Honors | Ideas & Experience II
H212 | 22442 | 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.