Philosophy 403

Office Hours in RH-436   (445-4489) 

Heroism and the Human Spirit 

MWF 9:30 a.m. - 10:20 a.m.

Philosophy Seminar, Spring, 2005

 and by appointment.

Prof. Michael Kagan


The main purpose of this course is to provide students with an opportunity to develop their own answers to the question, "What makes a person great?" It is hoped that giving students a chance to address this problem while seeing its inter-connections with fundamental philosophical issues will help them integrate their heroic visions into their own philosophies of human existence and/or philosophic religious faith.

Requirements and grading

You are to select and complete five of the eight short writing assignments. A reading question is given along with each assignment. Unless otherwise indicated, please answer the reading question in less than one TYPED page (all assignments, except in-class writings, are to be typed). Make sure you are working with the current version of this syllabus.

STUDENT PRESENTATIONS:  For every presentation, you will be required to turn in an outline or abstract of your presentation,
complete with a list of all works used. Also, if you use any web pages, not only should these be listed on the outline with the rest of your bibliography, but you are also required to turn in a printout of all web pages used in preparing the presentation. If your group divides the work into separate parts, each member of the group will need to provide his or her own outline/abstract and printouts. Outlines/abstracts, and printouts are to be given to me BEFORE the presentation. Failure to do so BEFORE the presentation will result in a 30% deduction from the relevant presenter's presentation grade. If the outline and printouts are not turned in by the next class, there will be an additional 30% deduction. You may use up to but not more than 5 minutes of videotaped material for your presentation. If the class is meeting in a room with a built-in VCR, make sure you know how to use it. If you need to bring in a VCR for the presentation, you may order one from AV by calling 445-4380 or on the web at
In the event of a technical glitch or delivery problem make sure you can present without the videotaped material.

READINGS: All students are expected to do all readings and to share their understanding with one another in class discussions by leading their own and participating in other students' presentations on the various readings. Student presentations on readings begin the second week of class, and will be scheduled during the first week. The subtopics will be divided up into student groups whose size will be determined by the class size.
       Remember: You have less than an hour to present. Focus on the aspects your group finds most interesting and important. Do not try to cover everything. Your presentation will be improved if you make it easier for others to participate. (Please try to help others' presentations by participating!) Please feel free to meet with me to discuss your presentations. If you don't find me on campus, you are welcome to call me at home before

might involve further investigating the issue of human greatness and heroism, a philosophical essay concerning some related issue of philosophical interest in a work of literature, a creative literary work of the student's own [e.g., a short story, 1st chapter of a novel, & c.], or a philosophical analysis of some related issue present in one of the works we studied, detailing the position[s] set forth in the work, and developing and defending one's own philosophical response.


  1. 25% of the grade is based on participation, in-class writings, and the optional journal and other optional writing assignments. Since you are not participating when you don't attend class, you will need to make up any absences with extra-credit assignments and journaling.
  2. 25% of the grade is based on the presentation on the readings.
  3. 25% for the five short writing assignments (the grade will be the average of the best four out of five).
  4. 25% is determined by the project and its presentation.

Grades are based on a 10 point scale as follows:
90-100 - 'A' range (97-100 = A+; 94-96=A; 90-93=A-).
80-89  - 'B' range (87-89 = B+; 84-86=B; 80-83=B-).
70-79  - 'C' range (77-79 = C+; 74-76=C; 70-73=C-).
60-69  - 'D' range (67-69 = D+; 64-66=D; 60-63=D-).
Below 60 - 'F'.

Failure to complete any of (1)-(4) can result in a failing grade. Plagiarism will result in a failing grade.

Required Reading List: (in approximate reading order)

Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt. Welcome to the Monkey House.
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York:
King, Stephen. Different Seasons (also published as Shawshank Redemption).
Rand, Ayn. Anthem.
Butler, Octavia E. Bloodchild and Other Stories.
Brown, Claude. Manchild in the Promised Land.
Plato, Symposium.


In coordination with the
Academic Support Center (ASC), reasonable accommodations are provided for qualified students with disabilities. Please register with the ASC Office for disability verification and determination of reasonable accommodations. After receiving your accommodation form from the ASC, you will need to make an appointment with me to review the form and discuss your needs. Please make every attempt to meet with me within the first week of class so your accommodations can be provided in a timely manner. You can either stop by the ASC, Library, 1st floor, or call (445-4118-voice or 445-4104-TDD) to make an appointment.


No classes on the following dates: Mon., Jan. 17 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day), Mon, Feb. 21 (President's Day), Wed. Mar. 23
(instructor attending conference), Mar 24-27 (Easter Break), Mar. 28-April 3 (Spring Break).



#1 (Wed., Jan. 19) Introduce course, choose groups and schedule presentations on readings.
#2 (Fri, Jan. 21) -- In-class writing on childhood heroes.
#3 (Mon., Jan. 24) Discussion of heroic scripting.
#4 (Wed., Jan. 26) Instructor presents on "The Porcelain Salamander."  Group work on "The Porcelain Salamander."
*#5 (Fri., Jan. 28)  Students present on Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT: Give an example or two of when and how some of  the characters show resistance to what's happening to them.   What do you think of this kind of resistance?
#6 & #7  (Mon. Jan. 31  and Wed., Feb. 2)    
Self-deception and bad faith. Instructor presents on Le Guin's  "Those who walk away from Omelas" and/or Kurt Vonnegut's  "More Stately Mansions" (please bring Welcome to the Monkey House) and/or Card's  "The Best Day."  The temptation to deny the best and the worst.
*#8 (Fri ., Feb. 4) Students present on Night. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE: 
Give an example or two of when and how some of  the characters show resistance to what's happening to them.   What do you think of this kind of resistance?
*#9 (Mon., Feb. 7). SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE: Who are the best friends in this story?  What does this show about friendship?  Why?  Students present on Stephen King's "The Body" (in Different Seasons). 
#10 (Wed., Feb. 9) Instructor presents on
Rand's philosophy.
* #11 (Fri., Feb. 11)  Students present on Anthem. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE: In the world
Rand describes, one's career is chosen by others at an early age -  Do any characters in the book resist this choice? How?   Does our society also put some in a position that will keep them from hurting the status quo? If so, how so? If not, why not?
#12  (Mon, Feb. 14)  Lecture on problem of personal identity.
* #13 (Wed., Feb. 16)  Short writing assignment due: Students present on Octavia Butler's  "The Evening and the Morning, and the Night" (in the Bloodchild anthology) . SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT:  Do you know (or know about) anyone like the people in this story?  Have they chosen to do what they do best?  Why or why not?   Please explain, using examples from the story.
#14 (Fri., Feb. 18)  Lecture on "Becker, Childhood, and Scary Stories"

Mon.,  Feb. 21.  No class - President's Day.
#15 ( Wed., Feb. 23) Instructor presents one way of reading King (and others).
* #16 ( Fri.,  Feb. 25)
PROJECT PROPOSALS DUE. Students present on Stephen King's "The Breathing Method" (in Different Seasons). SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE: Who are the best friends in this story?  What does this show about friendship?  Why?
#17 (Mon., Feb. 28) Instructor presents on Heroic Myths (Campbell and Raffa) and the twice born.
* #18 (Wed., Mar. 2) SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE: In the world Claude Brown describes, one's future seems decided at an early age - How do different people in the book respond to this? What can we learn from their experience? Students present on Manchild in the Promised Land.
#19 ( Fri, Mar. 4) Group work on Manchild in the Promised Land. Lecture on racism and deception.
*#20 (Mon., Mar. 7)  TWO PART SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE: Write a brief description of a friend or a brief story in which the sex of at least one major character is neither stated nor implied. THEN explain which of the people described  in the Symposium has a theory about  that love you think makes sense of  their own life.  Explain why. Note:  You are welcome to do this within one page if you can, but, for this assignment, the page limit is 3 TYPED pages. Students present on Symposium.
#21  (Wed., Mar. 9) 
Lecture on "Sex and Gender."

# 22 (Fri, Mar. 11) Lecture on "Possibilities and Practice: The Heroic Task and Self Education."
#22 (Mon., Mar. 14) -SCHEDULE PROJECT PRESENTATIONS. Buber's hasidut and Rebbe Nachman's "The Turkey Prince" (includes group work on Rebbe Nachman's story)
#23  (Wed. Mar. 16) - .Instructor presentation on "Middle Woman" or "Gert Fram."
#24  (Fri.,  Mar. 18)  - Instructor presentation on "Mortal Gods."
#25  (Mon., Mar . 21).   Class group work on Saki's "The Open Window."
No class Wed., Mar. 23 (instructor attending conference),  Mar 24-27/Mar. 28-Apr. 3 (Easter Break/Spring Break).
#26   (Mon., Apr. 4). 
In-class writing exercise on future autobiography.
#27   (Wed., Apr. 6)  Bring Bloodchild to class. Presentation on "Positive Obsession."

#28   (Fri., Apr. 8)  Bring Bloodchild to class. Presentation on "Furor Scribendi."
**#29 (Mon., April 11 through
Wed., May 4 - Student presentations on projects (these are to be between 20 and 50 minutes in length, depending on the size of the class, and the number of students presenting). These will continue until the end of semester. Students who are unable to do their individual presentations at the scheduled time will need to schedule a make-up presentation.  Please bring Welcome to the Monkey House to class  April 11 - May  6.
Fri., May 6, TBA & Make-up presentations. LAST DAY OF CLASS.

Ajami, Fouad. The Dream Palace of the Arabs. (Pantheon Books, 1998).
Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and the Last Great Lesson.
Amdur, Ellis. Dueling with O-Sensei: Grappling with the Myth of the Warrior Sage, Old School:  Essays on Japanese Martial Traditions. Available from
Alexie, Sherman. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. (The movie "Smoke Signals" is based on this.)
Becker, Ernest. The Birth and Death of Meaning, The Denial of Death, and other works.
Belenky, et al. Women's Ways of Knowing.
Berne, Eric. What Do You Say After You Say Hello? - The Psychology of Human Destiny, and other works.
Brown, Claude. Manchild in the Promised Land.
Brown, Christy. My Left Foot.
Bujold, Lois McMaster. Cordelia's Honor, and other works.
Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower, and other works.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Second ed.
Card, Orson Maps in a Mirror: The Short Fiction of Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game, and other works.
Chandler, Raymond. The Simple Art of Murder, and other works.
Chesbro, George. Shadow of a Broken Man.
Cross, Amanda. Death in a Tenured Position, and other works.
Davies, Robertson. The Deptford Trilogy : Fifth Business/the Manticore/World of Wonders, and other works.
DeWitt, Helen. The Last Samurai.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, Notes from the Underground, "The Crocodile, " and other works.
Elgin, Suzette Haden. Native Tongue, The Judas Rose, The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense and other works.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible
Eugenides, Jeffrey.  Middlesex.
Frankl, Viktor. Man's Search for Meaning. Pocket Books Washington Square Press printing, 1985.
Friedman, C.S. This Alien Shore, and other works..
Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers.
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development.
Gilman, Dorothy The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax, Tightrope Walker, Incident at Badamya, and other works.
Goldman, William. The Princess Bride.
Goldstein, Lisa.  Dream Years, The Red Magician, Travellers in Magic and other works..
Haley, Alex, and Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Hammett, Dashiel. The Maltese Falcon (the book and the movie). You should look at his other novels as well.
Hargrove, Anne C. Getting Better: Conversations with myself and other friends while healing from breast cancer.
Heinlein, R. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Citizen of the Galaxy, Double Star and other works.
Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha, The Journey to the East, The Glass Bead Game, Steppenwolf, and other works.
Hoeg, Peter. Smilla's Sense of Snow, Borderliners.
Howie, Noelle.  Dress Codes:  Of  Three Girlhoods--My Mother's, My Father's, and Mine.
Howatch, Susan. Glamorous Powers, and other works.
Irving, John. A Prayer for Owen Meany, The World According to Garp.
Jarmusch, Jim. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

Jewell, Lisa.  One-Hit Wonder

Kafka, Franz. "Penal Colony, " "Hunger Artist, " The Trial, The Castle, and other works.
Kagan, Michael . Educating Heroes (Durango, Colorado:  Hollowbrook, 1994).
Kamenetz, Rodger. The Jew in the Lotus : A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist
India, and Stalking Elijah:  Adventures with Today's Jewish Mystical Masters.
Kaye, Ronnie. Spinning Straw into Gold.
King, Stephen. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Hearts in Atlantis, Bag of Bones, and other works.
Kiyosaki, Robert T., and
Sharon Lechter.  Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Kress, Nancy. Beggars in
Spain, Maximum Light.
Leonard, George.  Mastery (New York:  Penguin/Plume, 1992).
Lowry, Dave. Autumn Lightning, Persimmon Wind.
Le Guin, Ursula K. The Telling, Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, The Dispossessed, and other works.
Levine, Gail Carson. Ella Enchanted.
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon, and other works.
Morrow, James. Towing Jehovah, Blameless in Abaddon, and other works.
Noddings, Nel. Caring.
McBride, James. The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother.
Oates, J. C. On Boxing.
Parker, Robert B. Mortal Stakes, and other works.
Plato. The Republic, and other works.

Pohl, Frederik.  Gateway
Polster, Miriam F. Eve's Daughters : The Forbidden Heroism of Women.
Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1996).
Raffa, Jean Benedict. The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth.
Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, The Virtue of Selfishness.
Rollin, B. First, You Cry.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Russell, Mary Doria. The Sparrow, and Children of God.
Salmonson, Jessica Amanda. A Silver Thread of Madness, and other works.
Sapphire. Push:  A Novel.
Silverberg, Robert. Lord Valentine's Castle.
Steiner, Claude M. Scripts People Live: Transactional Analysis of Life Scripts.
Suzuki, D.T. Zen and Japanese Culture.
Sturgeon, Theodore. More than Human, and other works.
Scriptures, religious tales and teachings of interest to the student, from a variety of traditions (including, but not limited to, African, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Native American, Taoist, Vedic.)
Stout, Martha. The Myth of Sanity: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness.
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club, The Hundred Secret Senses.
Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and other works.
Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt. Mother Night, Slaughterhouse Five, and other works.
Alice. The Color Purple.
Wachowski, Andy and Larry. The Matrix and its sequels (including The Animatrix).  .
Wiesel, Elie. Dawn, The Accident, and other works.
Willis, Connie. Passages, Doomsday Book, Bellwether, and other works..
Yoshikawa. Musashi.
Zettel, Sarah. Fool's War.

Some of this page's links:

  1. PHL 403, Heroism and the Human Spirit Spring 2005 syllabus:
  2. Other materials for PHL 403:
  3. Back to Kagan's Homepage:
  4. Academic Support Center: