First-Year Preceptorial

Courses

2019-2020 First Year Preceptorial Courses

Fall 2019

  • FPR-100-01 Born to be Good

    For thousands of years, philosophers have sought to understand the nature and origin of moral norms. The standard view has been that morality is acquired through learning and education. Recently, however, studies in developmental psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience have brought groundbreaking new data into the discussion, suggesting that we may have innate moral knowledge that allows us to discern what is good from what is bad. In this course, we will analyze how empirical studies, scientific theories, and philosophical arguments have attempted to reveal the origins of morality. The goal of this course will also be to teach students how to write academic argumentative essays. For the first essay, we will read Jesse Prinz’s “Against Moral Nativism,” and students will write an essay analyzing Prinz’s article. Next, we’ll read an interview with developmental psychologist Karen Wynn, “Born Good? Babies Help Unlock the Origins of Morality,” in which Wynn argues that babies are born with an innate moral sense. Students will analyze and evaluate Wynn’s argument. For Essay 3, our largest assignment, we will read Jonathan Haidt’s groundbreaking paper on the role emotions play in moral judgment. Students will develop their own arguments about innate morality based on Haidt’s article and all the other sources we’ve looked at in the course.

  • FPR-100-02 The Other: A Stranger Among Us?

    In this course we will discuss the concept of the "other" by examining several narratives centered upon the protagonist's search for identity. Invariably authors introduce these quests through the rhetorical device of the stranger. We will consider the image of the stranger in order to confront the estrangement inherent in family origins, gender and literary acceptance, and the author's unresolved feelings about him(her)self. Frequently the associations of a sense of place are bound together with memory, stasis and nostalgia. What gives a place a unique flavor is the fact that it is constructed out of a specific arrangement of social and physical relations that intersect at a particular point. The works selected center on the theme of alienation seen through the eyes of the stranger. We will discuss the function of this trope on three levels - the spatial, temporal and psychological. Of particular interest will be the disturbing 'falling away' from the family or group, and the movement from unity and acceptance to individuality and denial. Through a close reading of works including, but not limited to: Balzac's The Unknown Masterpiece, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Woolf's A Room of One's Own, Camus' The Stranger, Morrison's Song of Solomon and Petrushevskaia's The Time Night, we will seek to understand the way one is able to construct and manipulate his/her own sense of place.

  • FPR-100-03 Laughter and Literature at Wit's End

    German philosopher Helmuth Plessner argues that man's inherently comic nature is the result of doubled nature; he is entwined in the world, subject to social order, and yet "eccentric" to it, forever seeking his freedom and clashing with social norms. In this course we will read selections of (mostly) twentieth-century literature and theatre in the light of psychoanalytical, physiological, and philosophical observations about humor. We will ask what special insights might emerge from reading portrayals of comic visions and laughter provoked by colliding horizons, identity crises, social disorder, and, of course, people at their wit's end. Authors read may include (but are not limited to) Zora Neale Hurston, Kurt Vonnegut, Eugène Ionesco, Dario Fo, Zadie Smith, and Trevor Noah.

  • FPR-100-04 Old Weird America

    This course focuses on the sharecroppers and the moonshiners, the holler-dwellers and coal miners, the Wobblies and hoboes, the down-and-out and on-the-road or rails, the bluesmen and fire-drinkers, the holy-rollers and snake-handlers, all those marginal figures whose lives and whose stories created what cultural critic Greil Marcus has called the “invisible republic” of America. Students would not just read of these people in novels and political and sociological tracts, but also experience their lives in their music and art, in their traces that persist in upstate New York and the northeast—in the music of local legend George Ward, for instance; in the exhibits of the Adirondack Experience museum; even in “Green House Jams” on Union’s campus. The idea is to take students, at least in their imaginations, as far outside the gates of Union College as possible, and to bring the invisible to light.

  • FPR-100-05 Convince Me: Nature, Ethics, and Nature of Persuasion

    Do literature and art change our minds about social issues; or, do they just express what we already think? We’ll put these questions into play while we think about the place of literature and art in community and environmental activism, and while we think about the ethical connections between race, class, and gender when it comes to thinking about our interactions with nature. We’ll explore our own local spaces and consider global perspectives, as well, as we explore art and literature about nature.

  • FPR-100-06 Growing up “Different”: Coming-of-Age Stories

    The coming-of-age story is a genre that invites readers and viewers to reflect upon themselves and their relationship to the world. Author Nancy Pearl asserts that “coming of age novels describe a search for understanding, not only of oneself but the often mysterious, contradictory and sometimes frightening adult world. They help readers reflect on their own experiences and offer a (sometimes minimal) consolation that one’s feelings are not unique” (Pearl, 2007). In this course, while acknowledging the universality of certain aspects of growing up, we will explore the coming of age experience in a non-western setting – both regarding geographical space and migrant cultures. We will consider different cultural meanings associated with the coming of age experience and how these experiences vary with respect to gender, race, class, religion, sexuality and geographic location. We will try to understand how and in what contexts are “coming of age” stories told and how does popular culture represent and shape coming-of-age experiences. We will explore these issues through memoirs, works of fiction, art, films, and our own personal narratives.

  • FPR-100-07 Stories of the Body

    Medicine is often considered the territory of science, but illness, dying, and healing are central to human experience, and from them come some of our most important stories. What similarities and differences arise in the ways we understand and discuss our bodies and our health? What themes and patterns emerge in narratives of illness, aging, death, and recovery? What is the power of such stories, and what are the limits? (How) do these stories differ when told by doctors, patients, or family members? Who has the authority to tell these stories? Who chooses or is forced to remain silent? And what does such literature teach us about human experience? In this class, we will explore poetry, fiction, and essays that attempt to map such experiences, and texts that engage critically with the intersection of humanities and medicine.

  • FPR-100-08 The Beyond-Wizarding World of Harry Potter

    The Harry Potter phenomenon is a fascinating one. Over the span of seven consecutive novels, eight franchise films, two spin-off prequels, one controversial stage production, and a theme park, JK Rowling has constructed a world with which readers have undoubtedly become obsessed. This class focuses on the literary, cultural, historical, and social intricacies of the books, their film adaptations, and all that surrounds their creation and consumption. We will explore questions of seriality and world-building. We will also discuss more global issues: representations of good and evil; questions of gender, class, race, and sexuality; allegories and allusions; the hero's quest, and much, much more. Our cross-disciplinary readings will focus on relevant political, philosophical, aesthetic, and literary approaches and interpretations. Be prepared to read, watch, and analyze critically and carefully.

  • FPR-100-10 Unnatural Acts

    In this section of the preceptorial, we will explore the complex and elusive zone between nature and artifice. Our routes of access will be texts on a diverse set of themes: art, time, photography, history, and the human body. We will consider what it means to demarcate the boundary between "nature" and "art," and look at the ramifications of both respecting and defying it.

  • FPR-100-11 On Travel

    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.

  • FPR-100-12 Reflections on the Dystopian Future

    Imagine a society in which a powerful and repressive government punishes people for subtle non-conformity, where technological advancements enable authorities to monitor everything you do and control what you read, watch, or hear. Imagine a world so socially atomized that the formation of intimate and loving relations is tantamount to rebellion. In this course, we will survey a body of literature and film that imagines worlds like these. Though notably different from each other, these fictional worlds share remarkable similarities that suggest a common vision of what a dystopian reality might consist of: totalitarian government, violent repression, human alienation, technological surveillance, environmental degradation, and widespread and systematic control of thoughts, actions, and words. In exploring questions about what makes a world dystopian and why, however, we will also highlight the more hopeful themes that seem to inevitably emerge: the durability of love and the human spirit, an almost natural inclination to resist control through small acts of defiance, and the power and possibility of solidarity and social resistance under even the most repressive conditions. Though it goes too far to suggest that the dystopian future has arrived, our discussion will undoubtedly draw on troubling similarities between imagined dystopian futures and the world that appears to be emerging before us today. Thus, in addition to exploring the human imagination to decipher what a dystopian world looks like, we will use these fictional accounts to critically reflect on the present.

  • FPR-100-13 Another Old Weird America

    “The old weird America” (Greil Marcus’ phrase, borrowed from Robert Cantwell) is the place where the past bumps up against the present, the rural against the urban, the old time against the modern, the historical against the nostalgic. We’ll be checking out this interface of imagination, good and bad memory, and longing in a two novels (James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain; Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone)), an essay (Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son”), a memoir (Denis Covington, Salvation on Sand Mountain), film (Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River and Nicolai Fox’s Music for the Sky), and cultural criticism (Greil Marcus’ The Old Weird America). And we’ll listen to music from the 78s collected in Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, from Bob Dylan’s The Basement Tapes, and by local musicians invited to visit the class.

  • FPR-100-14 Truth

    "What is truth? Why is it valuable? How do we get it? Are there different kinds of truth? Why do we sometimes avoid the truth, e.g., in lying and self-deception? What should the role of truth in politics and society be? In this course, we shall address such questions by engaging with historical texts, recent research, and current issues. We shall also approach these questions from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including philosophy, history, psychology, cultural criticism, and political science."

  • FPR-100-15 Living with Algorithms

    Algorithms are behind exciting developments in many areas. Algorithms drive cars. They help diagnose and find cures for diseases. And we would not be able to navigate the vast amount of information on the Internet without them. However, increasingly, we are also uncomfortable with the undesirable effects algorithms may have. They are susceptible to bias and may promote inequalities. They influence our decisions and invade our privacy in ways that are not always
    transparent or under our control. In this course we will explore the ways in which algorithms shape our lives and the world we live in. We will assess the promises and limitations of this technology, and we will discuss how it can be used for good. Readings will range from work by scholars from a variety of fields (including computer science, social science, and media studies)
    to current media coverage. We will practice reading critically and asking questions about the algorithms we interact with, and we will hone our own skills in communicating complex issues clearly.

  • FPR-100-16 Culture and Nation

    “Art allows us to dream the culture forward,” says performance artist Taylor Mac. Artists and authors have used their mediums not just “to hold the mirror up to nature” and reflect the society and nation they see, but to reshape it. Similarly, Friedrich Schiller writes in “The Stage as a Moral Institution” that art, quite literally, has the power to bring people together and constitute a new nation. In this preceptorial, we will examine the way artists have engaged with and shaped their (often fractured) societies, from the ancient world through the present moment. We will focus primarily on works of theatre as we examine works by authors and artists that may include Aeschylus, Plato, William Shakespeare, Friedrich Schiller, Alexis de Tocqueville, Frederick Douglass, Samuel Beckett, Taylor Mac, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter.

FALL 2019 – HONORS FPR (NSF-STEM SCHOLARS)

  • FPR-100H-01 Technology: Bane or Boon or Both

    Does technology free us from our base needs so we can pursue our higher callings? Or does it dehumanize us, reduce us into “cogs in the machine,” and isolate us? What is technology likely to do for (or to) us next? What kind of economy and society should we have if we ever get to a point when technology and artificial intelligence can perform any job better than a human? More importantly, how can varied perspectives and habits of thought contribute to our understanding of these questions? We will discuss works of fiction written at different stages of technological development (e.g., H. G. Wells, Kurt Vonnegut, and George Saunders). We will also explore several disciplinary perspectives, recognizing that social scientists have come to grips with these questions as society has changed, and that biologists and psychologists for example have worked to identify constant features of our relationship to technology.

WINTER 2020

  • FPR-100-01 Dangerous Liaisons

    In this course, we will look closely at several of the troubling, if fascinating, creations that present what have been called “dangerous liaisons.” Some of the world’s most striking and provocative explorations of such themes come from writers, directors, and artists in France and other French-speaking cultures, whose work we will examine through their English translation. From the highly celebrated scandalous novel Les Liaisons dangereuses to the still-shocking short stories of the strip-tease-artist-turned-writer Colette, these works put into play questions of power, appearance, gender, control, and agency that call for our attention. In our discussions, we will examine notions of what is dangerous and what composes a liaison as we seek to understand what these artists tell us about desires that mark and make particular relationships. What might make the dangerous sexy and/or attractive, for example? Are all dangerous liaisons necessarily sexual or romantic ones? Our readings and viewings, including a close look at the recent award-winning Québécois film Mommy, should guide us to expanded notions of such categories and impulses.

  • FPR-100-02 Goodness, Happiness, Truthiness

    In this course, we are going to look at the relation of goodness and happiness – does being morally good make a person happy? Or could we be happier if we threw off the chains of moral constraints? We will examine how some philosophers, fiction writers, political theorists, and psychologists have seen the relation of goodness and happiness. At the end of the course, we’ll also turn to truth(-i-ness). Is there “real” “objective” truth? Or is everything a matter of social convention or personal choice?

  • FPR-100-03 Nostalgia and the Usefulness of Longing

    The word “nostalgia” comes from ancient Greek and means a painful longing for home or for the past. Why do we have such intense yearnings for distant places and times? Do these emotions harm us, or can they be useful in shaping our lives? In this course we explore nostalgia and the usefulness of longing in all their many forms: from simple homesickness to the strange desire to return to a place or time that never truly existed, or that you never experienced yourself. Together we read stirring literature about nostalgia, such as Homer’s Odyssey and works by Orhan Pamuk, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Gabriel García Márquez, as well as examine how these issues are treated in film and the visual arts.

  • FPR-100-04 AI in a Human World

    Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to significantly impact our individual lives and society as a whole. In this course we will highlight numerous applications of artificial intelligence and will discuss potential ethical, social, and financial implications in various sectors of society. We will explore how we are introduced to AI through several media outlets and examine how AI might influence our individual lives both positively, and with potential unforeseen outcomes. Included in our discussion will be an examination of how early concepts of AI were depicted in fictional readings and movies, through specific applications of the technology in our world right now.

  • FPR-100-05 College: What is it Good For?!

    "Why do colleges and universities exist and why do women and men seek them out? Do they exist to nurture our humanity, moral imagination, and ethical sensibilities? Are they businesses that sell student-customers the essential credentials for lucrative employment in an entrepreneurial economy? Are they institutions that protect and renew essential human qualities against the fads, fashions, and fanaticisms of any particular moment in time? Do they exist to provide a 'college experience' in which socializing, career networking, and extracurriculars are really more important than education? Are they the crucial rung on the ladder of social mobility? Do they exist to serve the public good or simply personal gain? We think this is a modern debate, but teachers, students, and citizens have wrestled with similar questions for centuries and they continue to decisively affect colleges and universities around the globe. We can say for certain that the founding principle of colleges and universities concerns education, to teach and learn certain 'ways of knowing'. So, they exist to educate, but precisely what kind of education, for what purpose, for whose benefit, and paid for by whom?

  • FPR-100-06 Zombies: Humanistic and Scientific Reflections on the Apocalypse

    In contemporary society there is a fascination with the hordes of rotting-flesh beings that have lost their humanity and seek to feed off the flesh and brains of humans who now need to learn fast how to switch into survival mode and to reassess laws, ethical concerns, and social values. The term “apocalypse” commonly used in relation to zombies is a great metaphor for plague, extinction, and catastrophe; it denotes terror, finality, limit, reckoning, or risk. This course is conceived as a zone of inquiry in which students will collaborate and engage with the class topics from diverse academic perspectives. We will study and reflect on the apocalypse from numerous fields of knowledge, from film and literary studies to biology, from politics and national security to philosophy and dance, from disease control and pandemics to economics and religious studies, from environmental studies to ethics in the health professions. We will explore several aspects related to zombies and their potential cultural and political signification (e.g., race, consumerism, technology in social dynamics and behavior, global pandemics), but we will also go beyond the literal understanding of a “zombie plague” to approach subjects previously not associated to this cultural lore since scholars are already discussing the zombie apocalypse to tackle myriad subjects: the function of the brain, contestation of traditional masculinity, disaster preparation, global pandemics, or the “zombification” through mass media or dependency on technology.

  • FPR-100-07 Reason and Passion in the Ancient World

    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: Are reason and emotions opposite or reconcilable categories? 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?

  • FPR-100-08 Moral and Ethical Dilemmas

    Life would be different from the way we know it if making decisions about issues we face in our daily living was as clear as black and white. A binary choice from two options, one of which is totally right and the other is completely wrong would be extremely easy. With many layers of complexities in our society today, limitless shades of gray are the themes of almost every human interaction. Problems faced by individuals may also have moral or ethical dimensions, which require deeper examination and careful dissection before passing a judgment. Moral and ethical dilemmas arise when reasonable people cannot agree on a singular solution or a sole outcome for a given problem. In such a case priorities have to be established and compromises have to be made to ameliorate the outcome of the dilemma. Students in this course will be introduced to many such scenarios through actual case studies. Class discussion and listening to various viewpoints will help students develop a sense of appreciation that would ultimately contribute to finding an acceptable resolution to the dilemma at hand.

  • FPR-100-09 Pursuing Happiness

    What brings you happiness? How do we create meaning and value in our lives? Are we all free to shape our own destiny, to pursue our own happiness, or are there limits to such freedom? What is the role of education in the pursuit of a meaningful, purpose-driven life? In this seminar, we’ll explore these questions through a combination of reading, discussion, and writing. We’ll share our writing and writing practices, and you'll learn to provide feedback for your peers. You’ll be encouraged to pursue your own interests throughout the term, in dialogue with your classmates and the theme of the course.

  • FPR-100-10 City Spaces: Schenectady and its Architecture

    In the 1920s, Schenectady was the fastest growing city in New York State and is still home to world famous architecture. This course explores Schenectady’s rich history of immigration, education, religion, politics, and business that enabled the deliberate construction of government buildings, theatres, churches, and homes. While looking at the city's historic architecture, we will also examine engineering feats and technological breakthroughs that transformed Schenectady from a town into a city. This course will also explore the identity of modern Schenectady and the catalysts and implications of gentrification. As a class, we will engage directly with the Schenectady Historical Society and will visit specific sites throughout the term.

  • FPR-100-11 Affect, Attachment, and Place in Literature and Film

    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, identity, sense of well-being, and our future interactions with others. We will also discuss the ways in which our attachments to ideas influence our perceptions of self and otherness and what happens when those ideas are challenged. Our course readings will include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Innocent Erendira, Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Sport of the Gods, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and several essays and book chapters discussing topics such as place identity, biology, cognitive ethology, affective neuroscience, and parental deprivation.

  • FPR-100-12 Constructing the Self

    Who are you, really? What makes you unique? What do you and all other humans have in common? Do you have a soul? Do you have free will? How do you learn and form judgments? What makes you peaceful or violent, conservative or liberal, competitive or collaborative, truthful or deceitful? What is the nature of friendship, love, and loyalty? How does technology affect your sense of Self? This section of the Preceptorial will address these and many other questions by bringing together the sciences and the humanities to explore the complexity of constructing your Self.

  • FPR-100-13 The Rules of Madness

    “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 have 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 very brief survey of the history of psychiatry followed by a look at some big issues related to psychiatry, this course will focus on a select number of mental disorders and debate the proposition that they are historically constructed."

  • FPR-100-14 The Power of Literature: Stories of Resilience, Resistance, and Transformation

    This First-Year Preceptorial (FPR) is structured around the idea that the power of literature rests in its transformative properties. Literature and other humanistic endeavors have the potential to change people and culture. Writers use stories to resist cultural ideas (such as our beliefs about America and the homeless that Jeanette Walls responds to in The Glass Castle) or bear witness to the atrocities committed by a government or regime (as is the case with survivors Chanrithy Him and Marjane Satrapi). Writers like Tim O’Brien use storytelling to heal a wounded self and help others do the same. Sometimes writers tell difficult stories to show the resiliency of the human spirit (e.g. Walls) or the kindness of family (e.g. Merullo), providing readers with the essential ingredients for surviving suffering. Thus, we will be reading, discussing, and examining these stories of hurt, loss, and trauma, with the idea that literature can save us or, at the very least, point us in the right direction.

  • FPR-100-15 Immigration, Migration, and Journeys of Discovery

    What is the relationship between place and personal identity? How do immigrants and migrants forge new identities as they move from one culture to another? What possibility does travel offer for self-discovery? And how does the act of telling one's own story itself create new possibilities for identity creation? We will explore questions such as these through texts of various genres that portray different kinds of journeys; course readings may include In the Heights (Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Hudes), Gruel (Bunkong Tuon), Factory Girls (Leslie Chang), Brooklyn (Colm Toibin), and Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi).

  • FPR-100-16 Laughter and Literature at Wit's End

    German philosopher Helmuth Plessner argues that man's inherently comic nature is the result of doubled nature; he is entwined in the world, subject to social order, and yet "eccentric" to it, forever seeking his freedom and clashing with social norms. In this course we will read selections of (mostly) twentieth-century literature and theatre in the light of psychoanalytical, physiological, and philosophical observations about humor. We will ask what special insights might emerge from reading portrayals of comic visions and laughter provoked by colliding horizons, identity crises, social disorder, and, of course, people at their wit's end. Authors read may include (but are not limited to) Zora Neale Hurston, Kurt Vonnegut, Eugène Ionesco, Dario Fo, Zadie Smith, and Trevor Noah.

WINTER 2020 – HONORS FPR

  • FPR-100H-01 Dreaming

    Many cultures, including our own, have wondered about the significance of dreams. Do dreams have meaning? Are dreams telling us something? Cognitive Science has emphasized the importance of dreaming, and of sleep more generally, for mental health and wellbeing. But do dreams have a function beyond that? This class examines a variety of classic views on ‘dreams’, considers dreams in historical and cross-cultural perspectives, and reflects on how the modern scientific study of dreaming relates to the study of dreams from historical, psychological, anthropological, and religious perspectives.

  • FPR-100H-02 Goodness, Happiness, Truthiness

    In this course, we are going to look at the relation of goodness and happiness – does being morally good make a person happy? Or could we be happier if we threw off the chains of moral constraints? We will examine how some philosophers, fiction writers, political theorists, and psychologists have seen the relation of goodness and happiness. At the end of the course, we’ll also turn to truth(-i-ness). Is there “real” “objective” truth? Or is everything a matter of social convention or personal choice?

  • FPR-100H-03 HUMAN/NATURE

    The categories of “human,” “nature,” and “human nature” are, it is safe to say, extremely complex and interrelated. In this seminar, we will investigate various representations (literary, scientific, theoretical, religious, artistic) of the natural world, on the one hand, and on the “nature” of what it means to be a human being, on the other. While the natural world – the world “out there” – will be continuously set in contrast to the nature of humanity, we will also certainly be careful to explore in our readings and discussions the ways in which these ostensible opposites intersect and overlap. In effect, we will examine the ways that human nature and the natural world are always already deeply interconnected categories.

  • FPR-100H-04 Radical Thinkers

    This course will consider the works of some eloquent advocates of ideas that in one way or another challenge the foundations of traditional Western culture. We will begin with Machiavelli, who argues that the ethical principles of Christianity and Humanism are incompatible with effective political governance. We will read Rousseau, who argues that civilization has led not to progress but to the moral debasement of the human species; Karl Marx, who attacks capitalism and calls upon the poor to revolt and establish a communist society; Friedrich Nietzsche, who assaults (among other things) Judeo-Christian theology and ethics, rejects every form of metaphysics, and substitutes “perspectivism” for eternal truth; and Sigmund Freud, who argues that the price of order and civilization is the purposeful mutilation of our instinctual desire. We will also read the Marquis de Sade who challenged fundamental social mores in his philosophically grounded pornographic writings. We will then look at Edward Abbey, “the desert anarchist,” who mounts a ferocious assault on “industrial tourism” and the development of the national park system, and is accused by some as advocating “eco-terrorism.” We will conclude with Peter Singer, who champions animal liberation, vegetarianism, and voluntary euthanasia while charging that all excess wealth is criminal.

  • FPR-100H-05 What Remains: Global Waste and the Human Condition

    Can thinking about the ways in which we deal with human waste change our environmental consciousness and improve our societies? This course believes passionately this to be the case. By highlighting and analyzing our complex relationship with waste, we create a renewed consciousness of it and learn to engage creatively and critically, as a result, our desire for transformative action. In order to think about this transformation, we must consider people’s perceptions of and behavior around waste more broadly and through time, within the confines of different cultural representations, and attentive to our own — and our surroundings’ — wasting habits. We will analyze films and art and read texts from literary, philosophical, filmic and artistic, economic, and environmental and sociological/anthropological perspectives. An inter-disciplinary course looking at global visual and textual narratives of waste, the course will be a critical opportunity to think and rethink our very humanity.