Jonathan Lear

Jonathan Lear
John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor
Foster Hall, Room 503 or Neubauer Collegium
Office Hours: On leave 2019-20
Rockefeller University PhD (1978)
Teaching at UChicago since 1996
Research Interests: Philosophical Conceptions of the Human Psyche, Philosophy of Psychoanalysis, Kierkegaard, Ancient Philosophy

Jonathan Lear is the John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor at the Committee on Social Thought and in the Department of Philosophy. His work focuses on the philosophical understanding of the human psyche—and the ethical implications that flow from us being the kind of creatures we are. He trained in Philosophy at Cambridge University and The Rockefeller University where he received his PhD in 1978. He works primarily on philosophical conceptions of the human psyche from Socrates to the present. He also trained as a psychoanalyst at the Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis. His books include: Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (2006); Aristotle and Logical Theory (1980); Aristotle: The Desire to Understand (1988); Love and Its Place in Nature: A Philosophical Interpretation of Freudian Psychoanalysis (1990); Open Minded: Working out the Logic of the Soul (1998); Happiness, Death and the Remainder of Life (2000); Therapeutic Action: An Earnest Plea for Irony (2003); Freud (2005); and A Case for Irony (2011). His most recent books are Wisdom Won From Illness: Essays in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (Harvard University Press, 2017) and The Idea of a Philosophical Anthropology: The Spinoza Lectures (Assen: Van Gorcum, 2017). He is a recipient of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award. In 2014, he was appointed the Roman Family Director of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society and continues in that role currently. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Selected Publications

Wisdom Won From Illness: Essays in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017)

Freud, 2nd ed. (New York and London: Routledge, 2015)--one of the top-ten books on psychoanalysis in The Guardian

Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009); rev. by Sebastian Junger in Time Magazine (July 12, 2010)

A Case for Irony (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011)

Therapeutic Action: An Earnest Plea for Irony (New York: Other Press, 2003)

"Inside and Outside the Republic," Phronesis 37, no. 2 (January, 1992) (Link)

Katharsis,” in Phronesis, 1988; reprinted in Aristotle’s Poetics, ed. Amelie Rorty (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992)

Aristotle: The Desire to Understand (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988)

Aristotle and Logical Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980)



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Recent Courses

PHIL 55512 Readings from Freud

(SCTH 55511 )

This seminar will engage in a close reading of several works by Freud. The aim will be to gain an understanding of the human soul as it is disclosed in psychoanalytic practice. We shall read case histories as well as theoretical works, and ask how theoretical insight arises out of the details of life and speaking. We shall examine the literary forms of Freud’s writing. And we shall also inquire into the ethical significance of Freud’s work. This will be a small seminar that requires active participation.

Registration by permission of instructor.

2019-2020 Autumn

PHIL 20215/30215 The End of Life

(SCTH 30215)

Aristotle taught that happiness, or eudaimonia, is the end of human life, in the sense that it is what we should strive for. But, in another sense, death is the end of life. This course will explore how these two “ends” – happiness and death – are related to each other. But it will do so in the context of a wider set of concerns. For, it is not only our individual lives that come to an end: ways of life, cultural traditions, civilizations and epochs of human history end. We now live with the fear that human life on earth might end. How are we to think about, and live well in relation to, ends such as these? Readings from Aristotle, Marx, Engels, Freud, Heidegger, and Arendt.


Graduates: By permission of instructor.

2018-2019 Spring

PHIL 21720 Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics

(FNDL 21908)

This course will offer a close reading of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, one of the great works of ethics. Among the topics to be considered are: What is a good life? What is ethics? What is the relation between ethics and having a good life? What is it for reason to be practical? What is human excellence? What is the non-rational part of the human psyche like? How does it ever come to listen to reason? What is human happiness? What is the place of thought and of action in the happy life? (A)

This course is intended for Philosophy majors and for Fundamentals majors. Otherwise please seek permission to enroll.

2018-2019 Autumn
Ancient Philosophy

PHIL 28210/38209 Psychoanalysis and Philosophy

(SCTH 37501, HIPS 28101, FNDL 28210)

This course shall read the works of Sigmund Freud. We shall examine his views on the unconscious, on human sexuality, on repetition, transference and neurotic suffering. We shall also consider what therapy and "cure" consist in, and how his technique might work. We shall consider certain ties to ancient Greek conceptions of human happiness - and ask the question: what is it about human being that makes living a fulfilling life problematic? Readings from Freud's case studies as well as his essays on theory and technique.

Course for Graduate Students and Upper Level Undergraduates.

2017-2018 Winter
Philosophy of Mind

PHIL 53501 Special Topics in Philosophy of Mind: Imagination

(SCTH 53501)

What is imagination, and what functions does our power of imagination have in our lives? The seminar will approach these general questions via more specific ones such as the following. What are the relations between imagining, perceiving, remembering, and dreaming? Does our capacity for imagination play a role in enabling us to perceive? Does imagining something involve forming a mental image or picture of that thing? If not, how should we conceive of the objects of imagination? What is the nature of our engagement with what we imagine, and how does this engagement explain our ability to feel emotions such as fear, pity, and sympathy for imaginary beings? What is the role of imagination or fantasy in structuring our understanding of ourselves and our relations to other persons? Is there such a thing as the virtuous state of the power of imagination? Readings will be drawn from various classic discussions of imagination - e.g., Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Freud, Wittgenstein, Sartre - and from some contemporary sources. (III)

Graduate students in Philosophy & Social Thought only, except with permission of instructor.

2017-2018 Autumn
Philosophy of Mind

PHIL 51714 Wisdom and other virtues of the intellect. Heidegger's commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics Book 6

(SCTH 41607)

This seminar will do a careful reading and investigation of Heidegger's interpretation of Aristotle on the intellectual virtues, in particular phronesis and sophia. We shall consider how the intellectual virtues differ from the ethical virtues. We shall do a careful reading of Heidegger's discussion of this material in his book Plato's Sophist and we shall compare it closely with Aristotle's own discussion in Book 6 of the Nicomachean Ethics.

Jonathan Lear, I. Kimhi
2016-2017 Winter
German Idealism

PHIL 28210/38209 Psychoanalysis and Philosophy

(SCTH 37501, HIPS 28101)

An introduction to psychoanalytic thinking and its philosophical significance. A question that will concern us throughout the course is: what do we need to know about the workings of the human psyche - in particular, the Freudian unconscious - to understand what it would be for a human to live well? Readings from Plato, Aristotle Freud, Bion, Betty Joseph, Paul Gray, Lacan, Lear, Loewald, Edna O'Shaughnessy and others.

Class for Graduate Students and Upper Level Undergraduates. Student must have completed at least one 30000 level Philosophy course.

2016-2017 Autumn
Philosophy of Mind

For full list of Jonathan Lear's courses back to the 2012-13 academic year, see our searchable course database.