2014 First Year Preceptorial Courses


Reason and Passion in the Ancient World (FALL - Prof. Gazzarri)

This course is concerned with the archetypal categories of reason and passion. A number of texts crucial to the classical tradition will be analyzed, and for each one we will try to assess how they contributed to the constitution of arguments that are still relevant to the modern discussion of the topic.

What follows is a partial list of the many issues that will be targeted:

  • Reason and emotions are opposite or conciliable categories?
  • The creation of orderly systems can be seen as a product of cold reason or is it rather a balanced regimentation of emotions?
  • Are passions detrimental or beneficial for the individual? And for the collectivity?
  • Is beauty something that can be created and fully experienced by reason, or does it pertain and involve solely our emotions?
  • What do atomic theories have to do with fear and emotions?
  • What is madness?

Self and Society on Trial (FALL - Prof. Mueller)

We shall read about those who conspire, about those who resist, about those who are put on trial, about winners and losers, in a variety of genres, including such works as Plato’sRepublic and Apology of Socrates, the New Testament, the Communist Manifesto, Kafka’s The Trial, and Edward Luttwak's Coup d'État: a Practical Handbook. Who attempts to maintain control over society? Who fights back? Who conspires against whom and for what reasons? On what basis do we judge individuals and their sometimes fraught relationship to society more generally? Socrates, for example, is revered as a founder of Western philosophy. His fellow citizens famously condemned him to death for corrupting the young. Perhaps his fellow citizens had a point? And Athens was a democracy. Socrates’ student Plato, on the other hand, was not a fan, and designed an ideal state where rulers lie to the people for their own good. Is Plato’s alternative better? Are there modern parallels? We shall read as much evidence as time permits, formulate well-reasoned opinions, and, after class discussion, you will make your arguments in essays that muster the rhetorical resources of the English language. You will prosecute, defend, and render your verdicts. 


Affect, Attachment, and Place (FALL - Prof. Murphy)

In this course we will consider three interrelated concepts of attachment: human-to-human, human-to-animal, and human-to-place attachments. Alongside several classic literary works, we will read about and discuss a variety of attachment theories and apply those theories to the ways in which attachment bonds inevitably shape human identity, create meaning, and facilitate actions. We will consider disruptions in attachment bonds and how those disruptions affect our trust, security, sense of self and well-being, and our future interactions with others.  We will also discuss the way in which attachments to ideas influence our perceptions of otherness and what happens when those ideas are challenged.  Our course readings may include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Sport of the Gods, Jack London’s Call of the Wild,Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Innocent Erendira, Cormac McCarthy's The Road,John Bowlby’s A Secure Base, Lynne C. Manzo and Patrick Devine-Wight’sPlace Attachment, and various essays, short stories, and poems.


Media Accuracy, Credibility, Fairness and Reliability (FALL - Prof. Mafi)

According to a published report by The American Society of Newspaper Editors, “Seventy-eight percent of U.S. adults believe there’s bias in the news media.” In order to carry out our social responsibilities, we ought to be able to think critically and evaluate the information we get through the media: radio, TV, Internet, movies, books, newspapers, and magazines.

In this course, students will:

• Gain an increased awareness of inaccuracies in the media and be provided with tools to search for different opinions and perspectives

• Be inspired to critically reflect on increasingly complex social, political, and cultural issues

• Learn how to read between the lines and form their own independent opinions despite the proliferation of media outlets and PR tricks

• Be better prepared to identify WMD (Weapons of Mass Distraction)

• Have ample opportunity to use and enhance their critical thinking abilities

As citizens and future leaders, our students will be better equipped to protect great values such as democracy, civil liberties, peace and justice if they are well informed.


Age of Darwin (FALL - Prof. Scheiter)

Science has played a major role in challenging the notion that human beings hold a privileged place in a world designed for their sake. The Copernican Revolution, for example, shattered our belief that we are at the center of the universe. Similarly, Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) undermined the notion that nature reflected some divine purpose or design. In this course we will discuss how the Darwinian Revolution changed the way human beings see themselves and their relationship to nature. As we will see Darwin's theory of evolution was part of a broader shift in thinking that included literature and the arts as well as the sciences. We will begin the course reading Frankenstein (1816), which is about what happens to a man whose ambition leads him to try to set himself apart from and even above nature. Next we will read excerpts from Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1776), a treatise written by the philosopher, David Hume. In the Dialogues Hume shows that there are serious problems with the idea that living things could be attributed to an intelligent designer. But when design in nature is replaced by Darwin’s theory of natural selection, purpose and meaning seem to evaporate as well. Such concerns are exhibited in the novel Thérèse Raquin (1867), which is about two lovers who the author describes as human animals, without souls, completely enslaved by their animal instincts, raising questions about the place of values in the natural world.

The humanities and the sciences overlap not only with regard to content but also with regard to methods of inquiry and persuasion. Taking Darwin and Hume's texts as our examples, we will see that scientists and philosophers construct their arguments in much the same way. In this class we will see that the patterns of argument and methods of analysis used in philosophy are essential to scientific inquiry. The ability to analyze arguments is an important skill to be used, not only in the classroom, but also as citizens and human beings.


Cruelty and Compassion (FALL - Prof. Panaioti)

This course focuses on discussions of cruelty and compassion in eighteenth and nineteenth century British and German philosophy. Two of the most fundamental questions we will be asking throughout are: (1) How important is the feeling of compassion/sympathy for proper moral functioning? (2) How does the inescapable fact that humans are highly prone to cruelty be reconciled with our so-called “moral nature”? We will be reading texts by such seminal thinkers as Francis Hutcheson (1694–1747), David Hume (1711–1776), Adam Smith (1723–1790), John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), Immanuel Kant (1724–1806), Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900).


Hegemonies, At Home & Abroad: From Gramsci to Chomsky (FALL - Prof. Hislope)

This class is about how and why citizens consent to conformity, control, and sometimes, coercion.  In other words, how and why does hegemony happen?  Hegemony describes a situation in which free people, with rational means at their disposal, embrace social conformity, support policies contrary to their interests, and consent to their own repression.  The autonomy (free will) they exercise as citizens thus gives way to heteronomy (subjection to the will of others).  We will examine multiple, interdisciplinary examples of this problem that cover the fields of domestic and comparative politics, popular culture and the media, music, personal style (clothing and hair), and international relations.

Our foundational starting point will be the work of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), who developed the concept of hegemony while suffering from harsh prison conditions during Mussolini’s fascist rule.  On the basis of Gramsci’s innovation, subsequent philosophers, academic scholars, political activists, and art and cultural critics, holding a variety of different perspectives, have applied, criticized, reformed, and extended the concept.  We will trace this intellectual development, examining the permutations of the concept, and critically assess its explanatory ability to unlock this truly puzzling human paradox of conformity and coercion under conditions of freedom.

A sample of specific scholars and themes we will read include:  analyses of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks; patterns of working class conservatism in America; Noam Chomsky’s work on the role of the media in “manufacturing consent”; comparative studies on how hegemony works in developing countries; Ian Lustick on the epistemological difficulties of using hegemony as an explanatory concept; Dick Hebdige’s study on the counter-hegemonic clothing and hairstyles of the reggae and punk musical subcultures in late ‘70s Britain; and scholarly work on “hegemonic stability theory” in the field of international relations.


Artistic Revolutionaries (FALL - Prof. Finlay)

Who has changed the way we think about our world in terms of “performance”? The belief that Art reflects reality is as old as Aristotle, yet equally persistent is the hope that art might affect reality as well. The special place between the imagination and the external world has always been the home of artists willing to risk everything to attack, to influence and transcend prevalent thought. Through the use of film, attendance at professional productions and assigned readings this class will examine a variety of artists from widely divergent genres, cultures and time periods. From Apollinaire to Artaud, Butoh to Ballanchine and Bukowski to Gomez-Pena all had one thing in common. They gave of themselves totally to their inspiration and made Art/Performances that changed the way we see and think. Hopefully this class will do the same for it’s participants.


Your Economy and Its Greatest Challenges (FALL and WINTER - Prof. Franklin)

The current economic landscape inspires both hope and despair. Global standards of living continue rise while regional crises decimate once productive economies and concerns about environmental degradation mount. Are we entering a golden age of exchange, or will we soon find ourselves staggering from one economic catastrophe to another? Students in this course will learn to develop their own prognosis following discussion of the most pressing economic issues of the 21st century. Topics of discussion will include (among others) income inequality, technological innovation, energy, and economic theory. Emphasis will be placed on developing the ability to understand and explain multiple perspectives on any given issue.

The Rules of Madness (FALL and WINTER - Prof. Singy)

You often feel sad – do you suffer from depression? You are obsessed with not eating too much – are you anorexic? You cannot concentrate – do you suffer from ADHD? In the last two centuries, moral flaws, existential difficulties, and idiosyncratic traits have regularly been reinterpreted as psychiatric diseases. But are these diseases real, and in what sense of “real”? Have they been discovered or invented? And how do we draw the line between the normal and the pathological? History shows that this line has been constantly redrawn under the influence of broad cultural changes, business decisions, or personal interests. After a brief general introduction on the history of psychiatry, from Philippe Pinel in the early nineteenth century to the recent DSM-5, this course will focus on a select number of psychiatric diseases and debate the proposition that they are historically constructed.

Laughter and Literature at Wit's End (FALL - Prof. Calandra)

In this course we will examine the extremes of the human condition through a comic lens.  Placing psychoanalytic, anthropological, and philosophic observations next to works of literature, we will ask what special insights might emerge from reading texts that portray comic visions of colliding horizons, clashing perspectives, social disorder, and, of course, people at their wit's end.  Literary authors read may include Kurt Vonnegut, Eugène IonescoZadie Smith, Zora Neale Hurston, and Italo Calvino.


Science, Morality, and the Human Condition (FALL - Prof. Clark)

In this course we will look first at the genesis of moral philosophy and natural science (natural philosophy) as they emerged in ancient Greece.  The first Western philosophers were concerned with the origins of things and they speculated about how the world in all its variety came into being.  In the 500s BCE, a thinker named Thales is generally given the nod as the first Western philosopher.  He speculated that the origin of all things was "water."  But how did it go from here?  How did we get from such humble beginnings to the dramatic advent of atomic theory? 

While such naturalistic speculations were evolving, another Greek named Socrates emerged on the scene.  Socrates spurned considerations of the natural world and focused on the inner moral world.  The world of good and bad, right and wrong, just and unjust.  As Cicero would put it centuries later, "It was Socrates who brought philosophy down from the sky."  These were brilliant beginnings.  Science and moral theory were thriving and firmly in place.  

Yet beneath the surface lurked the seeds of deep human conflict.  The scientific world picture that came about threatened to make morals, values, and what matters in our lives part and parcel of the unfolding scheme of scientific cause and effect.   Bertrand Russel once put it this way:  "Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief... That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms."
It certainly seems that we have a distinct freedom and dignity to make moral choices; But do we really?  If we take the scientific world picture described by Russell as valid, would that imply that our values, our sense of human dignity and freedom of the will, are finally false and illusory assumptions?   Are such matters merely a special case of the deterministic cause and effect scheme that natural science has presented to us?

These topics will be discussed and argued both pro and con in this course.  Some basic logic too will part of our efforts to analyze and articulate the impact that science has had on our view of nature, human nature, and the human condition.


Riddles of Existence (WINTER - Prof. Barnett)

A traditional view holds that human life begins at conception, that an adult at the end of his or her life can be the same person that was once a child and who was before that that an embryo, and that this same person will go on to survive the death of his or her body.  Does this traditional conception of human existence hold up to critical scrutiny?  In this introductory philosophy course, we will address such fundamental questions of human existence as:  When does life begin?  When during the development of an embryo into an adult human being does one acquire moral rights?  What is a mind, and what is the mind’s relationship to the brain?  Do animals have minds?  Could robots or computers have minds someday?  Do you have an immaterial soul that is capable of surviving the death of your body and brain?  When does life end?  Do human beings in a persistent vegetative state have the same right to life that most adult humans have?  Is euthanasia ever morally permissible?  No prior background in philosophy will be presupposed, although a willingness to ask difficult questions and develop careful and methodical reasoning in support of one’s answers will be essential.


An Eye for An Eye: Retribution, Retaliation and Justice (WINTER - Prof. Bedford)

In ancient and medieval societies it was commonly thought that justice was best served by punishing the perpetrator exactly according to the crime committed (literally, ‘an eye for an eye’; lex talonis in Roman law), although monetary compensation to the victim might be allowed. In modern society different principles of justice prevail, although we occasionally hear calls for a return to a regime of punishment more in line with these earlier notions of retaliation. This class examines the history of the 'eye for an eye’ theory of justice and compares it to other views, inviting critical reflection on how we conceptualize the notion of ‘justice’.


What We Know … or Think We Know: The Marketplace of Ideas (WINTER - Prof. Brennan)

The vast networks (traditional and electronic) which provide news, intelligence, perspective, and gossip enlighten our lives, and we believe that what we know (or think we know) provides a critical foundation for how we live. Information drives society today unlike ever before and the free exchange of information, uncensored expression of beliefs, and open competition between perspectives (i.e., the “marketplace of ideas”) is essential for an energetic democracy like the United States. Today, however, the “marketplace of ideas” is endangered by the variety of perspective, the speed of information exchange, the drive to limit access to certain information, and the rhetorical transformation of the marketplace to talking points, headlines, and slogans. Teaching ourselves to read beyond the “lede” has perhaps become more important than ever. While inclined to view this as a modern phenomenon, information's use (and misuse) has a long and rich lineage. This course will use a variety of texts to study several critical past events and to examine what people knew, how they knew it, and evaluate the reliability of the information on which they depended. We will then use that knowledge to seek a better understanding of information’s application in our own lives.


The Great War and the Birth of Modern Consciousness (WINTER - Prof. Cidam)

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe marked by death and destruction. It was, at the same time, as the cultural historian Modris Eksteins suggests, a monumental event that gave rise to “our modern consciousness” with its restless quest for liberation, rebellious energy, celebration of life, and perhaps paradoxically, glorification of death for a sacred cause. In this class, we will explore the origins and ongoing influence of this consciousness by focusing on the rapid developments and contentious debates that were taking place in arts and politics at the turn of the twentieth century in Europe. On the centennial of the outbreak of the Great War, we will ask: How did the developments in the field of artistic creation during the early 1900s reflect, challenge, and shape the sexual mores, cultural understandings, manners, and norms in Europe? What were the artistic, philosophical, and scientific responses to the devastating experience of the Great War? And finally, to what extent, does the way we think about our place in the world continue to be shaped by this event? To address these questions, we will critically analyze a wide-range of artistic and philosophical works which may include, among others, novels and/or short-stories by Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, and Marcel Proust, selections from the writings of Henri Bergson, Walter Benjamin, and Sigmund Freud, musical works by Igor Stravinski, and paintings by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.


Dream Cafe: Viewing Culture through Dreams (WINTER - Prof. Culbert)

How do we define ourselves through dreams?  How do artistic and literary representations of dreams speak to our communal understanding?  Are the archetypes of our dreams universal?  How do artists shape dreams to reflect culture?  We’ll look at dreams through the eyes of writers, artists, playwrights, film makers.  We’ll view different cultures through the medium of dreams.  We’ll research the science of dream theory and look at how the psychology of dreams has shaped how we view dreams.  Course readings and writings will encourage critical evaluation of these questions on a personal, individual basis and on a communal, reflective level.  


Sex, and Marriage in Contemporary America (WINTER - Prof. Ellis)

Within the last five years, New York has permitted for the first time both no-fault divorce and same-sex marriage. Regardless of an individual’s feelings about such policy shifts, it remains undeniable that expectations for and even definitions of love, sex, and marriage are undergoing tremendous change in New York and the contemporary United States as a whole. In this preceptorial, we will consider in greatest depth such more narrowly focused aspects of this wider trend as the rise of the so-called college hookup culture, the debate over legalizing polygamy, and the controversy over gender-neutral parenting.  Together, we will read, watch, and analyze various depictions of American love, sex, and marriage in the twentieth-first century. In the process, we will ponder how the practices and institutions associated with our most private lives have broader, public implications and the extent to which they are natural, innate, and timeless; culturally constructed, externally imposed, and subject to change; or somewhere in between.


Poop and Poison: What We Eat and What We Are (WINTER - Prof. Jenkins)

We may be the first culture ever to destroy itself by what and how we eat.  Tomatoes that feel and taste like softballs.  Meat marbled with hormones and chemicals.  Frozen foods manufactured in factories in the Third World, flavored by chemists in New Jersey, and bulging waistlines and stopping hearts in the suburbs. We’ll read about how Jefferson’s dream of an agrarian republic has turned into a consumer emporium of both abundance and toxicity.  We’ll try to be balanced and look at arguments and taste food from both sides, but a fresh, organic meal or two may drive economic logic to the side.  Students will also have the opportunity to help out with Union’s “Octopus’s Garden” and get their hands really dirty and calloused. We may take some side trips into rural culture (pickup trucks, country and bluegrass music, and the like) as well.  All that and learning how to read critically and write well, too.


On Travel (WINTER - Prof. Raucci)

This course will explore the concept of travel in literature, film, and culture. We will consider why people travel and the possible effects of encountering difference. We will also discuss what it means to be a reader/watcher of someone else’s travel narrative and what it is like to “travel” the world from the comfort of your sofa. The course will begin with an overview of the concept of travel before setting off on adventures with various people over a range of time periods and locations. We will start our wide-ranging journey with Homer’s Odyssey, find ourselves in the 1950s with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and study abroad with the cast of L’Auberge Espagnole (2002), among others.


Boldly Exploring Close and Far Frontiers (WINTER - Prof. Selley)

Star Trek has probably been the most successful media phenomenon of the past (almost) sixty years, spawning five live-action and one animated television series, twelve feature films (with a thirteenth to be released in 2016), and countless video games, books, and collectibles. Perhaps its success is due, in part, to the fact that all Star Trek series have incorporated commentary on political, social, and moral issues of their times. This course will pair selected episodes from the five Star Trek live-action television series with works of literature that explore similar themes. The more general theme of responsibility (to oneself, to others, and/or to the divine) will also be explored in relation to some of the works.

Although some of the Star Trek episodes proposed here for the syllabus are likely to change, the printed works probably will not: “Cogenitor” (Star Trek: Enterprise) will be paired with Matheson, “Button, Button” and LeGuin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”; “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (Star Trek: The Original Series) will possibly be paired with Morrison, The Bluest Eye; “Who Mourns for Adonais?” (TOS) will possibly be paired with Sophocles, Oedipus the King (translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics); “This Side of Paradise” (TOS) or another Paradise-themed episode will be paired with the Eden narrative of The Book of Genesis (from the Bible); a yet-to-be decided episode will be paired with Chabris and Simons, The Invisible Gorilla; “A Private Little War” (TOS) or another war-themed episode will be paired with Vea, Gods Go Begging.  Other episodes and literary works will be added, probably pertaining to feminism and to the question of whether artificial life forms are, in fact, persons. Students might also be asked to read some literary criticism about the different Star Trek  series. If Union invites a noteworthy speaker to campus while the course is being taught, a work by that speaker might also be added to the syllabus.

This course will train students for college-level reading, analysis, writing, and class discussion. Students will write approximately four essays, give at least one oral report, and take quizzes and a final exam. The Star Trek episodes will be viewed outside of class, so all students must have a Netflix account (or access to Netflix) for the three months of the course.  (Episodes of TOS are on You Tube, but the other series’ episodes are not.)  It is not absolutely necessary to have any previous acquaintance with Star Trek, but a knowledge of TOS in particular will be helpful. 


Remembering War: Myth, Monument and Media (WINTER - Prof. Watkins)

At one point in Homer’s legendary tale of fantasy and adventure, the Odyssey, Odysseus is overwhelmed with emotion as he listens to the story of the sack of Troy. As he recalls the conflict, Odysseus’s “heart melts and tears wet his cheeks,” and the poet likens the hero to a widow whose husband has been killed in battle. As Odysseus’s example shows, how we choose to remember war can, and has had, a powerful effect on human society from the ancient world to modern times. In this section of the Preceptorial, we will examine how humans have struggled to understand,remember, and learn from war. Beginning with the realm of myth itself, we will study the legend of the Trojan War and then expand the scope of our inquiry to a variety of historical conflicts, including the American civil warand Vietnam. Our evidence will range from literary narratives and physical monuments to photographs and films. Throughout the term, we discuss howwar has been memorialized, by whom, and to whose benefit; the politics involved in crafting our collective memory of war; and whether, as the journalist and war correspondent Chris Hedges has argued, war is a “force that gives us meaning.”



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