FIRST-YEAR SEMINAR  -- Spring 2009

What is Enlightenment?  Revolution and the Limits of Reason

spring schedule


During the Fall semester of First Year Seminar, students focused on the constructive agenda of “Enlightenment.”   The authors read gave life to Kant’s dictum, "Have the courage to use your own reason!" to describe the world they saw and how they thought it should be.  The Spring semester begins with the eventful culmination of Enlightenment thinking, and then explores the complex and ambivalent re-evaluation of the Enlightenment’s ideals throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries.  Readings and discussions will show how Enlightenment thought was challenged by its encounters with different cultures and traditions, as well as its own limitations.  Throughout the semester, we will contrast different approaches to the challenges faced during these historically and intellectually tumultuous times.  We will also look forward in time, reflecting on how the spirits of Enlightenment and Revolution are present in our modern world.

The core reading list for the Spring 2009 semester will be:

        Jane Austen:  Sense and Sensibility

        Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

        Immanuel Kant: Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals

        William Blake: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

        Mary Shelley: Frankenstein

        Friedrich Nietzsche: Also Sprach Zarathustra

        Karl Marx: Essay on Estranged Labor, and The Communist Manifesto

        Max Weber: Selections from The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

        Albert Einstein: Relativity, along with

        Werner Heisenberg: The Development of Philosophical Ideas Since Descartes

                                 in Comparison with the New Situation in Quantum Theory

        Sigmund Freud: Civilization and Its Discontents

        Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse

Beyond the reading assignments, students and faculty will explore revolution and the limits of reason in other ways.  Seminar discussions and extensive writing throughout the semester will challenge us all to actively engage in addressing difficult questions, rather than to take the writings of any our predecessors as the last word on a subject.  Weekly symposia will supplement our text-based studies with lectures and other presentations that will focus on historical, artistic, and scientific perspectives of the ideas raised in the course.

Students will be asked to read Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility during the month of January for discussion during the Spring semester.