Evolution, Enlightenment & the American Character

Jeff CarreiraEvolution, Enlightenment & the American Character

A Course taught by Jeff Carreira at Berkshire Community College in Western Massachusetts.

“What do the great American philosophers have to do with my life?

I am teaching this course because I believe that philosophy is not a luxury – especially in times of crisis – because the ideas that we hold inform every decision we make. Even if we don’t realize it every aspect of who we are as Americans –how we see ourselves, the actions we take, our day-to-day choices–are informed by ideas, beliefs and attitudes that we may not even be aware of, but have been deeply implanted in the American Character.

“Is there an ‘American character’ or are we simply a diverse group of immigrants and rebels?

Our diversity is part of our character, but more than that there actually is a discernible lineage of American thought that helped forge the American character into a unique blend of utopian idealism and pragmatic realism. This uniquely American combination probably makes up more of who you are–and who we are as a culture–than you realize.

At the root of the ‘American character’ lie a handful of key influential thinkers, radicals, and spiritual revolutionaries. Some have become household names–Ralph Waldo Emerson, Benjamin Franklin, Jack Kerouac–and some you may not have ever even heard of even though their ideas have deeply influenced how you see the world—Margaret Fuller, John Dewey, William James, Jane Addams, Thomas Merton, and others.

In this course, we’ll explore some of the most important ideas and themes in American philosophy, and discuss how they influence our actions and worldview. And we will link the development of these ideas to a new, emerging “evolutionary philosophy,” one being pioneered by present day social and spiritual luminaries like Thomas Berry, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Andrew Cohen, and Ken Wilber. By the end, you’ll have discovered principles and beliefs that operate in your daily life and influence directly how you view the world.

  • Course dates:   March 2, 9 & 16, 2010 – 6:00pm – 9:00pm
  • Cost:                    $89
  • Location:           Berkshire Community College,  Pittsfield, MA
  • Room:                 115 Melville Hall

To register call Berkshire Community College at (413)236*2122 or email: jcarreira@wie.org

*3 Primary Themes we will explore together in this course*

  1. Ralph Waldo Emerson and New England Transcendentalism: You will learn how Ralph Waldo Emerson and the intellectual circle around him in 19th Century Massachusetts pioneered a new and distinctly American spirituality that dramatically shaped the future of religion in this country. For those of us who either adhere to or have heard the phrase “Spiritual but not Religions” you will find that Emerson’s call for authentic spiritual creativity is deeply compelling.
  2. The American Pragmatists, Charles Sanders Peirce, William James and John Dewey: You will learn how pragmatic thinkers during the last decades of the 19th and early decades of the 20th century outlined an evolutionary theory that paved the way for the more contemporary conceptions of Integral Theory and Evolutionary Enlightenment. They held a unified vision of a Cosmos, Consciousness and Culture as a continuously evolving event that dominated the philosophical discussions of America in their time.
  3. The American Roots of Evolutionary Spirituality: You will learn how the characteristically American combination of utopian spirit and pragmatic sensibility led to both an ardent defense of spirituality and a strong embrace of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Between these poles fertile ground was tilled for the growth of Evolutionary Spirituality in general and Andrew Cohen’s conception of Evolutionary Enlightenment in particular.


*4 Philosophical Questions that we will discuss in the course*

  1. Freewill and the power of Choice: In the development of American thought the notion of freewill has held a central role. American’s first philosopher, Jonathon Edwards, didn’t believe in it. Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James Championed it, B.F. Skinner denied it, and most American thinkers were preoccupied with it.
  2. The Limits of Science: The sciences blossomed during the age of Enlightenment in Europe and became the dominant paradigm for human thought.  American thinkers have long struggled with an understanding of the place and limits of scientific thinking and the role of spirituality in a scientific age.
  3. The Continuity of Mind and Matter:  Philosophers today are in general agreement that no split exists between mind and matter. The American philosophers that we will discuss had some strikingly original and inventive ways to understand just how these two seemingly separate parts of human experience can be understood as a unified and continuous whole.
  4. Conscious Evolution:  The idea that the evolution of human consciousness and culture can be deliberately guided is gaining popularity today and pioneering American Philosophers had a great deal to say about what a process of consciously guided evolution would look like and how it could be sustained.