Origins and Evolution of Modern Thought

This two-semester course immerses students in an exploration of significant exemplars, milestones and developments of human thought from ancient to modern times.

The fall semester (HONR 1015) engages students in an exploration of foundational thought and texts of the ancient world. This fall semester also fulfills university UW 1020 requirements.

The spring semester (HONR 1016) builds on the encounter with foundational ancient thinkers and texts provided in the fall course by engaging students in the exploration of key developments and trajectories in human thought and inquiry to modern times.

First year students take one Origins and Evolution of Modern Thought course each semester.

Spring 2024 Courses


Revolution

Professor Joseph Trullinger

HONR 1016:MV1 - 3 Credits

CRN 93901

MW 11:30AM - 12:45PM

Fulfills:

  • GPAC Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • CCAS: Philosophy major/minor elective course PHIL 2112

Course Description: Modernity is often understood as an era of innovation and upheaval, of new ideas and ways of life. Modernity seems new by virtue of its idea that what is new is permissible, if not preferable, over against adhering to time-honored order. This section of Origins will attempt to understand modernity as an era of revolution, of radical breaks with all sorts of established order: political, familial, economic, moral, cultural, and everything in between. In addition to those who argue for a sweeping overhaul of society, we will engage important critics of revolution, who make the case that the complaints of revolutionaries are ill-founded, or else can be resolved through gradual reform rather than sudden revolution. Reform versus revolution: the opposition between these views will form the basic framework for our exploration of a wide array of texts, criticizing and calling for bourgeois revolution, anti-colonial revolution, feminist revolution, slave revolts, communist revolution, fascist revolution, moral repentance, spiritual renewal, and revolutions in social values as fundamental as democracy and individualism.


Liberty

Professor Theodore Christov 

HONR 1016:MV2 - 3 Credits

CRN 94513

MW 8:30AM - 9:45AM

Fulfills:

  • GPAC Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • CCAS: Philosophy major/minor elective course PHIL 2112

Course Description: How is the individual liberty of the moderns distinct from the collective liberty of the ancients? While among the ancients the individual, regarded as sovereign in public affairs, had no notion of individual rights and was a slave in one’s private affairs, for the moderns the individual was sovereign because of one’s freedom. Why do we, moderns, continually clamor for the advantages of rights and liberties, while the ancients never felt the need for individual liberty? This Liberty seminar examines the various sources of our modern condition by showing why liberty is the unique discovery of the moderns. First, liberty as a political question; second, liberty as a social question; third, liberty as an emancipatory question. We will grapple with fundamental political concepts, such as state sovereignty, natural law, and social contract; moral ideas, such as autonomy, equality, and reasoning; and social forces, such as labor, class struggle, and human emancipation. By asking whether modernity’s resources are by nature or by convention, we will question and critique our own understanding and experience of liberty. The course will help you develop your ability to make and evaluate arguments, both in writing and in conversation, and thereby help you think clearly and critically about how politics and society shape and reshape our experience of liberty. 


Freedom in the Modern Age

Professor William Winstead

HONR 1016:MV3 - 3 Credits

CRN 94753

MW 2:30PM - 3:45PM

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HONR 1016:MV4 - 3 Credits

CRN 94754

MW 4:10PM - 5:25PM

Fulfills

  • GPAC Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • CCAS: Philosophy major/minor elective course PHIL 2112

Course Description: The modern age has often been characterized as the epoch of absolute freedom. Its insistence on individual liberty and the right to live one's life as one wishes, free of interference from tradition, church, or state, are symptomatic of modernity's radical commitment to freedom. The scope of its emancipatory impulse may be measured not only by the radical politics of the age—the American, French, and Russian revolutions, among others—but also by the defense of unrestrained expression in the aesthetic sphere (artistic freedom, freedom of speech) and toleration of individual conscience in the moral sphere. Our readings this semester will examine the intellectual revolutions that established freedom as the central value of the modern project and institutionalized it in the liberal state, the market economy, and the self-reflective individual. In the final section of the course, we will consider the subtle and profound forms of personal liberation found in modern Buddhist thought. Readings will include Hobbes, Mill, Nietzsche, Freud, Beauvoir, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, The Combahee River Collective, the Dali Lama, and Zen Buddhism.


The Death of God

Professor Mark Ralkowski

HONR 1016:MV5 - 3 Credits

CRN 94755

TR 1:00PM - 2:15PM

Fulfills

  • GPAC Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • CCAS: Philosophy major/minor elective course PHIL 2112

Course Description: Is capitalism always dehumanizing, or can it promote human welfare? How do race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and social class affect our understanding of ourselves and others? Are our cultural values good for us, or do they undermine our mental health and harm the planet? Do experiences of marginalization and oppression give those who experience them unique knowledge about our society and how it operates? What might the earth and nonhuman animals teach us about how we ought to live? As we explore questions like these in this course, we will discover how philosophy can be what Freire calls the “practice of freedom.” We will begin by studying the rise of the modern worldview and the spread of its political values, but most of our time will be spent on a wide range of cultural critics—e.g., Tolstoy, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Frankl, Baldwin, de Beauvoir, Lorde, the Combahee River Collective, Freire, the Dalai Lama, and Robin Wall Kimmerer—who lay the foundations for a less alienating and more humane world. Our discussions will cover some of their most revolutionary ideas, which have transformed the way we think about the human place in nature, the relationship between culture and economics, our conscious and unconscious minds, colonialism and liberation, gender and racial justice, and the aims of an emancipatory education. The main goal of this course is for us to see how these philosophies are more than abstract theories in books that are hard to read. They are provocations to reexamine our beliefs and values, reckon with our place in history, and reimagine the future of our interconnected world.


Theories of Justice

Professor Eyal Aviv

HONR 1016:MV6 - 3 Credits

CRN 94756

TR 10:00AM - 11:15AM

Fulfills

  • GPAC Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • CCAS: Philosophy major/minor elective course PHIL 2112

Course Description: In the second part of the course, we will dive deep into a diverse range of theories that try to define and enact justice. We will shift our attention from the "origins" to the "evolution" of modern notions of justice, ethics, and morality. In the pre-modern world, traditional values served as moral authorities. But if traditions are questioned, who determines what the right thing to do is? How can we distinguish the moral from the immoral? We will read the writings of theologians, philosophers, and writers who challenged their societies by asking questions and providing surprising answers.


Value

Professor Michael McCourt

HONR 1016:MV7 - 3 Credits

CRN 95486

MW 4:10PM - 5:25PM

Fulfills

  • GPAC Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • CCAS: Philosophy major/minor elective course PHIL 2112

Course Description: Our central aim in this class is to pursue philosophical questions about value. What makes something valuable? To what extent is it up to you what you value? To what extent are your values determined for you? We'll then turn to related questions in economics, politics, history, and sociology. How should human labor be valued? How should your opinions and preferences be valued in a society with many competing opinions and preferences? How should your freedom to pursue what you value be weighed against considerations about the greater good? Why has there always been such stark inequality in the distribution of valued things? What explains inequality in the way people are valued? To guide our discussions, we’ll read (among others) James Baldwin, Simone De Beauvoir, W. E. B. DuBois, Thomas Hobbes, Dalai Lama, John Locke, Audre Lorde, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Bio: Dr. McCourt has run psycholinguistic experiments but is mainly a philosopher by training. He studies word meaning and teaches philosophy at GW, Franklin & Marshall College, and the University of Mary Washington.