New and Unusual Philosophy Courses


I’ve been hearing about some unusual and interesting philosophy courses that are currently being taught or developed. 

One is Black Mirror and Philosophy, developed by Rebecca Tuvel (Rhodes). The ethics-oriented course makes use of ten episodes of Black Mirror, the superb “anthology” television show that depicts the near future in a realistically horrific (or horrifically realistic?) fashion. You can see a draft of the syllabus here.

Another is Modern Russian Literature, Art, and Philosophy, developed by Elvira Basevich (University of Massachusetts, Lowell). It’s  fascinating and unlike any philosophy course I’ve seen—and I mean that as a compliment. Here’s the course description on the syllabus:

As observed by Karl Ove Knausgård in a recent New York Times article, Russians still have a reputation for a “deep” and “wild” heart—a penchant for pathos, pride, and resilience that marks Russians’ collective self-consciousness, manifesting in everything from refined cultural objects to the self-understanding of ordinary Russians. In this course, we will study the history of the Russian heart through major literary, artistic, and philosophical movements in modern Russia (18th -20th century), with a special focus on poetry. We will develop a keen eye for appreciating how writers poignantly express their experience of historical tragedies, from the Napoleonic invasions, war, famine, and state repression. We will learn that the depth and sensitivity of the Russian heart is matched only by its capacity for melancholy and quiet striving—a social phenomenon best captured by the untranslatable word «Тоска», about which Nabokov famously writes: “No single word in English renders all the shades of ‘toska.’ At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody, of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

If those two sound a bit on the depressing side, there’s also a course in the works from Rebecca Kukla (Georgetown University) centered around the extraordinary animated Netflix comedy series Bojack Horseman. Oh wait. Part of what makes Bojack extraordinary is that it is also a show about personal dysfunction, social decay, and existential anguish. Sigh. But at least it is also very funny. I don’t have many details about this course, but I can share with you its title, which includes a joke for fans of the show: Bojack Horseman and Philosophy: What Do We Know? Do We Know Things? Let’s Find Out!

Have you developed an unusual philosophy course lately? (Or are you now?) Know of any such courses? Let’s hear about them.

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