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.

Who Should Take These 

Freshmen take one Origins and Evolution of Modern Thought course each semester.


The Good Life

Professor William Winstead
HONR 1015:MV - 4 Credits
CRN: 82003
MW 1:00-2:15 PM
Writing Lab: HONR 1015:M30, W 1:00-1:50 PM, CRN: 82653

HONR 1015:MV4 - 4 Credits
CRN: 82167
MW 10:00-11:15 AM
Writing Lab: HONR 1015:M34, M 11:30-12:20 PM, CRN: 82657

Equivalent Courses: UW 1020

Course Description: How are we to flourish and excel in a complex and ever-changing world? What constitutes a good life in the fullest sense? Does an authentic life depend principally upon virtue, reason, or happiness? What role should pleasure, desire, and love play in a life well lived? The question of “the good life” and its achievement is the principle theme of antiquity in both the Western and Eastern traditions. Philosophers, poets, historians, theologians, and political leaders contribute richly to the debate, often with sharply conflicting solutions to the perennial problem of realizing an authentic, meaningful existence. Our readings this semester will come from both Eastern and Western traditions, and include texts from the Greek, Hebrew, Chinese, and Indian traditions. Our discussions will be guided by fundamental questions: How ought I live? What is good (and, equally, what is bad or evil)? What is human nature? What is justice or a just community? What is knowledge or wisdom? What is natural? What is the divine? Throughout the semester, our discussions will be collective, critical, and open-ended. 


Professor Eyal Aviv
HONR 1015:MV1 - 4 Credits
CRN: 82164
TR 11:30-12:45 PM
Writing Lab: HONR 1015:M31, T 10:10-11:00 AM, CRN: 82654
Equivalent Courses: UW 1020

Course Description: Ancient thinkers followed the command of the oracle of Delphi "know thyself!" They saw life as a path of self-discovery and believed that living right would result in a state of Eudaemonia (Well-Being). During this fall semester, we will explore the oracle's ancient call. We will reflect upon the different visions of Well-Being, on the conditions that create them, on a society that fosters such life and how one should contribute to such a society. We will do so through engaging with some of the most fascinating Western and non-Western thinkers and writers in ancient world history, such as Plato, Aristotle, Confucian, Daoist and Zen Buddhist writers.


Professor Theodore Christov
HONR 1015:MV2 - 4 Credits
CRN: 82165
MW 4:10-5:25 PM
Writing Lab: HONR 1015:M32, W 6:00-6:50 PM, CRN: 82655

HONR 1015:MV6 - 4 Credits
CRN: 87179
MW 2:30-3:45 PM
Writing Lab: HONR 1015:M36, M 6:00-6:50 PM, CRN: 87178

Equivalent Courses: UW 1020

Course Description: What is the right thing to do?

The perennial quest for justice remains a persistent concern across time, place, and cultures, from antiquity to the present. Ancient thinkers—from West to East—faced problems that we, after two and a half millennia, may recognize as our very own. To explore these and other questions, we will grapple with some major works in ancient thought and engage in political and moral theorizing in the making of a good life. How should we confront the limits of human existence, and are we sufficiently equipped to understand the human condition? Our common aim is to discuss significant and recurrent questions of moral and political value that arise in human experience in order to enlarge our awareness of how people have understood the nature of the just and virtuous life. In addressing the themes of justice, equality, democracy, and citizenship, our readings are derived from the Western and Eastern intellectual traditions in order to understand the formative forces that shaped the political and moral universe we inhabit today. 


Professor Joseph Trullinger
HONR 1015:MV3 - 4 Credits
CRN: 82166
MW 11:30-12:45 PM
Writing Lab: HONR 1015:M33, W 1:00-1:50 PM, CRN: 82656

HONR 1015:MV8 - 4 Credits
CRN: 83970
MW 2:30-3:45 PM
Writing Lab: HONR 1015:M38, W 4:10-5:00 PM, CRN: 83969

Equivalent Courses: UW 1020

Course Description: What do you do with control once you have it? Everywhere we find examples of people straining to gain or keep control of situations, but we seldom stop to ask why they seek this in the first place. This seminar will foster such reflection through an intensive study of these questions as posed by the artists, historians, leaders, and thinkers of the ancient world. Who gets to be in control of your life, and why? Are we better off not being in control of nature? Does sharing control stabilize governments, or does democracy actually promote fickleness and corruption? What does it mean to have self-control, and is it worth having? What if there is no “self” to be controlled to begin with? By exploring classical conceptions of control, we will appreciate how modern thoughts evolve from ancient origins.

What is politics for?

Professor Craig French
HONR 1015:MV9 - 4 Credits
CRN: 87996
TR 4:10-5:25 PM
Writing Lab: HONR 1015:M10, F 5:00-5:50 PM, CRN: 88028

HONR 1015:M11 - 4 Credits
CRN: 87997
TR 6:10-7:25 PM
Writing Lab: HONR 1015:M12, F 6:00-6:50 PM, CRN: 88082

Equivalent Courses: UW 1020

Course Description: Today it is easy to think that politics is just about the distribution of resources - “who gets what, when and how.” But for pre-modern thinkers, politics was not just about the satisfaction of basic needs. Among other things, ancient writers thought that political activity was the route to human flourishing, a necessary ingredient of a good life. While this idea might strike us as odd, we must consider whether some valuable insights about politics have been lost in the transition from the ancient to the modern worldview. Our task this semester is to uncover what the ancients thought about politics, to clarify the similarities and differences between their views and ours about what is for, and to think about what this investigation into the past might tell us about our future. This will involve us in the cross-cultural, comparative study of ancient philosophical texts, originating in both the East and the West. Topics of discussion will include the nature of justice, democracy, equality and political rule.