Quality of Life: Culture and Values

In preparing for our future we can be sure that one thing will not change.  We will be governed by some mixture of our individual perceptions of what is good (or to be sought) and bad (or to be avoided) and of the perceptions of good that dominate our group life and leaders.

A second thing we can be sure of is that we (individually and in groups) will make mistakes about what actually is good for ourselves and others, and that we therefore are frequently in danger of doing so--often with tragic results.  Our perceptions and judgments about what is good are highly fallible.  But they are also unavoidable, and they are also capable of being right.  Can we ever know they are right, and, if so, how?  What do we do when we can't?

This course explores how human beings have tried to come to grips with their need to find what is good and to be able to live wisely on the basis of perceptions of good.  Major players in the drama are the gods and their presumed representatives, human capacities of reason and sensation, progress (historical, scientific, economic, etc.), as well as the social forces that govern so much of contemporary life.

Resources

Perceptions of Good

USC Course Core 102
Quality of Life: Culture and Values
Spring 2001

Perceptions of Good

In preparing for our future we can be sure that one thing will not change.  We will be governed by some mixture of our individual perceptions of what is good (or to be sought) and bad (or to be avoided) and of the perceptions of good that dominate our group life and leaders.

A second thing we can be sure of is that we (individually and in groups) will make mistakes about what actually is good for ourselves and others, and that we therefore are frequently in danger of doing so--often with tragic results.  Our perceptions and judgments about what is good are highly fallible.  But they are also unavoidable, and they are also capable of being right.  Can we ever know they are right, and, if so, how?  What do we do when we can't?

This course explores how human beings have tried to come to grips with their need to find what is good and to be able to live wisely on the basis of perceptions of good.  Major players in the drama are the gods and their presumed representatives, human capacities of reason and sensation, progress (historical, scientific, economic, etc.), as well as the social forces that govern so much of contemporary life.

We will work toward understanding (1) what it is for something or someone to be good (or bad), (2) how one might know that a certain thing, person or course of action is good (or bad), (3) the interplays of desire and good, (4) the capacity (or incapacity) of science and sense-perception to deal with values, and (5) the de facto authorities (arts, commercials, education) that currently form our perceptions of what is good (and bad) and what is the 'smart' way to feel, think and live.

 

Topical Progression of the Lectures/Discussions:
  1. Introduction: The 3 forms of human understanding (bodily/social, 'images' and reason) and the problem of finding knowledge to base life upon.  Especially, the problem of being on target about what is good.  The interplay of authority, thought and sense-experience in individual life and human history and society.  The unavoidable burden of human existence.  Camus on the only real philosophical problem: the justification for existing.
  2. Good and the Gods
        Iliad
        Old Testament selections
  3. Good and the Discovery of Reason
        the Republic--Good above the gods.
        Selections from Epicurus and Epictetus (refined Hedonism and Stoicism (good as feeling and will, respectively)
  4. Retreat to Redemption:  Good and the Gods Part II
        The Rule of St. Benedict
        Kempis, Imitation of Christ
        Maimonides's Guide of the Perplexed.
        A look at Spinoza's solution to the human problem of perceiving and pursuing good.
  5. Human nature in the place of God: all problems solved by the development of human techniques:
        Pico
        Hume
        Condorcet
  6. The promise and peril of history for human good.
        Hegel's Idea
            And Darwin's
        Nietzsche and the dissolution of absolutes in historical process--almost.
        The triumph of will and desire
        Faust, Frankenstein, DDT, and the human genome
  7. 20th Century forms of Nihilism 
        Existentialism
        Positivism (Scientism)
        The "Postmodern Condition"
        Life according to television and the internet.
  8. Where we stand today:
        The American Dream/"Coming to America."
        "The Abolition of Man"
        Perceptions of good in:
            Journalism,
            Education,
            Commercials, and
            Sit. Coms.
        Nihilism institutionalized in Law and Culture.
        Prospects of "Postmodernism."
  9. Is there hope?
     
TEXTS:
  1. Homer, Iliad, E. V. Rieu, Lattimore translation, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-46940-9.
  2. Bible, selections from Old and New Testaments, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, Tyndale House Publisher, inc. ISBN 0-8423-3347-9
  3. Plato, Republic, AHM Publishing, 0-88295-118-1
  4. Epicurus and Epictetus (Classical Hedonism and Stoicism) short selections provided.
  5. The Rule of St. Benedict, Image books, 0-385-00948-8
  6. Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ, selections provided
  7. Pico Della Mirandola, On the Dignity of Man, Hackett Publishers, paperback, 0-87220-396-4
  8. David Hume, selections provided.
  9. Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, selections provided.
  10. Marlowe, Dr. Faustus (provided)
  11. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Vintage, 0-679-72465-6
  12. Sartre, J.-P., Nausea, New Directions Publishing, 0-8112-0188-0.
  13. Ayer, A. J. Language, Truth and Logic, paperback ed.
  14. Hibbs, Thomas, Shows about Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from 'The Exorcist' to 'Seinfeld', Spence Publishing, 1-890626-17-1.
  15. Lewis, C. S. The Abolition of Man, Macmillan, ISBN 0-02-086790-5

 

Click the "Download" link for the complete 22-page syllabus.

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