Honors | Ideas and Experience - Ancient
H211 | 0004 | K. Gros-Louis
Long traditions of Western thought, no matter how we might try to deny
them, have influenced our thinking about the nature of the universe
and our place in it. Writers from Plato and Aristotle in early Greece
to the authors of the Declaration of Independence have shaped our
perceptions of who we are, have established a framework for our
concept of freedom. In this course, we will trace this concept in the
ideas expressed in works from Genesis to Frankenstein and attempt to
broaden our understanding of what it is to be free, in all senses of
that word. Such a study raises numerous questions; a few, seemingly
simple, others, very complex.
How much are we capable of achieving? Do we have free will? If so, are
there limits on what we can/should do-limits on the search for
We all live according to certain basic principles/beliefs/assumptions;
yet, these probably differ among us. What role does a divine being
play in how we conduct ourselves? Are we basically good or evil? What
do we mean when we call someone a good person? Why should such a
person suffer? Is evil a separate force in the world? Do we try to be
good to get rewards? What are they?
How do we organize ourselves into communities? Why? How do we decide
who or what will be in charge? What is the end or goal of life? Why?
How much of what we do is controlled by the traditions and conventions
of our society? Why do we work-in fact, what is work? How do we choose
our work-and what do we do when we are not working?
What is the function of art? Who decides? How do we identify,
individually and collectively, our heroes? How do we decide the right
thing to do? What determines our identity? Our separateness from
others? How do we decide our responsibilities to others? Should we
help others to such an extent that we suppress our own desires or
plans? Should our desires/plans take precedence? Should we seek to
achieve a balance?
In some ways, all of the texts we will read this semester respond to
one or more of these questions/issues. The course culminates in an
analysis of how the Declaration of Independence exhibits vestiges of
numerous texts including:
Genesis, Romans, and the Book of Job
Selections: Aristotle, Pope Innocent, the English Philosophers
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Paradise Lost, by Milton
Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe
Other texts such as Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley and The Trial, by
Franz Kafka, will also help provide perspective on the texts cited
Four or five short essays and one longer essay will comprise the
written work. Because class discussion will form an integral part of
the course, class participation is also important.
In short, we will think (assuming we are free to think), about how
traditions of thought throughout history have shaped us and our