the commonly accepted Enlightenment "argument from design" for God's existence in his brilliant Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

  7. In Tintern Abbey and in his Intimations ode, William Wordsworth (along with other writers and artists, in other works) concludes that the real domain where sacredness holds sway is in subjectivity. For the Romantics, the divide between public and private gets carefully defined, and the interior life, fragile and vulnerable, becomes the prime focus for art and for much of the intellectual activity Romantics engage in. The importance and wonderfulness of subjectivity is Romanticism's gift to modernity.

  8. In the 20th century, many writers chronicle the loss—as experienced at least by one stratum of modern humanity—of much of the reassurance traditionally gleaned from a nurturing CBS. These voices are sometimes despairing, sometimes challenging, sometimes mocking. Possible thinkers to present: Yeats/Joyce/Beckett; Freud; Aldous Huxley; Camus; Russell; Ayer; T.S. Eliot; Derrida/Said et al. As CBSs lose some of their power to control mores, they leave glaring injustices exposed, which Purchase's Race and Gender curriculum endeavors to address.

VI. World History and Religion

Students will be required to read voluminously in world history and non-Western religions, with choice of texts and pacing of exposure to this material at the instructors' discretion.

VII. Art, Culture, and the Vicissitudes of History

Discussion: Look at this image from the cave art of Lascaux, ca. 14,000 YBP.......

And now look at these modern images (Klee, Rhythmic Wooded Landscape; Miró, Catalan Landscape; Stokes, City by the Sea)........ How come they seem so kindred? Well, maybe the modern artists were influenced by the Lascaux artists! Or alternatively, maybe the modern artists are out of touch with the shock of "emergence into the light." Maybe visual artists are too right-brained to care about the radical changes that affect scientists, philosophers and social thinkers!? No. Artists are very sharp, and they have their finger to the wind. For one thing, the radical changes we're going through transform only part of us—there are plenty of ways we're wired just as the ancient Lascaux denizens were to respond to images. But then, what is the connection between art and the Zeitgeist, between art and the circumstances and locale where it's made?

What is art? Anyone who has taken an aesthetics course, or one in the philosophy of art, knows there's no simple answer—art is too varied to allow of a single definition. But one thing artists do is to make, construct, something that bears a similarity to real reality; either to some part of reality that's significant to the artist and his/her audience, or, perhaps, something that stands for all of reality. This sort of art is symbolic—it means something outside itself, something that's part of the everyday life of those whom the art affects. We should make a gesture toward suggesting the variety of art's forms and uses; but for our gen-ed purposes, we want to deal with art mainly in its function as yet another avenue toward our learning about the world. Focusing on this function, we'll be able to integrate art elegantly with the network of avenues to understanding that we've already explored.

The burden of design for this outline so far has been to convey the idea that our default source of understanding has always been tribal belief systems, and that these tend to trap us into faulty perceptions. In the current technological era, being thus deceived has become dangerous to our survival; it's now crucial for our species to pull ourselves up past these deceptions (Bacon's "idols") by our bootstraps. Science has given us one category of insights to light the way, as noted. Science, though, is at its best when the pieces of reality it scrutinizes are susceptible to analysis that allows causal simplification. When science tries to confront the intricate causality of the realm of human experience, its feet get stuck in the mud. Dynamic psychology (for those willing to call it "science") is the best science has managed to do so far in this direction. I happen to think that dynamic psychology, with all its faults, is an indispensable resource—I even think (horribile dictu) that Freud, with all his glaring PC warts, was a great beacon in our endeavor to penetrate insidious tribal deceptions, and that we should give him his due in our curriculum (as noted above). But science, which has to stick to the methods that let it work well, is challenged in this realm. Enter art.

One great thing about art that sometimes prevents its conspiring with CBSs to deceive us is that art, on the face of it, is make-believe!! Art is like a street-clown in whiteface. You can often trust it to stand somewhere far enough from reality so that it can observe reality, and say something to us about it—either something loving and approving, or something caustic. (This latter function is what makes authoritarian regimes try to stamp it out.) So it's the ontological function of art that we mainly need to deal with in our program—its potential to show us what reality is really like even when the surface of reality is complex and subtle and baffling to penetrate analytically. Its batting average might not be any higher than philosophy's batting average in disabusing us, but it sure helps. Like philosophy, art is a gadfly. Our hopes for getting disabused of our follies rest on science—reliable but limited in range—and two complementary gadflies.

With this in mind, the following sequence of curricular topics seems to me to make sense.

  1. Classic Art. In general, classic art is an expression of ontological comfort. (Enough complexity of detail needs citing so that this judgment won't come across as a cliché.) We could use the 5th-century Athenians, the quattrocento Italian painters and the 18th-century tonal composers as examples. Sample observations: the loving anatomical detail in the interior frieze of the Parthenon (a horse's veins) comes across not as fussy or academic, but as conveying a trust that the inventions of nature-as-artist and the depictions of a human artist are aligned and harmonious. We could cite: Filippo Lippi's decisions on what to put in and what to leave out in depicting a madonna, so that the impression is all-of-a-piece (in imitation of pre-planned nature as Filippo's milieu saw it), and idealized without needing to distort in any obvious way. Or Mozart's particularly knowing (and self-conscious) use of a well-established system of compositional conventions to create the impression that nature, represented by its stand-in, European music, goes through its paces with just the majesty and grace one expects from knowing about gravitation, geometric orbits, inverse-square laws, and so on. The serenity of classic art.

  2. Non-Classic Art. Romantic art and ontological discomfort. Withdrawal into subjectivity (Schubert's Eb Trio, Bb Sonata). Alienation, individual vs. environment (Père Goriot, Rouge et Noir). Individual's need to repudiate traditional mores, seek new integration (Faust). Refuge in the strange, exotic, and extravagantly expressive (Praxiteles; Caravaggio, Bernini and Gesualdo; Goya; Keats: St. Agnes Eve, Belle Dame, Coleridge: Kubla Khan, Ancient Mariner; Géricault and Delacroix; Mussorgsky; Kafka). The concept of nature revised and anthropomorphized by Romanticism. Wrathful, alienated, unbeautiful art: Munch, Beckmann, Samuel Beckett; expressionism. Picasso's, Bunuel's distortions. Neo-classical syntheses: Chopin, Matisse. Anti-ontological or absurdist art: Cage, Warhol, Rauschenberg, postmodern architecture. Ambivalence toward beauty. The turbulent, conflict-ridden, emotional, factional or solipsistic, heroic, subversive (Dr. Strangelove) in non-classic art.

  3. Art as the servant of its CBS. Unlike science—but like philosophy, its fellow-gadfly—art is often likely to buy into the claims of its surrounding culture, especially when things seem to be going reasonably well locally. (Science's methodologic discipline shields it from such conformity, or at least is supposed to.) And so, often, ironically, the most moving, valuable and lasting manifestations of outdated reality-doctrines are their artistic supportive trappings rather than the doctrines themselves. I'm not religious, but I wept like a baby last month, walking into the sanctuary of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. The architecture of that building tells of grandeur, order, harmony, simplicity of cosmic design, heroism and love. Maybe these values are still alive in some transferable way, even though the reality-claims the building's founders held by aren't valid for me any longer. Some of past art's greatest glories defend ontological stances we don't like any longer, or at least can't afford to maintain. Art has glorified mysticism and irrationality, and has exalted all sorts of bloodthirsty beliefs in the name of validating its patron CBS. (Sometimes, the greatest artists seem to catch themselves at this, and throw in bitter little nuggets to register their ambivalence, like Michelangelo on the Sistine scaffolding.) Paradox: now that our agenda needs to be rationalist (Crusades aren't affordable any longer), will art wither and die for want of emotional sustenance, the stuff of CBS agendas? If it does, will we become absurdly dependent upon our irrational past for artistic stimulation?! Or will a new ontological upturn increase the nourishment supply for freshly minted art?

  4. A case-history showing art mirroring, isomorphically, elements in the worldview surrounding it. The system of 18th-century modulatory tonality as a mirror of the Newtonian universe—the precompositional abstract space of Bach, Haydn and Mozart— it's torroidal in shape. Pathways followed through the keys in the course of a piece describe elegant curves (resembling the outlines of Brancusi's brass sculptures!) that subliminally contribute to the coherence and drama of the large forms (symphonies, sonatas). This sounds abstruse, but it's easy to teach to the uninitiated because it's so visual.

  5. A case-history showing an artist with so sublime an inventiveness and emotional range that issues bound to time, place and local attitude get obliterated by the freshness and knockout power of his/her personal vision and plan of construction: art works that become instantly universal the moment they're completed. e.g., A Midsummer Night's Dream. That giddy feeling of self-sufficiency and contentment with being human that art sometimes can give you. The dazzling brilliance of interweaving the lovers' story, the Pyramus play of Bottom et al., the marital drama of Oberon and Titania, and the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Theseus's question for the ages: "How comes this gentle concord in the world?"

  6. A few case-histories that show art behaving like a gadfly, addressing its surrounding culture's perceptual mistakes, auguring a sea-change, and doing it in a fashion that complements the peculiar ways in which philosophy and science can do these things.
    1. Maybe assign readings from Michel Foucault's The Order of Things: the chapter on Velasquez's Las Meninas, and some passages from his treatment of Don Quixote: art at the cusp of the transition between medieval and modern.

    2. Two thunderstrokes of Beethoven that somehow go unnoticed, heralding the end of the Enlightenment: (α): his key pathway in the Waldstein Sonata equates C major with Dbb major, thereby denying the sway of the Pythagorean nature-mythology as the basis of Western music (it would take five minutes to explain this with utter clarity); and (β), his use of two solo muted cellos in the slow movement of the Pastoral Symphony to create the white noise that simulates a stream, thereby renouncing the traditional abstract, symbolic method of imitating nature that had, for the previous 1000 years or so, governed Western attitudes toward art music and kept it subservient to an ancient CBS.

    3. It would be great to have some illustrative microcosmic case-studies. How about one framed within the microcosm of French bourgeois society in the second half of the 19th century, comparing Cézanne with his contemporary Bouguereau? We could compare Cézanne's portraits of his wife with some Bouguereau pictures of women. The idea would be to focus on C.'s obsession with unity (of color, texture), harmony and integration, realized at the cost of what B. cares about: namely an isolated pretty object, rendered in a smooth style that seems photographically realistic and purports to improve upon nature as normally encountered. B. and his kind dominated the salons, but C.'s way won out— he ended up defining reality for painters and art lovers for a generation. His rough-looking pictures produced a jolt of authenticity—he accepted nature as he thought it really was, without trying to improve it; and by concentrating on its merits, he convinced everybody.

To clarify the idea, here's a quotation from a proselytizing dialogue that includes a passage about a Cézanne still life:

"We had this framed reproduction of a Cézanne still life hanging in our living room, and I grew up looking at it. It had some oranges and lemons in a basket, with a bottle and a gray tablecloth and a grayish background. I always thought it was beautiful, but never had much idea why. Long after, when I'd grown up, I figured it out. That picture was a kind of toy universe. Cézanne's happened to be a very gentle one. If you looked closely, you could see that the whole scene was just as unified as could be, in every way—the consistent style of the brushstrokes tied it all together, made it all of a piece. And a little of the color of the fruit appeared in the background areas, and vice versa—the background color reflected off the fruit. All the color in the picture belonged to a single system that was harmonious—unusual and surprising, particularly because lots of the tones were, in themselves, seemingly drab and ordinary. But it didn't matter at all because the harmony was so powerful and pleasing. And the composition of the picture was harmonious and unified too. There weren't too many objects for you to take in with a single glance, nor too few to be interesting, and they weren't either too small or too large. It was as though Cézanne wanted to tell you that if you looked for it calmly, you might be able to discover a fantastically harmonious scene right in front of you somewhere, in some ordinary room of your house, say; and also that maybe the whole universe around you has the same kind of beauty and harmony in it, if you only could look at it in the right way."

There are myriad other examples of art serving to reify its surrounding mood, and sometimes to contribute to subsequent action; Beaumarchais' play Le Mariage de Figaro, and Mozart's and da Ponte's adaptation of it, are obvious examples.
    1. We could close with some up-to-date examples. Discussion: we could ask the students to cite some contemporary artworks of their own choosing, and to speculate about whether these seem to be harbingers of any sort of ontological shift about to happen.

VIII. Grand Summary