Character Studies: Images, Ethics and Culture
Revised Last Updated: 03/20/2009
Fall, Winter and Spring quarters
Faculty Signature Required: Winter quarter; Spring quarter
Major areas of study include classical studies, American studies, anthropology, and the arts.
Class Standing: This Core program is designed for freshmen.
Accepts Winter Enrollment: This program will accept new students who have appropriate background. Contact Rita Pougiales at the Academic Fair or by email. New students should expect to complete some catch-up work during the December break.
Accepts Spring Enrollment: Students will be required to read Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals during the first few weeks of the program, and meet in an extra seminar to discuss the book. Students will also be required to provide the names of prior faculty, from whom Character Studies faculty will ask for recommendations.
See below for Spring Quarter details.
How do we determine what to do when faced with hard choices? Is our own happiness uppermost in our minds, or is something else - loyalty to a friend, say, or religious principles? How can we live with integrity in the face of temptation or tragedy? These are ethical questions, and questions like these demand that we think carefully about character.
Character comprises not only our distinctive qualities, but also our disposition to act in certain ways, for good or ill. Indeed, our word "ethical" derives from the Greek word for character, ethos, which, like our word, can refer to a literary figure (a character) or to one's combination of qualities and dispositions. Aristotle thought that good character is the same thing as being good at being a person. What did he mean by that?
Members of this introductory program will study works of philosophy, history, psychology, science, anthropology, drama, and fiction that illuminate our understanding of character. We enlist their aid in our exploration of the ways in which character affects, and is affected by, desire, deliberation, action, and suffering. We are especially interested in literary, historical, and anthropological accounts that illustrate the character of both individuals and cultures. These incidents may be profound moral dilemmas, or they may be the day-to-day trials that are woven into the fabric of individual and communal experience over time. They may also be acts of profound goodness or evil.
As we read, discuss, and write about examples of these themes, texts in ethical philosophy and anthropology will challenge and broaden our notions of character. We will pay special attention to the relationship between character and external goods, habits, happiness, friendships, and the duties that attend membership in communities of all kinds, such as families, workplaces, schools, public places, and other forms of social organization. Our texts will provide us with powerful interpretive tools and a highly refined vocabulary for grappling with the central questions of the program, and for developing new ways of thinking about abiding dilemmas of the human condition. Authors may include Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Immanuel Kant, SØren Kierkegaard, Hannah Arendt, Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tayeb Salih, John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Stephen Jay Gould, and Carol Gilligan.
Students are invited to join this program in order to examine questions of enduring concern that only rarely receive close and sustained attention within communities devoted to inquiry. Character Studies will be such a community. Students will not only think critically about what they read, but also investigate their own beliefs and submit them to rigorous analytical scrutiny. That is, we will practice ethical thinking as well as study it. Thus, the program has at its center the opportunity to explore what it means to "be good at being a person" by learning to be good at reading, writing, and discussing interesting and important ideas. Students will also complete larger term projects that employ analytic, critical, creative, and reflective skills, all with the aim of understanding and appreciating character in its many expressions across time and around the globe.
In the Spring, we will focus our work more pointedly on belief, boradly conceived. Most of the world's people believe in some form of a higher power. We will study the relationship between belief and action, and particularly political action and the making of collective identity. Students will pursue individual and group projects, which may include (and may not be limited to) ethnographic studies of faith-based or belief-based institutions (which may include photography), and/or the production of a theatrical performance (which will include reflections on the effort in light of the common work of the program).
The Book of Job. Vintage Spiritual Classics (Ransom House), 1998. ISBN 978-0375700224
Sophocles, The Three Theban Plays. Translated by Robert Fagles. Penguin, 1984. ISBN 978-0140444254
Plato, The Last Days of Socrates. Translated by Hugh Tredennick and Harold Tarrant. Penguin, 2003. ISBN 978-014044280
Shakespeare, Othello. Penguin, 2001. ISBN 978-0140714630
Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling. Penguin, 2003. ISBN 978-0140444490
Albert Camus, The Plague. Vintage 1991. ISBN 978-0679720218
Cliffard Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures. Basic Books, 1977. ISBN 978-0456097197
Toni Morrison, Beloved. Vintage, 2004. ISBN 978-1400033416
Loring M. Danforth, Firewalking and Religious Healing. Princeton, 1989. ISBN 978-0691028538
David Chappell, A Stone of Hope. U. of North Carolina, 2007. ISBN 978-0807856604
Philip Kitcher, Living with Darwin. Oxford, 2009. ISBN 978-0195384345
Credits: 16 per quarter
Enrollment: 92 Fall, 92 Winter and 69 Spring
Special Expenses: Up to $100 per quarter for theater tickets and field trips.
Program is preparatory for careers and future studies in the humanities, education, law, and public service.
Planning Units: Programs for Freshmen
|May 2nd, 2008||Nancy Koppelman has joined the faculty team for this program.|
|November 24th, 2008||Winter quarter enrollment details added.|
|November 25th, 2008||Winter enrollment field utilized|
|January 30th, 2009||Bruce Davies has left the faculty team.|
|March 20th, 2009||Spring quarter enrollment details added (signature, expanded description).|