Expository Writing Course Descriptions

Individual Course Descriptions for Expository Writing (060.114), Spring 2017

060.114.01 Balancing Freedom and Security (MWF 10:00)
Robert Webber

Shortly after leaving office in 1974, and after struggling with nearly a dozen terrorist attacks during his tenure, British Prime Minister Edward Heath was asked about his greatest fear for the future of Britain. Heath responded: “that Britain will become the first police state in the democratic world.” Some 20 years later, a report produced by David Murakami Wood claimed that Britain is “the most surveilled country in the world.” Although the United States has always prided itself on being a free society, September 11 pushed it into a situation similar to that of 1970s England. The controversy over warrantless wiretapping at the National Security Agency, the role of Homeland Security, and the expanding use of drones reignited the ancient debate over the best balance between security and individual freedom. In this writing course, we will probe that debate by looking beyond our contemporary world to consider how others have approached this question throughout history. We will start by writing a brief analysis of Cicero’s narration of the Catalinarian conspiracy—an event that shook the Roman Republic to its core and helped lead to the civil war that has fascinated Westerners for two thousand years. For our second essay, we will move to the Cold War and the opposing views of President Harry Truman and former Vice President Henry Wallace on the spread of communism, views students will evaluate by focusing on their underlying assumptions. In their third essay, students will read critiques of current U.S. counter-terrorism policies and will develop an argument, focusing on the extrajudicial use of drones abroad and on questions of privacy at home. As a final assignment in the course, students have the option to revise Essay 1 or Essay 2.

060.114.02 Witches and Persecutions (MWF 11:00)
Sarah Ross

During the Dark Ages of European history, accusations of witchcraft led to the executions of 50,000 to 80,000 women and men. Similar accusations continued in the New World, leading to the executions of 19 “witches” in Salem, Massachusetts, in the early 1690s. Yet, while we think of these events as part of a long-gone era, the killing of witches persists in the 21st Century. Why, as New York Times columnist Mitch Horowitz asked, do people around the world—from the Bronx to Papua, New Guinea—continue to be seized and executed as witches? What can fiction teach us about the answer to this question? In this writing course, we will investigate a range of modern texts that examine the persecution and execution of witches. In our first unit, we will analyze the cult-classic horror film The Witchfinder General (1969), starring Vincent Price as the vicious leader of a witch-hunt during the English Civil Wars. In our second unit, we will write about Celia Rees’s Young Adult novel, Witch Child (2009), in tandem with a critical source. Students will consider how Rees’s 17th-Century tale about a young woman fleeing the terrors of English witch persecution complicates when the story moves to America. In our third and final unit, we will turn to Arthur Miller’s classic American drama about the Salem witch trials, The Crucible (1953). Students will investigate critical sources as they offer their own interpretations of the play, in the context of the witches and persecutions we have studied throughout the course.

060.114.03 Born to Be Good (MWF 11:00)
Marianna Bergamaschi Ganapini

For thousands of years, philosophers have sought to understand the nature and origin of moral norms. The standard view has been that morality is acquired through learning and education. Recently, however, studies in developmental psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience have brought groundbreaking new data into the discussion, suggesting that we may have innate moral knowledge that allows us to discern what is good from what is bad. Are we born to be good? In this writing course, we will analyze how empirical studies, scientific theories, and philosophical arguments have attempted to reveal the origins of morality. For the first essay, we will read Jesse Prinz’s “Against Moral Nativism,” and students will write an essay analyzing Prinz’s article. Next, we’ll read an interview with developmental psychologist Karen Wynn, “Born Good? Babies Help Unlock the Origins of Morality,” in which Wynn argues that babies are born with an innate moral sense. Students will analyze and evaluate Wynn’s argument. For Essay 3, our largest assignment, we will read Jonathan Haidt’s groundbreaking paper on the role emotions play in moral judgment. Students will develop their own arguments about innate morality based on Haidt’s article together with the other sources we’ve examined so far. For the final assignment, students will have the option to revise one of their first two essays. Note: No specialized knowledge is required for this course.

060.114.04 What Is Love? (MW 12:00)
Sandy Koullas

What do you mean when you say, “I love you”? Do you love your parents in the same way you love your friends? Do you love your cat? Is your love of literature or baseball similar to your love of particular people? We all use the word “love,” but a satisfactory, shared understanding of the word seems elusive. In this writing course, we will explore the philosophy of love. We will begin with an excerpt from Plato’s Symposium, where we find love construed as an admirable pursuit of creativity and beauty. This rather high-minded view of love is complicated by the arrival of a drunken and miserable Alcibiades, who is clearly stricken with love of quite a different sort. Students will analyze the excerpt from Plato, paying particular attention to the problem presented by Alcibiades’s arrival. For the second essay, we will consider a modern philosophical argument for an account of love that influences current debates. Students will evaluate David Velleman’s argument for understanding love as an “arresting awareness” of the value inherent in another person. For the third essay, our primary source will come from another modern philosopher, Harry G. Frankfurt, whose proposal broadens the concept of love. Whereas Velleman considers only love for people, Frankfurt offers a general account of love that could include love of activities, causes, animals, or almost anything else. Students will consider Frankfurt’s proposal in the light of competing accounts and will then offer their answer to the question: “What is love?”

060.114.05 Law and Revenge (MW 12:00)
George Oppel

According to the seventeenth-century essayist Francis Bacon, “Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.” Bacon articulates a dichotomy between law and revenge that has become familiar. On one side, revenge is understood to be a wild instinct of human nature, one that finds expression in excessive acts of violence. On the other side is the rule of law, a civilizing force that has the potential to tame the unreasoning passions of human beings in order to advance a nobler ideal of justice. But is revenge always wild and indiscriminate, and is law always reasonable and proportionate? Can revenge be weeded-out of the legal system, or does it serve some purpose there? In this course we deepen our understanding of the relationship between law and revenge through a sequence of three essay units. In the first, we read Jared Diamond’s account of a blood-feud in the highlands of New Guinea and you write an essay that analyzes the complex nature of vengeance in this source. The second unit considers arguments made on behalf of the rule of law by two prominent philosophers. You test these arguments in relation to a decision of the US Supreme Court which allows victims to voice their fury at defendants during the sentencing phase of capital murder trials. In the third unit we read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, which pits the villain Shylock and his insatiable demand for a “pound of flesh” against the more exacting demands of the legal system. You offer an interpretation of where justice resides in the play based on the ideas and arguments we have already considered. The overriding aim is to develop your ability to write persuasive arguments as you engage with these fundamental themes and diverse sources.

060.114.06 Law and Revenge (MW 1:30)
George Oppel

Please see the course description listed above for Section 05 at MW 12:00.

060.114.07 Epidemics and Social Responses (MW 1:30)
Eli Anders

Ebola, Zika virus, and other commonly feared epidemics are imagined as microscopic germs unleashing devastation as they traverse the globe. But epidemics are not merely biological phenomena; they are shaped by society and culture. How a society responds to an epidemic, writes historian Alan Brandt, “reveals its most fundamental cultural, social, and moral values.” What can epidemics tell us about the beliefs of a particular era? How do assumptions about the nature of illness and disease influence medical, social, and political responses? How do we construct narratives to make sense of epidemic outbreaks? This writing course considers how societies have both shaped and been shaped by epidemics. First, we will read an essay by the Victorian journalist and social critic Henry Mayhew, and students will write an essay analyzing his depiction of London’s nineteenth-century “cholera districts.” Second, we will read an account of an 1853 yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans by southern physician Samuel Cartwright, and students will write an essay evaluating a historian’s analysis of how race and class shaped Cartwright’s views. Third, we will consider HIV/AIDS, one of the most feared epidemics of the contemporary era. Students will write about the documentary United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, engaging with scholarship on how gender, sexuality, and patient activism shaped perceptions of and responses to HIV/AIDS.

060.114.08 Beyond Human Limits (MW 3:00)
Joe Haley

Breathtaking developments in fields such as genomics, bionics, cybernetics, and cognitive psychology have challenged our deepest conceptions about what it means to be human. Like futurists before them, proponents of “transhumanism” argue that technological progress can liberate human potential, ushering in a utopian world where we are freed of ignorance and even death itself. Yet “bioconservatives” counsel restraint, urging us to refrain from non-therapeutic interventions, lest we destroy what is most essential to ourselves. In this writing course, we will investigate literary and philosophical works that ask us to consider our power over nature and our desire to transcend the limits of our species. We begin with two short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne that raise questions about using science to pursue human perfection. Students will write a brief essay analyzing one of the stories. For the second essay unit, we turn to philosophical arguments by Nick Bostrom and Francis Fukuyama that consider the uses of biotechnology and human enhancement. Students will write an essay that evaluates one of the arguments. For our third and longest essay, students will intervene in a critical debate about the depiction of human cloning in Never Let Me Go, a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, and will offer their own interpretations. For the final assignment of the course, students will have the option to revise one of their first two essays.

060.114.09 Man and Machine in Film (TTH 9:00)
Concetta Scozzaro

Machines have fascinated Hollywood filmmakers for over a century. From conveyor belts to artificial intelligence, our use of machines poses questions about what it means to be human in an age dominated by mechanical life. Do machines make human beings more mechanical? Or are humans simply making machines more human? Should we behave ethically toward something not quite human? Beginning with Charlie Chaplin’s classic, Modern Times (1936), this writing course will continue to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and conclude with the Wachowski brothers’ The Matrix (1999) and Spike Jonze’s Her (2013). Students will write three essays. In Essay 1, they will answer a question raised by Chaplin’s film, using the film as evidence for their answer. In Essay 2, alongside Blade Runner, they will consider Roger Ebert’s 1982 review that dubs the film “a failure” and will reason with the evidence toward their own conclusions. Finally, in Essay 3, next to either The Matrix or Her, students will consider two critical sources, including Oxford mathematics professor Marcus du Sautoy’s short essay, “AI Robot: how machine intelligence is evolving,” published by The Observer in 2012.

060.114.10 What Is Freedom? (TTH 9:00)
Arash Abazari

We think we know what we’re talking about when we talk about freedom: Freedom is doing whatever we want, being whoever we want to be. Yet, on further reflection, freedom becomes a difficult concept to define. Does law limit freedom, or does it enable freedom? Does one’s freedom require independence from others? Are we free if we don’t have the resources needed to exercise our freedom, such as adequate food and shelter? To consider these questions about the nature of freedom, our point of departure will be Isaiah Berlin’s classic essay, “Two Concepts of Liberty,” in which Berlin distinguishes between “negative” freedom and “positive” freedom. For Berlin, negative freedom concerns the absence of external constraints; and positive freedom, the presence of values such as self-realization and self-fulfillment. For the first essay, students will examine Berlin’s two concepts of freedom, and analyze his reasons for advocating negative freedom. Next, we will consider an essay by Charles Taylor, a critic of Berlin. Taylor argues that to be free is not simply to be left alone but requires active, positive participation in the society of which one is a member. Students will write an essay evaluating Taylor’s argument in relation to Berlin’s. For the third and largest essay, we will draw on Phillip Pettit’s and Quentin Skinner’s “republican” concept of freedom. Pettit and Skinner define freedom as non-domination, and aspire to integrate negative freedom into a broader framework of laws and civic virtues. We will also consider excerpts from W.E.B. Du Bois about the reality of freedom for slaves newly freed after the Civil War. Drawing on all of these sources, students will advance their understanding of freedom in relation to Berlin’s two concepts of liberty.

060.114.11 Pirates (TTH 10:30)
Samreen Kazmi

Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Jack Sparrow, and Long John Silver. How did these scurvy-ridden and dangerous law-breakers become figures of glamor and awe? And, in charting the pirate figure’s shift from the dangerous to the glamorous, how might we think of the sea as a space of action? In our most well-loved and well-remembered pirate stories, the sea is a space of freedom and also—sometimes simultaneously—of fear, calculation, sensation, and danger. Why do children dream of running away to become pirates? This writing course is organized around three units in which we will investigate the strange glamor and awe surrounding the figure of the pirate. First, with help from David Cordingly’s Under the Black Flag, we will learn how to recognize a pirate: What distinguishes the pirate from the privateer, for instance, and what are the intersections between the two? Students will write a brief essay analyzing a pirate narrative in these terms. In the second unit, we will think about the doubly exciting lives of female pirates. Students will read the narratives of Anne Bonny and Mary Read and will evaluate the interpretation of a scholarly essay as they offer their own interpretation. The third and largest unit will feature Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island, and the third essay will be an opportunity for students to draw on previously discussed themes as they develop their own argument. Students will evaluate scholarly views and past claims about the book and will argue their own interpretation. For the final assignment, students will have the option to revise one of their first two essays.

060.114.12 James Joyce’s Dubliners (TTH 10:30)
Joel Childers

Few writers have portrayed the human condition and human experience with as much ingenuity, penetration, and suggestive power as James Joyce, one of the most experimental and influential novelists in twentieth-century literature. In his collection of stories, Dubliners, Joyce foregrounds the conflict between the mundaneness of routine life structured by religion, family, and social norms, on the one hand, and individual struggles for self-understanding, freedom, and change, on the other. How do individuals reconcile or fail to reconcile their inner desires with the monotonous demands of society? And within this context, what do the moments of epiphany in the stories reveal about the characters’ inner minds and individual choices? This writing course will examine Joyce’s Dubliners, considering how individual stories enact this conflict and also how they might resist it. For the first essay, we will read “The Boarding House” and “A Little Cloud.” Students will write an essay analyzing how the characters struggle with the conflict between the pressure of social norms and their own aspirations and desires. For the second essay, we will explore Joyce’s depiction of romantic adventures within everyday experience in “A Painful Case.” Students will read the story alongside a secondary source and will evaluate the critic’s view against the evidence of the story, finally offering their own view. The third essay will be a study of the last story in Dubliners, “The Dead.” Students will develop an argument about the story in the context of critical sources.

060.114.13 Violence and Macbeth (TTH 10:30)
Marisa O’Connor

In London in 1605, a group of conspirators plotted to blow up the English Parliament on its opening day—when all the political elite of the realm, including the king, would be present. Called the Gunpowder Plot, the conspiracy failed, but it generated powerful responses of fear and trauma across the realm. Allusions to it thread their way through Shakespeare’s violent play Macbeth, written shortly afterward. In this writing course, we will consider what we can learn from Shakespeare’s sustained exploration of violent thoughts and acts in Macbeth, especially within a context in which the threat of violence that endangers the social order is so real and pressing. What can Macbeth tell us about why such violence happens and what, if anything, might authorize it? In the first essay, students will focus on moments early in the play when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth wrestle with the idea of murdering the king. For the second essay, students will evaluate the view of a critical source on how the play associates Macbeth’s murder of the king with witches and witchcraft, with transgression and desire. In the third and most extensive essay, students will engage various critical sources on the play that raise questions about how the play represents kingship and tyranny, including what, if anything, distinguishes Macbeth’s violence from the violence that restores order and legitimate rule at the play’s end. Students will assess these sources and develop their own arguments.

060.114.14 Violence and Macbeth (TTH 12:00)
Marisa O’Connor

Please see the course description listed above for Section 13 at TTH 10:30.

060.114.15 The Challenge of Climate Change (TTH 12:00)
Christopher Westcott

The science is emphatic: global environmental conditions are changing dramatically; the effects on life will be considerable; and humans have everything to do with it. But who—or what—is responsible for these changes? Why do so many remain skeptical about their significance? And in the midst of rising emissions, what kind of response might actually limit their effects? This writing course examines competing accounts of global climate change, foregrounding recent debates over capitalism’s role as both cause and possible solution. We’ll begin with two brief essays on climate-change skepticism. Students will analyze either George Marshall’s psychological interpretation of skepticism or Naomi Klein’s political interpretation. Next, we’ll consider two leading accounts of what lies at the root of climate change. In the first, Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen traces our predicament back to humankind’s mastery over fire; in the second, Andreas Malm, author of Fossil Capital, portrays climate change as an outcome of capitalist development. Students will select one of these texts to evaluate. For the third and longest essay, students will enter a debate sparked by An Ecomodernist Manifesto, a collectively-authored text that advocates for nuclear energy and capitalist growth as solutions to climate change. Alongside the manifesto, students will engage with a response, “A Call to Look Past An Ecomodernist Manifesto: A Degrowth Critique,” as well as an essay by Vandana Shiva, who examines the ecological implications of growth within an uneven global landscape, and excerpts from Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical on climate change.

060.114.16 Contemporary American Short Stories (TTH 12:00)
Donald Berger

In a 2012 interview with the New York Times, American critic M.H. Abrams was asked, “Why study literature?” Abrams answered, because “it enables you to live the lives of other people.” In his book How Fiction Works, critic James Wood points us to fiction’s “extraordinary capacity . . . [to] tell us what a character is thinking.” But how does a master of short fiction open a window to his or her characters’ thoughts and feelings? In this writing course, we will examine how writers of American short stories use fictional elements such as point of view and description to create a character’s inner life. In our first essay, students will analyze one story from among a small set of stories by considering a question the story raises. For Essay 2, students will evaluate a critic’s interpretation of how characterization operates in a story and, based on that evaluation, will offer their own interpretation. For our third and largest essay, students will develop an argument about a short story in the context of secondary sources, evaluating the critics’ views and offering their own. For the final assignment, students will have the option to revise one of their first two essays. Our readings will feature the work of some of the masters of contemporary American short stories including including Charles Baxter, Lydia Davis, Junot Diaz, David Gates, Gish Jen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Lorrie Moore, ZZ Packer, James Salter, David Foster Wallace.

060.114.17 Love and Power (TTH 1:30)
Meghan Helsel

When Machiavelli wrote that “It is safer to be feared than loved,” he suggested that love and power are incommensurable and that politics is concerned only with power. In this view, power pursues self-interest, is oppressive and often violent, while love is unselfish, compassionate, and inherently non-violent. Yet do power and love always conflict with each other? Are there other ways to conceptualize them? In this writing class, we will examine some classic texts as we consider these questions and pursue our answers. For the first essay, students will read selections from The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli and will analyze his argument that power is best seized and maintained through the judicious use of violence. Next, we will read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, “Where do We Go from Here?” In their second essay, students will evaluate King’s argument that love and power are best understood as complementary elements in the pursuit of justice. For the third and largest essay, students will read (and watch) President Barack Obama’s Nobel Prize speech, delivered in Oslo, Norway in 2009, on the occasion of his award for the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama endorses the “law of love” in pursuit of a “just and lasting peace,” while also asserting that “the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace.” Drawing on the sources they’ve already read as well as selected contextual sources, students will develop their own assessment of how well Obama’s speech resolves the apparent conflict between love and power, and will offer their own view. Finally, students will have the option to revise their first or second essay.

060.114.18 Journeys into the Dark Unknown (TTH 1:30)
Erica Tempesta

Orpheus, musician of the Olympian gods, descended into Hades to rescue his beloved from death. Aeneas braved the Underworld for the power to foresee the future, and Jesus harrowed Hell to recover the souls of the just. Western culture is filled with stories of journeys into the dark unknown, whether for love, for knowledge, or for power. The journey of the hero is the metaphorical journey of all who come of age—the journey of the self. In this writing course, we will examine what modern fiction can tell us about the journey into the dark unknown that precedes self-knowledge. What is so incomprehensible, so dark, so untouchable as hell? What do we gain by confronting it? And what might we lose? For the first essay, students will read a pair of stories, “In Another Country” by Ernest Hemingway and “The Erl-King” by Angela Carter, and will write a brief analysis of one of the stories. Next, we turn to “The Sisterhood of Night” by Steven Millhauser, a strange tale of teenage girls who meet at night in the woods. Students will evaluate the interpretation of a secondary source against the evidence of the story, and will offer their own interpretation. For our third and longest essay, students will develop an argument about Joseph Conrad’s classic novella Heart of Darkness in the context of secondary and theoretical sources. For the final assignment, students will have the option to revise one of their first two essays.

060.114.19 Humor and Gender (TTH 1:30)
Royce Best

A man has duped a television network into thinking he’s a woman so he can get a part on one of its soap operas. He’s standing in his girlfriend’s bedroom, about to try on one of her dresses to get ideas for his character, when his girlfriend walks in and demands an explanation. People have always thought that characters playing different genders are funny. But why? What’s so funny about a character pretending to be another gender? Is there some inherent connection between humor and gender? Such questions form the backbone of this writing class. For the first assignment, we will deal with that guy who plays a woman in a soap opera as we write about the 1982 film Tootsie, starring Dustin Hoffman. Students will write a brief essay in which they analyze how gender contributes to the humor of the film. Next, we turn to Shakespeare in Love, the1998 Oscar Winner for Best Picture, in which a “blocked” Shakespeare struggles with Romeo and Juliet while Viola, the woman he loves, disguises herself as a man to play his male lead. As they think about the connection between humor and gender, students will engage a critical article about the film. For the final essay, we will read the original tour de force of comedy and gender, William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. In this essay, students will continue their exploration of humor and gender as they engage their choice of two critical articles about the play.

060.114.20 Understanding Scientific Explanation (TTH 3:00)
Genco Guralp

A key aspect of scientific knowledge is its power to explain diverse phenomena we observe in the world around us. But what exactly is a scientific explanation? And what makes an explanation a good one? Can we ever be sure that our explanations are correct? In this writing course, we will explore how leading philosophers of science respond to these questions. We will begin with a classical essay by Carl Hempel, which set the stage for subsequent developments in the philosophy of explanation. For their first essay, students will analyze Hempel’s argument, which puts laws of nature at the center of explanation. We will then move to Wesley Salmon’s model, which argues that causality is the defining factor in explanation. In their second essay, students will examine to what extent Salmon’s model corrects Hempel’s and will identify flaws within Salmon’s causal approach as well. Next, we will turn to the contemporary debate on scientific explanation, with a reading of Philip Kitcher’s account, which claims that science explains the world by providing a unified view of a range of phenomena. In their third and largest essay, students will evaluate Kitcher’s argument and will draw upon the authors they have already examined as they develop their own ideas about the question of scientific explanation. Note: No specialized knowledge is required for this course.

060.114.21 Human Rights and Military Intervention (TTH 3:00)
Casey McNeill

State violence against civilians—in Libya and Syria, for instance—has renewed debates about military intervention to protect civilians. When should outsiders intervene, and who should decide? Who bears responsibility for intervention and its consequences? In this writing course, students will consider these questions as they engage different perspectives on humanitarian intervention. We will start with UN Ambassador Samantha Power’s article “Raising the Costs of Genocide,” in which Power argues that a lack of political will has failed to prevent post-Holocaust genocide. In her view, the American public must demand a global re-commitment to stopping it. Students will write a brief essay analyzing Power’s argument. Next, we turn to the debate around the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine, which establishes international norms for determining when to violate state sovereignty to protect civilians. Students will read the UN report alongside a critique of its assumptions and, in their second essay, will evaluate R2P’s central claims. For the third and longest essay, we will consider a case study from recent world events: the 2011 intervention in Libya by the United States and other NATO nations. Drawing on the debates above as well as new materials, students will argue for their own views of the intervention and will consider the implications of their arguments for future interventions to protect human rights.

Individual Course Descriptions for Expository Writing (060.113), Fall 2016

060.113.01 Man and Machine in Film (TTH 9:00)
Concetta Scozzaro

Machines have fascinated Hollywood filmmakers for over a century. From conveyor belts to artificial intelligence, our use of machines poses questions about what it means to be human in an age dominated by mechanical life. Do machines make human beings more mechanical? Or are humans simply making machines more human? Should we behave ethically toward something not quite human? Beginning with Charlie Chaplin’s classic, Modern Times (1936), this writing course will continue to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and conclude with the Wachowski brothers’ The Matrix (1999) and Spike Jonze’s Her (2013). Students will write three essays. In Essay 1, they will answer a question raised by Chaplin’s film, using the film as evidence for their answer. In Essay 2, alongside Blade Runner, they will consider Roger Ebert’s 1982 review that dubs the film “a failure” and will reason with the evidence toward their own conclusions. Finally, in Essay 3, next to either The Matrix or Her, students will consider two critical sources, including Oxford mathematics professor Marcus du Sautoy’s short essay, “AI Robot: how machine intelligence is evolving,” published by The Observer in 2012.

060.113.02 Balancing Freedom and Security (MWF 9:00)
Robert Webber

Shortly after leaving office in 1974, and after struggling with nearly a dozen terrorist attacks during his tenure, British Prime Minister Edward Heath was asked about his greatest fear for the future of Britain. Heath responded: “that Britain will become the first police state in the democratic world.” Some twenty years later, a report produced by David Murakami Wood claimed that Britain is “the most surveilled country in the world.” Although the United States has always prided itself on being a free society, September 11 pushed it into a situation similar to that of 1970s England. The controversy over warrantless wiretapping at the National Security Agency, the role of Homeland Security, and the expanding use of drones reignited the ancient debate over the best balance between security and individual freedom. In this writing course, we will probe that debate by looking beyond our contemporary world to consider how others have approached this question throughout history. We will start by writing a brief analysis of Cicero’s narration of the Catalinarian conspiracy—an event that shook the Roman Republic to its core and helped lead to the civil war that has fascinated Westerners for two thousand years. For our second essay, we will move to the Cold War and the opposing views of President Harry Truman and former Vice President Henry Wallace on the spread of communism, views students will evaluate by focusing on their underlying assumptions. In their third essay, students will read critiques of current US counter-terrorism policies and will develop an argument, focusing on the extrajudicial use of drones abroad and on questions of privacy at home. As a final assignment in the course, students have the option to revise Essay 1 or Essay 2.

060.113.03 Balancing Freedom and Security (MWF 10:00)
Robert Webber

Please see the course description listed above for Section 02 at MWF 9:00.

060.113.04 What Is Love? (MWF 10:00)
Sandy Koll

What do you mean when you say, “I love you”? Do you love your parents in the same way you love your friends? Do you love your cat? Is your love of literature or baseball similar to your love of particular people? We all use the word “love,” but a satisfactory, shared understanding of the word seems elusive. In this writing course, we will explore the philosophy of love. We will begin with an excerpt from Plato’s Symposium, where we find love construed as an admirable pursuit of creativity and beauty. This rather high-minded view of love is complicated by the arrival of a drunken and miserable Alcibiades, who is clearly stricken with love of quite a different sort. Students will analyze the excerpt from Plato, paying particular attention to the problem presented by Alcibiades’s arrival. For the second essay, we will consider a modern philosophical argument for an account of love that influences current debates. Students will evaluate David Velleman’s argument for understanding love as an “arresting awareness” of the value inherent in another person. For the third essay, our primary source will come from another modern philosopher, Harry G. Frankfurt, whose proposal broadens the concept of love. Whereas Vellman considers only love for people, Frankfurt offers a general account of love that could include love of activities, causes, animals, or almost anything else. Students will consider Frankfurt’s proposal in the light of competing accounts and will then offer their answer to the question: “What is love?”

060.113.05 Witches and Persecutions (MWF 11:00)
Sarah Ross

During the Dark Ages of European history, accusations of witchcraft led to the executions of 50,000 to 80,000 women and men. Similar accusations continued in the New World, leading to the executions of 19 “witches” in Salem, Massachusetts, in the early 1690s. Yet, while we think of these events as part of a long-gone era, the killing of witches persists in the 21st Century. Why, as New York Times columnist Mitch Horowitz asked, do people around the world—from the Bronx to Papua, New Guinea—continue to be seized and executed as witches? What can fiction teach us about the answer to this question? In this writing course, we will investigate a range of modern texts that examine the persecution and execution of witches. In our first unit, we will analyze the cult-classic horror film The Witchfinder General (1969), starring Vincent Price as the vicious leader of a witch-hunt during the English Civil Wars. In our second unit, we will write about Celia Rees’s Young Adult novel, Witch Child (2009), in tandem with a critical source. Students will consider how Rees’s 17th-Century tale about a young woman fleeing the terrors of English witch persecution complicates when the story moves to America. In our third and final unit, we will turn to Arthur Miller’s classic American drama about the Salem witch trials, The Crucible (1953). Students will investigate critical sources as they offer their own interpretations of the play, in the context of the witches and persecutions we have studied throughout the course.

060.113.06 Born to Be Good (MWF 11:00)
Marianna Bergamaschi Ganapini

For thousands of years, philosophers have sought to understand the nature and origin of moral norms. The standard view has been that morality is acquired through learning and education. Recently, however, studies in developmental psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience have brought groundbreaking new data into the discussion, suggesting that we may have innate moral knowledge that allows us to discern what is good from what is bad. Are we born to be good? In this writing course, we will analyze how empirical studies, scientific theories, and philosophical arguments have attempted to reveal the origins of morality. For the first essay, we will read Jesse Prinz’s “Against Moral Nativism,” and students will write an essay analyzing Prinz’s article. Next, we’ll read an interview with developmental psychologist Karen Wynn, “Born Good? Babies Help Unlock the Origins of Morality,” in which Wynn argues that babies are born with an innate moral sense. Students will analyze and evaluate Wynn’s argument. For Essay 3, our largest assignment, we will read Jonathan Haidt’s groundbreaking paper on the role emotions play in moral judgment. Students will develop their own arguments about innate morality based on Haidt’s article together with the other sources we’ve examined so far. For the final assignment, students will have the option to revise one of their first two essays. Note: No specialized knowledge is required for this course.

060.113.07 Beyond Human Limits (MW 12:00)
Joe Haley

Breathtaking developments in fields such as genomics, bionics, cybernetics, and cognitive psychology have challenged our deepest conceptions about what it means to be human. Like futurists before them, proponents of “transhumanism” argue that technological progress can liberate human potential, ushering in a utopian world where we are freed of ignorance and even death itself. Yet “bioconservatives” counsel restraint, urging us to refrain from non-therapeutic interventions, lest we destroy what is most essential to ourselves. In this writing course, we will investigate literary and philosophical works that ask us to consider our power over nature and our desire to transcend the limits of our species. We begin with two short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne that raise questions about using science to pursue human perfection. Students will write a brief essay analyzing one of the stories. For the second essay unit, we turn to philosophical arguments by Nick Bostrom and Francis Fukuyama that consider the uses of biotechnology and human enhancement. Students will write an essay that evaluates one of the arguments. For our third and longest essay, students will intervene in a critical debate about the depiction of human cloning in Never Let Me Go, a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, and will offer their own interpretations. For the final assignment of the course, students will have the option to revise one of their first two essays.

060.113.08 Politics and Violence (MW 12:00)
George Oppel

When we think about political violence we tend to focus on specific examples of war, genocide, terrorism, assassination, or revolution. But the deeper causes, meanings, and justifications of political violence are also worthy of attention. In this course we explore how major political and literary thinkers have tackled the following questions: What is political violence? Are we all implicated in political violence, or is it something we can blame solely on the actions of states and leaders? And when, if ever, can political violence be justified? In the first segment, Defining Political Violence, we read essays by Abraham Lincoln and William James, and you write a short piece that responds to their views on the nature of political violence. In Unit Two, Violence and the State, we read Machiavelli’s account of state violence, and, as a practical example, we consider the use of torture by the US government. In Unit Three, Violence and the People, we focus on themes of conspiracy, assassination, mob-rule, and the power of political speech. We read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and you write a longer essay that offers an interpretation of the play in light of the thinkers we’ve already read. The overriding aim is to develop your ability to write clearly and persuasively as you engage with these fundamental themes and classic texts.

060.113.09 Politics and Violence (MW 1:30)
George Oppel

Please see the course description listed above for Section 08 at MW 12:00.

060.113.10 Epidemics and Social Responses (MW 1:30)
Eli Anders

Ebola, Zika virus, and other commonly feared epidemics are imagined as microscopic germs unleashing devastation as they traverse the globe. But epidemics are not merely biological phenomena; they are shaped by society and culture. How a society responds to an epidemic, writes historian Alan Brandt, “reveals its most fundamental cultural, social, and moral values.” What can epidemics tell us about the beliefs of a particular era? How do assumptions about the nature of illness and disease influence medical, social, and political responses? How do we construct narratives to make sense of epidemic outbreaks? This writing course considers how societies have both shaped and been shaped by epidemics. First, we will read an essay by the Victorian journalist and social critic Henry Mayhew, and students will write an essay analyzing his depiction of London’s nineteenth-century “cholera districts.” Second, we will read an account of an 1853 yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans by southern physician Samuel Cartwright, and students will write an essay evaluating a historian’s analysis of how race and class shaped Cartwright’s views. Third, we will consider HIV/AIDS, one of the most feared epidemics of the contemporary era. Students will write about the documentary United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, engaging with scholarship on how gender, sexuality, and patient activism shaped perceptions of and responses to HIV/AIDS.

060.113.11 Beyond Human Limits (MW 3:00)
Joe Haley

Please see the course description listed above for Section 07 at MW 12:00.

060.113.12 The Ethics of Capitalism (TTH 9:00)
Christopher England

Is inequality just? Can capitalism be ethical and still be capitalist? These questions and others like them have been asked for centuries, but they have gained renewed prominence since the economic crisis of 2008. In this writing class, we will examine several major arguments about the ethical questions surrounding commerce. For the first essay, we will read the first book of Aristotle’s Politics. Students will analyze why Aristotle, like many other Greek thinkers, held money-making in such low moral regard and will locate an important flaw in his argument. For the second essay, we will examine selections from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom in order to understand the surprising modern reversal: the claim that commercial society has a deep moral basis. Students will choose one of these texts to evaluate. The third and longest essay asks students to evaluate several diverse approaches to capitalism. In Why Not Socialism? renowned philosopher and socialist G.A. Cohen argues that, with a little reflection, modern citizens are inclined to recognize socialist equality as the best form of society. Conversely, in The Fatal Conceit, F.A. Hayek offers a novel defense of capitalism from an evolutionary perspective. Finally, in her book Creating Capabilities, Martha Nussbaum takes a different approach, rooted in a reading of Aristotle, and argues that to evaluate modern economies, we must first have a more developed understanding of human nature. Students will enter this conversation by evaluating the views of the sources and will then argue their own point of view. As a final assignment, students will have the option to revise Essay 1 or Essay 2.

060.113.13 What Is Freedom? (TTH 9:00)
Arash Abazari

We think we know what we’re talking about when we talk about freedom: Freedom is doing whatever we want, being whoever we want to be. Yet, on further reflection, freedom becomes a difficult concept to define. Does law limit freedom, or does it enable freedom? Does one’s freedom require independence from others? Are we free if we don’t have the resources needed to exercise our freedom, such as adequate food and shelter? To consider these questions about the nature of freedom, our point of departure will be Isaiah Berlin’s classic essay, “Two Concepts of Liberty,” in which Berlin distinguishes between “negative” freedom and “positive” freedom. For Berlin, negative freedom concerns the absence of external constraints; and positive freedom, the presence of values such as self-realization and self-fulfillment. For the first essay, students will examine Berlin’s two concepts of freedom, and analyze his reasons for advocating negative freedom. Next, we will consider an essay by Charles Taylor, a critic of Berlin. Taylor argues that to be free is not simply to be left alone but requires active, positive participation in the society of which one is a member. Students will write an essay evaluating Taylor’s argument in relation to Berlin’s. For the third and largest essay, we will draw on Phillip Pettit’s and Quentin Skinner’s “republican” concept of freedom. Pettit and Skinner define freedom as non-domination, and aspire to integrate negative freedom into a broader framework of laws and civic virtues. We will also consider excerpts from W.E.B. Du Bois about the reality of freedom for slaves newly freed after the Civil War. Drawing on all of these sources, students will advance their understanding of freedom in relation to Berlin’s two concepts of liberty.

060.113.14 American Gothic (TTH 10:30)
Mande Zecca

From Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” to the Twilight series, the Gothic imagination is one of the signature modes of American expression. How do we explain our sustained cultural preoccupation with the supernatural and the macabre? In this writing course, we will consider how representations of horror in American literature express anxieties about the unknown and the irrational, and why this genre has adapted so well to the American environment. Our first essay will analyze a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, paying particular attention to the trope of transgressed boundaries between self and other, life and death, sanity and madness. For our second essay, we will read a selection of canonical short stories by Henry James and Shirley Jackson alongside critical interpretations that invite us to think about what makes these tales uniquely terrifying. Students will write about one of the stories and evaluate the critical interpretation, finally offering their own view of the story. For our third and most comprehensive unit, we will read Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and students will develop their interpretation of the novel in the context of several secondary and theoretical sources. As a final assignment in the course, students will have the option to revise Essay 1 or Essay 2.

060.113.15 Pirates (TTH 10:30)
Samreen Kazmi

Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Jack Sparrow, and Long John Silver. How did these scurvy-ridden and dangerous law-breakers become figures of glamor and awe? And, in charting the pirate figure’s shift from the dangerous to the glamorous, how might we think of the sea as a space of action? In our most well-loved and well-remembered pirate stories, the sea is a space of freedom and also—sometimes simultaneously—of fear, calculation, sensation, and danger. Why do children dream of running away to become pirates? This writing course is organized around three units in which we will investigate the strange glamor and awe surrounding the figure of the pirate. First, with help from David Cordingly’s Under the Black Flag, we will learn how to recognize a pirate: What distinguishes the pirate from the privateer, for instance, and what are the intersections between the two? Students will write a brief essay analyzing a pirate narrative in these terms. In the second unit, we will think about the doubly exciting lives of female pirates. Students will read the narratives of Anne Bonny and Mary Read and will evaluate the interpretation of a scholarly essay as they offer their own interpretation. The third and largest unit will feature Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island, and the third essay will be an opportunity for students to draw on previously discussed themes as they develop their own argument. Students will evaluate scholarly views and past claims about the book and will argue their own interpretation. For the final assignment, students will have the option to revise one of their first two essays.

060.113.16 James Joyce’s Dubliners (TTH 10:30)
Joel Childers

Few writers have portrayed the human condition and human experience with as much ingenuity, penetration, and suggestive power as James Joyce, one of the most experimental and influential novelists in twentieth-century literature. In his collection of stories, Dubliners, Joyce foregrounds the conflict between the mundaneness of routine life structured by religion, family, and social norms, on the one hand, and individual struggles for self-understanding, freedom, and change, on the other. How do individuals reconcile or fail to reconcile their inner desires with the monotonous demands of society? And within this context, what do the moments of epiphany in the stories reveal about the characters’ inner minds and individual choices? This writing course will examine Joyce’s Dubliners, considering how individual stories enact this conflict and also how they might resist it. For the first essay, we will read “The Boarding House” and “A Little Cloud.” Students will write an essay analyzing how the characters struggle with the conflict between the pressure of social norms and their own aspirations and desires. For the second essay, we will explore Joyce’s depiction of romantic adventures within everyday experience in “A Painful Case.” Students will read the story alongside a secondary source and will evaluate the critic’s view against the evidence of the story, finally offering their own view. The third essay will be a study of the last story in Dubliners, “The Dead.” Students will develop an argument about the story in the context of critical sources.

060.113.17 The Challenge of Climate Change (TTH 12:00)
Christopher Westcott

The science is emphatic: global environmental conditions are changing dramatically; the effects on life will be considerable; and humans have everything to do with it. But who—or what—is responsible for these changes? Why do so many remain skeptical about their significance? And in the midst of rising emissions, what kind of response might actually limit their effects? This writing course examines competing accounts of global climate change, foregrounding recent debates over capitalism’s role as both cause and possible solution. We’ll begin with two brief essays on climate-change skepticism. Students will analyze either George Marshall’s psychological interpretation of skepticism or Naomi Klein’s political interpretation. Next, we’ll consider two leading accounts of what lies at the root of climate change. In the first, Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen traces our predicament back to humankind’s mastery over fire; in the second, Andreas Malm, author of Fossil Capital, portrays climate change as an outcome of capitalist development. Students will select one of these texts to evaluate. For the third and longest essay, students will enter a debate sparked by An Ecomodernist Manifesto, a collectively-authored text that advocates for nuclear energy and capitalist growth as solutions to climate change. Alongside the manifesto, students will engage with a response, “A Call to Look Past An Ecomodernist Manifesto: A Degrowth Critique,” as well as an essay by Vandana Shiva, who examines the ecological implications of growth within an uneven global landscape, and excerpts from Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical on climate change.

060.113.18 Contemporary American Short Stories (TTH 12:00)
Donald Berger

In a 2012 interview with the New York Times, American critic M.H. Abrams was asked, “Why study literature?” Abrams answered, because “it enables you to live the lives of other people.” In his book How Fiction Works, critic James Wood points us to fiction’s “extraordinary capacity . . . [to] tell us what a character is thinking.” But how does a master of short fiction open a window to his or her characters’ thoughts and feelings? In this writing course, we will examine how writers of American short stories use fictional elements such as point of view and description to create a character’s inner life. In our first essay, students will analyze one story from among a small set of stories by considering a question the story raises. For Essay 2, students will evaluate a critic’s interpretation of how characterization operates in a story and, based on that evaluation, will offer their own interpretation. For our third and largest essay, students will develop an argument about a short story in the context of secondary sources, evaluating the critics’ views and offering their own. For a final assignment, students will have the option to revise one of their first two essays. Our readings will feature the work of some of the masters of contemporary American short stories including Charles Baxter, Lydia Davis, Junot Diaz, David Gates, Gish Jen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Lorrie Moore, ZZ Packer, James Salter, David Foster Wallace.

060.113.19 Love and Power (TTH 1:30)
Meghan Helsel

hen Machiavelli wrote that “It is safer to be feared than loved,” he suggested that love and power are incommensurable and that politics is concerned only with power. In this view, power pursues self-interest, is oppressive and often violent, while love is unselfish, compassionate, and inherently non-violent. Yet do power and love always conflict with each other? Are there other ways to conceptualize them? In this writing class, we will examine some classic texts as we consider these questions and pursue our answers. For the first essay, students will read selections from The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli and will analyze his argument that power is best seized and maintained through the judicious use of violence. Next, we will read Martin Luther King, Jr’s final speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, “Where Do We Go from Here?” In their second essay, students will evaluate King’s argument that love and power are best understood as complementary elements in the pursuit of justice. For the third and largest essay, students will read (and watch) President Barack Obama’s Nobel Prize speech, delivered in Oslo, Norway in 2009, on the occasion of his award for the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama endorses the “law of love” in pursuit of a “just and lasting peace,” while also asserting that “the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace.” Drawing on the sources they’ve already read as well as selected contextual sources, student will develop their own assessment of how well Obama’s speech resolves the apparent conflict between love and power, and will offer their own view. Finally, students will have the option to revise their first or second essay.

060.113.20 Journeys into the Dark Unknown (TTH 1:30)
Erica Tempesta

Orpheus, musician of the Olympian gods, descended into Hades to rescue his beloved from death. Aeneas braved the Underworld for the power to foresee the future, and Jesus harrowed Hell to recover the souls of the just. Western culture is filled with stories of journeys into the dark unknown, whether for love, for knowledge, or for power. The journey of the hero is the metaphorical journey of all who come of age—the journey of the self. In this writing course, we will examine what modern fiction can tell us about the journey into the dark unknown that precedes self-knowledge. What is so incomprehensible, so dark, so untouchable as hell? What do we gain by confronting it? And what might we lose? For the first essay, students will read a pair of stories, “In Another Country” by Ernest Hemingway and “The Erl-King” by Angela Carter, and will write a brief analysis of one of the stories. Next, we turn to “The Sisterhood of Night” by Steven Millhauser, a strange tale of teenage girls who meet at night in the woods. Students will evaluate the interpretation of a secondary source against the evidence of the story, and will offer their own interpretation. For our third and longest essay, students will develop an argument about Joseph Conrad’s classic novella Heart of Darkness in the context of secondary and theoretical sources. For the final assignment, students will have the option to revise one of their first two essays.

060.113.21 Humor and Gender (TTH 1:30)
Royce Best

A man has duped a television network into thinking he’s a woman so he can get a part on one of its soap operas. He’s standing in his girlfriend’s bedroom, about to try on one of her dresses to get ideas for his character, when his girlfriend walks in and demands an explanation. People have always thought that characters playing different genders are funny. But why? What’s so funny about a character pretending to be another gender? Is there some inherent connection between humor and gender? Such questions form the backbone of this writing class. For the first assignment, we will deal with that guy who plays a woman in a soap opera as we write about the 1982 film Tootsie, starring Dustin Hoffman. Students will write a brief essay in which they analyze how gender contributes to the humor of the film. Next, we turn to Shakespeare in Love, the1998 Oscar Winner for Best Picture, in which a “blocked” Shakespeare struggles with Romeo and Juliet while Viola, the woman he loves, disguises herself as a man to play his male lead. As they think about the connection between humor and gender, students will engage a critical article about the film. For the final essay, we will read the original tour de force of comedy and gender, William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. In this essay, students will continue their exploration of humor and gender as they engage their choice of two critical articles about the play.

060.113.22 Understanding Scientific Explanation (TTH 3:00)
Genco Guralp

A key aspect of scientific knowledge is its power to explain diverse phenomena we observe in the world around us. But what exactly is a scientific explanation? And what makes an explanation a good one? Can we ever be sure that our explanations are correct? In this writing course, we will explore how leading philosophers of science respond to these questions. We will begin with a classical essay by Carl Hempel, which set the stage for subsequent developments in the philosophy of explanation. For their first essay, students will analyze Hempel’s argument, which puts laws of nature at the center of explanation. We will then move to Wesley Salmon’s model, which argues that causality is the defining factor in explanation. In their second essay, students will examine to what extent Salmon’s model corrects Hempel’s and will identify flaws within Salmon’s causal approach as well. Next, we will turn to the contemporary debate on scientific explanation, with a reading of Philip Kitcher’s account, which claims that science explains the world by providing a unified view of a range of phenomena. In their third and largest essay, students will evaluate Kitcher’s argument and will draw upon the authors they have already examined as they develop their own ideas about the question of scientific explanation. Note: No specialized knowledge is required for this course.

060.113.23 Human Rights and Military Intervention (TTH 3:00)
Casey McNeill

State violence against civilians—in Libya and Syria, for instance—has renewed debates about military intervention to protect civilians. When should outsiders intervene, and who should decide? Who bears responsibility for intervention and its consequences? In this writing course, students will consider these questions as they engage different perspectives on humanitarian intervention. We will start with UN Ambassador Samantha Power’s article “Raising the Costs of Genocide,” in which Power argues that a lack of political will has failed to prevent post-Holocaust genocide. In her view, the American public must demand a global re-commitment to stopping it. Students will write a brief essay analyzing Power’s argument. Next, we turn to the debate around the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine, which establishes international norms for determining when to violate state sovereignty to protect civilians. Students will read the UN report alongside a critique of its assumptions and, in their second essay, will evaluate R2P’s central claims. For the third and longest essay, we will consider a case study from recent world events: the 2011 intervention in Libya by the United States and other NATO nations. Drawing on the debates above as well as new materials, students will argue for their own views of the intervention and will consider the implications of their arguments for future interventions to protect human rights.