Conceptions of Self, East and West

COLL-C 103 — Fall 2017 — Themester

Young woman looking into a mirror
Aaron Stalnaker
Course Description

It is a truism that different cultures propound different visions of human life. But what are we as contemporary residents of an increasingly heterogeneous nation to make of this diversity? Do we have any rational basis for evaluating the alternative possibilities for life presented by different religious and philosophical traditions? This course examines important, indeed classic, statements on the nature of human existence from the ancient and modern West, and from East Asia, and endeavors to sensitively compare these diverse visions of human life without capitulating to nihilism, relativism, or self-satisfied cultural chauvinism. We examine influential representatives of several traditions, including Confucianism, Daoism, Christianity, Marxism, and contemporary democratic political theory. Recurring issues include the character and relation of reason and emotion; the nature and source of saving dispositions; understandings of the relation of our more animal and more human sides; problems in life that deform the self; the need, if any, for transcendent influences to actualize the self; the form of and rationale for various practices of self-cultivation; and the relation of individual and communal flourishing. All readings are in English or English translation.

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