Understanding the Past to Broaden the Present
Last fall, Steven Falco ’19 took Contemporary Philosophy with Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy Douglas Edwards. Though he enjoyed the course, Falco returned home that winter break with an entire reading list of contemporary philosophers he wanted to read, but had not covered in class.
“You can’t possibly study all 19th-century thought in a single semester. Philosophers like Hegel, Nietzsche, Sartre, and others are people whose work I have always wanted to read, but are names the syllabus did not include,” said Falco. After speaking with John Stewart Kennedy Chair of Philosophy Marianne Janack about other courses that would cover post-Kant philosophy, Falco found that as of yet, none had been designed.
It was then that Professor Janack introduced the idea of Falco designing his own course focused on all the 19th and 20th century philosophy he felt he had missed. Interested in the prospect of a self-made curriculum, Falco submitted the proposal for his 2017 Emerson Grant.
Hometown: Flushing, N.Y.
High School: Bronx High School of Science
Because the Contemporary Philosophy class included almost exclusively analytic philosophy, Falco is focusing his syllabus on the school of continental philosophy, a series of Western philosophical movements from 19th and 20th century mainland Europe. Within this group, he is paying particular attention to German romanticism. Though often grouped together, the authors typically associated with the “Continental” school have almost nothing in common with one another stylistically or doctrinally other than the fact that they are all not considered analytic philosophers.
Through his course, Falco is attempting to string together a chronological assessment of 19th century Continental thought using Kant as his foundation, and then building out from there. “Living philosophers are constantly impacted and influenced by the work of the thinkers who came before them. So when you are reading modern philosophy, you are also reading, implicitly, the philosophy of antiquity as well,” said Falco.
By starting at Kant, who laid the groundwork for modern thinking, and tracing a continuous string of thought to something relevant to our own time, Falco hopes to construct a thorough history of ideas. “The philosophers in this group are all important transitional figures who helped inspire and create a lot of ideas in the modern world. But studying them, we can better understand the thinkers who came before, as well as gain an insight into the world as it is presently,” he said.
When his course is complete, Falco hopes to have it incorporated into the Hamilton philosophy curriculum, turning his personal research into a greater resource.