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How to Live the Good Life and be True to Yourself

Taught By: Ed Munn Sanchez

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
          --William Shakespeare, Hamlet

From Shakespeare to today we are deeply concerned with being true to ourselves. But what can this mean? How is it that we are creatures that cannot be true to ourselves? Does this require us to be a mystery to ourselves, to discover ourselves? How does the desire to be true to ourselves affect our art? our politics? To be true to ourselves, at least in Polonius' speech quoted above, is an ethical precept, but how is it that we have an ethical obligation toward ourself? And what does all of this have to do with living well?

Authenticity and its connected concepts have played a significant role in the development of social and political thought since at least the early Enlightenment. In this course we will examine the importance of authenticity and the related ideas of sincerity, self-expression, autonomy, and creativity, in contemporary social thought. We will begin with the work of Charles Guignon, Charles Taylor, and Lionel Trilling to set the stage for our discussion, but will then move to a fairly broad set of authors to help us discover the role that these concepts play in our culture. 

Honors classes depend on the students being prepared for discussion. In this class this will be an absolute must. We are going to be examining a wide range of work, some of it seemingly unconnected and we will be using class discussion to make the connections.

  1. Understand the development of the idea of authenticity and related concepts and their importance to contemporary social and political thought.
  2. Have the tools necessary to critically appraise the concept of authenticity and how it is expressed and developed by the authors we read.
  3. Understand and critically appraise the ideas of self-expression and autonomy as core contemporary ethical and political concepts.

You will be asked to write eight short reaction papers and a final term paper. The short papers combined will be worth 45% of your grade and the term paper will be worth 35% of your grade. The three worst short papers will be dropped when calculating the grade. The other 20% will be based on a combination of class participation, attendance, and short in-class assignments.