Course instructors are a vital part of the Summer@Brown experience. Many are on the faculty at Brown University and all come to Summer@Brown with a diverse range of backgrounds, experience and knowledge that they are eager to impart on Summer@Brown students. In this Snapshot series, we’ll check in with an instructor to find out more about how they approach teaching at Summer@Brown and what students can expect to take away from their class.
For this post, we talked to Bernard Reginster, a professor of philosophy at Brown who studied philosophy, psychology and music in Belgium and Germany and holds a PhD in philosophy. Professor Reginster’s work focuses on issues in ethics and philosophy of mind both in 19th and 20th century European philosophy, as well as in psychoanalytic theory. This summer, Professor Reginster will teach two courses: “Happiness: Philosophy and Psychology,” and “Themes from Existentialism.”
The courses I teach are meant to enable students to think on issues, mostly of an ethical sort, that are of pressing concern to people in general, but perhaps more so for young adults trying to make their own way in the world.
Summer@Brown students tend to be eager to learn (as one would expect young people who have chosen to spend their summer in a college classroom). I have found that foreign students, particularly from non-Western cultures, are especially interested in learning about ideas that have shaped, and continue to shape, modern Western sensibilities; and I have the chance to learn from them about their own culture. In general, all students enjoy learning how to think their way through issues of pressing existential concern to them — such as the nature of love, the ideal of being oneself, the character of happiness and its importance for a good life, and so on.
I open my courses with a discussion of the nature of romantic love, asking students to consider their own ideas about it and compare them with the sometimes odd ideas found in some of the readings I assign. In this way, they see how it is possible to gain genuine illumination on this issue, which is of concern to them, by using the methods of philosophy.
A number of students have reported to me over the years how transformative the course was for them. Many of them had never really been exposed to philosophy, or exposed to it at a relatively high level (the courses I give are versions of course I give Brown students). And they come to see philosophy not as a technical, purely conceptual exercise, but as a new tool in their effort to figure out how to make their way in the world.