Reverse Engineering the Canon
18 nov 2019 (4 weeks ago)


Isa Vos

Isa Vos



Inzending KnowVU award 2019
Door: Carlo Ierna (Lecturer Philosophy)

Reverse Engineering the Canon is about radically changing our approach and understanding of the past as taught in the traditional history of philosophy. History of Philosophy is nearly always taught in chronological order with a standard canon of authors and texts. The canon makes it seem as if the historical developments would be linear and inevitable. Moreover, this canon has come under increasing pressure: too sexist, too racist, too eurocentric. Students, teachers, and researchers argue for a radical change of this rigid “dead white males” canon, but as of yet there is no consensus about what the new required readings should be. In practice we mainly see the traditional canon being taught, with some haphazard additions of alternative sources and figures.

The goal of Reverse Engineering the Canon is to radically revise the canon by turning the traditional approach on its head. This will lead to a new teaching method in which the history of philosophy will be taught from present to past in reverse chronological order, by investigating the antecedents like a detective: Why are things as they are? Which thinkers and sources from the past are needed to explain and understand the present? Students will be actively involved in the process of deconstructing and reconstructing the canon and the much richer historical tapestry of which the purported “red thread” is but a narrow selection. Who did the selecting and why? What happens if we make different choices? The project will develop teaching materials for the course in History of Modern Philosophy in 2020-2021 and based on this case study propose a broadly applicable method for teaching historical courses both in philosophy and other disciplines. From a pedagogical viewpoint it is expected that reversing the chronological order will increase the understanding of causal and explanatory links between past and present. Moreover, it will increase engagement with the past and how it has determined both our present and how we view the past through historiographical artefacts like canons and handbooks.

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