2012-13 Catalog

Decorative graphic

Offering Description

Illustrations of Character: Literary and Philosophical Studies


Spring 2013 quarter

Nancy Koppelman American studies , Trevor Speller British literature , Charles Pailthorp philosophy
Fields of Study
American studies, classics, history, literature, philosophy and writing
Preparatory for studies or careers in
literature, classics, philosophy, history, education, psychology, law and public service.

What is character but the determination of incident?
What is incident but the illustration of character? - Henry James

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 ethical questions 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 an individual's qualities and dispositions.

In this program, we study works of philosophy, history, drama and fiction that illuminate our understanding of character. We explore how character affects, and is affected by, desire, deliberation, action and suffering. We read literary and historical accounts that illustrate the character of people or a people. These accounts may portray profound moral dilemmas or day-to-day trials woven into the fabric of human experience. Texts in ethical philosophy will broaden our notions of character, particularly in relation to external goods, habit, happiness, friendship and duties. They provide powerful interpretive tools and a refined vocabulary for grappling with questions raised by our other texts. Authors will include Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Immanuel Kant, Soren Kierkegaard, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edith Wharton, among others.

This program suits students who are prepared not only to think critically, but to investigate their own beliefs and submit them to rigorous scrutiny: that is, to practice ethical thinking as well as study it. Writing will be central to that practice, and students will write long and short essays submitted to peer and faculty review.

Online Learning
Enhanced Online Learning
Greener Store
Required Fees
$100 for entrance fees and supplies.
Offered During

Program Revisions

Date Revision
May 21st, 2012 Trevor Speller has joined the teaching team.