This course is interested in the politics of the ordinary. It is a basic assumption of this course that how we reach decisions while going about our ordinary lives is worth examining for its own sake, but also because our decisions have ramifications for our larger political life together. Our guide in the formulation and execution of this course is a work by Stanley Cavell entitled Cities of Words, which will serve as the core text. That book is an attempt to reproduce a course he taught for years at Harvard called “Moral Reasoning.” Since that course makes use of some classic works of political theory, we have an opportunity to explore issues in political theory through a slightly different lens that simply that of a history of political thought. Coupled with each thinker we examine is a work from the classic period of American film, which will serve as prompts for further discussions of their themes.
Attendance is mandatory, which is to say unexcused absences are not permitted, and will be penalized at my discretion. All reading and viewing is expected to be completed before the class meeting at which pertinent discussion is scheduled. Thoughtful participation in discussion is encouraged, and up to 5% of your final grade will be determined by my evaluation of how well you participate in class (my criteria do not include how much you talk, but it does include how well). There will be three paper assignments each constituting roughly 33% of the grade. I realize that this adds up to 104%, which simply means I will exercise discretion concerning final grades that are on the cusp between, say, a B plus and an A minus.
Books for purchase are on sale at Amherst Books in downtown Amherst.
Stanley Cavell, Cities of Words (Harvard)
John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women (Dover Thrift)
Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House (Dover Thrift)
As many other readings as is possible will be assigned from online websites. There is also a multilith of readings for sale in the Political Science Department Office.
Course films will be screened on Wednesdays at 4:30 and 7:30. All of these films are also available on DVD on reserve in the Amherst College Library. They will also be streamed on the Amherst Library website. Those students not enrolled at Amherst College will be given access to these films via password. The following are our films in the order in which they will be screened, along with the name of the pertinent thinker under examination.