Summer Symposium

Each summer, the Program of Liberal Studies and General Program alumni gather on Notre Dame's campus, eager to engage their teachers, the authors of the Great Books.

The Program of Liberal Studies coordinates the events which are centered on seminars that explore the week's theme.



June 2-7, 2019

Power: Exploring the Meaning and Uses of this Ubiquitous Concept


Once again the Program of Liberal Studies will offer a week of seminars for alumni/ae of the Program, their relatives and friends, and anyone else eager to read and discuss important texts and ideas as part of a welcoming and lively intellectual community. This year the sessions will focus on conceptions of “power” across many fields of inquiry. All sessions will be taught by current or emeritus/a faculty of the Program of Liberal Studies. Please consider joining us for what promises to be once again an exhilarating week.


Below find a list of the seminars, followed by more detailed descriptions and information.




Power over Life: The Problem of Biotechnology

Phillip Sloan

(4 sessions)


Course Description:

The aim of this series of seminars is to help us gain some perspective on the consequences of the “mastery” of numerous dimensions life by attained by contemporary bioscience as the outcome of a long historical effort to “disenchant” the living world through rational control (cf. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, chp. 1). These developments in the last two centuries have given us marvelous medical breakthroughs. They also raise many of the critical ethical issues of the present surrounding high-technology eugenics, biotechnological enhancement, organ transplantation, control and manipulation of human reproduction, and genetic “engineering” that can impact on “lives to come.” The classes will be conducted with both some lecture also seminar discussion of primary texts. It will involve one novel to be read in advance (A. Huxley, Brave New World). An electronic Reader of sources will be supplied. As a “background” book that is often being referred to in the more recent readings, I would like to recommend as an optional read, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. As an assigned book we will use chapters in Francis Fukuyama’s, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (New York: Farrer Straus, 2003), ISBN 0-312-42171-0.


Session I: The “Disenchantment” of the Living: Readings: Aristotle, De anima, Book 2 (selection); Descartes, Discourse on Method Part V and selection from Treatise on Man; Hans Driesch, The Science and Philosophy of the Organism (selection).


Session II: Modern “Disenchantment”: The “Engineering” Ideal of Modern Biotechnology: Readings: Hawthorne, “The Birthmark”; J. Loeb, “The Mechanistic Conception of Life”; Documents from the “Vital Processes” Project of the Rockefeller Foundation (1930s);


Tuesday Evening Film: 242 O’Shaughnessy


Session III: The Biotechnological Utopia: Readings: Fukuyama, Posthuman, chps. 1, 4, 5; P. Kitcher, “Utopian Eugenics and Social Inequality” and Commentary by Diane Paul. Discussion of Fixed film.




Women and Power

Katherine Tillman

(3 sessions)


Course Description:

“POWER”: ability to act or produce an effect; capacity for being acted upon or undergoing an effect; possession of control, authority, or influence over others.  I have selected two Greek dramas, the heart-wrenching tragedy “Iphigenia at Aulis” by Euripides and the bawdy comedy “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes, because the first brings out the “powerlessness” of Greek women and the second a certain kind of “power” these women choose to weaponize.  The two essays by acclaimed British classicist Mary Beard provocatively support issues raised in the Greco-Roman classics, beginning with Telemachus’ silencing of his mother Penelope at the beginning of the Odyssey.  Beard suggests that we need a new understanding of “power,” one that decouples it from public prestige and emphasizes “thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders, . . . thinking about power as an attribute. . . , not as a possession. What I have in mind [, Beard says,] is the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, and the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually.”  It is this “new” kind of effectiveness that is proposed by Sue Monk Kidd’s award-winning novel The Secret Life of Bees (the book or ebook, not the movie).  Women’s collaborative power of love and community is portrayed in the lives of Lily Owens, a young girl in the segregated south in 1964, and her cherished housekeeper Roseleen, who run away from abuse and insinuate themselves into the home and hearts of the gracious Boatright sisters and their genteel beekeeping family. 


1. for Monday class discussion

Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripedes (410 B.C.);

DVD with Irene Papas, Costa Kazakos: to be shown in 242 O’Shag 7:30-9:30 Sun. evening



Lysistrata by Aristophanes (411 B.C.)  (selected as the least racy rendition among several examined) - “anonymous translator”


See also these two paintings: “The Abduction of the Sabine Women” by Nicolas Poussin, Rome, 1637–38, and “The Intervention of the Sabine Women” by Jacques-Louis David, 1799.  These paintings and their legendary stories (according to Plutarch and Livy) may be found at and  (Click on the paintings.)


2. for Wednesday class discussion:

Women & Power: A Manifesto (two essays: 2014 and 2017) by Mary Beard   

hardback with illustrations, paperback. or ebook:


online versions of Beard’s two essays:: women


3. for Friday class discussion:

The Secret Life of Bees (a novel) by Sue Monk Kidd

(N.B. the book, or ebook not the movie)   336 pages   available at:




Selections from the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Steve Fallon

(2 sessions)


Course Description:

I look forward to two sessions discussing Hopkins’ extraordinary poetry, including such classics as ‘God’s Grandeur,” “The Windhover,” “Carrion Comfort,” and “That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection.” We will pay close attention to his vivid imagery and distinctive rhythms, and we will ask ourselves how his poems mean. I will circulate a list of poems to be discussed well before June. Any edition will do. Here are a few of the better bets, with Amazon links.


Hopkins: Poems, Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Series, hardcover, under $15.00 ISBN 978-0679444695 (


Selected Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dover Thrift edition, paperback $4.00 ISBN 978-0486478678 (


Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose, Penguin, paperback under $17.00 ISBN 978-0140420159 (




The Powers of Governments and the Adequacy of the United States Constitution

Walter Nicgorski

(2 Sessions)


Text for Discussion: The Federalist, commonly known as The Federalist Papers


Course Description:

James Madison, often called the Father of the Constitution for his work in the run-up to and during the Constitutional Convention, observed in the months after the Convention, that “the great difficulty” in making a constitution for a government to be administered by humans over humans is to empower the government to control the governed while at the same time to make provision for checking and avoiding the abuse of the powers granted.  In other words, the great difficulty is to give power and restrain power at the same time. The U.S. Constitution seems to be coming under heavier criticism than at any time in its 230 year history. How adequate is this often prized achievement of America’s founders to the issues of our day and the future?  Understanding this Constitution better and its political theory is a necessary step to being a better informed protector or reformer of the Constitution. Toward that goal, these two sessions will discuss key papers of The Federalist, a collection that Jefferson, one of earliest critics of the Constitution, once described as “the best commentary on the principles of government ever written.”  Later Woodrow Wilson, constitutional theorist as well as political practitioner, observed that we do not live under the Constitution; rather we live under the Constitution as interpreted by The Federalist.


Any complete copy of the text will suffice.  “Complete” means all 85 Federalist papers. It is useful to have a copy which contains the briefly descriptive topics of each paper in the table of contents. This allows a reader to see a sketch of the argument of the whole set of papers even as we focus on a selection of the most significant papers. The Liberty Fund ( sells a very fine edition of The Federalist at a remarkably low price; available both in hardback and paperback versions.


First session: Papers 1, 9-10, 14-15, 23, 39 and 51.

Second session: Papers 52-53, 62-63, 68, 70-71, 78 and 85.




Sherlock Holmes and Thomas Kuhn

Michael Crowe

(1 session)

Course Description:

The question regularly arises: what books published in the twentieth century have now ascended to the status of Great Books? A number of prominent figures have claimed that the most important book on the nature of science published in the last sixty years is Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), which has now sold over 1.4 million copies. For a number of decades nearly every PLS student read this book. I have recently published a book titled The Gestalt Shift in Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes Stories, in which I develop the thesis that the great majority of the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories fit the pattern of a Gestalt shift, a pattern of change prominent in Kuhn’s book. To prepare for my single session class you will be asked to read three Holmes stories and a six-page summary of Kuhn’s book, which I prepared and which I will place on the internet. The three Holmes stories are the short stories “Silver Blaze” and “Last Bow” and the novel Hound of the Baskervilles, which can be skimmed. It is not expected that you read my new book, which is rather expensive. In the class, I will present a PowerPoint summary of my book. We will then discuss whether my thesis is plausible and whether those who claim that Kuhn’s book is one of the most important books of the twentieth century are correct.Kuhnoutline2002




Power and Corruption in Rousseau’s

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

Emma Planinc

(1 session)


Course Description:

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men (1754; hereafter Second Discourse) is a text written in response to a prize competition posed by the Academy of Dijon: “what is the origin of inequality among men; and is it authorized by the natural law?” While he addressed the Academy’s prompt, Rousseau, however, remade the topic and thesis of the essay into one more to his liking: “Of all the branches of human knowledge, the most useful and the least advanced seems to me to be that of man; and I dare say that the inscription on the temple at Delphi [Know Thyself] alone contained a precept more important and more difficult than all the tomes of the moralists.  Thus I regard the subject of this discourse as one of the most interesting questions that philosophy is capable of proposing, and unhappily for us, one of the thorniest that philosophers can attempt to resolve.  For how can the source of the inequality among men be known unless one begins by knowing men themselves?”


Beginning his account in the pure state of nature, this investigation of man leads Rousseau to his infamous claim that civilization and society have corrupted human nature, and that power and reputation are all-consuming and seemingly inescapable qualities of the de-naturalized human being. Tracking the progress of inequality in the Second Discourse, Rousseau asks us to consider ourselves in ways that maintain their relevance and importance in contemporary society: have we been corrupted absolutely? Is the inequality engendered by power relations and property inescapable? Is there any conception of the human being that exists for us outside of our social and political dependence on others, and on leaders? How are we to know ourselves?


In this session, we will read all of Rousseau’s Second Discourse. Translations vary widely, and it is best to be on the same page (literally). The recommended edition is: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Basic Political Writings, Trans. and Ed. Donald A Cress (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1987).


NOTE: Please be sure to read both the main text and Rousseau’s notes!


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Cost: $750 for one participant and $1,000 for two participants. Prices increase after April 30th.

Dorms: $75 for single room per night and $65 for a double room per person per night

Morris Inn: $139 per night and you will need to contact them directly and mention the PLS Summer Symposium (800-280-7256 or 574-631-2000)

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The PLS Office now has funding available for a number of small grants to cover expenses related to our annual Summer Symposium, thanks to the newly established Richard Spangler fund. Richard Spangler (Class of 1977) was an enthusiastic and dedicated participant in these seminars, and family and friends have established this fund to honor him.

If you are interested in receiving such a stipend, please contact the office at