Course Description

Throughout this course we read some of the arguments and analyses of people whose ideas have influenced our view of how humans came to being as a species and why human beings act the way they do.  We also consider the nature of their disagreements and the issues that have persisted over years in these debates, as well as argue these issues among ourselves.  In the process of analyzing human behavior, the functioning of societies, human trends and human differences, all these writers express their own views of what people are like. Each has a particular view of human nature, even if it amounts to the assertion that there is no such thing.

Are human beings inherently progressive, inert, or prone to degeneracy?  Are they creative, imaginative, or generally passive and easily led?  Is there free will, or is that the illusion of beings responding to stimuli or social forces?  Do chimpanzees have culture the way humans have culture?  Why? Why not?  Are human beings almost infinitely variable, or pretty much the same all over?

In this course we consider many of these views and approaches to understanding human phenomena, explore their implications, try to see them in the social and political contexts in which they arose, and examine them with a critical eye.  We try to perceive the crosscurrents of ideas that have affected the way we think about ourselves, about other people, about what we have in common with them and about why we may think they are different.

St. Lawrence University, Spring 2015