02.001 Global Humanities: Literature, Philosophy, and Ethics

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“Philosophy will have conscience of tomorrow, commitment to the future, knowledge of hope, or it will have no more knowledge.”

– Ernst Bloch

2021 Theme: Better worlds and beyond

All of us are constantly dreaming. We dream of what we have, what we want, and what we fear. As thinking things, we dwell among potential futures and alternative pasts so that we can make sense of the present. Sometimes these dreams come alive and venture beyond ourselves to encompass friends, family, and society. As they unfold, they can crystallize into new worlds that are as vivid and refined as anything real. But at their heart, even the most elaborate of these imaginary worlds is still a dream, an internal reflection on what we have, want, and fear.

The world of literature is a gateway into the dreams of humanity. By reading great works, we can delve into some of history’s greatest minds and reinhabit and revive the forgotten worlds of their imagination. We can learn a lot about their cultures and societies by how they envisaged alternative versions of themselves, whether better, worse, or just different. But more importantly, we learn truths about ourselves and humanity by encountering profoundly different ideas of how to be a human being. Reading the writings of others directs us to rethink our immediate future in the world at hand. What do we have? What do we want? What do we fear?

In this course, we will read classic works of world literature and philosophy from the last two and a half thousand years that imagined radically new worlds and ways of living. Some of these will be utopias, better worlds, some will be dystopias, terrible worlds, and others will be something in between. But all will ask us important questions about our common humanity and the irrepressible power of our imagination to think critically about the world and society around us.