2022 Essence of Humanities and Social Sciences20:Western Thought 1

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Academic unit or major
Humanities and social science courses
Bektas Yakup 
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Media-enhanced courses
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Course description and aims

--What are the Liberal Arts and the Humanities? Debates from Plato to C. P. Snow and Beyond--

Thought about education has undergone many changes since ancient times, changes that show no sign of stopping. The central concern in debates and ideas about education has been what it means to be human and to be a virtuous individual, or as Plato says, what elevates us from Hades up to Olympus.

This course will look specifically at ideas of the liberal arts and the humanities, following their evolution from classical antiquity through the medieval period, up to the utilitarianism and commercialization of education in the 20th century. It will discuss their relation to humanitas, humanity, and humanism, and examine the contrasts with mechanical arts, divinity, and science, as well as their position within liberal arts, and in modern times within social sciences.

We will study and read short passages from Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Varro, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, Martianus Capella, Boethius, Peter Abelard, John of Salisbury, Albertus Magnus, Averroes, Thomas Aquinas, Petrarch, Francis Bacon, Hobbes, Voltaire, Rousseau, Hegel, Kant, John Henry Newman, Thoreau, Matthew Arnold, and Thomas H. Huxley.

We will then explore debates about the place, position, and worth of the humanities, focusing on C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures.” We may also discuss the “Science Wars” in the 1990s, culture wars, creationism, multiculturalism, inclusiveness, equity, gender, critiques of the idea of a canon of literature, educational autonomy, and finally the pressure to depreciate the humanities all over the world, as illustrated by governments’ efforts to reduce funding.

To show that ideas about the humanities have undergone a long and complex evolution, and how understanding that history contributes to evaluating their significance now. To help develop a better understanding of the questions surrounding the state of the humanities and their place in liberal education today.

Student learning outcomes

Understand better questions concerning the state of the humanities and their value for liberal education today
Understand better the history of ideas of the humanities and meaning of the related terminology and concepts
Improved critical reading skills
Improved conversational and writing skills


The seven liberal arts, the humanities, the history of the humanities, humanism, culture, culture and science, literature and science, Matthew Arnold, Thomas Huxley, C. P. Snow, the "two cultures"

Competencies that will be developed

Specialist skills Intercultural skills Communication skills Critical thinking skills Practical and/or problem-solving skills

Class flow

Conducted in lecture format. Class attendance is mandatory. Students are expected to 1) read the assigned readings prior to the class, 2) participate in classroom discussions, and 3) write short papers.

Course schedule/Required learning

  Course schedule Required learning
Class 1 Plato's Cave: the idea of the liberal arts from Plato to Cicero Passages from Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and others
Class 2 The Liberal Arts (Quadrivium and Trivium) Chapter/s from Kimball, The Liberal Arts Tradition (2010)
Class 3 Petrarch, "lumen litterarum," and the Renaissance Chapter/s from Kimball, The Liberal Arts Tradition (2010); others will be posted in advance.
Class 4 The humanities and humanism; the Enlightenment Kant, “What is Enlightenment?” (1784); (More will be posted ahead of time) Heidegger, “The Letter on Humanism” (1947); Sartre, “Existentialism as Humanism”(1946)
Class 5 The 19th century: science, positivism, the decline of classics Thoreau, “Reading” (Walden, 1854); Matthew Arnold, "Culture and Anarchy" (1869)
Class 6 Science, culture, and literature: Debate btw Matthew Arnold and Thomas H. Huxley Thomas Huxley, "Science and Culture" (1880); Matthew Arnold, “Science and Literature” (1882)
Class 7 C. P Snow’s “Two Cultures”: the humanities v. the sciences C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures (1962); P. R. Leavis, "The Two Cultures" (in Stefan Collini, 2013)

Out-of-Class Study Time (Preparation and Review)

To enhance effective learning, students are encouraged to spend approximately 100 minutes preparing for class and another 100 minutes reviewing class content afterwards (including assignments) for each class.
They should do so by referring to textbooks and other course material.



Reference books, course materials, etc.

Passages from Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Oratore (51 BC)
Passages from Francis Bacon’s The Advancement of Learning (1605)
Jean Jack Rousseau, Emile, or on Education (1762)
Immanuel Kant, “What is Enlightenment?” (1784)
Henry David Thoreau, “Reading” (Walden, 1854)
Henry David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience" (1866)
Matthew Arnold, "Culture and Anarchy" (1869)
Matthew Arnold, “Science and Literature” (1882)
Thomas H. Huxley, "Science and Culture" (1880)
John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916)
Wilhelm Dilthey: Selected Works, I, Introduction to the Human Sciences (1989)
Jean Paul Sartre, “Existentialism as Humanism,” 1946
Martin Heidegger, The Origin of the Work of Art (1960) and “The Letter on Humanism” (1947)
Charles Percy Snow, The Two Cultures, with Introduction by Stefan Collini (2012)
P. R. Leavis, The Two Cultures? The Significance of C. P. Snow (1962), with Introduction by Stefan Collini (2013)
Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine, From Humanism to Humanities (1986)
Helen Small, The Value of the Humanities (2013)

Assessment criteria and methods

Based on class performance and writing assignments (short papers)

Related courses

  • Essence of Humanities and Social Sciences

Prerequisites (i.e., required knowledge, skills, courses, etc.)


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