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GS101-1: Consolations: Philosophy, Literature, and History


“The Consolations of Philosophy and Literature: Sources of Order in the Midst of Chaos”

The first block of “Consolations” will have two foci: What is the good life and how is it achieved? And how are some of life’s common difficulties best addressed? Readings, films, and class discussion will seek such answers and consolations as philosophy and literature offer—strategies for achieving order in our lives as well as some degree of personal freedom. Either implicitly or explicitly, these strategies propose different answers to basic questions: How should I conduct my life? What is most worthwhile in life? How should I relate to others? What forms of authority are legitimate and which illegitimate? And what serves as the basis of morality?

Philosophical readings will include works by Plato, Montaigne and Nietzsche, while literary discussion will address texts of Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, and Samuel Beckett. Films will include Wit, 13 Conversations about One Thing, and The Lives of Others.


“The Consolations of Family and Community: Comfort and Context for Women, Children, and Men”

The second block of this two-unit sequence will address frames of human interaction. It will ask how the authors studied in Block 1 responded to contemporaries’ notions of participation in marriages, households, and societies. Did historical persons understand themselves as individuals or as members of groups defined by blood relations, religion, or economy? How do historical models for human association inform and challenge our own? How are our mean of mutual comfort like those of the past or different from them?

Course materials will comprise major scholarly perspectives on historical communities as well as primary sources from antiquity to the twentieth century, among them Cicero, Alberti, Tolstoy, and Freud. Films will include The Return of Martin Guerre, The Godfather, and Babies.

Written assignments during Block 1 will include one in-class, mid-block exam in one end-of- block paper (6-8 pages) on a topic the student selects from a list of options distributed by the professors. In Block 2, each student will complete an individually framed fifteen-page research paper improved by rewriting and peer workshops, as well as a small-group oral final exam building on individual 250- word arguments linking the material of the two blocks.