Reading autobiographies is a way to self-knowledge. We can learn about ourselves, as human beings and asindividuals, by thinking through this distinctive kind of text. Reading and thinking through John Stuart MillsAutobiography is a way of learning about the nature of the good life, and the roles that pleasure and self-expression can play in it. Reading and thinking though Siegfried Sassoons Memoirs is a way of learning about the transformative power of experience, and the resulting disunity of human lives over time. Put that way the point may seem obvious, but it raises interesting philosophical questions. What is an autobiography? How can we gain self-knowledge from reading one? What should we learn, about what particular subjects? Given that autobiographies are narratives, should we learn something about the importance of narrative in human life? Could our narrations of our own lives make them good, unified, meaningful? Could it make the self? What is the self, and what is its good? In response, I read selected autobiographies as and with philosophy, and develop: an account of autobiography and of how to reason with autobiographies; a critique of narrative in human life; a pluralist and realist account of self-knowledge; an account of the self as unchosen, seedlike, and initially opaque; and a self-realization account of the good.
Every year the department runs several Special Subject modules in philosophy, in which students engage in depth with research topics chosen by individual members of staff. These modules offer an opportunity to work on cutting-edge philosophy, in a small group, under the guidance of a subject expert. They are open both to final-year undergraduate students and to MA students (under different codes for administrative purposes).
Special Subject classes are run as seminars or reading groups: the tutor convenes the group, sets reading, and guides discussion, but does not lecture; students are expected to be active, selfdirected,and well-prepared participants.
Depending on student numbers and timetables, MA students may either take seminars with undergraduates or in their own separate groups. MA students also have their own, further meetings with the module tutor.MA students' assessed work for this module will be marked at the appropriate level, distinct from and higher than undergraduates' assessed work, and requiring a greater degree of depth, independence, and knowledge of the appropriate philosophical literature. Guidance will be provided.
Samuel Clark, Mills Autobiography as Literature in Christopher Macleod Dale Miller eds, The BlackwellCompanion to John Stuart Mill (Blackwell 2016): 4557
Samuel Clark, Under the Mountain: Basic Training, Individuality, Comradeship, Res Publica 19(2013): 6779
Samuel Clark, Pleasure as SelfDiscovery, Ratio 25(2012): 26076
Samuel Clark, Love, Poetry, the Good Life: Mills Autobiography Perfectionist Ethics, Inquiry 53(2010):56578
John Stuart Mill, Autobiography (various edns)
Siegfried Sassoon, The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston (Faber Faber 1937)