HUM 331

HUM 331: Honors Seminar 

This course is restricted to students who have a cumulative grade point average of 3.30 or higher. The seminar is designed to provide students with a sense of basic concepts and theoretical approaches which are common to advanced research in the humanities and social sciences. Though the specific contents of the seminar will change from one year to the next, each seminar will present important readings and texts from several disciplines (philosophy, psychology, sociology, literary theory, etc.). Students will discuss their work with one another in seminar meetings, and also in one-on-one meetings with the seminar leader throughout the semester. Each student will complete a term paper on a topic of his or her choice related to the issues covered in the seminar, and will leave the course with a polished piece of academic writing which they can use in applications to graduate school, as well as a detailed letter of recommendation from the seminar instructor.

HUM 331: Honors Seminar
Skepticism in Philosophy, Literature, and Film
Instructor: Dragan Ilic
Fall 2016

Course Description:
Skepticism as a philosophical outlook has its origin in ancient Greek philosophy and has been most commonly characterized by two distinctive features. First of all, it is based on a thesis that nothing can be known. The thesis is usually followed by a sort of prescription: since nothing can be known one should suspend judgment on all matters. Historically, the thesis that nothing can be known prevailed over the prescription within the tradition of Cartesian skepticism. The prescription, on the other hand, dominated the Pyrrhonist school of skeptical thought leading to practical questions such as is skepticism livable at all and can the skeptic actually enact a total suspension of judgment?

In this seminar we will take a fundamentally different tack and will show that skepticism is neither understood as a philosophical doctrine characterized by a thesis that nothing can be known, nor is it primarily understood as a skeptical prescription that advises us to suspend judgment on all matters ceasing to claim knowledge, but is revealed rhetorically and understood as a rather peculiar form of writing. In a word, we will transform skepticism from a form of doubt to a form of narration. As a result, skepticism will not be considered as a purely formal, intellectual matter, and accordingly, a philosophical skeptic will not end up as being nothing more than the straw man of epistemology textbooks, which is his common doom in many analytic seminars on philosophical skepticism. Accordingly, we shall study how “our” authors and their texts perform a hard narrative labor against such a simplistic philosophical account of skepticism.

 

HUM 331: Honors Seminar
Work and the Meaning of Life
Instructor: Patrick Fessenbecker
Fall 2016

Nearly a century ago, Josiah Royce wrote that a man only really begins to answer the question “Who are you?” when he “mentions his calling.”  Today, we continue to regard our work as central to our identity: when we ask children what they want to “be” when they grow up, we expect them to answer by telling us what job they will have.  And for many of us, what it means to have a meaningful life is to find work that we regard as valuable. Yet it’s worth pausing on why we see the world this way.  How did we come to regard the self as coming to exist in work?  Should the finding of one’s work be regarded as a form of self-creation—the re-orientation of oneself around a task—or as a form of self-discovery, as one learns a fundamental truth about one’s capacities?  What is a meaningful life, and what relationship does work have to it? What, after all, is a “self?”

In this class, we’ll seek to explore these questions through a range of philosophical and literary texts.  In the first movement of the course, we’ll read a series of essays from several contemporary philosophers, building a basic model of the self that sees work as central to a meaningful life because it embodies the distinctive capacity of humans: the ability to create ourselves.  In the second movement, we’ll turn to the origins of this model in nineteenth-century thought, considering its development in the German Idealist philosophers.  We’ll then consider the sophisticated and nuanced expression of this view in George Eliot’s novel Adam Bede, and an important objection to this model of the self in Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest.  In the final movement of the course, we’ll look at twentieth-century developments in the model, considering Marxist critiques via George Orwell’s novel A Clergyman’s Daughter and post-modernist objections via David Foster Wallace’s Pale King (published posthumously).