Great Books Seminars
All the required books for Seminar, in the correct editions, are listed in Google Books at the following link. From the page for each book, you can click through to online retailers. Seminar books are also available at the University Bookstore.
Students in the Program of Liberal Studies take six four-credit Great Books Seminars, one each semester. The Great Books seminars emphasize the classics of the entire Western tradition, without respect to genre or discipline, read in translation. Almost all of the books you will read in the Great Books seminars are of enduring value and texts that have had a considerable influence on the subsequent tradition (which is more or less the definition of a “classics”). Consequently, the six Great Books seminars, taken as a whole, form part of the foundation of an education in the liberal arts.
The word “seminar” means seedbed; in the seminar the seeds of future reading and reflection are sown.
Seminar I, taken in the fall semester of sophomore year, when students enter PLS, begins with the Iliad and Odyssey, Homer’s two great epic poems, composed in the eighth century B.C.E. Seminar VI, the last of the seminars, taken in the spring semester of senior year, ends in the middle of the twentieth century, with novels such as Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and with works by philosophers such as Heidegger and Wittgenstein.
In between Homer and Virginia Woolf, you will read Plato and Kant, Dante and Melville, Saint Augustine and Cardinal Newman. Not to mention Virgil, Confucius, Pascal, Thoreau, Darwin, and many others.
In the Great Books seminar, students learn how to read and discuss texts of great complexity; they learn how to ask intelligent questions and how to articulate their perspectives in a non-dogmatic way.
There is no lecturing in the seminars; the professor is not considered an expert on all of the texts but rather a more experienced reader whose task is to facilitate the conversation. The great thinkers of the tradition have been engaging in a conversation with one another for more than two thousand years, and in the Great Books seminar we have the privilege of participating in that conversation. We learn from one another and strive to teach one another, and, for all of us, the Great Books are our primary teachers.
The first in a series of six Great Book seminars, and the first in the sophomore sequence, this course focuses on ancient Greek literature and is designed to introduce students to the great books seminar method, which emphasizes discussion, close reading, and the communication of complex ideas. The texts include Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Herodotus’s Histories, Aeschylus’s Oresteia, Sophocles’s Theban Plays, Aristotle’s Poetics, Euripides’s Medea and The Bacchae, Thucydides’s Peloponnesian War, Aristophanes’s The Clouds, and three early dialogues by Plato: the Apology, Crito, and Symposium.
The second seminar in the sophomore sequence, this course represents a continuation of Great Books Seminar I. The material studied extends from ancient Greece through the Roman period through early Christianity and into the Middle Ages. The texts include Plato’s Republic and Phaedrus, Aristotle’s On the Soul, Lucretius’s The Way Things Are, Cicero’s On the Republic, Vergil’s Aeneid, Epictetus’s Handbook, Augustine’s Confessions and City of God, St. Anselm’s Proslogion, and St. Bonaventure’s Journey of the Mind to God.
Continuing from Great Books Seminar II, and the first in the junior seminar sequence, this course focuses on great works of the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The texts include two treatises from Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae (“On Law” and “On Faith”), Dante’s Divine Comedy (in its entirety), Petrarch’s “Ascent of Mont Ventoux” and “On His Own Ignorance and that of Others,” selections from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Julian of Norwich’s Showings, Erasmus’s Praise of Folly, Machiavelli’s The Prince, More’s Utopia, essays by Montaigne, St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, and Cervantes’s Don Quixote.
Continuing from Great Books Seminar III, and the second in the junior seminar sequence, this course focuses on works from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment period. The texts include Shakespeare’s Tempest, Bacon’s New Organon, Descartes’ Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, Hobbes’s Leviathan, Pascal’s Pensées, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Rousseau’s “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality,” Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Kant’s Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics, Malthus’s Essay on the Principles of Population, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Goethe’s Faust, and Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
The first in the senior Great Books seminar sequence, this course focuses on classic texts from the nineteenth-century literature, and, in addition, on important works from the Eastern tradition that entered the European canon during the nineteenth century. The works studied include Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Confucius’s Analects, The Way of Lao Tzu, the Bhagavad Gita, Hegel’s Philosophy of History, Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Melville’s Moby Dick, Thoreau’s Walden, Mill’s On Liberty, and Darwin’s Descent of Man.
The second in the senior Great Books seminar sequence, this course focuses on works of seminal importance from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The texts studied include Marx’s Capital and “Communist Manifesto,” Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, William James’s Pragmatism, Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, Du Bois's Souls of Black Folk, Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Buber's I and Thou, Wittgenstein’s Blue Book, Martin Luther King's “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Woolf's A Room of One's Own and To the Lighthouse, Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov.
Literature University Seminar I and II
PLS University Seminars satisfy the University Literature requirement. They are based on the syllabus of either Seminar I or Seminar II, often with some omissions and additions to fit the University Seminar format. Students who go on to major in the Program can use their University Seminar course as credit for Seminar I or II (depending on the content of the USEM) in their sophomore year.