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sustainablephilosopher's picture

intellectual history

I think that academics indeed proceeds linearly, but perhaps out of necessity. One must understand where one is coming from in order to understand both where one is and where one is going. As Paul said earlier in the semester, one must have understood the significance of the the thinking of Darwin's time in order to understand the divergence that it represents, as well as the conceptual significance of that divergence. In trying to think about non-chronological ways to go about teaching a course on cultural evolution, I just can't get beyond working through the canon from ancient, to modern, then to contemporary/ postmodern. Once one has this intellectual and conceptual history, one can go generatively in whatever direction one pleases. However, until this broad understanding is reached it may be irresponsible, or at the very least academically uninteresting, to merely interpret a text through one's own personal naive lens.

For example, in another English class I am taking called Humanimality, we read through the canon of how humans have thought about animals from the Greeks to the early-moderns through the Renaissance, then during the industrial revolution through today. We read historical accounts of how animals have been treated from the same time span. Finally, after spending half the course establishing the paradigms through which animals have been apprehended and treated through the ages, we read various contemporary texts through several rich interpretive lenses that we would not have had without establishing the intellectual history. We were able to identify strands of thought within a given author and put them into a cross-cultural and transhistorical conversation. This proved to be invaluable although it was laborious; our readings were much richer than they would have been just coming to it with our disparate and limited individual backgrounds and perspectives.  

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