The Constitution and Bill of Rights: Political Idealism

Read the Declaration of Independence here.

Read the Bill of Rights here

What marks them as different from The Prince?  If they are an expression of political idealism, what ideals do these two documents rest upon?


Remaining General Lectures for Fall 2008

Our remaining general lectures have been moved here:

Room A – Eykamp Center, Ridgway Student Center.  Please advise your students.

Islam: One form of prayer, and the Hajj

A form of Islamic ritual prayer (Salah):

The Hajj, or ritual pilgrimage to Mecca:

Friday Workshop

To workshop your papers on Friday, I want you to answer these questions about the papers in your group.

  1. What is the thesis?  Restate that thesis in two ways other than how the author has written it.  The object here is to clarify the thesis to make a clear and detailed point.
  2. In a few sentences, very briefly summarize the most important bits of historical information the author provides.
  3. According to the author, what insight does that historical information provide with respect to the text’s depiction of chaos and how/why it is dealt with? 

Anwer these questions for everyone’s essay within your group.  When we return, you’ll need to submit both the rough draft with readers’ commentaries and the revised draft to me on Wednesday, 10/15.

Beowulf and Epic Poetry

Beowulf is an epic poem that focuses on a hero’s quest.  Written sometime between 600 and 1000 CE, the poem tells the story of a man named Beowulf who takes up the challenge to kill Grendel, a demonic force attacking Hrothgar’s mead hall.  What ensues is a story of courage eventually overcome by forces beyond the hero’s control. 

Beowulf fights three major battles:

  • Grendelis the first, who is terrorizing Heorot.
  • Grendel’s Mother is second.  She seeks revenge after Grendel’s death. 
  • The third is the Dragon that eventually takes Beowulf’s life.

One question is how might we classify Beowulf?  Heroic characters typically fall into one of three major categories:

  • Heroes (sometimes called Pure Heroes) undergo the heroic quest and are purified by it.  Their flaws are removed and they become somehow perfect.  They are often, then, uncompromising in their principles and moral code.  Thus, they survive and bring the treasure they sought back to their own society for the purposes of making people’s lives better by enacting the proper moral code.  Heroes succeed and often become god-like, even if only figuratively.
  • Tragic Heroes undertake a quest, but cannot overcome their flaws.  Instead of being purified by their quest, they are destroyed by it because of their willingness to compromise themselves and their principles.  Often, their societies are left in ruins as a result, too. 

These two serve as models of action.  In other words, the idea is that they become role models to either imitate or avoid. 

  • A more modern version is called the Antihero, and is actually the figure we’re more familiar with.  Antiheroes manage to succeed, at least partially, despite the fact that they are not purified in their quest.  Thus, they are often morally ambiguous, sometimes willing to compromise certain principles for the sake of practicality or revenge. 

The Antihero becomes a much more ambigous characters.  Often, he achieves the results he or society wants, but he might do so in troubling ways. 

Beowulf himself is often regarded as a Pure Hero.  But, do you think that he embodies other traits?  Look for scenes from Youtube or Google Video from the 2007 film version, particularly the battle with Grendel’s mother.  You’ll find a very different portrayal of Beowulf than that which is in the poem.  Where might the film producers have found the idea to turn Beowulf into an Antihero? 

Discussion questions to be completed this week (10/6 – 10/10):

  1. What stages of the Hero’s Quest are followed in Beowulf?  Keep in mind that the progression won’t be perfectly linear.  Which do you think get more emphasis and why?
  2. If Beowulf is some form of Hero, then who/what constitutes the Villain (or pure evil)?  Clearly, Grendel and his Mother qualify, but how and why?  And is the Dragon a villain, or just an excuse for more blood and guts?
  3. Who might qualify as a Beowulf’s Shadow character?  Why?
  4. Who would qualify as the Wise Mentor?  Why?

Taoism and Wu Wei

You can learn a bit about Taoism from here and here (the latter is very detailed).  For the week, I want you to offer up your idea about wu-wei and how it might both benefit and trouble a society.  How is knowledge gained through it?

Plato, Socrates, and “Justice”

Many of Plato’s dialogues involving Socrates are set near the end of Socrates’ life.  What the lecture didn’t get to is that Socrates was accused of “corrupting the young people” of Athens.  Essentially, Athenians of power and prestige accused Socrates of trying to destroy the minds and virtues of young people by filling their heads full of questions.  The trial and subsequent execution of Socrates are the backdrop behind many of the dialogues in your book.

The “Apology” is Socrates’ defense of his actions, given during his trial.  It contains his argument concerning what “philosophy” is supposed to do.

The “Crito” is a dialogue between Socrates and a friend over the nature of “justice”, prompted when Socrates refuses Crito’s offer to help him escape from prison.

In a comment below, deal with on of these dialogues by answering one of the respective questions:

  1. What do you think of Socrates’ argument that he should be given a pension?
  2. Do you think Socrates’ conception of “justice” is appropriate?  Or, is it too idealistic?