Honors | Ideas & Experience II
H212 | 21689 | Norm Furniss


TuTh 2:30-3:45pm

The general aim of all our H212 seminars (quoting from the Honors
College Catalogue) is to “study some of the sources of our modern
mentality and discover how the great writers from the Enlightenment
to the present have shaped our views.” This is a goal worthy of life
long learning, which is one reason being the Instructor of the
seminar is an exciting intellectual experience. To give focus to our
efforts here, we will orient our work around the ideas given primacy
in our Declaration of Independence: “We  hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are endowed by their creator with certain
inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the
Pursuit of Happiness.”

We will take up these ideas in a different order: first, “liberty”;
then “life”; finally “the pursuit of happiness.” Our investigations
conclude by considering the idea and state of “happiness” in
relation to the ideas of liberty and life. What does “happiness”
mean to each of us? What do our “liberty” and “life” writers have to
say on the subject? How is “happiness” best “pursued”?

Reading

The reading in this seminar is accessible but not easy. No apologies
here; effective reading of challenging texts is an important skill
which these seminars are meant to foster. As is also appropriate for
Honors seminars, we will pay close attention to what “great writers”
have to say. I also should note that our reading is “front loaded;”
our last reading assignment is due November 16. I have found that
there are sound pedagogical reasons for this approach, which I will
outline at our first meeting.

Mill, On Liberty; Montaigne, Essays; and Darwin, On the Origin of
Species are available for purchase at the IMU Bookstore. For Darwin
make sure you get the Harvard edition. Other readings, as indicated
in the Class Schedule, are on “e reserve” (E), the web (W), or they
will be handed out in class (H).

Assignments

In my view all of our seminar work should aim to further what the
German/English Sociologist Karl Mannheim called “democratic
education.” For Mannheim, “democratic education” involves “learning
the essential things and taking a definite stand.” This combination
is both necessary and not easy to achieve. And especially in courses
that aim to “study some of the sources of our modern mentality”,
learning “facts” apart from context and relevance is sterile, while
expressing uninformed opinions is vacuous.

There are four specific assignments. The first is to come to the
seminar prepared to discuss the readings and associated issues. The
second (“learn the essential things”) is to take two examinations,
one on October 26, the second on November 30. These examinations are
not cumulative; there is no final examination. The third assignment
(“taking a definite stand”) is to write a series of two page papers
on issues arising from our readings and discussions. There are six
possibilities; each seminar member will write on four. Topics are
given at the end of the Class Schedule. People writing papers will
lead the discussion of the issue. The final assignment encourages
more original thought. We have set aside time for “Reflections” on
our ideas of liberty, life, and happiness. Each seminar member will
write a 3-5 page paper on happiness, and a 3-5 page paper on either
of the other two ideas. These papers are to be grounded in your
engagement with the readings and associated discussion. They are not
to be based on “research,” especially on the web. All papers must be
turned in on the days they are due.

Grades

I have come to see “grading” as at least as much a tool for learning
as it is a means of assessment. We will discuss implications in
class. Formally, your grade will be computed on the following basis:
Participation, 10%; Examinations, 15% each; Issues Papers, 30%
total; Reflections papers, 30% total. Your final grade can never be
lower than this average. Under a number of conditions we will
outline in class, your final grade could be higher.