The Modern Scholar

  • by Fred E. Baumann
  • 8 hrs and 19 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

With the characteristically human abilities to reason and imagine comes, apparently inevitably, the longing for imaginary but plausible places and conditions where everything is exactly as it should be and all our needs and desires are satisfied, including the need not to be jaded by satisfaction.Professor Fred E. Baumann looks at what some philosophers have had to say on this subject, mostly in the form of stories about utopias. Five are written by great philosophers and the last by a challenging, nearly contemporary American scholar. All have exerted great influence on the history of thought or have expressed influential currents of thought. Professor Baumann's lectures not only examine these texts, but also address the results of attempting to put these utopias into practice.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Provocative and stimulating, albeit conservative

This is the most engaging and provocative entry in the "Modern Scholar" series. Despite the huge differences that divide my view of politics from Baumann's (I consider myself much more left-leaning), I was challenged by his strong arguments, which are very difficult to refute. He is particularly harsh on Rousseau and Marx, and you can feel a conservative animus driving his critique of Rousseau in particular (his stunning advice about how to read Rousseau at the end of the last lecture about him is much worthier than the critiques that precede it). But it's an animus, not a bias; he's passionate about the material, and communicates his sense of the stakes with piquancy and concision. He gives all the thinkers under consideration their due, without using the occasion as a personal soapbox. He even has some memorable one-liners. And that's everything that one could ask for from a professor.

N.B. You can probably tell from my review that the title of Baumann's course is misleading. This course isn't about the question of human perfectability, let alone about utopian literature. It's about some classic theorists' attempts to eliminate the contingency of politics and the (mostly disastrous) efforts that result.
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- Len

Excellent Coverage of an Ever-Relevant Topic

Whether or not most people are consciously aware, the idea of perfectibility or lack thereof in human life is a moving force in most politics and philosophical study. It also affects most of us in our daily lives.

These lectures are an excellent overview of the history of Utopian philosophies and societies, with the lecturer offering a good survey of the relevant materials, recommendations about further reading, and interesting discussion and conclusions.

The lecturer is extremely conscientious about presenting his own opinions separately from the facts, and he is very careful to point out when his scholarly opinions are less widespread than other scholars' views. This is all as it should be.

Based on the criticism of some reviews, I must conclude the reviewers may lack experience with the structure of actual college courses. Professor Baumann does a superb job presenting a broad overview of the material, which is extremely difficult to do in an introductory survey course. Naturally, he discusses many other relevant materials that the reader may choose to study-- but he does not assume the reader has done or will do so. In addition to an excellent basic introductory course, Professor Baumann presents a certain amount of his own scholarly view; exactly that which is expected and valued in a college course, which this series hopes to replicate.
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- Sara

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-31-2008
  • Publisher: Recorded Books