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Course Descriptions

Spring Semester 2015

The Examined Life
Professor Rich Cameron
HONR 102A: First Year Seminar
Socrates famously claimed that the unexamined life is not worth living.  But that claim is extremely puzzling -- we all know people who lead unexamined lives that, nevertheless, seem eminently worth living.  Was Socrates just wrong, or was he getting at something deeper?   And if so, what?  We'll look at both Platonic texts about Socrates and examples of more contemporary cases of examining our lives as we work through this puzzle in this course.

Combat Ethics: Greece, Rome and Japan
Professor Pedar Foss
HONR 102B:  First Year Seminar
This course examines the ethics of combat using historical examples ranging from Greece and Rome in the ancient Mediterranean, to the world of feudal Japan. The purpose is to investigate what codes of conduct have operated in these societies with regard to: the prior justification for, immediate operation of, and after-the-fact assessment of, hostile action by individuals, groups, or states. After a segment that is concerned with Eastern and Western philosophical approaches to the question of conflict and war, we shall investigate historically and culturally specific case studies of combat through literature, art, and cinema. From Homer’s accounts of fighting in the Iliad, to the civil conflict of the Peloponnesian War and Euripides' contemplation of war's cost in the Trojan Women; to Roman law about declaring war, gladiatorial combat in the arena, or artistic presentations of imperial conquest; to Japanese samurai like Miyamoto Musashi involved in nationwide battles and individual duels ca. AD 1600, we ask: When have we fought, and for what reasons? Carrying what rules for behavior? With what effects upon non-combatants? How are such events and behaviors described in literature, history, and art?  We also look at the physiological and psychological conditions and effects of combat: how do our brains and bodies operate under severe short-term stress and with what long-term repercussions? Besides papers that call for close readings of texts and ancient art, there is also a semester-long experiential or creative project: a choice of: creative writing about a combat situation (à la Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried), or extra-class training in chanbara (foam sword) combat at a local dojo. Finally, in both our literary investigations and experiential study, we consider how combat against an ‘other’ cannot be considered outside of an internal struggle over mastery of one’s self.

Mind, Intelligence, and Machines
Professor Douglas Harms
HONR 102C:  First Year Seminar
In this seminar we will explore topics having to do with consciousness and intelligence in humans and machines, focusing in particular on the question of whether a computer could ever match the power and flexibility of the human brain. We will examine these issues from various perspectives including philosophy, biology, psychology, and computer science. Students will engage in discussion of course readings and complete a variety of written assignments, journals, and individual and group presentations. The goal of the seminar is for everyone in the seminar (students and teacher alike) to wrestle with the philosophical issues surrounding the topic of computers and consciousness, understand the technical dimensions of the topic, and come to appreciate humankind's role in the grand scheme of things. 

Why?: The Quest for Meaning
Professor James Wells
HONR 102D:  First Year Seminar
Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question,” wrote Albert Camus, the Nobel Prize winning Algerian author. In this course Ancient Greek and Roman writers such as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Lucretius launch the exploration of that fundamental question. That exploration, the quest for meaning, hinges upon the inescapable questions that these artists and philosophers pose again and again: What is a good life? What is happiness? What is the relationship between life’s worth and the meaning of life? Our work in this seminar course will include attention to the monumental texts we read, discussion of those texts and of our responses to their provocations, and reflection.     

Gender and Morality
Professor Christopher Wells
HONR 300Aa: Humanities Seminar
From the Victorian ideology of the "Angel in the House" to Carol Gilligan's study of the differences between men's and women's moral voices In a Different Voice, the modern Western world has a lengthy history of assigning different moral modes to men and women.  This interdisciplinary course will evaluate the basis for arguments that morality comes in gendered flavors.  Students will also explore the cultural history of gendered notions about morality through readings in moral philosophy, literature, and moral psychology.  The key question for the course will be not just whether it makes sense to think about morality in gendered terms, but also what it means for our current ideas about morality that this division appears to continue to be deeply rooted in Western culture.  That is, we will investigate the ways in which a gendered understanding of moral issues continues to shape, and perhaps limit, our moral thinking.   Other issues for discussion will include the relationship between greatness and goodness, and the advantages and disadvantages of communitarian ethics.

From Anime to Hip-Hop:  African Americans and the Japanese
Professor Vanessa Dickerson
HONR 300Ab: Humanities Seminar
African Americans and the Japanese seem to be worlds apart.  Schematically speaking, the former are a mixed race with a legacy of slavery, a people haunted by damaging stereotypes of loudness and laziness; the latter is a relatively homogenous race with an imperial history, a people awash in stereotypes of quietness and industriousness. Yet these two peoples are neither completely divorced nor completely oblivious of one another.  This course will tease out the connections between African Americans and the Japanese by exploring the crosscurrents that flow between these two disparate peoples in their history, literature, music, and pop culture.

Ethics, Cures, and Cancer Care
Professor Pascal Lafontant
HONR 300B: Science Seminar
<< Course description to be posted soon >>

A Catastrophe and its Aftermath: Holocaust, History, and Memory
Professor Julia Bruggemann 
HONR 300Ca: Social Science Seminar
This course will explore the complex historical, moral, and political history of the Holocaust as well as the legacies of the war, dictatorship, and Holocaust for Germany after 1945. We will address questions of guilt and responsibility, victimhood and agency and the ways these terms have been understood over time. Some important questions we will explore are: How can we understand the physical, moral, political, and ethical destruction of the war and Holocaust and how did it influence Germany's reconstruction in the postwar context? How did contemporaries, historians, politicians, artists etc. participate in these processes? How have these discussions changed in recent years as most eyewitnesses are dying and new generations develop their own interpretations? Some of the debates that surround these questions are: Who has the right to remember and be remembered? Who can claim to be a victim, in other words: were Germans victims - or perpetrators – or both? Can a new German state be "normal" and overcome its historical baggage? What's the difference between guilt and responsibility and how does it affect future generations? How have discussions changed over the past decades? 

Democracy & Imperialism 
Professor Michael Seaman
HONR 300Cb:  Social Science Seminar
Can history be useful?  What is the purpose of justice? This course explores enduring and recurring issues like these that are linked to democracy and imperialism over time.  We will begin at the beginning, looking at  Athenian democracy, Athenian imperialism, and international affairs, particularly between the two great powers of Athens and Sparta.  The course is interdisciplinary, looking at history, political science (including foreign policy and international affairs), philosophy, literature, and, to some extent, art history.  We will read selections from some of the great classics of Western Civilization, and explore how the questions debated by the Greeks still echo in contemporary society:  Can history be useful? What did the Athenians consider the advantages and disadvantages of democracy and how does this compare to American democracy? How did the growth of their empire affect the Athenians, and are there lessons in this for us today?  How did the Greeks behave in a world with two “super-powers?” What is the purpose of justice?  How effective is the death penalty?  Are there "rules" in warfare? Why was Socrates convicted? Why did the American Founding Fathers distrust Athenian democracy so much?