2010-11 Catalog

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Offering Description

The Human Element

Fall and Winter quarters

Faculty: Charles Pailthorp philosophy, Trevor Speller British literature, Nancy Koppelman American studies

Fields of Study: American studies, history, literature, philosophy, physiology and writing

Fall: CRN (Credit) Level 10382 (16) Fr; 10452 (16) So  

Winter: Enrollment Accepting New Students  CRN (Credit) Level 20235 (16) Fr; 20236 (16) So  Signature Required Admission will be based upon a brief meeting or email exchange with faculty. Interested students should contact Nancy Koppelman (koppelmn@evergreen.edu or 360-867-6383) or Chuck Pailthorp (pailthor@evergreen.edu) or meet with them at the Academic Fair December 1, 2010.  

Credits: 16(F); 16(W)

Class Standing: Freshmen - Sophomore; 50% of the seats are reserved for freshmenFreshmen - Sophomore

Offered During: Day

Academic Website: http://blogs.evergreen.edu/humanelement/


In the early seventeenth century, the philosopher René Descartes chronicled his reflections on how little he actually knew, when he looked closely. He found he even had to ask, “How do I know I myself exist?” His answer, “I think, therefore I am,” became a keystone of Western philosophy. When he asked further, “What then am I?”, he answered, “A thing that thinks,” not just a body, but an immaterial mind. To be human, he concluded, is to be a compound of two elements: mind and body. His contemporary, Thomas Hobbes, argued this was wrong, that we humans, however mind-ful, are entirely material. The debate continues to this day.

In concluding that the human element is our immaterial mind, Descartes reasoned that non-human animals differ from us by being only material, that they are completely mindless. Are animals then, only machines, without thought, even without feeling? (This was Descartes’ conclusion!). What about machines that mimic rational conversation (surely a very strong indicator of thought)? Couldn’t they be as mind-ful, and therefore as human, as we? Or from Hobbes’s materialist point of view, if we humans are only machines, how can we justify, for example, punishing a human who has caused some harm? Would we punish a car that has broken down and gone out of control? These questions remain with us today: consider the force of arguments concerning animal rights by organizations such as PETA, or the tangle of human-machine interactions evident in programs such as Second Life. What makes us different from other animals? What makes people different from the machines we create, or envision? To ask the question more broadly: what are the qualities that make humans different and unique – if there are any at all? Is there a “human element,” or are we just made up of those found on the periodic table?

Questions about the ‘unique’ nature of humanity will be this program’s driving force. We will consider what makes us different from our animal, vegetable, mineral, mechanical and spiritual peers on planet earth, and how we might or might not live in symbiosis with them. We will consider shifts in our understanding of human nature, shifts that have been shaped by developments in science, from mechanics to evolution, and by developments in how we lead our daily lives, from hunting and gathering to browsing the internet. Fields of study may include the history of technology, epistemology, and the traveler’s tales of the Romantic period. Texts may include Descartes: Discourse on Method; Hobbes: Leviathan; Shakespeare: The Tempest; John Milton: Paradise Lost; Mary Shelley: Frankenstein; Jonathan Swift: Gulliver’s Travels; and works by Kant and by historians of science and technology. The program will include significant attention to writing and reading well.

Maximum Enrollment: 69

Required Fees: Fall $75 for theater and concert tickets; Winter $100 for theater and concert tickets.

Preparatory for studies or careers in: American studies, humanities, literature, philosophy, social sciences, and the sciences.

Campus Location: Olympia

Online Learning: Enhanced Online Learning

Books: www.tescbookstore.com

Program Revisions

Date Revision
May 24th, 2010 This program is now offered to both freshmen and sophomores.
April 8th, 2010 New program added.