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Newport Psychoanalytic Institute

242 W. Main

Tustin CA 92870

(714) 505-9080



Michael Russell, Ph.D.


J. Michael Russell, Ph.D.

Emeritus Professor of Philosophy

Emeritus Professor of Human Services

California State University, Fullerton

Research and Training Psychoanalyst

Newport Psychoanalytic Institute


(714) 524-6916  FAX: (714) 524-1845


Web page:





NOTE:  This syllabus will be on my web page, under “Classes I teach.”  If you go there you can easily click on links to resources and spare yourself some typing.  Also, if you like, I will send you this syllabus by email.


Course description and objectives:  This 10 week course will review key ideas from key figures in the history of Western Philosophy, taking each as an opportunity to deepen and enhance understanding psychoanalytic theory and technique and to augment scholarly pursuits.

Learning goals:

1.      Learn to distinguish philosophical from empirical inquiry.

2.      Acquire some confidence about understanding key ideas of several major philosophers.

3.      Understand how these may offer significant routes to enhance psychoanalytic practice

4.      Enhance ability to season scholarly endeavors with competent references to philosopher's ideas

5.      Acquire tools for further pursuits in these areas.

Outcomes and assessment:

The outcome of the course should be to achieve the above goals and objectives, as indicated by subjective self-assessment.

Procedure and expectations:

This course will mix discussion with lecture, emphasizing the latter.  I want to move us through a large amount of material and provide you with competent summaries of a great many ideas.  You are encouraged to take extensive notes, and are very welcome to tape record my lectures provided you treat these as my intellectual property.  I might make better sense heard the second time, on your drive home. Recorders should be off if confidential material is under discussion.   


You have several options, depending on your objectives and on what would work best for your getting the most out of the course.    My objective in the course is to familiarize – or re-familiarize – you with the main ideas of the most famous standard figures in the history of Western Philosophy, highlighting those features which either contribute to psychoanalytic thinking or pose considerations with clear clinical or theoretical value for practicing psychoanalysts.  I assume you are likely to do scholarly writing, e.g., for a PhD, where you would like to be able to make occasional use of thinkers you do not have the time to study intensively.  You should be able to do that if you only listen to my lectures.  Beyond that, as much or as little effort as you want to invest in thinking about philosophers for the next ten weeks will repay you accordingly.  While the best way to learn would probably be to first read and then hear me lecture, I think the most efficient approach for busy practitioners might well be to first hear me lecture and then do some reading and/or reflecting.  I ask that each of you are prepared each week to distribute to each person in the class something, however brief, that you’ve thought about based on something I said the week before, and/or something you read in following up on something from the week before.  This should be an absolutely minimum-stress expectation, and I do not expect to take much (or, perhaps, any) class time on these.  It is simply a means of exerting a tiny bit of pressure on each to remain somewhat engaged in the material.  You are welcome to do no reading at all for any week (or all weeks, for that matter).  I recommend that you do one of the following, or do any combination of the following which feel right for you.



1.                   Go on line each week to do some research on the philosophers up for discussion. There are encyclopedia-like summaries of all the great philosophers, and most major works of major philosophers can be downloaded for free.   I will give you some leads on internet resources, and with only a little browsing you can find lots more.

2.                   Pick up an anthology of philosophy that emphasizes the key historical figures in Western Philosophy.  You very likely already own something of this sort.  Ask me what I think of it. 

Here are some good ones:

·         Samuel Enoch Stumpf, Philosophy:  History & Problems (5th edition, McGraw-Hill, 1994, ISBN 0-07-113671-1   I’ve used this one for this course in the past.  It’s a good mix of original material and the editor’s commentary. 

·        Kaufmann & Baird, PHILOSOPHICAL CLASSICS (Prentice Hall).  This one is more original materials than commentary, though there is some of each.  This is four volumes, hence a bit pricey, but you’d have good resources for your library.

·        Bertrand Russell, A HISTORY OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY, is a classic (written some while back), very readable, and respectable to quote.

·        Another multi-volume history of philosophy which is quite respectable is:  W. T. Jones, A HISTORY OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY (Harcourt, Brace & World).  This one is more commentary than original materials.

·        Another classic, very respectable, multi-volumed, all commentary, is Fredrick Copleston., S.J., A HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY (Image).

3.                   A good resource to know about if you want to research any particular philosopher or problem is Paul Edwards (ed.), ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY (Collier/ MacMillan).  The virtue of this set of (very expensive) volumes is that each selection is manageably short, and first-rate for respectability.  If you quote it you know you're okay.  The down side is, it's written by and for philosophers and can be difficult going for the non- Read SOPHIE’S WORLD, by Jostein Gaarder (Berkeley Books, New York, 1991, ISBN 0-425-15225-1).  It’s cheap, fun, and once you get past the fear that it’s going to be too sophomoric, it will do the job.

4.                   Read SOPHIE’S WORLD, by Jostein Gaarder (Berkeley Books, New York, 1991, ISBN 0-425-15225-1).  It’s cheap, fun, and once you get past the fear that it’s going to be too sophomoric, it will do the job.

5.                   From any college bookstore, pick up any introduction to philosophy textbook being used for a class, provided that it seems to cover a wide spread of historically important thinkers in the Western tradition (see my Unabashed History below for a list of the big names).

6.                  Initially, do none of the above.  Just listen to me, think about it, go home and write something, then do some more research if the spirit so moves you.


Spring 2005 Schedule:

March 4                        Week 1:            Overview of the course.   The nature of philosophy.  The Pre-Socratics.  Atomism.  The Sophists.  Socrates    


March 11                      Week 2             Plato and Aristotle        

March 18                      Week 3             Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz

March 25                      No Class           Spring Break    

April 1                          Week 4             Locke, Berkeley, Hume           

April 2                          --------               Spring Conference- Jessica Benjamin, Ph.D.

April 8                          Week 5             Kant’s epistemology and ethics

April 15                        Week 6             Hegel, Kierkegaard,  Nietzsche

April 22                        Week 7             Open House-OC

April 29                        Week 8             Brentano, Heidegger, Sartre


May 6                           --------              All School Retreat Day

May 13                         Week 9             Logical Atomism, Logical Positivism, Analytic Philosophy, Wittgenstein, Ryle, Austin

May 20             Week 10           Graduation Day:  Leftovers.. 




Please try to notify me if you will be unable to attend class:

Dr. Michael Russell   (714) 524-6916   (Cell:  624-5055) or,  CSUF voice & fax:  (714) 278-2752.


 General resources on philosophy, texts, commentaries, links, etc..  a dictionary of philosophical terms   Excellent!

A list of  links to various philosophy resources





Michael Russell



Philosophy has been called the "love of wisdom" and the "art of wonder," but more specifically philosophy is:

1.                  Concerned with predominantly non-empirical issues, where what is needed is not so much gathering more facts as thinking through more carefully what we already believe.

2.                  About fundamental concepts and very basic assumptions

3.                  Part of an evolving tradition of things "philosophers" have talked about

4.                  Characterized by an especially strong commitment to reasoned argument.



1.                  Starting with Thales assertion that everything is water, we see the beginning of a Western prejudice that what is real is something physically tangible. 

2.                  As Heidegger will put it two millennia + later, something went wrong with the Pre-Socratics.  We started off confusing "beings" with "Being."  Further implications of Thales:  everything is, ultimately, of ONE sort,

3.                  and things aren't what they seem to be.

4.                   Other Pre-Socratics elaborated on the physicalistic/materialistic prejudice.

5.                   Everything is "air" (Anaximenes)

6.                   or "the boundless" (Anaximander)

7.                  or some combination of basic elements like earth, air, fire, and water (Empedocles). 

8.                  On the more intangible side was Heraclitus, who's basic element of fire was probably a metaphor for his claim that everything is in constant change. 

9.                  In contrast, is Parmenedes, who thought change an illusion: everything is one. 

10.              For Pythagoras, what's real is the underlying form (as in geometry, in ratio, in musical harmony).



Before and after Socrates there were the Atomists (including Democritus, Leucippus) who held an extreme materialism:  what there is --- and all there is--- is atoms (indivisible chunks of matter)  moving through void.  You are just a collection of atoms.



Sophists (e.g., Protagoras) hold that all is relative.  Forget about truth:  go for persuasive speaking.



1.                  There is such a thing as truth. 

2.                  If you know what you are talking about you should be able to define your terms.

3.                   The unexamined life is not worth living. 

4.                  Knowing something is different from (merely) believing it:  if you know, you can't be wrong. 

5.                  But you can always be wrong about the ever-changing world around us, so it's not really a suitable subject-matter for knowledge. 

6.                  If you know what is good, you will automatically act accordingly.



1.                  Develops Socrates' ideas and attributes to Socrates much that is Plato's own.

2.                   Knowledge is about unchanging "forms" or "essences." 

3.                  Education is a matter of leading out what we already know, not a matter of instilling.

4.                  Virtue can't be taught. 

5.                  Persons are a combination of physical bodies and non-physical souls. 

6.                  The soul is corrupted by the body.

7.                  If it weren't for this, we would all "recall" knowledge of the absolutes which we lost at birth. 

8.                  The soul has three parts: reason, which(hopefully) rules,  the emotions, which (hopefully) are at the service of the ruling part, and appetites, which are sort of like the basic goods and services that fuel a nation-state. 

9.                  Each of these components has its corresponding virtue: wisdom, courage, and temperance. 

10.              When all three work in harmony, each doing that for which it is best suited, we have justice. 

11.              It is best to live justly, because then you need not fear being taken over and tyrannized by some appetite. 

12.              Socrates was wiser than anyone else in Athens because he at least knew that he didn't know much.



1.                  Contrary to Plato, reality is made up of particular objects. 

2.                  However, particular things are what they are because of their essences, which are "in" them.

3.                  The good is happiness or (better translated) fulfillment, and this is a realization of ones essential nature. 

4.                  Man's essential nature is rationality. 

5.                  Being reasonable, and virtuous, usually is choosing the mean between extremes.

6.                  Virtues can and should become habits, but formed and guided by intellect, deliberation.

7.                  There are four basic ways of explaining why things happen as they do:  explanations which focus on what a thing is made of, what effectively produced some change, what this definition of a thing is, or what purposes pertain to that thing (material, efficient, formal, final).



1.                  One can know a great deal about reality just by reasoning about it.  (A "rationalist" stresses how what we can know about the world is based on reasoning about it.)

2.                  Mind and body are different substances.  Each could exist without the other.

3.                  Somehow mind and body interact. "Cartesian dualism"

4.                   The first thing any of us can really know with certainty is of our own existence as (essentially) a thing which thinks.  Cogito ergo sum.  I think, therefore I am.

5.                  Descartes also seems to believe that in addition to our each knowing that we think, we each have a special sort of knowledge of what we think. 

6.                  And this thinking is constantly going on, e.g., in making judgments about what we perceive.

7.                  Problems: How could we ever know that there are other minds than our own, much less what goes on in other minds? 

8.                  Is it true that each of us is the best or the only authority about what we think?



1.      Also a rationalist, Spinoza believes that there are not two substances, but only one.  This he calls God.  God has infinite "attributes" two of which are what we call the mental and the physical.

2.      What we treat as distinct things are not really distinct from the one (and only) all-encompassing substance (nature-God-the universe) but are
modes" of it; you and I and books and trees are really "modes" of God.

3.      Any thing (any "mode") may be considered via the attribute of "extension" (cf. the physical) or "thought" (cf. the mental).  When adequately understood, via one of these attributes, the world in all of its modes will exactly correspond to the world when adequately understood via the other attribute.  Or, to put it quite crudely, "mental" and "physical" are  two ways of looking at the same thing.

4.      When we adequately understand something we understand why it has to be just as it is.  The free man (person) understands himself (herself) adequately.



1.      All of our knowledge comes from experience.  (An "empiricist,” in contrast to a rationalist, is one who stresses how what we know about the world is  based on our experiences of it.)

2.      At birth our minds are "blank slates" (a tabula rosa): all our ideas result from sensations which are produced in our minds by the effects of physical objects in the world.  (the "causal theory of perception.)



1.                  All our knowledge comes from experience.  As we never experience anything beyond our own ideas, reality jus is our minds and their perceptions, nothing more.

2.                  "Reality" is just a function of being perceived.

3.                  Berkelian "idealism":  if a tree falls in a forest and no one perceives it, then it doesn't make a noise… in fact the tree doesn't even exist, nor does the fst.



1.                  All knowledge comes from experience, all right, but Locke went too far in saying that objects external to our minds cause us to have our sensations, for we have not experiences objects external to our experiences.

2.                  Nor does experience teach us what "causes" are.  For we never experience a cause per se.  We experience one sensation regularly following another and expect this sequence to be repeated in the future.

3.                  And experience does not teach us that there are minds.  Berkeley went too far here, for who has ever experienced a mind?  Or a self?

4.                  And b y what reasoning can we justify speaking of the same person existing trhough time?

5.                  It is reasonable to be skeptical about most matters, especially philosophical ones.




1.                  We b ring to experience certain categories or tools of understanding which we a have "a priori" -- prior to experience.

2.                  These are like conceptual capacities (somewhat like the hardware of a computer gives it the capacity to "read" the disks we insert, which have the data.) 

3.                  "Space" and "time" are examples of these intellectual tools, as are concepts of "thing," self," "cause," and a few others.  

4.                  Experience as we know it, utilizing the conceptual tools we provide, Kant calls "phenomena." 

5.                  We can never get outside of how we conceptualize the world to know what things are "really like" in themselves, and cannot even understand what we are asking when we ask about this.

6.                  But we speculate anyway.  Kant labels this (nonsense) effort to conceptualize reality independently of how we conceptualize it "noumena."

7.                  Kant advises us to not attempt to speculate about this ultimate "noumenal" reality, but fails to follow his own advice when, in discussing ethics, he argues for certain "noumenal”  truths about how human freedom is required for the possibility of ethics.



1.                  All individual consciousness, and Consciousness taken collectively, goes through stages of development the outcome of which is to fulfill one's essence.

2.                  Each stage leads naturally to the next, although the next may be much opposed to the one which precedes it.

3.                  This overall process of growth is somewhat like a circle in which one comes back to the point where one started, but it is somewhat a matter of progressing to a different stage.



1.                  According to Bentham's "utilitarianism" everyone ought to seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.

2.                  Pleasure is good, suffering bad, and intentions are good or bad depending on whether they lead to pleasure or not.



1.                  Bentham was basically right a bout the principle of utilitarianism, except that some pleasures are qualitatively better than others. 



1.                  Hegel was right about the way development takes place through stages, but these are not so much because of the purposeful unfolding of intrinsic stages within the individual as because of the surrounding situation, especially the economic basis of society.




1.                  It is ridiculous to try to view your life "objectively" and as if it didn't concern you.

2.                  When it comes to being a person, "truth" is "subjectivity," i.e., a matter of making your own decisions about what you are going to strive to be, with an appropriate sense of intensity, since your basic choices are "leaps of faith."

3.                  The self is a sort of perpetually created synthesis of what one has been and what one chooses to aim for.

4.                  You may be either "aesthetic" (intense, concerned about experience, but uncommitted), "ethical" (committed to something, perhaps with less intensity) or "religious" (which perhaps combines intensity and commitment).  Similarly with relationships, e.g., marriage.



1.                  We have two basic instinct-like concerns: the Apollonian reasoning about and ordering of the world, and the Dionysian passionate and often frenzied and destructive part of us.  Both of these are at work in our creative efforts.

2.                  Even more basically, all life has a "will to power," even though in many people this takes o dishonest and indirect form, a "slave morality, " e.g., Christianity, in which one is vengeful and gains power through being submissive, with values which de-value life.

3.                  The "superman" or -- what would be a better translation-- "overman," is the person who overcomes the need to have beliefs, who overturns stagnant traditional values, especially those which are life-denying, replacing these with creative and life-affirmative values.



1.                  An essential characteristic of everything mental is this:  all mental states are "about" something.  Beliefs, wishes, hopes, dreams, are all "for" or "of" or "about" something.

2.                  They are "about" what one has in mind, what one intends.  This is the thesis of intentionality.

3.                  This characteristic of everything mental holds regardless of whether what one has in mind "really exists."



1.                  It is possible to give a systematic account of our experience, i.e., a phenomenology, which acknowledges the validity of how we experience it.



1.                  Phenomenology as description of human experience should place it in an everyday world, a main feature of which is our concern about other people.  When we are "inauthentic" we get more caught up in what other people want us to be than in sticking to what we uniquely are.

2.                  The experience of anxiety is a kind of pre-intellectual consciousness that we are not being authentic.  In general, our emotions and moods are forms of pre-intellectual understanding of who we are and how we're dong.

3.                  We need to completely re-think our whole concept of "being," in order to come to understand persons adequately, and not in terms borrowed from how we think about things.



1.                  None of us has a nature or an essence.

2.                  We are entirely free at each moment to choose what we are going to be.

3.                  Every time we act we thereby make a choice about what we are-- the action is the choice --- and even the most seemingly insignificant gesture really is indicative of, and re-chooses, our whole style.

4.                  When we realize that we are free we feel anxiety.  In order to flee from this we deceive ourselves by identifying with some static viewpoint, i.e., we pretend that we are what we have been, or we pretend that we are what we wish we were.  We try to pretend that what we are is settled, but it never is. 

5.                  Determinism is basically an attitude of excuse, and there are no valid excuses for our choices.

6.                  Our choices are made "consciously" but not "reflectively."  Generally we avoid reflecting on our choices, but sometimes we go through the motions of "reflecting" as a device to avoid reflecting more deeply, and to avoid changing and taking responsibility for our lives.

7.                  Being very emotional is also a choice.

8.                  To say we are free does not mean that we can do just anything, but means that nothing can influence us except through our giving it its significance. The world acquires its meaningfulness through us.



1.                  Philosophers like Descartes make "category mistakes" when they understand mental language through metaphors and concepts inappropriately borrowed form the language used for talking about the physical world.  Taking mental terms to refer to "mental processes"" which are the analogues of physical processes is part of the "dogma of the ghost in the machine" which we ought too overcome.

2.                  Mental terminology generally refers to behavioral dispositions, not to inner mental states.  The way we know about what other people think and what we ourselves think is basically the same: for this basically translates into descriptions of how we tend to behave.



1.                  Many philosophical mistakes arise because we fail to think carefully about how ordinary language works.

2.                  Many words which may seem to be the names for inner and private states in our minds are not names for such hidden states.  They could not be, for if they were then we wouldn't know whether we even shared the same language.

3.                  The argument against a "private language" is that for there to be a language at all there must be criterion for the teaching a person to use words correctly: if each of us connected up "words" to our own private sensations, there would not be criterion for establishing that we used these "words" in the same way, with the same meaning. 

4.                  This wouldn't be a language at all.

5.                  What we need to do is look at how these terms in our language are actually used, and when we do this we will find that our mentalistic language takes on its meaning from the "language games" into which they fit, the various shared conventions which make up our form of life, and not from some sort of inner or private meaning.

6.                  Many of our mistakes about language come from wrongly treating too many words as names of things.

7.                  "The confusion and barrenness of psychology is not to be explained by calling it a "young science":  its state is not comparable with that of physics, in its beginnings.  … For in psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion."  (Philosophical Investigations, par 232.)