Coffee with the Classics: Spring 2016

On Nature and Human Nature
Part II: From Galileo to Google

Students have been gathering this spring in continuation of a survey of Natural Philosophy begun last fall.  Sessions 1-3 covered the ideas of Galileo, Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes, and Newton.  Dr. Mike Kane facilitates.  Dinner, coffee, and all texts are provided free of charge for all participants.  Coffee with the Classics takes place Wednesday evenings in Harrison College House, Seminar Room M20.  A summary of previous sessions can be found at Collegium Portal.

Join us for special guest facilitators on March 24 and April 6!
Email Katie Becker (kbec@sas.upenn.edu) to register and get a copy of the readings.


Session 4: The Romantic Reaction
Wednesday, March 24, 2016, 6-7:30 p.m (dinner ready at 5:45)

Featuring special guest Dr. Michael Gamer

Associate Professor of English at Penn
Faculty Master at Harrison College House
The Romantic thinkers reacted against the excessive rationalism of the Enlightenment and the dehumanizing effects of industrialization.  In both of these areas, they challenged the existing ideas about human nature and the natural world.  The call to return to nature as a way of satisfying the human spirit was an essential part of the Romantic outlook, as was a sense of respect for the beauty of nature. Professor Gamer will be facilitating discussion on poems by Shelley and Wordsworth.


Session 5: Darwin
Wednesday, April 6, 2016, 6-7:30 p.m (dinner ready at 5:45)

Featuring special guest Dr. Peter Dodson
Professor of Veterinary Gross Anatomy
Professor of Earth and Environmental Science (paleontology)

Darwin’s Origin of Species was a scientific advance of enormous proportions, and one which represented nature in a new way.  For Darwin, nature is a self-evolving force, with a direction but with no telos as for Aristotle, and with selection but no design.  By showing humans as the product of evolution from lower species, Darwin also reshaped the discussion about nature and human nature (as well as faith and reason). Professor Dodson will be facilitating discussion on excerpts from Origin of Species and Darwin’s autobiography.


Session 6: The Human, the Natural, and the Artificial
Wednesday, April 20, 2016, 6-7:30 p.m (dinner ready at 5:45)

Featuring readings by B.F. Skinner, Ray Kurzweil, and Pope Francis

Skinner argued that we are simply the product of our environment and have little to no influence over nature.  We should therefore give up metaphysical ideas such as human freedom.  Kurzweil, chief futurist for Google, argues for the “Singularity”, the stage at which machine learning surpasses human intelligence and allows us to rewrite the human experience of the natural world.  This would culminate in personal immortality through technology.  Pope Francis makes the case for prudent restraints on technology as he urges us to correct for the excessive anthropocentrism of modern thought, and to care instead for the planet and the poor.