Political philosophy;The Evening Class;Mind and body

25th June 1999 at 01:00
Philosophy and fun. The two words are rarely uttered in the same breath. No one for instance, ever accused Hobbes of being a bundle of laughs (he of the all human life is "nasty, brutish and short" mantra).

But this course is a refreshing and lively snapshot of four great thinkers whose philosophies have changed the world, or at least, our view of it - Aristotle, Rousseau, Nietzsche and Sartre.

Tutor Liz Dancer kicks off with a brief overview of the subject, asking students to name some eminent philosophers. Heads are scratched - er..... does Kant count? What about Confucious? Hegel? Marx, of course. There's a brief debate over the spelling of Kierkegaard.

"Why were there no women philosophers?" asks one student. Ms Dancer says:

"Perhaps they simply didn't have the time or the education. Or maybe they thought life was too short to sit around asking 'is there a god?"' This week the group focuses on Aristotle. Born in 384BC, he became tutor to Alexander the Great. He also found time to establish the Lyceum in Athens and to write more than 120 books, many of which have survived.

Trying to explain the meaning of these in two short hours is not easy. So Liz Dancer looks at some more controversial areas of his thinking. For instance, Aristotle's criteria for a "good person" would not go down a storm with any politically correct audience today. He believed that to be good, a person had to be healthy, wealthy, well-educated and a lover of fine things. Women didn't count, neither did slaves. And as for tradesmen - no chance.

He also stressed the importance of the family unit. If the family was well ordered, he argued, society was well ordered. This begins to sound familiar, and as the class progresses it becomes apparent how many of Aristotle's ideas have survived.

So that's Aristotle sorted. Now, what's all the fuss about Nietzsche?

Martin Whittaker

This class took place at Cirencester College, Stroud Road, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 1XA. Tel: 01285 640994

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