This fall, EthIC (Ethical Inquiry at Carleton) is launching its first ever co-curricular seminar, with the theme Love and Human Flourishing. Interested Carls will meet four times each term to have discussions that aim “to stimulate reflection and conversation on great questions as treated by great thinkers.”
These discussions will be facilitated by Alan Rubenstein, Research Associate at EthIC, and Laurence Cooper, Carleton Professor of Political Science and Director of EthIC and will be grounded in three texts: one text will be read per term and will be provided to participants free of charge.
Cooper believes the seminars will provide a new and valuable opportunity for Carls from a variety of different intellectual backgrounds to come together in larger discussion.
“I’ve noticed a surge in students coming to me with a desire for more intellectually stimulating non-curricular discussion,” he said. “[I think it’s because] there isn’t that much of a common intellectual life [for students] anymore. They have big themed conversations about the kinds of questions we will take up in the seminar, but without common reference points: people major in different things, are knowledgeable about different things.”
Cooper says the seminars will not only provide students these “common reference points” for discussion but also “high reference points: rich and deep and provocative texts.” He asserts that by studying these texts “we get some common focus, we get the opportunity to think big, to try to think carefully about stuff that matters.”
“I am a proponent of taking up these big questions about how we live, great questions as treated by great thinkers,” he said. “I’d like EthIC to promote this kind of reflection.”
This term participants in the seminar will read and discuss Plato’s Symposium. The dialogue takes up the subject of eros, the Greek word for lust, desire and erotic love, associated with the deity Eros, known most commonly to us today as cupid.
The dialogue presents speeches in praise of Eros, which range from an absurd misrepresentation of the Greek origin story to a legal discourse on erotic love.
Cooper believes this is an important first text for the group to take up in its exploration of ethics.
How does the topic of Love and Human Flourishing fit into the discussion of an organization devoted to the understanding of ethics?
“Even when we’re talking about ethics narrowly construed…we’re always somehow drawing on a conception of what’s good for us, a conception of human flourishing,” he explained. “So we need to learn what human flourishing is. Love is so much the concern of every human being: we’re beings who love and wish to love and wish to be loved.”
Aside from that, Cooper said, “the first thing one needs to do [in considering ethics] is think about human well-being. And this is so much a part of what a liberal education is about. Students have come to Carleton because they’re interested, they’re curious… they want to think about what it means to lead a meaningful life. That’s why I wanted to add this dimension to EthIC.”
Brendan Cook, a sophomore planning to attend the seminar and a former student of Professor Cooper’s, eagerly anticipates the first meeting.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for students who wouldn’t normally take a political philosophy class; the discussions are so open and free flowing. [It’s this kind of] exchange that is key to approaching discussions of ethics, where I think you need an open mind.”
Interest for the seminar has been much higher than originally anticipated by EthIC, causing the group to ask for applications from aspiring participants. Now erudite Carls all over campus are crossing their fingers for a chance to take part in this stimulating addition to the college’s intellectual life.