CORE 301: Modes of Inquiry

This spring Thematic Option is offering a CORE 301: Modes of Inquiry course by Professor James Collins from the Department of Classics.  This unique interdisciplinary course is entitled “Performing Wisdom” is available to all students.  The course is a requirement for the Thematic Approaches to Humanities and Society minor ( or may be taken as an elective. Performing Wisdom combines classical philosophy from the Greeks and Romans with performance exercises (such as method acting, improv games, radical theatre).  The full course description is attached along with the reading list.  For D-clearance, please contact Richard Edinger at

Course Description:

CORE 301: Mode of Inquiry
Professor James Collins, Department of Classics
Lecture: TTH 12:30-1:50 pm 63570D

Performing Wisdom
Fundamental to Greek and Roman philosophy is the concept of the ‘art of living’ (hê technê tou biou, ars vivendi), which maintains that living a good life is at heart a public performance, and thus entails particular modes of action, engagement, and self‐presentation and stylization. Both philosophical theory and practice, both thoughts and deeds—what one believes and how one lives as a result of holding those beliefs—are inextricably bound, and together contribute to the philosophical art of constructing, performing, and becoming the right sort of character. In addition to reading philosophy with an eye to how the ancients variously embodied and performed their wisdom, we will explore techniques drawn from contemporary performance theory in highly performative, experimental, and collaborative learning environments in order to develop an appreciation for this particular sort of philosophical activity. We aim primarily at developing this craft for our own efforts at self‐examination and presentation.

While Tuesdays are devoted primarily to close readings of texts which comprise the foundation of Western thought, we will be looking closely at evidence that sages and philosophers performed their thoughts or intentions in dramatic and compelling, sometimes even irrational and coercive ways, perhaps without even saying a word. Thursdays are then given to rendering our discoveries into philosophical action. We will draw on the Stanislavski ‘system’, ‘textbound’ characterization (Mamet), improvisational techniques (Johnstone), and the ‘gamesercises’ of radical popular theater (Boal) as we explore the connections between, on the one hand, our language, intentions, and thoughts and, on the other, how we behave and interact with one another. These dramatic techniques make explicit the notions of a character’s objectives—what she wants to get other characters to do—and a character’s actions—how she goes about working on another character’s emotions to get what she wants. The art of living requires certain kinds of audience as well, so our dramatic work will train us to become good watchers as well as performers.

The semester is divided into four units: “Becoming Wise” (Sages, Presocratics), “Becoming Socratic” (Phaedo, Euthydemus), “Becoming Stoic” (Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius), and “Becoming Eloquent” (Sophists, declamation, Cicero). However inimitable Socrates seems, we devote considerable energy to exploring, rehearsing, and refashioning his philosophical character. No previous dramatic or formal philosophical experience is required; only a willingness to try new things on your feet while cultivating both a supportive environment and oneself.

Boal, Augusto. Games for Actors and Non‐Actors.
Cicero. Cicero: On the Ideal Orator.
Epictetus. Handbook of Epictetus.
Johnstone, Keith. Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre.
Mamet, David. True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor.
Marcus Aurelius. The Meditations.
Plato. Euthydemus.
Plato. Phaedo in Plato: Five Dialogues.
Stanislavsky, Constantin. Building a Character.
Stanislavsky, Constantin. Creating a Role.
Course reader with selections from the archaic Sages, the Presocratics, the Sophists, and declamation.


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