Course DesignCourses in Core Texts and Ideas examine seminal texts with a number of related purposes. First, they aim to teach skills of close reading and careful interpretation. The ideal is for students to engage as directly as possible with the thought of the authors they are studying, so as to learn from them, not simply to learn about them. Recognizing that we come to each text with our own questions and conceptual framework, we encourage students to allow their perspectives to be challenged by the text even as they interrogate the text.
Second, our courses are meant to encourage students to think rigorously about questions of central and enduring human concern, refusing to assume either that the questions are susceptible of definitive and final answers or that the questions are unanswerable, but instead, maintaining an open mind as to how far reasoned discourse may take us. Examples of the questions considered are: Do human beings share an essence or nature, and if so, what is it? Does life have a meaning? Are there universal truths, can they be known, and if so, how? What is the good life, and how can political institutions best be ordered so as to foster it? What is the proper place of religion in human life? What is the essence of love, and of friendship? What is the proper place of philosophy or enlightenment? What is justice, or what do we owe, individually and collectively, to others and to ourselves? What is beauty?
Third, our courses aim to help students understand some of the most important answers that have been offered to these questions, answers that have shaped our own world. Each course will reflect intellectual pluralism, presenting more than one compelling answer to the questions considered. They will situate the ideas and works studied not only in their immediate political and cultural context but also as part of an ongoing debate between fundamentally different accounts of human nature, right and wrong, and humanity’s place in the cosmos. It order to challenge students with perspectives outside our contemporary milieu, a substantial portion of each course will normally be devoted to pre-20th century texts.
In pursuing these related aims, we seek to inculcate both openness and seriousness. With every major work studied, students will be encouraged to ask: If this thinker is right, what does it mean about how we should live our own lives, either as autonomous individuals or as a self-governing society?