Academic Year Seminars


Living in the Truth
R. J. Snell, The Witherspoon Institute

We will spend the fall semester examining the work of Eastern European dissidents, including some thinkers not often studied, on how the manipulation of language by ideology violates the integrity of the human individual, their action, and inquiry, and, further, how the refusal to capitulate to the ideological lie allows the recovery of freedom for even the most powerless of people. For Solzhenitsyn, Havel, Milosz, Patočka, and Wojtyla, being complicit in the ideological lie was to be a “captive mind,” whereas, in the words of Havel, even the most powerless could refuse to allow a deformed language to dominate their understanding. For these dissidents, individual freedom was manifest in truthful language, but language always inhabits a communal and intersubjective dimension, which is why political tyranny often entails an ideological distortion of civil society.

Open to all Princeton undergraduates, the seminar will meet twice per month on Fridays, 12:45-2:45pm, lunch provided. Dates: 9/22; 10/6; 10/20; 11/10; 12/1. 

For more information, contact at R. J. Snell at rsnell@winst.org.

 

Maritain and Art
R. J. Snell, The Witherspoon Institute

This seminar focuses mainly on the responsibility of the artist, looking closely at the thought of Jacques Maritain. While Maritain is famous for his arguments on the role of practical reason for the artist, and how this responsibility checked ideological uses of art, he’s also interesting for us because 2017–18 is the 70th anniversary of his arrival to teach at Princeton. By 1947, when the president of Princeton invited him to join the faculty, Maritain was one of the most prominent philosophers and man of letters in the world, and one with high regard for the United States. Among his wide range of interests, including works on epistemology, political theory, metaphysics, and intellectual history, he was well-known in aesthetics, including several influential works written while at Princeton. [Eg: The A. W. Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art, later published as Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (1953) and The Responsibility of the Artist (1960).] For Maritain, the work of the artist, while quite obviously relating to the problems of aesthetics, could not be treated without reference to what might be termed “the ethics of art,” and thus to the responsibilities of a free person striving to exert their agency through their work. The problem of the artist exemplified responsibility with some acuteness, then. In addition to reading Maritain, we will spend time in the Princeton art museum, which includes in its collection works by those (Chagall, Rouault) with whom Maritain was friends and about whom he wrote.

Open to all Princeton undergraduates, the seminar will meet twice per month on Fridays, 12:45-2:45pm, lunch provided. Dates: 9/29; 10/13; 11/17; 12/8. 

For more information, contact at R. J. Snell at rsnell@winst.org.

 

dante-beatific-visionPoetry: The Wonder Wounded Word
José Pérez-Benzo, The Witherspoon Institute

Starting with Chaucer and ending with the current poet laureate of California, Dana Gioia, with some slight detours into the non-Anglophone epic tradition of Homer, Virgil, and Dante, this seminar will go on a pilgrimage through the great poems of the English language, taking as our guiding star the theme of wonder. Thanks to its inexhaustible capacity to render the familiar—whether it be a lost man making his way home, or a falcon swooping through the air—strange, poetry of the highest kind begets a sort of wonder in us, the same sort of wonder which Plato and Aristotle claimed is the beginning of philosophy. Reciting Dryden in the Princeton Art Museum, Emerson on the battlefield, and Hopkins in the Chapel, this seminar will seek to re-enchant Princeton students, reorienting them towards wonder by taking advantage of the beauty both natural and artistic that surrounds them and guides them ever upwards towards transcendence.

Open to all Princeton undergraduates, this seminar will meet twice per month on Wednesdays from 6:00 to 7:30 pm, dinner provided. Dates: 9/20; 10/4; 10/18; 11/15; 12/6.

For more information, contact José Pérez-Benzo at jperezb@winst.org.

 

A Reason Open To God
José Pérez-Benzo, The Witherspoon Institute

What accounts for the restriction of reason to mechanistic, utilitarian questions of science and the refusal to allow reason to address unironically questions of ultimate meaning, purpose, destiny, and transcendence? In this seminar we will examine the thought of Joseph Ratzinger, later Benedict XVI, with particular emphasis on his view of a reason open to God. During the Fall semester we will focus on Ratzinger’s thoughts on secular topics: his thoughts on the role of the university; the nature of reason and its relation to faith; the compatibility of faith and science; his debate with Habermas on the role of religion in the public square; and the religious underpinnings of human rights.

Open to all Princeton undergraduates, this seminar will meet twice per month on Wednesdays from 6:00 to 7:30 pm, dinner provided. Dates: 9/27; 10/11; 11/8; 11/29; 12/13.

For more information, contact José Pérez-Benzo at jperezb@winst.org.