Introduction to Philosophy: The Beautiful, the Sublime, and the Human Online

What does it mean to be human? What is beauty? Why do we care so much about such seemingly “useless” things as the beauties of art, landscape, or poetry? And what could be less useful than staring in awestruck muteness at a thundering waterfall? No matter how often people have tried to discuss and pin down what the beautiful or the sublime is over the centuries, each generation has to either ignore or ponder these questions anew. Those with curious minds, always searching for answers to big questions, can explore the immemorial issues of life’s meaning together in our introductory philosophy course! 

We will pursue two important philosophical concepts, the beautiful and the sublime. We will begin with Plato and the Greeks and then examine how these concepts appear in Kant and post-Kantian German philosophy, and Chinese aesthetics. We will also use these concepts to try to articulate what makes particular works of art—paintings, sculptures, films, dances, etc.—beautiful or sublime and see whether, in the end, we have learned anything about what it means to be human. Class sessions will involve a combination of lecture and discussion with collaborative  work, film viewing, and students staking out philosophical viewpoints to analyze works of art.

By analyzing big picture questions, students will hone their skills in advanced problem solving, essential skills as they seek to address the major issues entwined with existence. Students will learn how to think critically in the abstract and how we as a society think about the world and our place within it.

Course Schedule

This course will be offered online from July 17 - 28, 2023. Students must be online for class sessions from 11:00am - 1:00pm and 3:30pm - 5:30pm (Eastern Standard Time), Monday-Friday. Students should also plan to manage their time to complete homework assignments and group work outside of the designated class times. 

Academic Director

Alexander Jech

Alexander Jech

Alexander Jech studied philosophy at the University of Washington and the University of Notre Dame, but owes his greatest debt to Shawn Mintek, philosopher and mathematician, who introduced him to the merry wonder of the examined life. Jech taught at the University of Virginia and UNC Chapel Hill before returning to Notre Dame in 2014, where he is now the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Jech hates labels and believes that philosophy is concerned with everything human, but his published work can be categorized under three headings: “political philosophy is first philosophy,” “ethics and action as philosophy of love,” and “speaking that whereof one must remain silent.” Incidental topics include Tocqueville, Pascal, republicanism ancient and modern, Kierkegaard, ballet, romantic appropriations of knighthood, literary theory, music theory, and (someday) the philosophy of time as applied to baseball.