Look for the catalog of 2020-21IntroSems to roll out here in August.
Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students
Modern "Meanings of Life": Aestheticism, Perfectionism, Ecstasy
If I ask you how you live, or what you live for, I have a guess what you’ll tell me. You might say, “I live to be a good person,” to do right, or make a difference to the world. Or to love, or help, your family. Or to launch a career, or make beautiful art. Or to honor your faith in God, and try to follow the right path.
I half believe your answers; but I’m also skeptical. Ethics (being a good person), family, vocation (having a career and a calling), and religion, clearly influence our big-picture reflections about how people should live. But what are we all really living for, that determines tiny decisions every day?
This course considers some values people steer by, perhaps without knowing it, in the everyday—and how these came together, in modern times, as philosophies new to human history. Is your goal to change ceaselessly, yet be authentically yourself, “becoming who you are” (perfectionism)? Is it to make your life shapely, artful, and as pleasurable as a work of art (aestheticism)? Is it to accumulate peak experiences, unique and memorable moments (ecstasy)?
Our class will look for the formation of some of these life philosophy in selected masterpieces of literature and argument, and through students’ examination and writing of your own experiences so far, and analysis of family and friends. The course considers philosophy through literature, art, and intellectual history, inviting you to look at your own life and plans in unconventional and skeptical ways. Students will develop their skills of “cultural criticism,” combining analysis, argument, and deep reflection, with written rhetoric and persuasion.