Ancient Philosophy Here & Now: an experimental student project

We are heading into the last weekend of the three current exhibitions on show at the Wexner Center for the Arts here in Columbus, Ohio:

  • Christain Marclay’s The Clock
  • Josiah McElheny Towards a Light Club 

  • More American Photographs 

I want to share with you a project I designed for the students of my Philosophy 3210: History of Ancient Philosophy class, based on these three exhibitions. The project – a paper worth 20% of the final grade (in addition to 4 other papers on topics within the Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle and Hellenistic Philosophy) -called for the students to use the art works in these exhibitions as illustrations for ancient philosophical ideas and discussions. I told them to imagine that they were wandering through the galleries with a friend or family member, and that they were discussion how wonderful their Philosophy class was and trying to explain a particular topic (e.g. the Pre-Socratics on Time, Plato’s Analogy or Aristotle’s Political philosophy). As a way of explaining this topic, they would then utilize the art work around them, as a means of illustration. Now, I wanted them to think in this way and not imagine that these artists were reading their Parmenides, Plato or Aristotle when creating their work (not that such an idea was beyond the realms of possibility!). Here is how I broke down the topics  – for easy reference, I am using the following editions:

M = R. McKirahan, Philosophy Before Socrates, 2nd edition (Hackett 2011)
P = C. D. C. Reeve, A Plato Reader: Eight Essential Dialogues(Hackett 2012)
A = T. Irwin and G. Fine, Aristotle: Selections (Hackett 1995)  

Pre-Socratics on Time and Christain Marclay’s The Clock 

  • Visit the exhibition Christain Marclay’s The Clock (Lower Gallery)
  • Read the following passages in McKirahan (M):
    • Anaximander: M 5.20 (+ M’s discussion pp. 43-47)
    • Parmenides: M 11.8 line 5 (+ M’s discussion pp. 163-4)
    • Zeno: M 12.12-13 (+ M’s discussion pp. 185-187).
  • Paper (answer the following question):
    • How could you use Christian Marclay’s The Clock to explain what Pre-Socratic philosophers say about time?
      • (If you want, you can limit your discussion to ONE Pre-Socratic philosopher (e.g. Anaximander)).

  Plato’s Analogies and Josiah McElheny: Towards a Light Club

  • Visit the Exhibition Josiah McElheny: Towards a Light Club (Middle Two Galleries).
  • Read the following passage of Plato’s Republic (P):
    • Analogy of the Sun (Book 6, 506d-509c = P 457-460)
    • Analogy of the Line (Book 6, 509c-511e = P 461-463)
    • Analogy of the Cave (Book 7, 514a-521a = P 463-469)
  • Paper (answer the following question):
    • How could you use the artworks in Josiah McElheny: Towards a Light Club to explain the main ideas conveyed in Plato’s analogies?
      • If you want, you can limit your discussion to ONE analogy (e.g. the Cave) and ONE artwork (e.g. Three Screens for Looking at Abstraction)

Aristotle’s Politics and More American Photographs

  • Visit the Exhibition More American Photographs (Upper Gallery)
  • Read the following passage of Aristotle’s Politics (A):
    • The Human Good and Political Community (Book 1. 1-2 = A 450-454)
    • Political Community (Book 2. 1-3; Book 3. 9 = A 460-463; 476-478.
    • The Citizen (Book 3. 1, 4 = A 465-471)
  • Paper: (answer the following question):
    • How could you use the artworks in More American Photographs to explain key ideas of Aristotle’s Political Philosophy?
      • If you want, you can limit your discussion to ONE idea (e.g. Political Community) and ONE artwork (e.g. Hank Willis Thompson’s Strawberry Mansion)

The papers are due on Wednesday next week (April 10th) so we’ll see what the students come up with then!

For more information on the three Wexner Exhibitions, visit these pages:

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