Honors | Ideas & Experience II (HON)
H212 | 16925 | Norm Furniss


MW 9:30-10:45am
HU 108

The general aim of all our H 212 seminars 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.” I hope
this seminar will be a useful step on this journey. To give focus to
our specific efforts, we will orient our work around two ideas,
liberty and happiness, that are central to our understanding of
ourselves and the ways we aspire to live.  These ideas or values are
complex and not always compatible—as seen, for example, in John
Stuart Mill’s remark that it is preferable to be “Socrates
discontented than a contented pig.” We also will explore why these
values are best perceived not as concrete benefits to be attained
but as goals to be pursued, often in relation to others. Even our
basic conceptions of what it means to be “free” or “happy” are
affected by our sense of what other people are feeling or doing. As
Montesquieu observes on the ideal of happiness, “If we only wanted
to be happy it would be easy, but we want to be happier than other
people, which is difficult, since we think them happier than they
are.”

These considerations lead us to orient much of our discussion around
the concept of ethics. Our working definition will be: Convictions
about the types of lives it is good or bad for people to lead. This
orientation helps us relate our discussion of ideas to concrete
issues involving us in our private lives, as members of society and
as citizens of the United States. Among the issues we will
investigate are: Is it within one’s liberties to burn the American
flag?  Is falling out of love sufficient reason to end a marriage?

We will introduce our ideas of liberty and happiness with classic
works by Montaigne, Mill, and Seneca among others. We also will read
Ian Buruma, Murder in Amsterdam, and Eric Weiner, The Geography of
Happiness. Written assignments will include two noncumulative
examinations and a series of papers based on class readings and
discussion. Doing additional reading for these essays is neither
necessary nor useful. I would be pleased to discuss details with
anyone who might be interested in the seminar. My office is Woodburn
Hall, Room 405, email furniss@indiana.edu.