Two philosophy instructors at Utah State University are trying to make the subject more appealing to college students by designing a course for people who may not groove on the traditional approach to Socrates.
Most incoming college students have not studied philosophy, and a course in existentialism or symbolic logic can be low on the list of musts."Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living," said Charles Johnson of USU's department of languages and philosophy, "and I think it is the case that otherwise bright, sensitive people can go through life without ever pondering its problems.
"We wanted to find an alternative way to introduce philosophy to people who might not appreciate the traditional approach of reading primary works," Johnson said of the course he and colleague John Beyers developed.
Through studying literature and film, students learn about concepts in philosophy from a "problems" aspect.
The students read Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass" and Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange," see the Stanley Kubrick film based on the book, and study Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow-Up" screenplay and film.
The story of Alice and her adventures "teaches logic by teaching the reader to identify mistakes in the reverse-world on the other side of the looking glass," said Johnson.
"Through the Looking Glass" was written by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll is a pen name), who was a logic professor at Oxford University.
"It's possible to see this as a candy-coated logic text," said Johnson. He cites his favorite passage in the book:
"I know what you're thinking about," said Tweedledum, "but it isn't so, no-how."
"Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."
Dodgson never contributed any original work to the academic world of logic, Johnson said, but he loved teaching, especially to children. One interpretation of his Alice books is that they represent his contribution to philosophy.
"There's certainly a lot here children would never understand," he said.
Next, the course moves to the study of "A Clockwork Orange," book and movie. In the story, the main character, Alex, undergoes aversion therapy, to discourage him from his violent behavior.
"The philosophy in it has to do with the free will/determinism issue," said Johnson.
Finally, the class studies Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow-Up." In it a photographer thinks a series of pictures he has taken hold clues to a murder he believes has been committed.
As the photographs are blown up, the images become more and more abstract and open to interpretation. The class speculates whether a murder actually has occurred.
"It's epistemological, the question of reality vs. illusion, which goes back to ancient philosophy," Johnson says.