Above: Conference of Engineers at Britannia Bridge 1850 by John Seymour Lucas
We use the internet everyday and many mundane tasks, such as a credit card purchase, depend on it; but have we stopped to think about what the phrase “The Internet” means? For some it is a collection of websites. For others it is a background constant making Facebook, Google, Netflix and countless other applications possible.
In either case, it is easy to find ourselves investing an increasing amount of time into all that the internet makes possible without ever stopping to consider its nature and what our relationship with it should be in light of this.
In this course, we propose that the best starting point to answering the questions of “What the Internet is?” and “How we should think about it?” is not the late 20th century—when a series of technical, mathematical and engineering achievements gave us the internet—but centuries earlier, when the Western Philosophical Tradition began.
What would philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and Augustine or political thinkers like Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, and John Stuart Mill make of the Internet as it exists today? Could their enduring insights shed light onto this ubiquitous phenomenon?
Whether your goal is to come up the next unicorn startup, to dig deeper into the question of purpose within your internet-based job, to understand how the Internet shapes our social spheres, or to ponder the Internet’s impact on the arc of human development, the context provided by these thinkers will yield you new understandings and insight into an integral part of our modern lives.
We meet at 5:30 pm on the following Thursdays of the Spring Semester at our offices, Suite G10, 14 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA:
February 8th - The Present Age [of Internet Commentary] - Exploring Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Soren Kierkegaard
In a letter to his friend in 1777, Edmund Burke exalted the prospect that “in a free country, everyone thinks he has a concern in all public matters”. Nearly a century later, Soren Kierkegaard was much more skeptical of a new communicative medium that, by virtue of its proliferation, “eats up all individuality’s relativity and concreteness”. Centered on the enthusiastic and lucid writings of circa-enlightenment writers, we examine the relevance of Burke’s, Tocqueville’s and Kierkegaards comments about the daily press to a “new” sort of present age provided by the Internet.
March 1st - The Internet on Trial: Should we abolish the Internet? Can we? - Exploring St. Thomas Aquinas
March 22nd - Is Censorship Required to Make the Internet Good? - Exploring G.K. Chesterton and Martha Nussbaum
April 5th - Aristotle’s Three Lives Compared on the Internet: Is contemplation possible with the Internet? Is it a facilitator or disruptor of practical wisdom? - Exploring Aristotle
April 19th - The Individual Online: Silence and the Inner Self - Exploring St. Augustine and Plato