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ESF 7 & 7A The Transformation of the Self | Andrea Nightingale

What is the self? How do different cultures conceive of the self? How do we change ourselves to live a meaningful life?

In this class, we focus on the lives and dialogues of Socrates and Augustine. These dialogues focus on the Athenian Socrates, who was put to death because he rejected traditional Greek social ideals. The second half of the course focuses on a Roman author from North Africa: Augustine, an unhappy man who became a new person by converting to Christianity. In his autobiographical Confessions, Augustine sets forth his views on self-examination, integrity, and authenticity and models a new way of thinking about human goodness and the happy life. These thinkers addressed questions and problems that we still confront today: What is authenticity and how do we achieve this? What constitutes a happy life? Do we need to be good and ethical people to achieve happiness? This course satisfies the Ethical Reasoning Way (ER).

Selected Source Material

  • Plato, Early Dialogues
  • Plato, Symposium
  • Augustine, Confessions

ESF 14 & 14A The Challenge of Choice | Rush Rehm

Often the choices facing us seem trivial and uninteresting; at other times, we seem to be making life-changing decisions. Sometimes we confuse one with the other –thoughtless choices we make loom large in retrospect; others that appear earth-shattering at the moment prove of little lasting significance later on. In what ways can a liberal arts education help inform this decision-making process? In this course, we address these questions by engaging key texts that explore decisions and their consequences, exposing the multi-faceted nature of choice. The course will involve learning to read and think critically, interpret and analyze texts (plays, films, essays) and articulate your ideas and arguments in conversation and in writing. Distance from our own subjectivity – the stories are not ours, but they could be – allows these works to shed light on the dilemmas that face us as we go about ‘choosing’ the life we think we would like to live. This course satisfies the Aesthetic and Interpretative Way (AII).

Selected Source Material

  • Noam Chomsky, “Language and Freedom” (essay)
  • Shakespeare, Hamlet (play)
  • Athol Fugard, John Kani, Winston N’tshona, The Island (play)
  • Seven Beauties [Pasqualino Settebellezze] (film, dir., Lina Wertmuller)
  • Bill McKibben, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out

ESF 17 & 17A What Can You Do For Your Country? | Russell Berman

What does it mean to serve your country? All ethical systems train the individual to relinquish self-interest in favor of a larger communal good. When you applied to Stanford, you answered many application questions designed to elicit evidence of your ability to serve others, which is considered a sign of good character, leadership, and the ability to thrive beyond the confines of your family and private world. Knowing you’ve wrestled with this question at length, showing sacrifice, endurance, empathy, and understanding of higher goods, this course asks you to examine the nation’s view. How can the nation present itself as worthy of your personal sacrifice? Do you need to believe in the greatness of your nation to serve? What kind of cause demands your devotion? Nations have differently articulated such a commitment. Some make modest demands and promise you your own sovereignty. Others request only that you dream of national greatness as your own and that you lend a hand. But all nations require at some point, everything from you. What and when are you prepared to give? This course satisfies the Aesthetic and Interpretative Way (AII).

Selected Source Material

  • John F. Kennedy, “What can you do for your nation”
  • Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
  • Hannah Arendt, “We Refugees” and Early Zionism
  • Achebe, Chinua, Things Fall Apart
  • American Sniper (film, dir. Clint Eastwood)

ESF 21 & 21A | Decolonial Thought |  Partha Shil

In recent years, the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa has spurred on a vibrant and difficult discussion across the world, about the legacy of colonialism in the modern university. When we enter the university, do we really enter a space of a pure pursuit of knowledge? How do we make sense of the colonial foundations of the modern world?

What is it to decolonize our institutions, minds and politics? We will begin the course by developing a basic understanding of the contemporary call for decolonizing the university and of the field of postcolonial and decolonial scholarship.This course is designed as a deep engagement of contemporary struggles to decolonize, thinking critically about structures of power and injustice, and to search for languages of liberation. This course satisfies the Aesthetic and Interpretive or Exploring Difference and Power Way (AII or EDP).

Selected Source Material

  • Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
  • Nawal El Saadawi, The Hidden Face of Eve

ESF 22 & 22A | Confronting the Diversity of Life | Kevin Boyce

The first generations of early modern scientists had to learn from each other and make it up as they went along. Humboldt’s travels from 1799-1804 were an inspiration for Darwin’s travels in the 1830s. Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle inspired Wallace and Bates to go to the Amazon a generation later. None of them were far removed from being students themselves: Darwin, Wallace, and Bates were all in their early 20s when starting out and Humboldt was an old man of 29. Their writings capture the excitement of their youth, their scientific idealism, and the breadth and depth of their interest in the natural world. The writings of these young scientists also capture the costs, both environmental and human, underlying their educational opportunities. We will have a chance to consider the blind spots among those that considered themselves unbiased scientific observers, the unintended consequences, and their roles and culpabilities within the colonial systems that made their work possible. The infrastructural capacity to observe tropical forests unavoidably also meant the degradation of those environments. Loss can be seen over the course of individual travel books and has only accelerated since—one of Wallace’s most remote locales is now an amusement water park, complete with YouTube videos. Ways certification pending.

Selected Source Material

  • Charles Darwin (1839) Voyage of the Beagle 
  • Ida Pfeiffer (1850) A Woman's Journey Round the World