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Enduring Questions

One of the chief purposes of a liberal education -- perhaps the central purpose -- is to explore life’s enduring questions of value and meaning: What are happiness and excellence, and how should I live?  What are my obligations to others?  What obligations do others have to me?  What is my place in the greater scheme of things?  Such questions can probably never be answered conclusively, but they can be explored with increasing depth and clarity.  Perhaps the most promising way to achieve such depth and clarity is to study the works of great thinkers who have preceded us—that is, to study great and enduring questions as they have been addressed in great and enduring texts.  Such study can help us achieve greater self-knowledge and freedom.   

CLAS 111: Classical Mythology

Myth was an integral component of thought, both individual and societal, in the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome. We will study a selection of the most famous Classical myths through close reading of Homer, the Greek tragedians, Ovid and other ancient sources. In addition we'll discuss the most prominent of modern modes of myth interpretation, in an attempt to determine how myth speaks--both to the ancient world and to us.
Not offered 2017-2018

CLAS 112: The Epic in Classical Antiquity

An introduction to the genre of epic poetry from Classical Antiquity. Students will read in translation examples from the Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman traditions in order to trace the development of the major features and themes of this genre and to understand the considerable influence this genre has exerted both during antiquity and thereafter. Authors will include Homer, Apollonius, Virgil, and Lucan.
Offered Spring 2018

CLAS 214: Gender and Sexuality in Classical Antiquity

In both ancient Greece and Rome, gender (along with class and citizenship status) largely determined what people did, where they spent their time, and how they related to others. This course will examine the ways in which Greek and Roman societies defined gender categories, and how they used them to think about larger social, political, and religious issues. Primary readings from Greek and Roman epic, lyric, and drama, as well as ancient historical, philosophical, and medical writers; in addition we will explore a range of secondary work on the topic from the perspectives of Classics and Gender Studies.
Offered Winter 2018

ENGL 144: Shakespeare I

A chronological survey of the whole of Shakespeare's career, covering all genres and periods, this course explores the nature of Shakespeare's genius and the scope of his art. Particular attention is paid to the relationship between literature and stagecraft ("page to stage"). By tackling the complexities of prosody, of textual transmission, and of Shakespeare's highly figurative and metaphorical language, the course will help you further develop your ability to think critically about literature. Note: Declared or prospective English majors should register for English 244.
Offered Fall 2017

ENGL 202: The Bible as Literature

We will approach the Bible not as an archaeological relic, nor as the Word of God, but "as a work of great literary force and authority [that has] shaped the minds and lives of intelligent men and women for two millennia and more." As one place to investigate such shaping, we will sample how the Bible (especially in the "Authorized" or King James version) has drawn British and American poets and prose writers to borrow and deploy its language and respond creatively to its narratives, images, and visions.
Not offered 2017-2018

ENGL 209: The Merchant of Venice: A Project Course

This interdisciplinary course will explore one of Shakespeare’s most controversial and complex plays, The Merchant of Venice. We will investigate the play’s historical, political, religious, and theatrical contexts as we try to understand not only the world that produced the play, but the world that came out of it. How should what we learn of the past inform a modern production? How can performance offer interpretive arguments about the play’s meanings? Individual and group projects may involve research, writing, dramaturgy, program design, and exhibition curation. Students will be actively involved in a full-scale Carleton Players production of the play.
Not offered 2017-2018

ENGL 210: From Chaucer to Milton: Early English Literature

An introduction to some of the major genres, texts, and authors of medieval and Renaissance England. Readings may include works of Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, and the lyric poets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Not offered 2017-2018

ENGL 211: Neoclassic, Romantic, and Victorian Literature

Readings in eighteenth and nineteenth-century British literature.
Not offered 2017-2018

ENGL 212: Nineteenth-Century American Literature

A survey of the major forms and voices of nineteenth-century American literature during the Romantic and Realist periods, with attention to the historical and intellectual contexts of that work. Topics covered will include the literary writings of Transcendentalism, abolition, and the rise of literary "realism" after the Civil War as an artistic response to urbanization and industrialism. Writers to be read include Irving, Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson, Douglass, Dickinson, Whitman, Twain, James, and Wharton.
Offered Fall 2017

ENGL 216: Milton

Radical, heretic, and revolutionary, John Milton wrote the most influential, and perhaps the greatest, poem in the English language. We will read the major poems (Lycidas, the sonnets, Paradise Lost, Samson Agonistes), a selection of the prose, and will attend to Milton's historical context, to the critical arguments over his work, and to his impact on literature and the other arts.
Offered Winter 2018

ENGL 222: The Art of Jane Austen

All of Jane Austen's fiction will be read; the works she did not complete or choose to publish during her lifetime will be studied in an attempt to understand the art of her mature comic masterpieces, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion.
Offered Fall 2017

ENGL 223: American Transcendentalism

Attempts to discern the nineteenth-century Zeitgeist come down, Emerson says, to a "practical question of the conduct of life. How shall I live?" This interdisciplinary course will investigate the works of the American Transcendentalist movement in its restless discontent with the conventional, its eclectic search for better ways of thinking and living. We will engage major works of Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, and Whitman alongside documents of the scientific, religious, and political changes that shaped their era and provoked their responses.
Not offered 2017-2018

ENGL 244: Shakespeare I

A chronological survey of the whole of Shakespeare's career, covering all genres and periods, this course explores the nature of Shakespeare's genius and the scope of his art. Particular attention is paid to the relationship between literature and stagecraft ("page to stage"). By tackling the complexities of prosody, of textual transmission, and of Shakespeare's highly figurative and metaphorical language, the course will help you further develop your ability to think critically about literature. Note: non-majors should register for English 144.
Offered Fall 2017

ENGL 310: Shakespeare II

Continuing the work begun in Shakespeare I, this course delves deeper into the Shakespeare canon. More difficult and obscure plays are studied alongside some of the more famous ones. While focusing principally on the plays themselves as works of art, the course also explores their social, intellectual, and theatrical contexts, as well as the variety of critical response they have engendered.
Not offered 2017-2018

HIST 131: Saints, Sinners, and Philosophers in Late Antiquity

In Late Antiquity, Christians and pagans asked with particular intensity: How should I live? What should be my relationship to wealth, family, power, and the world? How are mind and body related in the good life and how can this relationship be controlled and directed? What place had education in the pursuit of the good life? Was the best life to be achieved through material renunciation, psychological transformation, or both? We will ask these and many other questions of a wide array of primary sources written originally in Latin, Greek, Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian while employing the insights of modern scholarship.
Not offered 2017-2018

HIST 237: The Enlightenment

This course focuses on the texts of Enlightenment thinkers, including Locke, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Kant and Mesmer. Emphasis will be on French thinkers and the effect of the Enlightenment on French society. The course covers the impact of the Enlightenment on science, religion, politics and the position of women. Students will have the opportunity to read the philosophies in French.
Not offered 2017-2018

IDSC 251: Windows on the Good Life

Human beings are always and everywhere challenged by the question: What should I do to spend my mortal time well? One way to approach this ultimate challenge is to explore some of the great cultural products of our civilization--works that are a delight to read for their wisdom and artfulness. This series of two-credit courses will explore a philosophical dialogue of Plato in the fall, a work from the Bible in the winter, and a pair of plays by Shakespeare in the spring. The course can be repeated for credit throughout the year and in subsequent years.
Offered Fall 2017, Winter 2018, Spring 2018

PHIL 100: Science, Faith and Rationality

This seminar will introduce the student to the study of philosophy through a consideration of various epistemic and metaphysical issues surrounding science and religion. What distinguishes scientific inquiry from other areas of inquiry: Its subject matter, its method of inquiry, or perhaps both? How does scientific belief differ from religious belief, in particular? Is the scientist committed to substantive metaphysical assumptions? If so, what role do these assumptions play in scientific investigation and how do they differ from religious dogma (if they do)? Our exploration of these questions will involve the consideration of both classic and contemporary philosophical texts.
Offered Fall 2017

PHIL 100: Soul: Mind, Morality and Cosmos

What is the soul? Does it exist? Is it immortal? Divided or undivided? Material or immaterial? Are plants, animals and even the cosmos ensouled? Starting in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, the western conception of 'soul' (psuche) underwent massive development, in the hands of Greek thinkers like the Presocratics, Plato and Aristotle, and Hellenistic philosophers. Not only was the soul a principle of life, but also a source of motion, a subject of cognition and a bearer of moral qualities. Through our analysis of 'psuche,' this course will substantially intersect with ancient Greek science and moral philosophy.
Not offered 2017-2018

PHIL 112: Mind, Matter, Consciousness

According to a common view of the mind, mental states are nothing more than states of the brain. There are certain features of human intellection, subjective experience, and action which have prompted some philosophers to argue that human mental activity is not reducible to brain activity. Some have gone on to argue that the human mind is immaterial and capable of surviving the death of the body. We will examine variants of these views as well as objections to them, reading selections from such historical figures as Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes, and such contemporary philosophers as Churchland, Nagel, and Searle.
Not offered 2017-2018

PHIL 211: Being, Time and Identity

The aim of metaphysics has traditionally been to identify the nature and structure of reality. The topics of this course are the topology of time, identity of things and individuals, causality, free will, and the referents of general terms. We will read a variety of classic and contemporary texts, which are organized topically.
Not offered 2017-2018

PHIL 213: Ethics

How should we live? This is the fundamental question for the study of ethics. This course looks at classic and contemporary answers to the fundamental question from Socrates to Kant to modern day thinkers. Along the way, we consider slightly (but only slightly) more tractable questions such as: What reason is there to be moral? Is there such a thing as moral knowledge (and if so, how do we get it)? What are the fundamental principles of right and wrong (if there are any at all)? Is morality objective?
Offered Fall 2017

PHIL 225: Philosophy of Mind

What is the relationship between the mind and the brain? Are they identical? Or is there mental "stuff" in addition to physical stuff? Or perhaps some physical stuff has irreducibly mental properties? These, and related questions, are explored by philosophers under the heading of "the mind-body problem." In this course, we will start with these questions, looking at classical and contemporary defenses of both materialism and dualism. This investigation will lead us to other important questions such as: What is the nature of mental representation, what is consciousness, and could a robot have conscious states and mental representations?
Offered Winter 2018

PHIL 226: Love and Friendship

This course will consider various philosophical views on the nature of love and friendship. It will focus on both the history of philosophical thinking about these notions from Plato and Aristotle to the twentieth century and a variety of contemporary views on the meaning of love and friendship that derive their insight from the most recent studies of emotion, agency, action, rationality, moral value, and motivation. We will also look at the variations in the understanding of love and friendship among the members of the same culture and across cultures.
Offered Winter 2018

PHIL 243: Animal Ethics: The Moral Status of Animals

In an era of rapid globalization and increasing dominion of humans over the natural world, we are all (often unwittingly) party to practices that seemingly exact grave harm on billions of nonhuman animals. This raises a pressing ethical question: what are our moral obligations (if any) to nonhuman animals, and how might we practically fulfill such moral obligations (if they exist)? Also, what bearing does the latest scientific research on animal behavior have on these questions? In this course we will explore these and related questions, through a study of various philosophers and ethologists. The course will culminate in a class project that addresses animal ethics related issues in the community.
Not offered 2017-2018

PHIL 270: Ancient Philosophy: The Good Life

This course will center on a close reading of two texts, Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, both of which address what is arguably the core concern in the ancient ethical tradition: the relationship between the morally good life and the happy life. In keeping with the ancient tendency to resist a sharp divide between the private and political spheres, we will examine the significance of Plato and Aristotle’s reflections on the good human life both for the individual and for the broader community.
Offered Fall 2017

PHIL 271: Tragedy, Myth and Philosophy

In ancient Greece philosophy was continuous with poetry. Nevertheless, the modern distinction between the two shapes the way ancient texts are studied: philosophers focus on arguments and concepts, whereas classicists focus on literary and cultural dimensions. This class (taught by a classicist and philosopher) integrates these approaches and asks the following: Are epic and tragic poetry interested in the same questions as philosophy? Were philosophical texts crafted to produce effects similar to those of epic or tragedy? Can dramatic poetry be philosophy? The course culminates in a student production of Plato's Phaedo, as a test of the notions we develop.
Not offered 2017-2018

PHIL 272: Early Modern Philosophy

The era of Modern Philosophy is characterized in part by the foundational importance of epistemological questions, including especially questions about the very possibility of knowledge. In this course we will read works from four authors who are all members of the Modern tradition in some sense, but whose widely differing epistemological frameworks lead them to propose radically different answers to these questions: Descartes, Hume, Kant, and Pascal.
Offered Winter 2018

PHIL 274: Existentialism

We will consider the emergence and development of major themes of existentialism in the works of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, as well as "classical" existentialists such as Heidegger, Sartre and De Beauvoir. We will discuss key issues put forward by the existentialist movement, such as "the question of being" and human historicity, freedom and responsibility and look at how different authors analyzed the nature and ambitions of the Self and diverse aspects of subjectivity.
Not offered 2017-2018

POSC 160: Political Philosophy

Introduction to ancient and modern political philosophy. We will investigate several fundamentally different approaches to the basic questions of politics--questions concerning the character of political life, the possibilities and limits of politics, justice, and the good society--and the philosophic presuppositions (concerning human nature and human flourishing) that underlie these, and all, political questions.
Offered Fall 2017, Spring 2018

POSC 250: Ancient Political Philosophy: Plato's Republic

Cross-listed with POSC 350. In this course we will examine ancient political philosophy through the intensive study of Plato's Republic, perhaps the greatest work of political philosophy ever written. What is morality? Why should a person behave morally? Wouldn't it be more satisfying to be a tyrant? What is the best way of life? What would a perfect society look like? What would be its customs and institutions, and who would rule? What would it demand of us, and would that price be worth paying? These are some of the politically (and personally) vital questions addressed by the book.
Not offered 2017-2018

POSC 253: Marxist Political Thought

This discussion seminar introduces key texts of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as well as the writings of Marxists since Marx's death, such as Lenin, Gramsci, Bernstein and others. The course will address concepts in their writings such as alienation, historical materialism, class, the state, science and ideology, socialism and social democracy. While a lot of attention is paid to Marxist theory, we will also consider the political contexts in which theories and debates emerged and their implications for political practice.
Not offered 2017-2018

POSC 254: Freedom, Excellence, Happiness: Aristotle's Ethics

Cross-listed with POSC 354. What does it mean to be morally excellent? To be politically excellent? To be intellectually and spiritually excellent? Are these things mutually compatible? Do they lie within the reach of everyone? And what is the relation between excellence and pleasure? Between excellence and happiness? Aristotle addresses these questions in intricate and illuminating detail in the Nicomachean Ethics, which we will study in this course. The Ethics is more accessible than some of Aristotle's other works. But it is also a multifaceted and multi-layered book, and one that reveals more to those who study it with care.
Not offered 2017-2018

POSC 255: Post-Modern Political Thought

The thought and practice of the modern age have been found irredeemably oppressive, alienating, dehumanizing, and/or exhausted by a number of leading philosophic thinkers in recent years. In this course we will explore the critiques and alternative visions offered by a variety of post-modern thinkers, including Nietzsche (in many ways the first post-modern), Heidegger, Foucault, and Derrida.
Offered Fall 2017

POSC 256: Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil

Nietzsche understood himself to be living at a moment of great endings: the exhaustion of modernity, the self-undermining of rationalism, the self-overcoming of morality--in short, and most stunningly, the "death of God." Nietzsche both foresaw and tried to accelerate these endings. But he also tried to bring about a new beginning, a culture that he believed would be life-affirming and life-enhancing. In this course we will engage in a close study of Beyond Good and Evil, perhaps Nietzsche's most beautiful book and probably his most political one. Selections from some of his other books will also be assigned.
Not offered 2017-2018

POSC 258: Politics and Ambition

Is personal ambition a threat to peace and the public good or is it a prod to nobility and heroism? Does it exemplify the opposition between self and society or does it represent their intersection and mutual support­--or both? Drawing on literary, philosophical, and historical works this course will take up these and other questions as part of a broad examination of the role of ambition in politics. 
Not offered 2017-2018

POSC 259: Justice Among Nations

Crosslisted with POSC 349. The purpose of this course is to bring to bear great works of political philosophy on the foundational questions of international politics. Our primary text will be Thucydides' gripping history of The Peloponnesian War. Thucydides was perhaps the greatest thinker about international relations that the world has seen. He was also a political philosopher--and psychologist--of the first rank. His book teaches much not only about politics but about human nature.
Not offered 2017-2018

POSC 348: Strangers, Foreigners and Exiles*

The course explores the role that strangers play in human life, the challenges that foreigners create for democratic politics, the promises they bring to it, as well as the role of exiles in improving the cultural capacity of societies to live with difference. We will read texts by Arendt, Kafka, Derrida, Sophocles, Said, Joseph Conrad, Tzvetan Todorov, and Julia Kristeva. Special attention will be given to the plight of Roma in Europe, as a typical case of strangers that are still perceived nowadays as a menace to the modern sedentary civilization.
Offered Winter 2018

POSC 352: Political Theory of Alexis de Tocqueville*

This course will be devoted to close study of Tocqueville's Democracy in America, which has plausibly been described as the best book ever written about democracy and the best book every written about America. Tocqueville uncovers the myriad ways in which equality, including especially the passion for equality, determines the character and the possibilities of modern humanity. Tocqueville thereby provides a political education that is also an education toward self-knowledge.
Not offered 2017-2018

RELG 161: Making Meaning of the Hebrew Bible

Since antiquity, the Hebrew Bible has been read through various lenses and made meaningful to communities of readers through a range of interpretive methodologies and techniques. In this introductory class, we will survey different genres of literature found in the Hebrew Bible and consider how interpreters, classical and modern, have read the text and found it relevant in their lives. We will also examine how the Bible as a bounded text came to be, and how it has inspired devotion, critiques, political and social movements. Requires no previous knowledge and will use sources in translation.
Not offered 2017-2018

RELG 245: Buddha

Buddha, "the awakened," is the ideal being--and state of being--in all Buddhist traditions. This course will explore the contours of the Buddha-ideal as revealed in legendary narratives, devotional poems, ritual texts, visionary accounts, philosophical treatises, meditation manuals, and artistic representations. We will draw primarily on classical South Asian and Tibetan sources from the Theravada, Mahayana, and Tantric traditions, but also will consider East Asian (e.g., Pure Land and Zen) conceptions of Buddha and modern reinterpretations of the idea. In addition, we will compare Buddha with the "ideal being" of other traditions, e.g., Brahman, the Dao, and God.
Offered Winter 2018

RELG 274: Pessimism and the Affirmation of Existence

In this course we will examine some of the cultural, intellectual, and religious transformations occurring in the nineteenth century that have given the turn of the twentieth century the reputation of being "the age of anxiety." We will engage Arthur Schopenhauer's philosophical pessimism, and wrestle with Friedrich Nietzsche's "affirmation of existence." Grappling with questions such as "Is life worth living?" and "If there is no God, is existence meaningless?" we will also turn to the U.S. context, looking at the ways some of the classical pragmatists contend with the specter of pessimism.
Not offered 2017-2018

RELG 365: Mysticism

Drawing from selected traditional texts and modern analyses, we will investigate the human encounter with ultimate reality. Questions we will consider include: What is the definition and typology of mysticism? Is mystical experience truly ineffable? What are its modes of expression? Do all mystics experience the same reality? Is unmediated experience possible? Do mystical experiences show us the truth? Is there a place for reason on a mystical path? What is the role of the body and brain in mystical practice? Does mystical experience make us good? Does it free us? Are mystics critics of institutional religion or social injustice?
Not offered 2017-2018