Welcome to the Great Voyages website! This website is a multipurpose tool. You might think of it as an analytical or conceptual time machine. (Your Captain is Dr Who? No. --Dr Uzgalis) It is a tool to explore and analyze and understand the philosophical era of the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. This is an extraordinary period peopled by great philosophers and filled with intersting philosophical systems, remarkable ideas, fascinating controversies and notable developments. Your personal voyage involves going back, finding and bringing back whatever treasure or philosophical enlightenment you can.
Francis Bacon says that books are ships which sail the vast seas of time, connecting together remote ages. You are going to go back to the era we are studying mainly by reading, writing and talking about philosophical works from this period. The most important and helpful thing you can do for yourself in this class is to engage the philosophical texts of this period. This may sound easy enough to do. Often, in fact, students find it quite difficult. While most of the philosophers we will be reading are not only great philosophers but fine writers, encountering them for the first time, and coming to some understanding of what they are saying is almost always a significant challenge and requires hard work.This website is intended to help you do that work. It is not the only aid you have. In addition there are books, lectures, class discussions and so forth. The Great Voyages website is intended as a supplement to these. May you have a wonderful voyage!
The Great Voyages website is big enough so that you can get lost in it. You can wander around and find yourself on a computer in Italy or Ireland or at the Library of Congress or in material which is relevant to the ninth week of the class or only relevant because it might be a paper topic or provide some perspective.
There are two or three important things you need to keep from getting lost. The first is to have clearly in mind what you are doing, that is, what task you aim to accomplish. The second is to have basic net skills. The third is to understand the organizational structure of this website.
You may also find that what you need is not here. That is likely to happen, and likely to be frustrating. You need to remember, however, that this web site is very new. You are very likely one of the first people to make use of it. So. if there is something which you clearly see would be helpful to you in achieving whatever goal you have, but it is not on the web site, contact your friendly webmaster and suggest that that feature be added.
Let us now turn to the organizational structure of this website.
The website itself is divided into two main parts, "the Course," which has to do mainly with skills and resources to help you read the philosophical works we are studying with understanding, and to do research and write about them. "The Era of Great Voyages," the other main part, deals directly with the subject matter of the course. Each of these main parts may be of use to you for a variety of purposes. Let us consider each of the two parts.
To help you with this I provide a variety of reading guides to underscore significant points in the reading. Some of these reading guides have questions which you need to answer and turn in in class at specified times. Some of these will serve as the basis of discussion in class.
This part of the website is devoted to the material we are studying. There is a section called "Stories and Themes" to help you understand what the class is all about, an historical timeline to give you some perspective and put the philosophical works and philosophers we are studying in a context which will help you appreciate and understand their ideas, a section on "the parts of philosophy" which will give you a feel for issues, problems and ongoing controversies during the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, and finally a section called "The philosophers" which provides you with information about many philosophers of this era.There are a variety of things which you may be trying to use this part of the website to achieve. Here is a discussion of some of them.
The basic purpose of "Stories and Themes" is to give you an overview of the course. There are several themes which weave their way through the course. The rise of skepticism and the philosophical reaction to it is one such theme. The rise of modern science during this period is another. Then there is the theme of the way in which Europeans were treating the native peoples they were encountering on their voyages, and the philosophical resources they developed which apply to understanding these encounters.
Writing a research paper is very likely the most important part of your personal voyage through the philosophical geography we are studying. This is your best chances to find and bring back some philosophical treasure for yourself and others.
If you are trying to decide what to write about there are usually two lines you might follow (the latitude and longitude lines as it were) which might lead you to a topic. One line is the variety of philosophical issues, controversies, or problems. You might consider whether issues and controversies about free will or natural rights, or skepticism, or the problem of evil, or answers to skeptics most piques your interest. The section "Stories and Themes" and "Parts of Philosophy" in "the Era" may help you to find issues or problems which are of interest to you.
The other line is the variety of different philosophers. You might become fascinated with Leibniz, say, or Francis Bacon, Hobbes or Anne Conway or Mary Wollstonecraft and then decide that some issue that this philosopher was concerned with is really intersting, or problematic. You can get started with the philosophers by looking at the section "Philosophers" in "The Era." There you can get some sense of what these people were all about, what books they wrote, what issues concerned them. From there you may want to turn to the section on the Parts of Philosophy which often picks up issues and problems with which these philosophers were concerned.