How This Class Works
by Thomas Purifoy Jr | One-time philosophy teacher and current class organizer
I had the idea for creating a class on the history of philosophy a few years ago. But I knew I couldn’t teach it myself.
I taught a philosophy class to high school students back in 2000 (before many of you were born, I suspect). I recently realized that, after 20 years, I had forgotten much of what I used to know. As a case in point, I “discovered” some of my old teaching notes on my computer when looking for some material on Aristotle… it’s a sign you’re getting old, I’m afraid.
As I thought more about it, I remembered the recently deceased, brilliant teacher R.C. Sproul loved philosophy and once created a video series on the history of philosophy. And then I already had John Frame’s masterful book The History of Western Philosophy and Theology on my shelf. These two men were some of the titans of Christian thinking in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, so I knew I could build a class with them as the foundation stones.
Next, I wanted to expose students like you to the actual work of the philosophers. I did this when I taught my own class and found the gap that spanned hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of years was quickly forgotten when listening to Socrates, Augustine, and Descartes explain their ideas.
Third, I wanted the structure to be somewhat exploratory. The process of figuring things out for myself has been important to my own education. I took only one philosophy class in college; everything else I learned through books. In many instances, I stumbled across one thing while looking for something else. I desired to add that aspect to the class, as well.
The result is the class you have before you. It’s a specially-designed combination of video lectures by R.C. Sproul, select original source material from the philosophers, John Frame’s book on the history of philosophy, and a variety of research projects. By the end of the class, you should have a solid understanding of the intellectual thought that has shaped the world we live in.
Sadly, most people are ignorant of how we got into the mess we are in. As a result, they have no idea how to get us out of it.
But men like R.C. Sproul and John Frame are well aware of the role non-Christian philosophy has played in that process. And you will be, too. After all, as a young thinking Christian, your primary job is to fight the battles of Christ’s Kingdom throughout your life. Many of those battles are intellectual. You must therefore prepare yourself intellectually to fight that fight. It’s is not an easy thing to do. But it’s what those of us who have been gifted intellectually must do. As Paul explains:
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
This will likely be a challenging class for you. But it could be one of the most important classes you ever take.
I’ll now explain how the class actually works.
The class is divided into 16 lessons. Theoretically, it is designed to cover one semester. I say ‘theoretically’ because, although it can be finished in 16 weeks, some may find they want to go a little more slowly for things to sink in. To that end, you could follow the class over a year and make lessons last for two weeks.
Everything begins with RC Sproul’s video lectures. They are really quite good. There are 34 videos, each of which lasts for about 23 minutes. I’ve carefully grouped them to keep related topics together. This means that you’ll normally watch 2 videos, but sometimes it could be one or three. Note that if you prefer to read than listen, transcripts are available underneath each video; captions are also available on the videos.
After the lecture, you will read original source material from philosophers. These include everything from complete works to selections found in a philosophy readers. I’ve located a number of different books you’ll be using, primarily because it’s sometimes difficult to find the right selection to read. My intention was to give you a good taste of each philosopher. Some are certainly easier to read than others.
I’ll mention one other thing: I wanted to create a way for you to read directly from the books themselves instead of reading them as a ‘blog post.’ You will have the option either to read them in a ‘flip book’ reader that lets you see the book as it was originally published; or you can download the PDF and read it on your own device by clicking the icon shown in the flip book reader. If you do decide to download them (which I personally prefer), I recommend you use a tablet to read them – that’s as close as possible to the original experience.
I’ve included the entire book even though you only have to read a specific selection from it. Sometimes you might want to read more; other times you might want to use other parts of the book in a research project; every now and then you will discover something you weren’t looking for. There are over a dozen PDF books I include in the class, all of them published in the early 20th century.
Next, you’ll read a section in John Frame’s book. I have you doing this last because Frame analyzes the philosopher and his thought from a Christian perspective. It’s not that RC doesn’t do this, but because of his limited time, he primarily explains the thinking of each philosopher. Instead, Frame is writing a book, so he has more time to dig into the material.
Then, you will write a short paper where you’ll think through key questions brought up in the lectures and readings.
I’ll sometimes add a reading or video that provides personal background on a particular philosopher or philosophical issue. These will be called “Go Deeper” and will provide additional historical and biographical context that Sproul and Frame sometimes ignore. I find that this perspective is useful in understanding a philosopher
Finally, there will be an in-depth quiz. These will include both multiple choice and short answer questions. They are open-book and open-notes. The goal of the quizzes is not to test your memory, but help you think through ideas and solidify your understanding. You can take the quizzes as many times as you want. The short answer sections are not graded, but answers will be provided for you to review.
In the next step, you will hear from your teachers from their own perspective. They were once students themselves (for quite some time, actually). I think you’ll enjoy hearing them tell you about their experience with philosophy.