Comparative Literature | Literature and Ideas
C347 | 23825 | Prof. Kenshur


CMLT-C 347(23825):
Literature and Ideas: Free Will & the Concept of Evil
Prof.: O. Kenshur ,  TR 11:15-12:30 ,

Fulfills A&H and CS Requirements

The inhabitants of other planets don’t talk about  free will because
they view the behavior of intelligent beings the same way they view
the behavior of other bodies in the natural world, namely, as the
product of physical laws. But here on earth, free will has long been
a topic of discussion because of its role in conceptions of human
dignity and in explanations of the origin of evil. In certain
religions, human suffering has been seen as a divine punishment for
transgressions, and the question of whether this punishment is fair
has been seen to be related to the question of whether the
transgressor freely chose to commit his crime, and hence is
responsible for it. Moreover, this freedom to choose evil has been
seen not as curse, but as one of the things that distinguishes human
beings from animals or machines. As suggested by Vonnegut’s satiric
observation, however, such conceptions of free will and evil are
open to challenge.
The course will examine ways in which writers have analyzed or
dramatized human or divine agency, or the nature or origin of evil.
We will be particularly interested in examining the relationship
between philosophical arguments and imaginative literature. Can a
narrative or drama or poem embody an abstract principle in such a
way as to make it convincing, or in such a way as to undermine its
plausibility?  The  reading list includes writings on evil and free
will by St. Augustine, Hobbes, Bayle, and Hume as well the following
works:Genesis; Aeschylus, The Oresteia; Racine, Phèdre; Pope, Essay
on Man; Voltaire, Candide; Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground;
Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener; Mark Twain, Letters from the
Earth; Sartre, The Flies.