Seminar Readings and Resources

Unit 1: What is the Ideal Life?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in July of 1776, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” So begins the Declaration of Independence, and so begins our investigation into the principles of American democracy. What is the best possible life? To what extent are human beings free to live their lives as they so choose? In what ways are “all men created equal”?

Module A: Darwin

Why are we here? And where did we come from? These questions are central to the human experience and the answers to them often spark controversy—perhaps because they often have serious consequences for how we think about the meaning of human life on Earth and the nature of human freedom. If human beings are indeed the product of evolution, and not the plan of an intelligent designer, then does this mean a human being is free to choose how they live in the world? Or is all of human behavior simply the product of pre-programmed, naturally selected genetic instructions?

William Paley, excerpts from Natural Theology (1802)

Charles Darwin, excerpts from The Origin of Species (1859)

"Evaluating Darwin's Theory of Evolution"

"Is Biology Destiny? The Psychology of Mate Choice and Consumption"

Module B: Nietzsche & Emerson

Americans are committed to protecting individual liberty, as were the nineteenth century philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Ralph Waldo Emerson. According to Emerson, “No government or church can explain a man’s heart to him, and so each individual must resist institutional authority.” Similarly, Nietzsche argued that human beings ought to reject a “higher authority that you obey, not because it commands what is worth­while for you, but because it commands.” Still, it is hard to deny the importance of living amongst others, and so the questions every American adult ought to answer are: How much power should the community have over its citizens? What are the trade-offs between majority rule and individual rights?

"Nietzsche on Existence: What is the Good Life?"

Ralph Waldo Emerson, excerpts from "Self-Reliance" (1841)

Henry David Thoreau, excerpts from Walden (1854)

 
 

Unit 2: What is the Ideal Society?

Having acquired a deeper understanding of what constitutes “the good life,” in this unit we turn our attention to theories about the kinds of societies that make (or fail to make) this way of life possible. In this endeavor we will pay explicit attention to theories about government, which political theorist David Miller defines as “the whole body of rules, practices and institutions under whose guidance we live together in societies.” So, what is the ideal government? Who are the ideal leaders of this government? And what is the ideal relationship between the people and the government?

Module D: American Perspectives

American society is committed to the principle of republicanism, an idea best captured by Abraham Lincoln’s hope “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” As citizens, we are expected to participate in the political process, so it is our responsibility to understand the basic elements of American government. It is also imperative that we develop a “civic consciousness” by discussing—and debating—the issues that animate our unique brand of politics.

The Constitution of the United States of America (1787, last rev. 1992)

James Madison, Federalist #10 (1787)

Benjamin Rush, "Of the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic" (1798)

Judith Shklar, excerpts from "Let Us Not Be Hypocritical" (1984)

Module E: Chinese Perspectives

Two thousand years before Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and others established the basic principles of American democracy, philosophers like Confucius and Laozi were laying the foundation of Chinese political and social thought. Separated by both time and place, American and classical Chinese thinkers nevertheless asked a similar set of questions: Who is the ideal leader? How should leaders rule? Why is education important? Studying the political philosophy of another culture clarifies what makes the American perspective unique; moreover, it can help us imagine ways American politics and society might be changed for the better.

A Beginners Guide to Pronouncing Chinese Words

Chinese Political and Social Thought: A Historical Background

Confucian Classics: Selections from the AnalectsMengzi, and Xunzi

Daoist Classics: Selections from the Daodejing and Zhuangzi

 
 

Module C: Intro Political Philosophy

Political philosophy, simply put, is the study of government. More specifically, it is an entire field of inquiry with the following questions at its center: What is the purpose of government? What kind of government will best achieve these objectives? And what do our answers to these questions reveal about our assumptions regarding human nature? In this module, we will compare various answers to these questions in order to better understand why Americans ultimately chose to enact the kind of government we have today.

Thomas Hobbes, excerpts from Leviathan (1651)

John Locke, excerpts from Second Treatise of Government (1689)

The Declaration of Independence (1776)

Having acquired a deeper understanding of what constitutes “the good life,” in this unit we turn our attention to theories about the kinds of societies that make (or fail to make) this way of life possible. In this endeavor we will pay explicit attention to theories about government, which political theorist David Miller defines as “the whole body of rules, practices and institutions under whose guidance we live together in societies.” So, what is the ideal government? Who are the ideal leaders of this government? And what is the ideal relationship between the people and the government?

Unit 3: What is the Ideal Economy?

Module F: Personal Finance

Some economists argue that to understand the basic principles of economics, you don’t need to look farther than the content of someone’s bank statement or their behavior at the shopping mall. How does a savings account work? What happens when I don’t pay my credit card bill in full? Answers to these questions can be found by inquiring into the field of microeconomics, which focuses on how economies work at the individual level. We will take a similar approach in this module, which focuses on personal finance—i.e., the science of making and managing your money.

Anderson, "The Coffee Market's Hot; Why Are Bean Prices Not?"

"Debating the Minimum Wage" (NY Times Room for Debate, Sept. 29, 2016)

Krugman, "Power and Paychecks" (NY Times, April 3, 2015)

Ariely, "The Fallacy of Supply and Demand" (Predictably Irrational, 2008)

Layard, excerpts from Happiness: Lessons From a New Science (2005)

Terkel, excerpts from Working (1974)

Module G: Economics and Society

Most of the topics people associate with “economics” belong to the field of macro-economics, which focuses on how economies work at the level of institutions, societies, and nations. Should states raise taxes on the wealthy? Should Congress raise the federal debt ceiling? Should the United States pull out of NAFTA? These are questions that appear in the opinion pages of newspapers and on the ballot, so it’s essential that all Americans begin developing answers to them.

Milton Friedman, excerpts from Capitalism and Freedom (1962)

Gender Wage Gap Case Study: Data

Gender Wage Gap Case Study: History

Affordable Care Act Case Study: Data and Documents

Thomas Friedman, excerpts from The World is Flat (2005)

Peter Goodman, "More Wealth, More Jobs, but Not For Everyone" (2016)

Next to politics, what subject do American adults spend the most time thinking about? In the words of James Carville, campaign manager for President Bill Clinton, “It’s the economy, stupid.” So, just what is the economy? At the macro level, we can think of it as the way a society produces, distributes, and consumes goods like food, clothing, shelter, smartphones, music, etc. At the micro level, we can think of it as the way someone makes, saves, and spends money. In this unit, we will focus on both institutions and individuals as we try to determine what makes the ideal economy.

 
 

Unit 4: How Can We Make This Happen?

Module H: Service Learning Proj.

We have spent the past 15 weeks looking at economic issues at varying degrees of scale, from the smallest (the individual worker and consumer) to the biggest (our globalized world). We have analyzed how individuals make economic decisions, and we have evaluated the role of the federal government in our free-market capitalist economy. Now it is time to turn our attention back to our city and ourselves. As informed citizens, how can we take our knowledge and put it into concrete civic actions? More specifically, what can we do to improve the social and economic development of Los Angeles?

Senior Capstone Service Learning Project 2017: The Assignment

Appendix A: How to Use Online Databases

Appendix B: Creating an Annotated Bibliography

Appendix C: Creating an Infographic with Piktochart

Appendix D: Creating an Adobe Spark Video

 
 

© 2015-2020 by Max Cecil.