Philosophy 403  Office Hours in RH-422   (445-4489) 
Heroism and the Human Spirit  M 9:30 a.m.-10:20 a.m. 
Philosophy Seminar, Summer, 1999  and by appointment. 
Prof.  Michael Kagan  Email:

Goal: 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

ABOUT THE  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENTS:  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 [for Summer 1999].

STUDENT PRESENTATIONS ON READINGS:  All students are expected to do all readings and to share their understanding with one another in class discussions and 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 8:00 PM. YOU CAN ALWAYS LEAVE A VOICE MAIL MESSAGE AT 445-4489.

THE PROJECT 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 attendance and participation (each miss is 4% off this part of the grade), in-class writings, and the optional journal and other optional writing assignments;
  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.
Excessive absences  (more than six hours of class) or failure to complete any of (1)-(4) can result in a failing grade.

Required Reading List: (in approximate reading order)

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York:
King, Stephen. Different Seasons (also published as Shawshank Redemption).
Rand, Ayn. Anthem.
Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt. Mother Night.
Haley, Alex, and Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Plato, Symposium.

In coordination with the Academic Support Center (ASC), reasonable accommodations are provided for qualified students with disabilities. Please register with Anne Herron in 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 with Ms. Herron.

PROJECT PROPOSALS DUE: Thurs., July 29 Optional WRITTEN PROJECTS DUE: Mon., Aug. 2. LAST DAY OF CLASS--Mon., August 9.


#1 (Tue., July 6): introduce course, choose groups and schedule presentations on readings.

 #2 (Thurs., Jul. 8) in-class writing on childhood heroes.  Discussion of heroic scripting.   Instructor presents on "The Porcelain Salamander."  Group work on "The Porcelain Salamander."

*#3  (Mon. July 12)   Students present on Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. Instructor presents on "The Best Day," self-deception and bad faith.  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT (ALL SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENTS ARE DUE THE DATE OF THE RESPECTIVE STUDENT PRESENTATION): Describe two acts of sacrifice in The Bluest Eye. What can we learn from them?

*#4 (Tues., July 13)  Students present on Night .  Instructor presents on anthropodicy and theodicy, and Le Guin's  "Those who walk away from Omelas."  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT: Describe two deeds of kindness in Night.   What can we learn from them?

*#5 (Thurs., July 15): Students present on Stephen King's "The Body" (in Different Seasons); SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT: What  do Chris and Gordon share ? How, if at all, does this strengthen their friendship? Group work on childhood heroics. Instructor presents on Rand's philosophy.

*#5 (Mon., July 19.)  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT: In the world Rand describes, one's career is chosen by others at an early age.  How does the book's hero resist this choice? Does our society also do this? If so, how so? And to what extent? If not, why not?  Group work on Anthem.  Students present on Anthem.

*#6 (Tues., July 20): Instructor presents on some philosophical aspects of personal identity, freedom, character and culture. Students present on Mother NightSHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT:  What do you think of the moral(s) of this story?

*#7 (Thurs., July 22).  Students present on Stephen King's "The Breathing Method" (in Different Seasons). SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT:   Which characters are afraid of what in this story?  What does their fear tell us about them?  Instructor presents one way of reading King (and others).  Lecture on "Becker, Childhood, and Scary Stories."

* # 8 (Mon., July 26)  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT: In the world Malcolm X describes, others may use race to direct one's career at an early age. How do the book's heroes resist this choice? Does our society also do this? If so, how so? And to what extent? If not, why not? Group Work on  The Autobiography of Malcolm X.   Lecture on Racism as a call to deception.  Students present on The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

*#9 (Tues., July 27)    Lecture on "Sex and Gender."   Group work on issues of sex and gender.  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT: 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  or story about  love you think is important, interesting, or true.  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, group work on Symposium.

#10: (Thurs., July. 29)   Buber's hasidut and Rebbe Nachman's "The Turkey Prince."  (includes group work on Rebbe Nachman's story).  Lecture on "Possibilities and Practice: The Heroic Task and Self Education."   In-class writing exercise on future autobiography.  PROJECT PROPOSALS DUE.  Schedule project presentations.

**#11 (Mon., Aug. 2)   Instructor presents on Heroic Myths (Campbell and Raffa, and Card's theory of Maps in a Mirror) and the twice born.  Optional WRITTEN PROJECTS DUE.  Student presentations on projects begin. (These will take about 20-30 minutes per student, depending on the number of people presenting.)

**#12-14  (Tues., Aug. 3-Mon. Aug. 9) Student presentations on projects continue. Possible instructor presentations on O. S. Card's "Middle Woman" or "Gert Fram."


Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and the Last Great Lesson.
Becker, Ernest. The Birth and Death of Meaning, The Denial of Death, and other works.
Belenky, et al. Women's Ways of Knowing.
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, Bloodchild and Other Stories, 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.
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.
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 Man.
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.
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.
Howatch, Susan. Glamorous Powers, and other works.
Irving, John. A Prayer for Owen Meany, The World According to Garp.
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.  Bag of Bones, Insomnia, The Stand, and other works.
Kress, Nancy. Beggars in Spain, Maximum Light.
Leonard, George.  Mastery (New York:  Penguin/Plume, 1992).
Lowry, Dave. Autumn Lightning.
Le Guin, Ursula K. Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, The Dispossessed, and other works.
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon, 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.
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.
Russell, Mary Doria. The Sparrow, and Children of God.
Sapphire.  Push:  A Novel.
Silverberg, Robert. Lord Valentine's Castle.
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.)
Tan, Amy.  The Joy Luck Club.
Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and other works.
Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt.  Slaughterhouse Five, and other works.
Walker, Alice.  The Color Purple.
Wiesel, Elie. Dawn, The Accident, and other works.
Willis, Connie.  Lincoln's Dreams, Doomsday Book, Bellwether, Remake.
Yoshikawa. Musashi.
Zettel,  Sarah. Fool's War.

Some of this page's links:

  1. PHL 403, Heroism and the Human Spirit Summer 1999 syllabus:
  2. Other materials for PHL 403:
  3. Back to Kagan's Homepage:
  4. Academic Support Center: