Fundamentals Courses

Because we cross-list so many courses, it is inevitable that some courses that are advertised on the college catalog will be canceled, moved, altered, and so forth; furthermore, there are always a few grad-level courses offered through the Committee on Social Thought that do not appear in the college catalog at all. These are the courses actively offered for the academic year; it will be updated as the year progresses. To see the projected list of courses to be offered this year, see the catalog.

Autumn 2022

Course No. Title Instructor Description
FNDL 21718 Xenophon's Socrates N. Tarcov This course offers an introductory reading of Xenophon's Socratic works,which provide the chief alternative tot he account provided by Plato's Socratic dialogues. We will read and discuss Xenophon's Apology of Socrates, Symposium, Oeconomicus, and Memorabilia, make some comparisons to Platonic works, and consider some secondary interpretations. Themes may include piety, teaching and corruption, virtue, justice and law economics, family, friendship, and eros.
FNDL 21408 Vico’s New Science R. Rubini This course offers a close reading of Giambattista Vico's masterpiece, "The New Science" (1744) - a work that sets out to refute "all opinions hitherto held about the principles of humanity." Vico, who is acknowledged as the most resolute scourge of any form of rationalism, breathed new life into rhetoric, imagination, poetry, metaphor, history, and philology in order to promote in his readers that originary "wonder" and "pathos" which sets human beings on the search for truth. However, Vico argues, the truths that are most available and interesting to us are the ones humanity "authored" by means of its culture and history-creating activities. For this reason the study of myth and folklore as well as archeology, anthropology, and ethnology must all play a role in the rediscovery of man. "The New Science" builds an "alternative philosophy" for a new age and reads like a "novel of formation" recounting the (hi)story of the entire human race and our divine ancestors. In Vico, a prophetic spirit, one recognizes the fulfillment of the Renaissance, the spokesperson of a particular Enlightenment, the precursor of the Kantian revolution, and the forefather of the philosophy of history (Herder, Hegel, and Marx). "The New Science" remained a strong source of inspiration in the twentieth century (Cassirer, Gadamer, Berlin, Joyce, Beckett, etc.) and may prove relevant in disclosing our own responsibilities in postmodernity. Taught in English.
FNDL 22001 Foucault and the History of Sexuality A. Davidson This course centers on a close reading of the first volume of Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, with some attention to his writings on the history of ancient conceptualizations of sex. How should a history of sexuality take into account scientific theories, social relations of power, and different experiences of the self? We discuss the contrasting descriptions and conceptions of sexual behavior before and after the emergence of a science of sexuality. Other writers influenced by and critical of Foucault are also discussed.
FNDL 25003 Literary Criticism before Theory: Auerbach’s Mimesis R. Rubini This course is an introduction to Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, often hailed as the masterpiece of twentieth-century literary criticism, through a historical contextualization that recovers the theoretical, ethical, and existential underpinnings of so-called Romance Philology, as purveyed by Auerbach, the influential Dante scholar Karl Vossler (1872–1949), the medievalist Ernst Robert Curtius (1886–1956); and, especially, Leo Spitzer (1887–1960), the author of innumerable seminal essays in the French, Italian, and Spanish literary traditions. We will home in on these scholars’ quarrelsome sodality among themselves and others (e.g., Benedetto Croce, Martin Heidegger, Arthur Lovejoy, and Georges Poulet) by reviewing some of the discipline-defining debates, such as debates about canonical authors (including, Dante, Cervantes, and Proust) and the (dis)advantages of periodization in textual interpretation (Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque). We will also take stock of this generation’s shared reliance on 18th- and 19th-century sources and methodologies (Giambattista Vico and German Hermeneutics, among others) and their remarkable foreknowledge of the many turns literary analysis would take at a time when textual concerns and/or close readings gave way to a more theoretical outlook.
FNDL 24004 Joyce's Ulysses: An Introduction M. Ellmann This course consists of a chapter-by-chapter introduction to Ulysses. We will focus on such themes as the city, aesthetics, politics, sex, food, religion, and the family, while paying close attention to Joyce’s use of multiple narrators and styles. Students are strongly encouraged to read Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Homer’s Odyssey as preparation for this course. Assignments will consist of quizzes, collaborative class presentations, regular contributions to the online discussion board, and a final paper. (Fiction, 1830-1940)
FNDL 24304 Aquinas on Justice S. Brock We will work through as much as we can of Aquinas’s so-called Treatise on Justice — Summa theologiae II-II, qq. 57-79 — with the help of other passages from him and from his sources, especially Aristotle. 
FNDL 24305 17th Century Political Philosophy: Hobbes and Spinoza  D. Moerner An examination of the political philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and Benedict Spinoza. Each thinker, responding to contemporary political crises, developed theories of the absolute right of states, and connected this absolute right to the absolute power of a state. This course will examine these theories in relation to popular sovereignty, and explore whether either thinker has room for the possibility of radical democracy. Primary literature will focus on Hobbes’s Leviathan and Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise and Political Treatise. Secondary literature will look at the reception of these thinkers around the world, including work by Richard Tuck, Alexandre Matheron, Antonio Negri, and Sandra Leonie Field.
FNDL 25803 Confucius and the Analects R. Shaughnessey This course will focus on Confucius, both the historical man and the legendary figure, and on the Analects, which purports to record his teachings. Through readings of the Analects in translation and of secondary scholarship in English, we will seek to determine to what extent it is possible to understand the relationship between the man and the book. For students with a basic knowledge of classical Chinese, extra sessions will be arranged to read the Analects in Chinese.
FNDL 27301 Weimar Political Theology: Schmitt and Strauss J. McCormick This course is devoted to the idea of "political theology" that developed during the interwar period in twentieth-century Central Europe, specifically Germany's Weimar Republic. The course's agenda is set by Carl Schmitt, who claimed that both serious intellectual endeavors and political authority require extra-rational and transcendent foundations. Along with Schmitt's works from the period, such as Political Theology and the Concept of the Political, we read and discuss the related writings of perhaps his greatest interlocutor, Leo Strauss.


Winter 2023

Course No. Title Instructor Description
FNDL 20629 Nahj al-balagha: Virtue and Piety in the Teachings of Ali T. Qutbuddin First Shiʿa Imam, and fourth Sunni caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 40/661) is the acknowledged master of Arabic eloquence, revered by both Sunni and Shiʿa Muslims for his piety and wisdom. Through the centuries, his words have been collected, studied, and cited by generations of Muslims as well as non-Muslim Arabs, and have inspired both litterateurs and sages. Through a close reading and analysis of his orations, epistles, and sayings from Sharīf Raḍī’s (d. 406/1016) Nahj al-balaghah compilation, this course will explore an early stage of the development of these three important prose genres of classical Arabic literature, and Ali’s key themes and stylistic features. Secondary literature will be read and discussed for context and analysis. A main focus of the class will be on themes of virtue and piety. PQ: 3 years of Arabic. Open to qualified undergraduates with Instructor's permission.
FNDL 23833 Leopardi: Experience and Experiment B. Fazio

How can we make sense of a text that subverts its own legibility in favor of ambiguity, diversion, and irony? This course explores Giacomo Leopardi’s Zibaldone by examining how its different diary entries draw on the power and impotence of knowledge. First, we consider Leopardi’s Zibaldone as an exercise in self-study that showcases long-standing questions on a wide range of topics (e.g., How do we define human pleasure? What are the conventions and deviations of being Italian in the early nineteenth century? What made ancient societies not selfish?). Second, we focus on formal treatments of these topics by early modern thinkers in constant dialogue with Leopardi within and outside of the Zibaldone, including Niccolò Machiavelli, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Lastly, we read Leopardi’s Moral Tales, the first “modern” comic book in Italian literature to satirize and manipulate the major topics of science, philosophy, and politics already studied in the Zibaldone. By emulating Leopardi, we will learn how a transnational discourse transformed Italian intellectual history and why reviving past heritages beyond national boundaries is still beneficial today. For their final assignments, students will have the option of choosing between a traditional paper or a creative project.

Taught in English, with optional discussion sessions in Italian.

FNDL 23907 Gandhi and His Critics A. Venkatkrishnan The moral and political writings of M.K. Gandhi constitute one of the most influential archives of ethics in the twentieth century. For a man so devoted to periodic vows of silence and withdrawal, he nevertheless left over ninety volumes of public speeches, personal correspondence, and published essays. A modernist arrayed against the brutalities of modernity, Gandhi’s thought encompassed concepts of sovereignty, the state, self and society, religion, civilization, and force. His insistence on cultivating technologies of the self as a response to both colonial and intimate violence was inspired by an eclectic range of source material. Generations of critical thinkers from around the world, including Black, feminist, Communist, and Dalit political activists, engaged with his ideas. This course explores several themes in Gandhi’s ethical thought and the responses they have generated.
FNDL 25911 bell hooks and Cornel West: Education for Resistance R. Johnson Cornel West and bell hooks are two of the most influential philosophers and cultural critics of the past half-century. Their writings—including their co-authored book—address pressing questions about politics, religion, race, education, film, and gender. In different ways, they each find resources for hope, love, and liberation in an unjust social order. In this course, we will read selections from their writings over the last forty years alongside the authors who influenced their thinking (including Du Bois, Freire, Morrison, King, and Baldwin). We will pay special attention to how hooks and West communicate to popular audiences, how they engage religious traditions (their own and others’), and the role of dialogue in their thought and practice. The goal of the course is not just to think about hooks and West, but to think with them about ethics, writing, American culture, and the aims of education. No prior familiarity with either author is required.
FNDL 26801 Diderot, philosophe du paradoxe R. Morrissey In many ways Denis Diderot is the emblem of the French Enlightenment in all its seriousness. He is deeply committed to the cause of rationality, especially in its relation to the ordering of knowledge as a means of producing knowledge. But for all his adherence to the cause of the philosophes, Diderot is the most elusive and self-mocking of them all. His novels turn the world on its head. His rationality is haunted by a mad derision that makes him the most complex, the most elusive, and perhaps the most delightful of all the philosophes. His novels are hilarious, his art criticism profoundly innovative, his philosophy deeply revolutionary, his libertinage scandalous. We will read some of the major works of this master of both rational proof and mystification. Readings may include articles of the Encyclopédie, La Lettre sur les aveugles à l’usage de ceux qui voient, Jacques le Fataliste, Les Bijoux indiscrets, Le Rêve de d’Alembert, La Religieuse.
FNDL 28102 Machiavelli's Political Thought  J. McCormick This course is devoted to the political writings of Niccolò Machiavelli. Readings include The Prince, Discourses on Livy's History of Rome, selections from the Florentine Histories, and Machiavelli's proposal for reforming Florence's republic, "Discourses on Florentine Affairs." Topics include the relationship between the person and the polity; the compatibility of moral and political virtue; the utility of class conflict; the advantages of mixed institutions; the principles of self-government, deliberation, and participation; the meaning of liberty; and the question of military conquest.


Spring 2023

Course No. Title Instructor Description
FNDL 20801 Machiavelli's Literary Works N. Tarcov A reading of THE PRINCE as literature and of Machiavelli's plays, poetry, novella and a selection of his letters with attention to his great themes of politics, love, and war.
FNDL 24805 Heidegger’s Being and Time R. Coyne This course will provide a close reading of Martin Heidegger's Being and Time (1927) in translation. Our reading will be supplemented by portions of Heidegger's early lectures and seminars, as well as readings drawn figures such as Aristotle, Augustine, Kant, Nietzsche, Husserl. Themes to be discussed include: time, history, finitude, hermeneutics, and phenomenology.
FNDL 25300 Lolita M. Sternstein  “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul, Lolita: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate, to tap at three on the teeth.” Popular as Nabokov’s “all-American” novel is, it is rarely discussed beyond its psychosexual profile. This intensive text-centered and discussion-based course attempts to supersede the univocal obsession with the novel’s pedophiliac plot as such by concerning itself above all with the novel’s language: language as failure, as mania, and as conjuration. 
FNDL 26800 Benjamin: Urban Spaces M. Sternstein  In reading a number of Benjamin's works on urban space, urban planning, and the city in ruins, we discuss, and anticipate, problems of the urban "subject," or, "architectural subject": territorialization and deterritorialization, being and non-being, decay and dwelling in decay. These dilemmas are taken up in the main with close readings of Benjamin's texts on urban space and dwelling such as Benjamin's "Central Park," Moscow Diary, and selections from Passagen-Werk (The Arcades Project). In addition, we are invested in the repercussions of these confrontations in contemporary discourses on eco-urbanism, ruin porn, and post-human architecture, such as are available in Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus, Vogel's Thinking Like a Mall, and Harman's Architecture and Objects.