Expository Writing Course Descriptions

Individual Course Descriptions for Expository Writing (060.114), Spring 2020

060.114.01 Medicine, East and West (MWF 10:00)

James Flowers

When the western physician Vesalius argued for the importance of human dissection, he urged that anatomy was necessary to practice medicine, and he presented his treatise on the human body as the pinnacle of medical knowledge in the sixteenth century. Yet physicians in East Asia and elsewhere, familiar with Vesalian anatomy, emphasized other conceptions, such as qi, until the twentieth century. How was the eastern body different from that of the West? Are there legitimate conceptualizations of the body other than physical structure? In this writing class, we will examine both classic texts and scholarly essays as we consider these questions and pursue our answers. For the first essay, students will read a selection from Fabrica by Vesalius and will analyze his argument, including his concept of representing the body in images. For the second essay, we will read Shigehisa Kuriyama’s essay “The Imagination of the Body and the History of Embodied Experience: The Case of Chinese Views of the Viscera.” Students will evaluate Kuriyama’s argument for the importance of qi, alongside excerpts from the foundational text, the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor. For the third and longest essay, students will read Charles Rosenberg’s essay “Alternative to What? Complementary to Whom? On Some Aspects of Medicine’s Scientific Inquiry.” In it, Rosenberg asks why people seek medical care outside the western scientific model of medicine, and he offers a number of reasons. Drawing on the sources they have already read, as well as selected others, students will develop their own assessments of the tension between scientific and alternative medicines.

060.114.02 Science Fiction and Social Justice (MWF 10:00)

Samanda Robinson

What happens to our individuality in the context of biotechnological advances that alter our humanity and our relationship with society? In this writing course, we explore alternate realities, futuristic fantasies, and faraway planets to discover how science fiction helps us answer this question and shape our conceptions of social justice. We begin with two stories by Hugo Award winners: “Flowers for Algernon” (1959) by Daniel Keyes, which explores cognitive disability, medical interventions, and bioethics; and “The City Born Great” (2016) by N. K. Jemisin, in which a homeless man serves as the “midwife” for all of New York City—battling with a MegaCop, upending social hierarchies, and anticipating threats to the future of the metropolis. Students will choose one story to analyze for their first essay. For the second essay, we continue to explore science fiction and social justice with Boots Riley’s film Sorry to Bother You (2018). This futuristic film engages a volatile mix of economic need, capitalist democracy, and genetic engineering through the story of telemarketer Cassius “Cash” Green. Students will evaluate the view of a critical source and offer their own view of the film. Finally, our third and largest essay will focus on Octavia Butler’s canonical short story “Bloodchild” (1984), in which human refugees must “pay the rent” on an alien planet by serving as incubators for the flesh-eating grubs of the alien species who govern their new home. Alongside secondary sources from various fields, including the medical humanities, students will form their own interpretation of the story.

060.114.03 Negotiating Religious Difference (MWF 11:00)

Aditya Bahl

How should we understand the role of religion in a secular society? In the context of ongoing religious conflicts around the world, refugee crises, and cultural controversies over religious intolerance and freedom of speech, this question raises a serious challenge not only for secular, democratic governments but also for us as citizens. How can we better negotiate religious difference in a pluralistic society? In this writing course, we will explore some of the scholarly debates, past and present, which have been central to the shifting relationship between the religious and the secular. For the first essay, we will read excerpts from Karl Marx’s provocative text “On the Jewish Question.” Students will identify a flaw in Marx’s argument and trace its implications for the religious conflicts he examines. For our second essay, we will consider a different method of religious negotiation in Talal Asad’s seminal essay “Free Speech, Blasphemy, and Secular Criticism.” Students will evaluate Asad’s attempts to subvert the conventional opposition between a political Islam identified with aggression and death, and a secular Christianity identified with rationality and life. For the third and longest essay, students will read excerpts from Jurgen Habermas’s “Religion in the Public Sphere” together with a selection of contemporary texts, including news articles, editorials, and a Supreme Court case, that speak to some of the ways in which modern democratic societies attempt to negotiate religious conflict in the public sphere. Students will evaluate Habermas’s argument and enter into this debate as they develop their own argument about how to negotiate religious difference.

060.114.04 Vaccines, Science, and Values (MW 12:00)

Rebecca Wilbanks

Recent measles outbreaks have made vaccination policies a subject of newspaper headlines and target of legislation in statehouses across the country. In this writing course, we will read behind the headlines to understand why “vaccine hesitancy” persists, and what we should do about it. Vaccines are a public health intervention that produce a common good, yet are enacted on individual bodies. When individuals refuse vaccination for themselves or their children, health professionals and policy makers must weigh competing values, such as autonomy and justice, as they aim to balance individual and social welfare. Further complicating this aim, people’s attitudes toward vaccination can be shaped by divergent ideas about the meaning of health and social responsibility, as well as by their trust in scientific institutions and knowledge. In other words, scientific evidence alone cannot resolve vaccine controversies; navigating science and values together is vital to achieving just policy in a democratic society. We will begin by reading arguments for and against compulsory vaccination from the bioethics literature; students will choose one of these philosophical perspectives to analyze for their first essay, looking for a flaw in the author’s argument. Next, we’ll explore the metaphorical and symbolic dimensions of vaccination with Eula Biss’s On Immunity, a work of creative nonfiction that blends memoir and cultural analysis. Students will respond to a secondary source that comments on Biss’s text and offer their own interpretation of her work. Finally, we will enter into an ongoing conversation as we evaluate New York State’s decision to end religious exemptions for vaccination. Students will draw on evidence from a variety of sources to argue their own policy recommendations.

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 Inequality and Urban Design (MW 12:00)

Morris Speller

Can cities be designed democratically, and if so, how? What might be the role of urban redevelopment in promoting or combating inequality? For the last half-century, urban planners and activists have focused on community-centered planning approaches, stressing the idea that residents of a neighborhood should have the ability to shape its redevelopment and thus have a sense of investment in their community. But others have argued that these planning approaches have contributed to urban inequality through, for instance, “gentrification” and privatization of public space. In this writing course, we will begin our examination of these questions by reading excerpts from one of the most influential works about urban planning, Jane Jacobs’s The Life and Death of Great American Cities (1961), as well as from the work of Oscar Newman, an urban planner who argued that how streets are designed can encourage residents of a neighborhood to see themselves as part of a community and even reduce crime. For the first essay, students will analyze the argument of one of these authors and will identify a flaw in the argument. Next, students will consider how present-day urban planners might redress historical inequalities, particularly those of race and class. Students will evaluate an essay that criticizes economic development in the Harbor East area of Baltimore and will offer their own views on how (or whether) urban development strategies might be adapted to benefit historically marginalized communities. In the final essay, students will enter an ongoing debate about the proposed redevelopment of Baltimore’s Lexington Market. Drawing on their own visit to Lexington Market as well as previous sources, students will evaluate competing opinions on redevelopment and will argue their own approach to a democratically-engaged redevelopment plan for this “World Famous” public space.

060.114.07 Law and Revenge (MW 1:30)

George Oppel

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

060.114.08 Exploring the Philosophy of Love (MW 1:30)

Sandy Koullas

What do you love? Do you love your family? Your friends? Do you love hiking in the mountains, the music of Mozart, the idea of justice? We use the word “love” in all of these contexts and more, but a satisfactory, shared understanding of the term seems elusive. Philosophers have disagreed about its meaning for thousands of years. What is clear is that love plays a significant role in our lives. In this writing class, 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. For the first essay, students will analyze the excerpt from Plato, paying particular attention to the problem presented by Alcibiades’s arrival. For our second essay, we will consider two modern philosophical accounts of love that have been influential in current debates: David Velleman’s argument for understanding love as an “arresting awareness” of the value inherent in another person, and Harry G. Frankfurt’s proposal, which broadens the concept of love considerably. Whereas Velleman considers only love for people, Frankfurt offers a general account of love that could include love of activities, causes, animals, or just about anything else. Students will evaluate one of these arguments. Finally, in the third essay, we will consider several contemporary contributions to the philosophy of love, including Myisha Cherry’s “Love, Anger, and Racial Injustice,” as well as insights from the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience, in our attempt to answer this ancient but still pressing question: What is love?

060.114.09 Vaccines, Science, and Values (MW 1:30)

Rebecca Wilbanks

Please see the course description listed above for Section 04 at MW 12:00.

060.114.10 Emotion(s) (MW 3:00)

Michele Asuni

What are emotions? The word “emotion” entered the English language only in the seventeenth century, borrowed from the French émotion, meaning “physical disturbance and bodily movement.” Yet having a word for a concept does not guarantee that its definition will be straightforward. In fact, trying to provide an exact definition of “emotion” has long proved challenging for philosophers, psychologists, and scientists. Are emotions merely physiological responses to external events? Or do they contain a rational element? Do they speak to our conscious minds and thus help determine our moral judgments? In this writing course, we will engage with a range of texts that explore these questions. We start by reading passages from the ancient philosopher Aristotle, who defined emotions as “all those feelings that so change humans as to affect their judgments, and that are also attended by pain and pleasure.” Paying particular attention to the volatile emotion of anger, students will write a short essay analyzing Aristotle’s argument. For the second essay, we turn to recent physiological and neurological accounts of emotions. We will read chapters from Lisa Feldman Barrett’s How Emotions Are Made and Antonio Damasio’s The Feeling of What Happens. Students will evaluate the claims of either Barrett or Damasio and will offer their own views. For the third and longest essay, we will read the work of contemporary philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who argues that emotions are not mere animal impulses or primeval forces with no connection to our thoughts but, rather, are “suffused with intelligence and discernment” and are paramount to our ethical judgments. Students will engage with Nussbaum by entering into a wider debate about emotions and will offer their own answers to the question of how we should understand emotions.

060.114.11 Cross-Cultural Encounters in the Middle Ages (TTH 9:00)

Nathan Daniels

For many, “The Middle Ages” evokes gothic cathedrals, pious monks, and knights in armor—images of a Europe isolated from the rest of the world. But in fact, the exchange of ideas, goods, and services across continents was a regular feature of medieval life, in which people of different backgrounds, cultures, and religions frequently came into contact with one another. In this writing course, we will consider what happened when a member of one culture visited another and wrote about the experience. How were travelers’ ideas about other cultures and religions affirmed or challenged? What did they learn about their own identities, and how can their encounters inform us about ours today? To answer these questions, we will read selections from a series of medieval travelogues—chronicles of journeys across the medieval world. Students will analyze these texts to consider how the authors’ religious backgrounds shaped the ways they interacted with the people of other cultures, and how they themselves were changed by the encounters. For the first essay, students will read and analyze the Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, a twelfth-century Jewish merchant who traveled from Spain to Baghdad and Cairo, describing the communities he met in the process. Next, students will read selections from the Rihla (Travels) of Muslim scholar Ibn Battuta as he journeyed across Africa, the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia during the mid-1300s. Students will evaluate an article by contemporary scholar Christine Chism about Ibn Battuta’s interactions with Christians in Asia Minor and will offer their own interpretation of the Rihla. For the final essay, students will read selections from the Travels of Marco Polo, in which the famous Christian traveler journeys from Venice to China to meet Kublai Khan in the late 1200s. Students will enter into conversation with a variety of secondary sources and form their own arguments about Polo’s interactions with the cultures he meets on his journey.

060.114.12 The Language of Food (TTH 9:00)

Thai-Catherine Matthews

Much like a narrative, the act of cooking unfolds in time as a sequence of events, rich with cultural context and personal meaning, and like a narrative, cooking tells a story. In this writing course, we will read and analyze a range of narratives, in print and on film, which speaks to us of and through the depiction of cooking and sharing food. We will ask how these stories use the language of food to help illuminate our common human experience. To begin, we will read two narrative essays from The Best American Food Writing 2018: “In Good Hands” by Francis Lam, host of NPR’s “The Splendid Table,” and “Who Owns Uncle Ben?” by Shane Mitchell. Students will write a brief essay analyzing the narrative of their choice. For the second essay, we will watch The Joy Luck Club, the 1993 film adapted from Amy Tan’s novel of the same name, about four Chinese-American women and their Chinese-immigrant mothers. Students will evaluate the view of a secondary source and will offer their own view of how cooking and food help to reveal the characters and their relationships. For the third and most extensive essay, we will read Laura Esquivel’s 1989 novel Like Water for Chocolate, a story of love, longing, and cooking. By entering into conversation with selected critical sources, students will develop their own interpretation of the novel.

060.114.13 Mourning and Memory (TTH 9:00)

Daniel McClurkin

After the death of his wife Genevieve, lyricist Phil Elverum wrote: “I realized that these photographs we have of you are slowly replacing the subtle familiar memory of what it’s like to know you’re in the other room.” If the process of mourning is contingent on one’s memories of the deceased, then how does the process of mourning change when these memories fade? In this writing course, we will explore how memory structures the experience of grief and the ways in which some artistic media have represented the relationship between mourning and memory. We begin with a chapter from Yiyun Li’s 2017 memoir Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life and with David Foster Wallace’s 1999 short story “Suicide as a Sort of Present.” Students will write a brief essay interpreting one of the stories. Next, we turn to James Joyce’s 1914 short story “The Dead.” Students will evaluate the view of a critical source with attention to how Joyce captures the intimate ways that memories of the dead impress themselves upon the living. For the third and longest essay, we will read Kazuo Ishiguro’s 1982 debut novel A Pale View of Hills, which follows the daydreams and memories of a Japanese-British woman as she reflects on the life she left behind in Nagasaki. Students will use secondary sources, both critical and theoretical, in order to interpret the relationship between geography, material circumstances, and memory in the novel.

060.114.14 The Rhetoric of Radical Speech (TTH 10:30)

Jarvis Young

How do radical speech acts help to shape our understanding of social and political issues? More specifically, how have radical speeches from American writers and orators helped to shape and inform our understanding of the United States as a nation (and ourselves as a people)? In this writing course, we will explore such questions through reading and analyzing radical speeches and essays from a range of American activists and by analyzing the principles of persuasion that help shape the relationship between polemical language and activism. Our topics will include race, politics, and human rights. First, we will read two radical nineteenth-century essays, David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829) and Lydia Maria Child’s letter on “Women’s Rights” (1843). Students will choose one to analyze. For the second essay, we will read and listen to two speeches of the late twentieth century: “The Other America” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1967) and “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” by Hilary Clinton (1995). With the help of a secondary source, students will analyze one of the speeches in the context of its rhetorical situation. For the third and largest essay, students will build on the skills they develop in essay assignments one and two, as they engage with activist Alicia Garza’s 2016 speech “Why Black Lives Matter” in the context of the debate surrounding the movement to which Garza’s speech gave its name.

060.114.15 Contemporary American Short Stories (TTH 10:30)

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.” And 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? How does the writer, as Abrams suggests, draw us into other lives? 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. For our first essay assignment, 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. Our readings will feature the work of some of the masters of contemporary American short stories including Raymond Carver, Grace Paley, Joyce Carol Oates, Junot Diaz, Gish Jen, Jennifer Egan, Richard Ford, Denis Johnson, ZZ Packer, George Saunders, Lorrie Moore, Edward P. Jones, Alice Munro and Lydia Davis.

060.114.16 Age of Collapse? (TTH 10:30)

Michael Albert

We live in a time of great uncertainty, with many questioning the sustainability of our civilization and even the future of human survival. What do contemporary global challenges, from climate change and resource depletion to unprecedented population growth, tell us about where our civilization is headed? And what might be done to confront these challenges? In this writing course we will examine a range of perspectives on these questions. For the first essay, we read political theorist William Ophuls’s argument that our civilization is destined to fail. Students will analyze Orphuls’s claims and identify a flaw in his argument. For the second essay, we shift toward a more optimistic assessment in the form of Stephen Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, which argues that human ingenuity will stave off collapse. Students will evaluate the strengths and possible weaknesses of Pinker’s argument and will offer their own assessment. In the third and longest essay, students join an ongoing conversation about what, if anything, is to be done. We will read Richard Smith’s essay titled “Capitalism and the Destruction of Humanity,” which argues for the necessity of political-economic revolution to save humanity; Mark Lynas’s The God Species, which asserts the power of technological innovation without major political-economic reform; and Jim Bendell’s “Deep Adaptation,” which argues the time for solutions has passed and that humanity must prepare for inevitable social collapse. Based on their analyses, students will develop their own perspectives on the question of what can and should be done to meet these global challenges.

060.114.17 Violence and Macbeth (TTH 12:00)

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.

060.114.18 Tarantino (TTH 12:00)

Mitchell Cram

Popular cinema is saturated in violence. Few films evoke this fact as emphatically as those of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. Slapstick, absurd, tragic, and grotesque—the violence of Tarantino’s films shocks and entertains us, working through and against familiar symbols and conventions. What can these films tell us about stylized violence as a form of storytelling? How and why is the cinematic depiction of violence such an effective storytelling tool? In this writing course, we will examine a selection of Tarantino’s films which explore violence as a mode of artistic expression, where acts of violence are transformed into moments for aesthetic contemplation. For the first assignment, we will watch the martial arts film Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003). Students will write a short essay analyzing the film’s portrayal of revenge. Next, we will watch Pulp Fiction (1994), widely considered Tarantino’s masterpiece, which tells the interwoven story of a group of criminals in Los Angeles. Students will evaluate the interpreta- tion of a secondary source and will offer their own interpretation of the film. For the third and most extensive essay, we will watch Tarantino’s WWII counter-historical drama, Inglourious Basterds (2009). In conversation with a select group of critical sources, students will argue their own interpretation of how the film speaks to us about the representation and history of violence. Please be advised that our primary texts contain scenes of graphic violence, profanity and hate speech, nudity and depictions of sex. If you are uncomfortable with or morally opposed to viewing, discussing, or writing about such material, you should not register for this course.

060.114.19 Personal Identity and Survival (TTH 12:00)

Kathryn Brophy

We intuitively understand that, in some important sense, we are the same person we were ten minutes ago, or ten years ago, and will continue to be the same person into the future. What is less clear, however, is what exactly makes these kinds of claims true. In this writing course, we will explore the philosophy of personal identity, and answer questions such as: What are we? What features are needed for us to persist through time? What sort of events is it possible for us to survive, and what sort would determinately end our existence? We will begin by exploring a paper by Derek Parfit, who argues that a special sort of psychological continuity is what guarantees our persistence through time. Students will critically analyze Parfit’s views, paying particular attention to his distinction between what matters to survival and what matters to identity. For the second essay, students will read excerpts from Eric Olson’s The Human Animal, in which Olson argues that our survival ultimately consists in the continued biological functioning of our human bodies. For the final assignment, students will consider the work of Marya Schechtman, who argues for a more holistic view of personal identity that combines psychology, biology, and social considerations. In this final essay, students will engage Schechtman in conversation with others, and argue their answer to the question: What constitutes personal identity?

060.114.20 Violence and Macbeth (TTH 1:30)

Marisa O’Connor

Please see the course description listed above for Section 17 at TTH 12:00.

060.114.21 What Is Mental Illness? (TTH 1:30)

Nikola Andonovski

Mental illness is on the rise. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year, while 1 in 25 suffers from a mental disorder which substantially interferes with their daily lives. But what is mental illness? The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5, doesn’t tell us much, though it uses terms such as “psychobiological dysfunctions” that might be deemed value-laden. Is it possible to talk about mental illness in value-free terms? If so, how can we do it? And what is at stake if we don’t? In this writing course, we will try to answer these questions by considering some of the major philosophical and scientific conceptions of mental illness. For the first unit, we will read Thomas Szasz’s classic essay “The Myth of Mental Illness.” Students will write a short essay analyzing Szasz’s argument(s), with the goal of identifying an important flaw. For the second unit, we’ll read papers by David Papineau and Rachel Cooper. Students will evaluate Papineau’s argument(s), focusing on both the merits and the flaws. In the final unit, we’ll read three representative essays from the contemporary literature (Boorse, Wakefield, Kingma), in which each author argues for a different conception of mental illness. Students will critically engage with the existent arguments and will develop their own conceptions in their final essays.

060.114.22 The End of Moral Responsibility (TTH 1:30)

Justin Estrada

Under what circumstances can we hold individuals accountable for their actions? Do human beings control their destiny, and how does the answer to this question affect a person’s moral responsibility? Although scholars have long wrestled with these questions, recent philosophical and scientific developments have offered new insights into the nature of free will and raised the question of whether it is still valid to use the language of “moral responsibility.” The answer has the potential to affect both private and public spheres of life—everything from how we think about concepts such as guilt in interpersonal relationships to how our legal system should punish offenders. In this writing course, we will examine several contemporary works that have introduced new ideas into the debate on moral responsibility. For the first essay, we will read excerpts from Daniel Dennett’s Elbow Room. Students will analyze Dennett’s claim that a determined world does not threaten freedom of will and moral responsibility. For the second essay, we will read articles by philosophers Laura Ekstrom and Peter van Inwagen. Students will analyze and evaluate one of the articles, both of which counter Dennett and claim that moral responsibility requires an undetermined, free will. For the third essay, we will read selections from Bruce Waller’s Against Moral Responsibility. Waller draws upon recent neuroscience research to abolish what he calls the “illusion” of moral responsibility. By engaging with responses to and critiques of Waller’s argument, students will formulate their own views on the question of whether moral responsibility has truly come to an end.

060.114.23 Witchcraft (TTH 3:00)

Jessica Keene

Most Americans associate “witches” with the Halloween images of popular culture, from TV sitcoms to Harry Potter, a benign reminder of a dark past now safely behind us. Yes, we’ve all heard of the Salem witch trials, but 1692 was a long time ago, right? In fact, accusations of witchcraft and the execution of so-called “witches” is a growing global problem tracked by Amnesty International and the United Nations, from Papua, New Guinea to Saudia Arabia, from rural Africa to Brooklyn, New York. Why are people—most of them women—accused of witchcraft? What drives those who accuse neighbors and family members, even children, of being witches? In this writing course, we will examine a variety of sources, past and present, as we attempt to answer these questions and understand the deadly and persistent phenomenon of witchcraft. For our first essay, we will analyze selections from Heinrich Kramer and Joseph Sprenger’s immensely influential treatise Malleus Maleficarum (1486), also known as The Hammer of Witches, which provided its readers with advice on how to identify and interrogate witches. Students will write a brief essay analyzing how the Malleus defines a “witch.” For the second essay, we turn to Salem, Massachusetts, and the witch trials that ended with 20 people, women and men, executed as witches. Students will evaluate the interpretation of a modern scholarly source against the trial records and will offer their own interpretation of what led to the most infamous witch hunt in American history. For our third and final essay, we will examine a contemporary case of witchcraft accusations in the context of a scholarly debate about how to understand the causes of these deadly accusations. By entering into conversation with the sources, students will argue their own view of what drives claims of witchcraft.


Individual Course Descriptions for Expository Writing (060.113), Fall 2019

060.113.01  Medicine, East and West (MWF 10:00)

James Flowers

When the western physician Vesalius argued for the importance of human dissection, he urged that anatomy was necessary to practice medicine, and he presented his treatise on the human body as the pinnacle of medical knowledge in the sixteenth century. Yet physicians in East Asia and elsewhere, familiar with Vesalian anatomy, emphasized other conceptions, such as qi, until the twentieth century.  How was the eastern body different from that of the West? Are there legitimate conceptualizations of the body other than physical structure?  In this writing class, we will examine both classic texts and scholarly essays as we consider these questions and pursue our answers.  For the first essay, students will read a selection from Fabrica by Vesalius and will analyze his argument, including his concept of representing the body in images. For the second essay, we will read Shigehisa Kuriyama’s essay “The Imagination of the Body and the History of Embodied Experience: The Case of Chinese Views of the Viscera.”  Students will evaluate Kuriyama’s argument for the importance of qi, alongside excerpts from the foundational text, the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor. For the third and longest essay, students will read Charles Rosenberg’s essay “Alternative to What? Complementary to Whom? On Some Aspects of Medicine’s Scientific Inquiry.” In it, Rosenberg asks why people seek medical care outside the western scientific model of medicine, and he offers a number of reasons.  Drawing on the sources they have already read, as well as selected others, students will develop their own assessments of the tension between scientific and alternative medicines.

060.113.02  Science Fiction and Social Justice (MWF 10:00)

Samanda Robinson

What happens to our individuality in the context of biotechnological advances that alter our humanity and our relationship with society?  In this writing course, we explore alternate realities, futuristic fantasies, and faraway planets to discover how science fiction helps us answer this question and shape our conceptions of social justice.  We begin with two stories by Hugo Award winners: “Flowers for Algernon” (1959) by Daniel Keyes, which explores cognitive disability, medical interventions, and bioethics; and “The City Born Great” (2016) by N. K. Jemisin, in which a homeless man serves as the “midwife” for all of New York City—battling with a MegaCop, upending social hierarchies, and anticipating threats to the future of the metropolis.  Students will choose one story to analyze for their first essay. For the second essay, we continue to explore science fiction and social justice with Boots Riley’s film Sorry to Bother You (2018).  This futuristic film engages a volatile mix of economic need, capitalist democracy, and genetic engineering through the story of telemarketer Cassius “Cash” Green.  Students will evaluate the view of a critical source and offer their own view of the film. Finally, our third and largest essay will focus on Octavia Butler’s canonical short story “Bloodchild” (1984), in which human refugees must “pay the rent” on an alien planet by serving as incubators for the flesh-eating grubs of the alien species who govern their new home.  Alongside secondary sources from various fields, including the medical humanities, students will form their own interpretation of the story.

060.113.03  Medicine, East and West (MWF 11:00)

James Flowers

Please see the course description listed above for Section 01 at MWF 10:00.

060.113.04  Negotiating Religious Difference (MWF 11:00)

Aditya Bahl

How should we understand the role of religion in a secular society?  In the context of ongoing religious conflicts around the world, refugee crises, and cultural controversies over religious intolerance and freedom of speech, this question raises a serious challenge not only for secular, democratic governments but also for us as citizens.  How can we better negotiate religious difference in a pluralistic society?  In this writing course, we will explore some of the scholarly debates, past and present, which have been central to the shifting relationship between the religious and the secular.  For the first essay, we will read excerpts from Karl Marx’s provocative text “On the Jewish Question.”  Students will identify a flaw in Marx’s argument and trace its implications for the religious conflicts he examines.  For our second essay, we will consider a different method of religious negotiation in Talal Asad’s seminal essay “Free Speech, Blasphemy, and Secular Criticism.” Students will evaluate Asad’s attempts to subvert the conventional opposition between a political Islam identified with aggression and death, and a secular Christianity identified with rationality and life. For the third and longest essay, students will read excerpts from Jurgen Habermas’s “Religion in the Public Sphere” together with a selection of contemporary texts, including news articles, editorials, and a Supreme Court case, that speak to some of the ways in which modern democratic societies attempt to negotiate religious conflict in the public sphere.  Students will evaluate Habermas’s argument and enter into this debate as they develop their own argument about how to negotiate religious difference.

060.113.05  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 essay 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. You write an essay on the torture issue that engages with the views of a prominent thinker.  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 questions and classic texts.

060.113.06  Vaccines, Science, and Values (MW 12:00)

Rebecca Wilbanks

Recent measles outbreaks have made vaccination policies a subject of newspaper headlines and target of legislation in statehouses across the country. In this writing course, we will read behind the headlines to understand why “vaccine hesitancy” persists, and what we should do about it.  Vaccines are a public health intervention that produce a common good, yet are enacted on individual bodies.  When individuals refuse vaccination for themselves or their children, health professionals and policy makers must weigh competing values, such as autonomy and justice, as they aim to balance individual and social welfare.  Further complicating this aim, people’s attitudes toward vaccination can be shaped by divergent ideas about the meaning of health and social responsibility, as well as by their trust in scientific institutions and knowledge.  In other words, scientific evidence alone cannot resolve vaccine controversies; navigating science and values together is vital to achieving just policy in a democratic society.  We will begin by reading arguments for and against compulsory vaccination from the bioethics literature; students will choose one of these philosophical perspectives to analyze for their first essay, looking for a flaw in the author’s argument.  Next, we’ll explore the metaphorical and symbolic dimensions of vaccination with Eula Biss’s On Immunity, a work of creative nonfiction that blends memoir and cultural analysis.  Students will respond to a secondary source that comments on Biss’s text and offer their own interpretation of her work.  Finally, we will enter into an ongoing conversation as we evaluate New York State’s decision to end religious exemptions for vaccination.  Students will draw on evidence from a variety of sources to argue their own policy recommendations.

060.113.07  Exploring the Philosophy of Love (MW 12:00)

Sandy Koullas

What do you love?  Do you love your family?  Your friends? Do you love hiking in the mountains, the music of Mozart, the idea of justice?  We use the word “love” in all of these contexts and more, but a satisfactory, shared understanding of the term seems elusive. Philosophers have disagreed about its meaning for thousands of years.  What is clear is that love plays a significant role in our lives.  In this writing class, 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.  For the first essay, students will analyze the excerpt from Plato, paying particular attention to the problem presented by Alcibiades’s arrival.  For our second essay, we will consider two modern philosophical accounts of love that have been influential in current debates: David Velleman’s argument for understanding love as an “arresting awareness” of the value inherent in another person, and Harry G. Frankfurt’s proposal, which broadens the concept of love considerably.  Whereas Velleman considers only love for people, Frankfurt offers a general account of love that could include love of activities, causes, animals, or just about anything else.  Students will evaluate one of these arguments.  Finally, in the third essay, we will consider several contemporary contributions to the philosophy of love, including Myisha Cherry’s “Love, Anger, and Racial Injustice,” as well as insights from the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience, in our attempt to answer this ancient but still pressing question: What is love?

060.113.08  Politics and Violence (MW 1:30)

George Oppel

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

060.113.09  Vaccines, Science, and Values (MW 1:30)

Rebecca Wilbanks

Please see the course description listed above for Section 06 at MW 12:00.

060.113.10  Exploring the Philosophy of Love (MW 1:30)

Sandy Koullas

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

060.113.11  Inequality and Urban Design (MW 3:00)

Morris Speller

Can cities be designed democratically, and if so, how?  What might be the role of urban redevelopment in promoting or combating inequality?  For the last half-century, urban planners and activists have focused on community-centered planning approaches, stressing the idea that residents of a neighborhood should have the ability to shape its redevelopment and thus have a sense of investment in their community.  But others have argued that these planning approaches have contributed to urban inequality through, for instance, “gentrification” and privatization of public space.  In this writing course, we will begin our examination of these questions by reading excerpts from one of the most influential works about urban planning, Jane Jacobs’s The Life and Death of Great American Cities (1961), as well as from the work of Oscar Newman, an urban planner who argued that how streets are designed can encourage residents of a neighborhood to see themselves as part of a community and even reduce crime.  For the first essay, students will analyze the argument of one of these authors and will identify a flaw in the argument.  Next, students will consider how present-day urban planners might redress historical inequalities, particularly those of race and class.  Students will evaluate an essay that criticizes economic development in the Harbor East area of Baltimore and will offer their own views on how (or whether) urban development strategies might be adapted to benefit historically marginalized communities.  In the final essay, students will enter an ongoing debate about the proposed redevelopment of Baltimore’s Lexington Market.  Drawing on their own visit to Lexington Market as well as previous sources, students will evaluate competing opinions on redevelopment and will argue their own approach to a democratically-engaged redevelopment plan for this “World Famous” public space.

060.113.12 Emotion(s) (MW 3:00)

Michele Asuni

What are emotions?  The word “emotion” entered the English language only in the seventeenth century, borrowed from the French émotion, meaning “physical disturbance and bodily movement.”  Yet having a word for a concept does not guarantee that its definition will be straightforward.  In fact, trying to provide an exact definition of “emotion” has long proved challenging for philosophers, psychologists, and scientists. Are emotions merely physiological responses to external events?  Or do they contain a rational element?  Do they speak to our conscious minds and thus help determine our moral judgments?  In this writing course, we will engage with a range of texts that explore these questions.  We start by reading passages from the ancient philosopher Aristotle, who defined emotions as “all those feelings that so change humans as to affect their judgments, and that are also attended by pain and pleasure.”  Paying particular attention to the volatile emotion of anger, students will write a short essay analyzing Aristotle’s argument. For the second essay, we turn to recent physiological and neurological accounts of emotions.  We will read chapters from Lisa Feldman Barrett’s How Emotions Are Made and Antonio Damasio’s The Feeling of What Happens.  Students will evaluate the claims of either Barrett or Damasio and will offer their own views.  For the third and longest essay, we will read the work of contemporary philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who argues that emotions are not mere animal impulses or primeval forces with no connection to our thoughts but, rather, they are “suffused with intelligence and discernment” and are paramount to our ethical judgments.  Students will engage with Nussbaum by entering into a wider debate about emotions and will offer their own answers to the question of how we should understand emotions.

060.113.13  Cross-Cultural Encounters in the Middle Ages  (TTH 9:00)

Nathan Daniels

For many, “The Middle Ages” evokes gothic cathedrals, pious monks, and knights in armor—images of a Europe isolated from the rest of the world.  But in fact, the exchange of ideas, goods, and services across continents was a regular feature of medieval life, in which people of different backgrounds, cultures, and religions frequently came into contact with one another. In this writing course, we will consider what happened when a member of one culture visited another and wrote about the experience.  How were travelers’ ideas about other cultures and religions affirmed or challenged? What did they learn about their own identities, and how can their encounters inform us about ours today?  To answer these questions, we will read selections from a series of medieval travelogues—chronicles of journeys across the medieval world.  Students will analyze these texts to consider how the authors’ religious backgrounds shaped the ways they interacted with the people of other cultures, and how they themselves were changed by the encounters.  For the first essay, students will read and analyze the Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, a twelfth-century Jewish merchant who traveled from Spain to Baghdad and Cairo, describing the communities he met in the process.  Next, students will read selections from the Rihla (Travels) of Muslim scholar Ibn Battuta as he journeyed across Africa, the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia during the mid-1300s.  Students will evaluate an article by contemporary scholar Christine Chism about Ibn Battuta’s interactions with Christians in Asia Minor and will offer their own interpretation of the Rihla. For the final essay, students will read selections from the Travels of Marco Polo, in which the famous Christian traveler journeys from Venice to China to meet Kublai Khan in the late 1200s.  Students will enter into conversation with a variety of secondary sources and form their own arguments about Polo’s interactions with the cultures he meets on his journey.

060.113.14  The Language of Food (TTH 9:00)

Thai-Catherine Matthews

Much like a narrative, the act of cooking unfolds in time as a sequence of events, rich with cultural context and personal meaning, and like a narrative, cooking tells a story. In this writing course, we will read and analyze a range of narratives, in print and on film, which speaks to us of and through the depiction of cooking and sharing food. We will ask how these stories use the language of food to help illuminate our common human experience. To begin, we will read two narrative essays from The Best American Food Writing 2018: “In Good Hands” by Francis Lam, host of NPR’s “The Splendid Table,” and “Who Owns Uncle Ben?” by Shane Mitchell. Students will write a brief essay analyzing the narrative of their choice. For the second essay, we will watch The Joy Luck Club, the 1993 film adapted from Amy Tan’s novel of the same name, about four Chinese-American women and their Chinese-immigrant mothers. Students will evaluate the view of a secondary source and will offer their own view of how cooking and food help to reveal the characters and their relationships. For the third and most extensive essay, we will read Laura Esquivel’s 1989 novel Like Water for Chocolate, a story of love, longing, and cooking. By entering into conversation with selected critical sources, students will develop their own interpretation of the novel.

060.113.15  Mourning and Memory (TTH 9:00)

Daniel McClurkin

After the death of his wife Genevieve, lyricist Phil Elverum wrote: “I realized that these photographs we have of you are slowly replacing the subtle familiar memory of what it’s like to know you’re in the other room.”  If the process of mourning is contingent on one’s memories of the deceased, then how does the process of mourning change when these memories fade? In this writing course, we will explore how memory structures the experience of grief and the ways in which some artistic media have represented the relationship between mourning and memory. We begin with a chapter from Yiyun Li’s 2017 memoir Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life and with David Foster Wallace’s 1999 short story “Suicide as a Sort of Present.”  Students will write a brief essay interpreting one of the stories.  Next, we turn to James Joyce’s 1914 short story “The Dead.”  Students will evaluate the view of a critical source with attention to how Joyce captures the intimate ways that memories of the dead impress themselves upon the living. For the third and longest essay, we will read Kazuo Ishiguro’s 1982 debut novel A Pale View of Hills, which follows the daydreams and memories of a Japanese-British woman as she reflects on the life she left behind in Nagasaki. Students will use secondary sources, both critical and theoretical, in order to interpret the relationship between geography, material circumstances, and memory in the novel.

060.113.16  The Rhetoric of Radical Speech  (TTH 10:30)

Jarvis Young

How do radical speech acts help to shape our understanding of social and political issues?  More specifically, how have radical speeches from American writers and orators helped to shape and inform our understanding of the United States as a nation (and ourselves as a people)?  In this writing course, we will explore such questions through reading and analyzing radical speeches and essays from a range of American activists and by analyzing the principles of persuasion that help shape the relationship between polemical language and activism.  Our topics will include race, politics, and human rights.  First, we will read two radical nineteenth-century essays, David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829) and Lydia Maria Child’s letter on “Women’s Rights” (1843).  Students will choose one to analyze.  For the second essay, we will read and listen to two speeches of the late twentieth century: “The Other America” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1967) and “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” by Hilary Clinton (1995).  With the help of a secondary source, students will analyze one of the speeches in the context of its rhetorical situation.  For the third and largest essay, students will build on the skills they develop in essay assignments one and two, as they engage with activist Alicia Garza’s 2016 speech “Why Black Lives Matter” in the context of the debate surrounding the movement to which Garza’s speech gave its name.

060.113.17 Contemporary American Short Stories (TTH 10:30)

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.”  And 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?  How does the writer, as Abrams suggests, draw us into other lives?  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.  For our first essay assignment, 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.  Our readings will feature the work of some of the masters of contemporary American short stories including Raymond Carver, Grace Paley, Joyce Carol Oates, Junot Diaz, Gish Jen, Jennifer Egan, Richard Ford, Denis Johnson, ZZ Packer, George Saunders, Lorrie Moore, Edward P. Jones, Alice Munro and Lydia Davis.

060.113.18  Age of Collapse? (TTH 10:30)

Michael Albert

We live in a time of great uncertainty, with many questioning the sustainability of our civilization and even the future of human survival.  What do contemporary global challenges, from climate change and resource depletion to unprecedented population growth, tell us about where our civilization is headed? And what might be done to confront these challenges?  In this writing course we will examine a range of perspectives on these questions. For the first essay, we read political theorist William Ophuls’s argument that our civilization is destined to fail.  Students will analyze Orphuls’s claims and identify a flaw in his argument.  For the second essay, we shift toward a more optimistic assessment in the form of Stephen Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, which argues that human ingenuity will stave off collapse.  Students will evaluate the strengths and possible weaknesses of Pinker’s argument and will offer their own assessment.  In the third and longest essay, students join an ongoing conversation about what, if anything, is to be done.  We will read Richard Smith’s essay titled “Capitalism and the Destruction of Humanity,” which argues for the necessity of political-economic revolution to save humanity; Mark Lynas’s The God Species, which asserts the power of technological innovation without major political-economic reform; and Jim Bendell’s “Deep Adaptation,” which argues the time for solutions has passed and that humanity must prepare for inevitable social collapse.  Based on their analyses, students will develop their own perspectives on the question of what can and should be done to meet these global challenges.

060.113.19  Family Matters (TTH 12:00)

Aliza Watters

Your roommate stares at you and says: “Tell me about your family.” Translation: who are you?  In leaving home for college, we come to reevaluate the primary—and primal—relationships which define us, often for the first time. How do we understand and reconcile the shaping power of family—a power that can both fortify and confine us? In this writing course, we will examine what family narratives can teach us about the formation of individual identity. To help answer our central question, we’ll explore diverse examples of family narratives, including fiction, memoir, and a contemporary case study.  We’ll begin with a variety of origin stories whose central characters grapple with family legacy: the original 1939 Batman, “The Very Rigid Search” by Jonathan Safran Foer, and “North” by Aria Beth Sloss.  Students will write a brief essay analyzing one of the stories and offering an interpretation.  Next, we’ll examine how auto-biographical authors Maxine Hong Kingston and Sherman Alexie shape their own identities by re-shaping their family narratives in memoir. Students will evaluate the view of a critical source as it pertains to either Kingston or Alexie.  In the last and most extensive phase of the course, we’ll investigate how new scientific research can compete with conventional views of what defines us to reshape our understanding of family.  Students will read excerpts from Andrew Solomon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity alongside other critical sources to develop an argument of their own about the power of family and its boundaries.

060.113.20  Tarantino (TTH 12:00)

Mitchell Cram

Popular cinema is saturated in violence.  Few films evoke this fact as emphatically as those of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. Slapstick, absurd, tragic, and grotesque—the violence of Tarantino’s films shocks and entertains us, working through and against familiar symbols and conventions.  What can these films tell us about stylized violence as a form of storytelling?  How and why is the cinematic depiction of violence such an effective storytelling tool?  In this writing course, we will examine a selection of Tarantino’s films which explore violence as a mode of artistic expression, where acts of violence are transformed into moments for aesthetic contemplation.  For the first assignment, we will watch the martial arts film Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003).  Students will write a short essay analyzing the film’s portrayal of revenge.  Next, we will watch Pulp Fiction (1994), widely considered Tarantino’s masterpiece, which tells the interwoven story of a group of criminals in Los Angeles.  Students will evaluate the interpretation of a secondary source and will offer their own interpretation of the film.  For the third and most extensive essay, we will watch Tarantino’s WWII counter-historical drama, Inglourious Basterds (2009). In conversation with a select group of critical sources, students will argue their own interpretation of how the film speaks to us about the representation and history of violence.  Please be advised that our primary texts contain scenes of graphic violence, profanity and hate speech, nudity and depictions of sex.  If you are uncomfortable with or morally opposed to viewing, discussing, or writing about such material, you should not register for this course.

060.113.21  Personal Identity and Survival (TTH 12:00)

Kathryn Brophy

We intuitively understand that, in some important sense, we are the same person we were ten minutes ago, or ten years ago, and will continue to be the same person into the future. What is less clear, however, is what exactly makes these kinds of claims true. In this writing course, we will explore the philosophy of personal identity, and answer questions such as: What are we? What features are needed for us to persist through time?  What sort of events is it possible for us to survive, and what sort would determinately end our existence?  We will begin by exploring a paper by Derek Parfit, who argues that a special sort of psychological continuity is what guarantees our persistence through time.  Students will critically analyze Parfit’s views, paying particular attention to his distinction between what matters to survival and what matters to identity. For the second essay, students will read excerpts from Eric Olson’s The Human Animal, in which Olson argues that our survival ultimately consists in the continued biological functioning of our human bodies.  For the final assignment, students will consider the work of Marya Schechtman, who argues for a more holistic view of personal identity that combines psychology, biology, and social considerations.  In this final essay, students will engage Schechtman in conversation with others, and argue their answer to the question: What constitutes personal identity?

060.113.22  Family Matters (TTH 1:30)

Aliza Watters

Please see the course description listed above for Section 19 at TTH 12:00.

060.113.23  What Is Mental Illness? (TTH 1:30)

Nikola Andonovski

Mental illness is on the rise.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year, while 1 in 25 suffers from a mental disorder which substantially interferes with their daily lives.  But what is mental illness? The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5, doesn’t tell us much, though it uses terms such as “psychobiological dysfunctions” that might be deemed value-laden.  Is it possible to talk about mental illness in value-free terms?  If so, how can we do it?  And what is at stake if we don’t?  In this writing course, we will try to answer these questions by considering some of the major philosophical and scientific conceptions of mental illness.  For the first unit, we will read Thomas Szasz’s classic essay “The Myth of Mental Illness.” Students will write a short essay analyzing Szasz’s argument(s), with the goal of identifying an important flaw. For the second unit, we’ll read papers by David Papineau and Rachel Cooper.  Students will evaluate Papineau’s argument(s), focusing on both the merits and the flaws.  In the final unit, we’ll read three representative essays from the contemporary literature (Boorse, Wakefield, Kingma), in which each author argues for a different conception of mental illness.  Students will critically engage with the existent arguments and will develop their own conceptions in their final essays.

060.113.24  The End of Moral Responsibility (TTH 1:30)

Justin Estrada

Under what circumstances can we hold individuals accountable for their actions?  Do human beings control their destiny, and how does the answer to this question affect a person’s moral responsibility?  Although scholars have long wrestled with these questions, recent philosophical and scientific developments have offered new insights into the nature of free will and raised the question of whether it is still valid to use the language of “moral responsibility.”  The answer has the potential to affect both private and public spheres of life—everything from how we think about concepts such as guilt in interpersonal relationships to how our legal system should punish offenders.  In this writing course, we will examine several contemporary works that have introduced new ideas into the debate on moral responsibility.  For the first essay, we will read excerpts from Daniel Dennett’s Elbow Room. Students will analyze Dennett’s claim that a determined world does not threaten freedom of will and moral responsibility.  For the second essay, we will read articles by philosophers Laura Ekstrom and Peter van Inwagen.  Students will analyze and evaluate one of the articles, both of which counter Dennett and claim that moral responsibility requires an undetermined, free will.  For the third essay, we will read selections from Bruce Waller’s Against Moral Responsibility.  Waller draws upon recent neuroscience research to abolish what he calls the “illusion” of moral responsibility.  By engaging with responses to and critiques of Waller’s argument, students will formulate their own views on the question of whether moral responsibility has truly come to an end.

060.113.25 Witchcraft (TTH 3:00)

Jessica Keene

Most Americans associate “witches” with the Halloween images of popular culture, from TV sitcoms to Harry Potter, a benign reminder of a dark past now safely behind us.  Yes, we’ve all heard of the Salem witch trials, but 1692 was a long time ago, right?  In fact, accusations of witchcraft and the execution of so-called “witches” is a growing global problem tracked by Amnesty International and the United Nations, from Papua, New Guinea to Saudia Arabia, from rural Africa to Brooklyn, New York. Why are people—most of them women—accused of witchcraft?  What drives those who accuse neighbors and family members, even children, of being witches?  In this writing course, we will examine a variety of sources, past and present, as we attempt to answer these questions and understand the deadly and persistent phenomenon of witchcraft.  For our first essay, we will analyze selections from Heinrich Kramer and Joseph Sprenger’s immensely influential treatise Malleus Maleficarum (1486), also known as The Hammer of Witches, which provided its readers with advice on how to identify and interrogate witches.  Students will write a brief essay analyzing how the Malleus defines a “witch.”  For the second essay, we turn to Salem, Massachusetts, and the witch trials that ended with 20 people, women and men, executed as witches. Students will evaluate the interpretation of a modern scholarly source against the trial records and will offer their own interpretation of what led to the most infamous witch hunt in American history.  For our third and final essay, we will examine a contemporary case of witchcraft accusations in the context of a scholarly debate about how to understand the causes of these deadly accusations.  By entering into conversation with the sources, students will argue their own view of what drives claims of witchcraft.