Philosophy 403  Office Hours in RH-422   (445-4489) 
Heroism and the Human Spirit   MWF 8:30am-9:20am 
Philosophy Seminar, Spring 2000  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.

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.

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 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 journalling.
  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.
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)

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.
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.

NO CLASSES  1/17, 2/21 & 2/22
NO CLASSES  3/ 20 - 3/24 Spring Break
Friday., April 7:  WRITTEN PROJECTS DUE.
Monday, April 10:  Student presentations on projects begin.
Tuesday, May  2,  Classes End.


Week #1 (of Jan. 10)  1/10: introduce course, choose groups and schedule presentations on readings; 1/12: in-class writing on childhood heroes.  1/14: Discussion of Eric Berne and heroic scripting.

Week #2 (of Jan.  17) 1/17: Instructor presents on Orson Scott Card's "The Porcelain Salamander."  Group work on "The Porcelain Salamander."  1/19 and 1/21:   Instructor presents on Card's "The Best Day,"  self-deception and bad faith.

*Week #3 (of Jan. 24)  1/24:  On January 24, students present on Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT (ALL SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENTS ARE DUE THE DATE OF THE RESPECTIVE STUDENT PRESENTATION): Describe two acts of self-deception or bad faith in The Bluest Eye. What motivated these acts?  1/26 and 1/28:  Instructor presents on Le Guin's "Those Who Walk Away from Omelas."  Group work on the Le Guin story.  Instructor presents on anthropodicy and theodicy.

*Week #4 (of Jan. 31)  1/31:  Students present on Night. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT: Give examples of three kinds of deception in Night.   What can we learn from these?  (of Feb. 2/2 and 2/4:  Instructor presents on Salmonson's "Meditations and Confessions Regarding My Disturbing Ability"; group work on the Salmonson story; discussion of some problems with power.

*Week #5 (of Feb. 7) Feb. 7: Students present on Stephen King's "The Body" (in Different Seasons); SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT: How could you use the heroic scripting theory (presented during Week #1) to explain what happens to Gordon and his friends? Make sure to discuss at least four of the boys in the story.  2/9: group work on childhood heroics.  Feb. 11:  Instructor presents on Rand's philosophy.

*Week #6 (of Feb. 14.) Feb. 14: Students present on Anthem. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT: In the world Rand's narrator describes, how does the society respond to talent?   Does our society also do this? If so, how so? And to what extent? If not, why not?  2/16: Group work on Anthem.   2/18:  Instructor presents on some philosophical aspects of personal identity, freedom, character and culture.

*Week #7 (of Feb. 23): Feb. 23, Students present on Octavia Butler's  "The Evening and the Morning, and the Night" (in the Bloodchild anthology) . SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT: What does this story suggest to you about human nature, destiny and freedom?  Why?  Please explain, using examples from the story.  3/25:  Instructor presents on Butler's "Positive Obsession" (also in Bloodchild.); group work on "Positive Obsession."

*Week #8 (of Feb. 28). Feb. 28,: Students present on Stephen King's "The Breathing Method" (in Different Seasons). SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT:  What characterizes true friendship in  "The Breathing Method?"  If you want to, you can take an extra page to write about how this squares with the stories this story recalls.  Mar 1, instructor presents one way of reading King (and others). Mar. 3:  Lecture on "Becker, Childhood, and Scary Stories."

*Week # 9 (of Mar. 6) Mar. 6: Students present on The Autobiography of Malcolm X. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT: Write a two-three page dialogue in which you and Malcolm X discuss the development of his views on how to best resist racism.  For his views, use material from the book, citing sources by page.   3/8: Group work on The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  3/10:  Lecture on Racism as a call to deception. Friday, Mar. 10:  PROJECT PROPOSALS DUE.

*Week #10 (of Mar. 13)  3/13:  Students present on Symposium. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT: Write a three-way dialogue or a story or  journal type entry in which you, a speaker from the Symposium, and a friend of yours discuss whether or not it makes sense to believe in "love at first sight." (For this assignment, the page limit is 3 TYPED pages.)  3/15 and 3/17:  Lecture on "Sex and Gender" ; group work on issues of sex and gender. Presentations scheduled.

NO CLASSES  3/ 20 - 3/24 Spring Break.

Week 11: (of Mar. 27)  3/27:  Buber's hasidut and Rebbe Nachman's "The Turkey Prince."  (includes group work on Rebbe Nachman's story).  3/29:   Lecture on "Possibilities and Practice: The Heroic Task and Self Education."  3/31:  In-class writing exercise on future autobiography.

Week 12 (of Apr. 3)   4/3:  Instructor presents on Heroic Myths (Campbell and Raffa, and Card's theory of Maps in a Mirror) and the twice born.  4/5 and 4/7 Instructor presentation and group work on Orson Scott Card's "Middle Woman" and/or "Gert Fram." Friday, April 7:  WRITTEN PROJECTS DUE.

**Weeks 13-15  (Apr.  10 - Apr. 28) Student presentations on projects.  These will take about 15-20 minutes per student, depending on the number of people presenting.  Students who are unable to do their individual presentations at the scheduled time will need to schedule a make-up presentation.

STUDENT EVALUATIONS: Weds., Apr. 26. (These may be rescheduled to some other time during the last two weeks of classes depending on the student presentations.)

Week 16.  May. 1, last day of class.  MAKE-UP PRESENTATIONS: LAST DAY OF CLASS.


Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and the Last Great Lesson.
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.
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.
Goldman, William. The Princess Bride.
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.  Hearts in Atlantis, 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.
Levine, Gail Carson.  Ella Enchanted.
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.
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.)
Tan, Amy.  The Joy Luck Club.
Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and other works.
Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt. Mother Night, 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 Spring 2000 syllabus:
  2. Other materials for PHL 403:
  3. Back to Kagan's Homepage:
  4. Academic Support Center: