Dr Tom Kerns
North Seattle Community College



Your Teachers This Quarter


Your primary teachers this quarter will be Socrates, Plato, Schopenhauer, Martin Buber, and all the other authors you'll be reading, so in effect you are going to have six or eight of the absolute best teachers in the world.

I'll be one of your teachers too, but I see my job to be largely one of helping you to understand what these primary teachers are saying, and then helping you to make sense of that for yourselves.

When reading these authors, your job will be twofold, and the two parts will need to be done in this order:

  1. To understand what each author is saying as best you can.

    With some authors this will not be so difficult and with others it will be more difficult. The study questions are intended to help you focus on a few of the more salient points in each author, and your classroom discussions with each other will help do the same. Mini-lectures that I'll post to the class forum should help a bit too.

    So this first task is simply to understand what the author is saying. It is the necessary first step because without it you can't really do a good job of the second task.

  2. The second step is then to figure out what you personally think about what that author is saying.

    This is the step where you make some personal assessments about what you have read. Classroom discussions should help with this task too.

    As a rule, making judgments about something or someone is a whole lot easier the less you know about that thing or person. We see this in politics, religion and personal relationships all the time: If you know only a little, the forming of judgments can be quick and facile. Perhaps this is what Alexander Pope (1688-1744) meant when he said

    " A little learning is a dangerous thing;
    Drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring."

    As a rule, the more one knows about a thing, person, situation or idea, the more complex the judgments about them will tend to be. This will most likely hold true of what you read this quarter too. "Plato is kool." "Tolstoy needs prozac." "Schopenhauer is a pessimist." and such simplistic judgments won't fly quite as easily after you understand what these authors are saying at something more than the most superficial level.

    I think you're going to enjoy understanding what these authors have to say, and that you'll also enjoy struggling to come to your own judgments about what they say. In the process you'll be forming (or clarifying, or uncovering) your own beliefs about the world.

    So let's get on with the adventure.