3 or 4 Credits
MWF 9:00 - 9:50 am - Professor Western
We live in the modern world. Planes, trains and automobiles. iPhones, the Internet and maps of the human genome. Human rights, global capitalism and the promise of a free world. Modes of surveillance that catch our every move. Religious tolerance, the freedom to worship and the experience of diverse faith groups living side by side. Take a look around and quickly we realize that when we speak of the “modern” world we’re talking about more than just a moment in time. We’re also talking about the modern condition: a way of living, a set of ideas, a range of technologies, unique to our times.
This course is an exploration of the modern condition, the condition we all find ourselves living in, through a combination of case studies and classic texts. Of course, “the modern condition” is too vast to fully cover in one course. But we’ll focus on four fundamental themes that rise to the fore in the 18th Century, the era in which the US is born as a nation: the freedom of the individual, religious tolerance, the authority of reason and the power of science and technology.
In this course we’ll read classic, 18th and 19th century texts, from proponents and critics alike, who either (or both) espouse or worry about these fundamental themes. But we’ll do so for the sake of thinking about 21st century life. By considering a number of contemporary social dilemmas, we’ll trace how these themes, evolving over time, play a key role in shaping our world today.
We’ll also evaluate these key modern themes, thinking about how the good and the bad of the modern condition can manifest, sometimes side-by-side.
Classic thinkers we read in this course will likely include John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Max Weber and Franz Kafka. Contemporary cases will likely include: a) should living DNA be owned and sold as intellectual property?, b) what happens when religious and secular freedoms clash?; c) the burdens of bureaucracy and what Weber called “the disenchantment of the world,” d) modern slavery or; e) modern surveillance.