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.

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

Fall 2020 Courses

The Good Life


Professor William Winstead


HONR 1015:MV - 4 Credits

CRN 51665

MW 01:00PM - 02:15PM

Discussion Section: HONR 1015:M30, M 02:30-03:20PM, CRN: 52151


HONR 1015:MV4 - 4 Credits

CRN 51790

MW 06:10PM - 07:25PM

Discussion Section: HONR 1015:M34, W 10:00-10:50AM, CRN: 52155


Equivalent Course: UW 1020


Course Description: How may we flourish 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, 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 (Sophocles, Thucydides, Plato), Chinese (Confucius, Lao-Tzu, Zhuangzi), and Indian (Buddha) 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? Throughout the semester, our discussions will be collective, critical, and open-ended.



Professor Eyal Aviv


HONR 1015:MV1 - 4 Credits

CRN 51788

TR 01:00PM - 02:15PM

Discussion Section: HONR 1015:M31, T 5:00-5:50PM, CRN: 52152


HONR 1015:MV2 - 4 Credits

CRN 55148

TR 02:30-3:45PM

Discussion Section: HONR 1015:M32, R 5:00-5:50PM, CRN: 52153


Equivalent Course: 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, from the Hellenistic, Daoist, Confucian, and Buddhist schools, among others.



Professor Mark Ralkowski


HONR 1015:MV9 - 4 Credits

CRN 54780

TR 10:00AM - 11:15AM

Discussion Section: HONR 1015:M39, R 11:30-12:20PM, CRN: 54824


Equivalent Course: UW 1020


Course Description: What is happiness, and how can I live a life that will make me happy? How should I cope with the fact that I am going to suffer and die, along with everyone I love most? What is justice, and how can we reshape our institutions, as well as our own choices and lives, so that they better reflect it? Is love really such a good thing? Is art good or bad for us? Why is there anything at all, rather than nothing? These are among the earliest questions asked by human beings in the Middle East, Greece, China, and India. In this seminar we will read seminal texts from each of these traditions. Our syllabus will include Epicurus, Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, the Buddha, and Marcus Aurelius. And our discussions will cover issues in ethics, politics, psychology, aesthetics, religion, metaphysics, and epistemology. One of the primary goals of this seminar is to see that, in the ancient world, these concepts were studied as a way of life whose goals were wisdom and happiness. As Socrates once said, “We are studying no small matter, but how we ought to live.”


On Virtue


Professor Christopher Utter


HONR 1015:MV8 - 4 Credits

CRN 53034

MW 11:30AM-12:45PM

Discussion Section: HONR 1015:M38, F 11:30AM-12:20PM, CRN: 53033


Equivalent Course: UW 1020


Course Description: How should we live? Where should we look for guidance regarding the best way of life? Is there a standard implied in human nature itself, or in the nature of the world? If the divine speaks to human beings in some way, can we look to it for guidance? Or does tradition hold the key to the best life? In other words, what is virtue? In this course, we will look at five approaches to investigating this central human question. We begin with the Socratic approach, which is captured in the paradoxical claim that “knowledge is virtue.” After reading several Platonic dialogues that explore this claim, we will read part of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, in which he simultaneously criticizes and expands upon this core Socratic claim. Next, we read the Bhagavad Gita, a dialogue in which the god Krishna explains to prince Arjuna his duty to uphold Dharma. We continue our examination of Dharma as a guide to life by reading the Buddhist scripture, Dhammapada. After this we turn to the Tao Te Ching to investigate the “way” and “virtue,” as its title suggests, according to Laozi. Finally, we conclude with the Analects for an account of the Confucian investigation of virtue.

Gender and Subversion in the Ancient Imagination


Professor Summer Renault-Steele


HONR 1015:MV3 - 4 Credits

CRN 57551

TR 11:00AM- 12:15PM

Discussion Section: HONR 1015:M33, F 11:00-11:50AM, CRN: 57511


Equivalent Course: UW 1020


Course Description: Sophocles’ ancient tragedy Antigone opens with a conflict between two sisters as they consider transgressing their gender roles and their city-state. Following Sophocles, this proseminar explores the construction of—and intersections between—sex, gender, and power in ancient intellectual cultures. In addition to ancient Greek dramatic literature, our study will include readings from Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, as well as the Hebrew Bible.



Professor Theo Christov


HONR 1015:10 - 4 Credits

CRN 58312

MW 08:00 - 09:15AM

Discussion Section: HONR 1015:30, W 09:35-10:25AM, CRN: 58314


Equivalent Course: 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 the West and beyond—faced problems that we, after two and a half millennia, may recognize as our very own. To explore this question, 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 our existence, and are we sufficiently equipped to understand the human condition? Our common aim will be 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 will be derived from the Western and non-Western intellectual traditions in order to understand the formative forces that shaped the political and moral universe we inhabit today.