Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students
“Why do you consider this in particular to be right? ‘Because my conscience tells me so; conscience never speaks immorally, indeed it determines what is moral in the first place!’ But why do you listen to the voice of conscience?” —Nietzsche, The Joyous Science
What kind of science, or knowledge, does the con-science impart? How does this knowledge relate to what the thinker above called the “intellectual conscience”? The indeterminacy of conscience’s claims makes it a subject that all but demands close reading, and it is a matter of historical fact that ethical reasoning has often taken place within and through literary forms. This course thus takes the scientific efflorescence of the early modern period (c. 1500-1800) as its historical center of gravity, but focuses above all on the development of interpretive habits: the careful, imaginative parsing of often-intractable texts that prepares us for a lifetime of engagement with ethical impasses. Proceeding through texts long associated with crises of conscience (selections may include Genesis, Macbeth, Moll Flanders), we will consider how the creative force of literary interpretation bears on evolving conceptions of ethical inquiry and intellectual obligation.