About Me, Eric Gerlach

Ever since I was a small child, everyone has told me my name is Eric Gerlach.  I don’t know what they’ve been telling you. I’ve always been somewhat in my head myself, focused on thought, how it works, and how it doesn’t.  My family raised me to be aware of other people, their motives, minds, and human psychology. My mother is a socially conscious Catholic whose church was involved in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and my father has a deep passion for Buddhism.  My grandfather, my father’s father, was a psychoanalyst, gestalt theorist and confusing person, and my uncle is a therapist for traumatized children.  My family planted me and my sister in the Haight Ashbury of the 80s, a black neighborhood in the 30s and 40s where white hippies of the 60s still thrived as 80s yuppies gentrified, just over the 17th Street hill from the Castro, and they raised me to be aware of the animal we are, our culture and others who share our wonderful and the terrifying world together.  I used to think that my family was crazy, but now I see that we’re all human and quite into it.

In the late 90s, I moved across the Bay to Berkeley for college, and I’ve lived there and loved it ever since.  I wanted to study human thought, psychology and the social sciences, and I did, but the first week a friend insisted I join an upper division philosophy class, Philosophy of Mind with John Searle, as I was taking a lower division philosophy class, Social & Political Philosophy with Hans Sluga.  It was soon clear to me that Searle and Sluga were quite different, as Searle argued truth is scientific, factual and objective and Sluga argued truth is psychological, historical and subjective. Both argued Wittgenstein’s work is a way forward, and to this day I still study and teach about objectivity and subjectivity, how truth and meaning work and don’t for us and others in all our human ways, much in the mold of late Wittgenstein and Sluga, from a psychological and historical perspective.  I am also thankful I was taught by the late Barry Stroud and late Hubert Dreyfus, learned logic with Paolo Mancosu and Buddhist Psychology with Eleanor Rosch as embodied consciousness was a focus for many, the idea that thought, logic and the mind are rooted in the body and everyday experience.

When I graduated in the first years of this millennium with a BA in philosophy I knew I wanted to create and write but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study or do, so I tried several jobs, working with the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, at gardening and carpentry, and as an assistant third grade teacher for a year, which taught me much, including that children are brilliant but I shouldn’t have dozens of them.  I wanted to study the wider history of thought, belief and doubt to understand how truth and meaning work for our species, so I decided to study the history of religion, the vehicle for much of philosophy over time.  I took graduate classes and seminars at the Graduate Theological Union and UC Berkeley and got an MA in History and Culture of Religion in 2006 from the GTU.  I am thankful I learned the history of Buddhist, Christian and Islamic thought, possibly the largest religions and cultures of thought in history, as the similarities and differences of Indian, Greek and Chinese philosophy show us much about how we think and live. Like David Kalupahana of the University of Hawaii, I think Wittgenstein can be combined with Buddhism to give us insight into how thought and logic work in daily life.

After I studied Greek Neo-Platonism for two years of seminars with Mark Delp, my thesis advisor, and studied Hegel, Marcuse and modern European intellectual history for a year of seminars with Martin Jay, I wrote my master’s thesis on the similarities between Eriugena, a Christian Neo-Platonist who lived a thousand years ago, and Hegel, the German idealist of the early 1800s who said Eriugena’s work was the first true European philosophyI argued Eriugena’s understanding of dialectic, of thought passing back and forth from opposite positive and negative points of view, which he gets primarily from Plato’s dialogue Parmenides, is similar to Hegel’s own philosophy, as Eriugena combines Augustine’s dogmatism with Dionysius’ skepticism to argue that we participate in the positive and negative modes of the mind of creation.  Hegel saw himself as a resolution of Kant’s categorical dogmatism and Hume’s empirical skepticism much as Eriugena tried to join Augustine and Dionysius.  These theories and arguments could have killed Eriugena if he wasn’t protected by King Charles the Bald of France. I was hoping to write a thesis about similarities between Platonism and Buddhism, which I continue to study and teach about, but the project was far too large in scope.

For the past ten years, I have been teaching Philosophy and the history of human thought at Berkeley City College.


I teach the history of human thought from a multicultural and global perspective rather than a Eurocentric perspective.  While many have traditionally focused on the achievements of ancient Greece and modern Europe, we can learn much more about our own thinking and the thinking of others we agree and disagree with by looking at all cultures of human thought.  This includes comparable animal and ape behavior, hunter-gatherer tribes, the city-state empires of Egypt, Sumer and the Americas, the Axial Age of Persia, India, Greece, Rome and China, the Islamic golden age, the Renaissance and European Enlightenment, and our modern diverse world.  In particular, I concentrate on the similarities of Egyptian, Indian, Greek, Chinese, Islamic, and Modern German, French and American thought.  We are one common race and culture, and we need to study the trunk of the tree as well as the interrelated branches.  This is not only good for all of the students in a diverse student body, but particularly effective, as studies have shown, at improving the quality of education for and success rates of students from disadvantaged populations.

I teach from a multidisciplinary perspective.  Philosophical, religious, political, and scientific thought are interrelated, each shedding light on the other.  That way, students can relate and connect the material in my classes with all of their other classes.  In particular, I focus on the connections between philosophy, art, religion, psychology, biology and mathematics.  I focus on core concepts of each thinker or school of thought.  Rather than focus on complete systems, concepts are tools that are not necessarily perfect for each job or situation.  Because Philosophy is a dense and complex subject, and influential texts can be difficult to read and understand, I focus on the central influential ideas, explaining how they work in plain language everyone can understand, illustrating the idea with images and video using photos and diagrams.  My goal is to have a short YouTube video about each of the core concepts for every class I teach.

Fourth, I believe in an open discussion & critical debate, such that at any time during lecture students can ask questions, offer examples and counterexamples, and respond to their fellow students.  After each core concept, I stop and ask them if they can think of examples that support the idea or counterexamples that call the idea into question, which can include other core concepts we have covered or examples from history, current events, fiction or their own personal lives.  At the end of each lecture, if there has been little discussion, I break into small groups to encourage students to dialogue about the material.

Fifth, I provide the students with a website we use in class and they can access from home, such that they are learning verbally, visually, and textually, accommodating students with different learning styles.  The website has all of the lecture notes for each class, illustrated with images and videos.  I project the notes on the board as I lecture and we discuss so they can see the images and read along with the lecture.  This allows students to invert the classroom as much or as little as they individually like, as well as learn via lecture, reading the notes, watching the videos, and participating in discussion in class and on the website.  Sixth, Philosophy, which is sometimes called “thinking about thinking”, is exercise for the mind, much as physical training is exercise for the body.  We can all develop and strengthen our minds and bodies throughout our lives, and critical thinking about one’s own thinking and the thinking of others strengthens our ability to think for ourselves and dialogue with others.  While some are critical of philosophy, saying that it never comes to final answers and always remains in the abstract and speculative, unlike a proper science, philosophy strengthens the mind that we use in all other fields, including the arts and sciences, just as physical exercise strengthens the body that we use both to dance and walk down the street.

34 thoughts on “About Me, Eric Gerlach

  1. I totally agree with your viewpoint on how you approach the teaching of this course and I appreciate the fact that you have made available several means for us to go over, learn, and study the course material.

  2. I’ve just discovered this website, and I want to compliment its beautiful design & thought. Thank you. While I adore the Ancient Greeks, I find it mind-boggling how overlooked yet idealised remarkably similar “eastern” ideas are, such as those of Laozi, Confucius, and Buddha. there is one truth! I’m happy I found your website. I’ll be reading up on your posts.

    1. Thanks, Joshua! I hope to post more videos in the near future. I am happy that you are enjoying the site. The ancient Greeks were indeed great, but so are so many other cultures with which we are interrelated.

    1. Long ago I hoped to write a paper on Wittgenstein and the Alice books, but then I got sidetracked for years prepping class lectures. I still want to work it into a paper, particularly the section on the Mad Tea Party. How is your experience with The Philosopher?

  3. Sorry to disappear – like the Cheshire Cat! ‘Real Life’ took one of its not to be ignored turns… Anyway, yes, this is really a great topic – if you can be persuaded to return to it. The paper we ran a few years back now by Pinhas Ben-Zvi is really a classic, I’d say – although (I’m sure you won’t be surprised at this) mainstream philosophers still prefer their diet of conventional issues and topics. And Wittgenstein seems to receive some of the most boring commentaries around.

    The Philosopher is very flexible – as long as the author writes for a general reader, not an academic specialist. Certainly your blog here, #14 is just he right sort of stuff. Indeed, I found it all fascinating! However articles for the Journal should probably be a bit shorter (2000-3000 words) and to focus on likely just one of the sub-themes. ie. a little intro to Carroll, yes, and a mention of Russell where relevant, but the focus perhaps more tightly on the similarities of approach and possible influences of Carroll on Wittgenstein.

    If you’d like to explore the issue further, please drop me a line! The website address as you see is the-philosopher.co.uk and my email is just editor@ the website (I’m being cryptic to avoid being caught by spambots!)

    Actually if you don’t feel it’s something you have time to really develop, what you have here would make an interesting article in itself, it would just need a little bit of editing (cutting) really. And if you don’t feel like that either – it’s still great to see someone looking at these topics in such a fresh and unexpected way.

  4. Hey Eric,

    I’m interested in taking a class of yours, Introduction to Philosophy online, and I was wondering whether or not it is going to be fully online as I will be away from the Bay Area during the Summer semester. Also, would it be possible to complete the course before its end date, 7/24/2015?

    Thank you for your time.

    Best, Ian

    1. The Intro class is fully online, so you can complete the class remotely. I also leave everything open, so you should be able to complete the class early if you would like.

  5. hello again Eric. Are any of the coursebook materials available online as PDF? Or perhaps an outline of the readings? I am retired and living in Ecuador, so unfortunately can’t access hard copies. Thanks.

    1. Hey, Gary. I can’t offer PDFs of the readings online for copyright purposes, but the reader is available at Fast Imaging in Berkeley. They may be able to send you a PDF of the reader if you email or call them, but they will likely charge for the service. I have always wanted to go to Ecuador, and hopefully will someday.

    1. Wittgenstein and Foucault, two of the most important and revered of contemporary thinkers, were likely gay, although it was still a time when openly being gay was illegal. I think that this could have lent both a counter-cultural outsider perspective as to the functioning of meaning and truth, but sometimes being an outsider can equally lead to radical orthodoxy in thought, so such a connection should only be casually mentioned.

      1. I think we need a straight philosophy and a gay philosophy, and then give them awhile to develop, and when they are mature we will marry the two.

  6. Hi there, I just discovered your site. I did a short module on philosophy in university and it was highly Eurocentric. As someone of Asian origin, I’m excited to delve into other world philosophies. Keep up the great work on this site.

  7. Hi there, I just discovered your site. I did a short module on philosophy in university and it was highly Eurocentric. As someone of Asian origin, I’m excited to delve into other world philosophies. Keep up the great work on this site.

  8. What is your understanding / definition of thought, “human thought”, knowledge… What is it “to know”? Any Epistemological progress in 21 Century? Who are your most admired living Philosophers? Respectfully!

    1. Hey, Marin. I think that Wittgenstein was the last great thinker that I admire who got us closer to understanding what thought is and how we use it. Specifically, knowing is being able to engage in practices that are somewhat standard and steady but also open-ended. I have notes on his thought in my lectures, specifically in Intro and Modern European Philosophy. That would be the place where I go on about what you are asking. Knowing is both objective and subjective, and it can involve but need not involve any number of elements, most often feelings, words and images, intertwined with objects in situations. Other than that, there may never be a set definition or typology of thought, nor need there be.

  9. What a wonderful accident to come across your materials. I am teaching Introductory Philosophy online to a non-academic U3A class of interesting fellow retirees mostly above 70 years old. With such life experience, classes are never dull. This year we covered the Pre-Socratics through to Thomas Aquinas but all the class recognised that Western Philosophy is not the whole story. So in 2021 we will take the Silk Road and down into Egypt. Thank you again for all your information, which will be such a valuable resource to me as I prepare the tutorials. I love that you are so open-minded. Your site is well put together and interesting though the text is a little small for us oldies! Keep safe and keep writing.

    1. Thank you so much for teaching the classes, and your encouragement. In the course of this and next semester, I should get YouTube videos up on the Indian, Greek, Chinese and European thinkers. It has been particularly hard to make the lecture videos without having the class to react, so this helps me very much. I will keep the text size in mind as I continue to seek a template that works best for the website.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s