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Texts & Description 112

Course Description

This course is an overview of modern thought. We will read a few decisive texts in the Western tradition – texts that opened up new ways of thought and helped shape the modern world. Along the way we will trace the emergence and transformation of some of the basic terms in which we think. The immediate aim of the course is double: to deepen our understanding of the traditions that we inherited, but also to rethink or refine that heritage. The ultimate aim of the course is to prepare ourselves to confront basic questions (ethical, political, social, economic, religious, scientific, technological) that face us today. For the sake of coherence we will focus broadly on the themes of modernity and tradition.

The word ‘modern’ means ‘of the moment’ or ‘right now’ (modo); it is commonly opposed to ‘ancient’ or ‘traditional’. European thinkers began to use the word in the 15th and 16th centuries, as it became apparent that their world was different from the ancient world. This sense of difference led to a crisis in the authority of tradition; inherited ways of thinking and acting no longer seemed appropriate or adequate for the new realities. For 500 years modern thinkers have dealt with this crisis in various ways: some have tried to break with tradition and invent new forms of thought and action; some have tried to clear away the distortions of tradition and to recover the original forms of thought and practice implicit in the tradition’s founding texts; some have sought to transform traditional forms of thought and practice in light of the new realities of the modern world. We will have to attend to the ways in which each text we read tries to break with, recover, or transform the tradition.

The CCI course is meant not only to impart knowledge but also to develop the abilities one needs to be a responsible citizen, a successful professional and a thoughtful person: the ability to read and listen, to speak and write, to think clearly and critically, and to engage in dialogue and debate. Hence the emphasis on careful reading, thoughtful writing, and active participation in class discussions.


The following books are required for this course. If you are enrolled in this course, you must purchase these books at the university bookstore. Other editions or translations will not be accepted.
NOTE: not all HUM 112 sections will use the same texts, check with your instructor as to which titles you will need to acquire.

Machiavelli The Prince (Norton);
Shakespeare, Tempest (Oxford) or Julius Caesar (Oxford) or Hamlet (Oxford) Macbeth (Oxford); Rousseau, The Discourses and Other Political Writings (Cambridge)
Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy (Hackett);
Woolf, To the Lighthouse (Oxford U.P.) or A Room of One’s Own (Mariner Press);
Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life (Penguin)
Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals. (Vintage);
More, Utopia (Penguin);
Kafka, Metamorphosis (Penguin);
Marx, The Portable Marx (Penguin) or The Communist Manifesto (Penguin) or The Marx-Engels Reader (Norton);
Shelley, Frankenstein (Penguin);
The Basic Writings of Existentialism, G. Marino (ed.), Modern Library

Additional Readings

In addition to the primary texts listed above, you may also from time to time be assigned additional short texts, articles, or excerpts. These texts may have been assembled for you in your instructor’s personal HUM 112 Course Materials available in the e-reserve room of the library, which you may be required to print and bring to class.