Honors | Ideas & Experience - 2
H212 | 26190 | Norm Furniss
In this seminar we will explore some of the questions we
Americans raise, either implicitly or explicitly, when we consider
the requirements for a decent society and for an effective,
democratic political order. On the individual level, the challenge
is posed nicely by Hillel—“If I am not for myself, then who will be
for me? But if I am only for myself, then what am I?” On a
collective level, we see today a raft of competing claims concerning
national defense, social cohesion, and mutual responsibilities. Our
aim is to sort through these matters in a way that helps us
articulate our own interpretations and positions.
This discussion will be grounded in a review of some of the
great texts from the seventeenth century forward. We take this
approach not because I want to engender feelings of reverence and
awe at the intellectual quality of past authors. Among other things,
such an attitude would go counter to the spirit of many of the works
themselves. Rather, we take this approach for three related ways.
First, the texts raise relevant social and political questions in
original ways. Second, historically they have helped structure
social and political debate and accompanying institutional
responses. Third, they are examples of effective argumentation and
persuasion from which we can learn a lot.
At the same time, we will not restrict ourselves to
standard “academic” works. We will take seriously how ideas
of “ordinary” people can affect political and social events. And we
will consider a number of specific current social and political
issues that were unanticipated by past authors.
The major seminar assignments will be writing a series of
short essays based on our readings and discussions, and
participating in and presenting a group project. I would be pleased
to discuss the assignments or specifics on readings in more detail.