Religious Studies | Conceptions of the Self, East and West
E103 | 23845 | Stalnaker


It is a truism that different cultures propound different visions of
human life. But what are we as contemporary residents of an
increasingly heterogeneous nation to make of this diversity? Do we
have any rational basis for evaluating the alternative possibilities
for life presented by different religious and philosophical
traditions? This course examines important, indeed classic,
statements on the nature of human existence from the ancient and
modern West, and from East Asia, and endeavors to sensitively
compare these diverse visions of human life without capitulating to
nihilism, relativism, or self-satisfied cultural chauvinism. We
examine influential representatives of several traditions, including
Confucianism, Daoism, Christianity, Marxism, and contemporary
democratic political theory. Recurring issues include the character
and relation of reason and emotion; the nature and source of saving
dispositions; understandings of the relation of our more animal and
more human sides; problems in life that are thought to deform the
self; the need, if any, for transcendent forces to actualize the
self; the form of and rationale for various practices of self-
cultivation; and the relation of individual and communal
flourishing. All readings are in English translation.

*Additional discussion section