Brooklyn Institute for Social Research -
  • Thomas More’s sixteenth century treatise Utopia – literally, “no place” – coined the term “utopia” in its modern parlance. Over the next several centuries, More’s peculiar mix of religious discipline and egalitarian traditionalism increasingly underlined the negative connotation that the concept of “utopia” acquired. What has risen in the place once occupied by utopias is a nearly endless play of dystopias, a dizzying array of nightmarish visions of fear woven from the all-too-believable fabric of today. What do our dystopian imaginations tell us about our world? ...
  • The concept of the sublime has worn many faces. In classical antiquity, the sublime was often a designation for the most powerful species of oratory and poetry. Enlightenment philosophers in turn used the sublime as a way to explain a relation of feeling between the human mind and the great and terrible forces of the natural world. Closer to our own time, the sublime has appeared in the work of modern and postmodern critics in a range of guises, from profound immersion in an art object to the traumatic shocks which characterize life in an increasingly interconnected world. This class traces the ways in which the sublime has been bound to the forms and concerns of aesthetics over the course of its long life. Why has this term proven so vital and enduring for philosophers of literature and art? ...
  • In the early 20th century, a new generation of thinkers came to believe that European philosophy had reached a dead end. Reacting to what they held was the obfuscatory language and non-sensical direction of post-Kantian philosophy, Cambridge philosophers Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore set out to revolutionize philosophy through a fundamental rethinking of its methods and purposes. Their work and its outgrowths coalesced into the tradition we now call “analytic philosophy.” To its practitioners, analytic philosophy was a refreshing return to the Enlightenment values of rationality, clarity, and scientific rigor. To its skeptics, it was an abandonment of the perennial questions of philosophy, questions many analytic philosophers regarded as mere “pseudo-problems” to be dismissed or dissolved rather than answered. ...
  • What guides human decisions in a context of risk and uncertainty? Behavioral economics suggests that the human mind is subject to a number of biases and systematic errors which can be traced to shortcuts of intuitive thinking and the very machinery of cognition. Though the field enjoys growing recognition, no real unified theory of behavior has emerged. Further, to the extent that behavioral economics interprets findings as departures from idealized economic models, it presupposes a specific view of rationality. Other conceptualizations of what it means to be rational can enrich our understanding of how human beings make decisions in the face of time and informational constraints. How should we understand our own behavior and decisions? ...
  • Arnold Schoenberg revolutionized Western music. Beginning as a Romantic composer influenced by Brahms and Wagner, Schoenberg in mid-career dispensed with tonality—the foundation of Western music since the 17th century—to produce works of arresting, disquieting originality. Why did Schoenberg’s innovations captivate three generations of composers, from his disciples Alban Berg and Anton Webern to postwar masters like Pierre Boulez? To what extent do Schoenberg’s works, and the works of his fellow Viennese Expressionists, reflect and anticipate the turbulent politics of the early twentieth century? What makes Schoenberg “modern”? ...

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