Course level: Graduate

Fall 2021
University of Notre Dame

Course Description

What constitutes the unity of an animal? What constitutes the unity of a person? The aim of this course is to explore conceptions of the soul as a principle of unity, drawing from contemporary sources as well as from selected thinkers from the Ancient and the Modern periods. Philosophers of both periods understood the soul to ground the unity of living beings and then also, more specifically, the unity of persons conceived as mental subjects. Yet what such grounding amounts to changes radically throughout the centuries. Aristotle, for instance, considers the soul as a metaphysical principle that gives a being its essential nature and so also as a principle of intelligibility through which such a being can be explained. Kant, by contrast, rejects metaphysical accounts of the soul, but retains a set of related ideas that still function as normative principles through which living beings and psychological persons can be understood.

By drawing on these and other historical conceptions, the seminar will pursue a systematic issue: it will examine the overarching thesis that it is not possible to provide a defensible account of the unity of either persons or living beings more generally without adverting to some workable notion of the soul, at least in terms of its normative dimension. This dimension includes most centrally—though not exclusively—the role of the soul in teleological explanation. The historical figures will include Aristotle, Leibniz, Kant among others, but we will equally dip into contemporary literature on aggregation and unity.

This class is co-taught with Prof. Chris Shields in Fall 2021. Wednesdays 9:00-11:45

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