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Individual, Polis and Society: Philosophical Reflections in History (HI2A5)

The Thinker 

Tutor: Prof. Mark Philp
Phone: 024 76150927, internal extension 50927
Office: H007, ground floor of the Humanities Building
Lectures: Mondays 12:00-13:00 in H060
Seminar Group #2: Fridays 14:00-15:00 in H303
Seminar Group #3: Fridays 15:00-16:00 in H303

This module will introduce students to a range of long-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century texts in which there is sustained reflection and commentary on the individual, the polity, and an emerging conception of society and the economy. In doing so, this module raises broader philosophical questions about the construction of identity, character and virtue, political realism and idealism, and relativism and individualism. The module also involves students in reflecting on the changes in styles of painting, architecture and fashion and linking this to the core themes. The emphasis of the module is on how, as historians, we should approach some of the major pieces of writing of the period, both the more and the less philosophical. Consequently, a core component of the module is encouraging a close reading of the texts, coupling this with raising questions about the importance of historical context in generating and reflecting critically on such readings. The module is structured thematically, taking conceptions of the individual, then the polis, then society; but within those themes it is structured chronologically, allowing students to have a sense of the increasing interaction of different lines of argument. The module depends on students reading primary texts and the assessment and examination focuses on these texts.

This 30 CATS module is compulsory for second-year students of the 'History and Philosophy' joint-degree, and is also available as an option module for second-year students of History, Joint Degrees with History, and, by negotiation with other degree courses.

Guidelines for Assessment 1

Guidelines for assignment 2

Summer preparation:

The aim of the course is to encourage you to read a range of primary texts - this means that there is no real course book. Students are encouraged to read themselves into the course and, in particular, to do some preparation for the first few weeks of term. (If you look on the website for the first weeks you'll find many of the texts available in electronic form, either in whole or part).

It is worth looking at John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, or a Brief Relation of the Exceeding Mercy of God in Christ to his Poor Servant John Bunyan - to give you a sense of someone who in the 17th C sees the world and himself almost entirely in terms of religion and his duty to God. The point is to get an idea of how different (and often transgressive) most eighteenth century texts are in comparison.

The four big diaries that are worth looking at are Samuel Pepys's Diary (available in a one volume Penguin edition) (c 1680s); The Diary of Dudley Ryder (1720s); James Boswell, The London Journal 1762-63; and the Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney (one volume ed., in Penguin, ed by Sabor et al, 2001) With these my advice is to read the entries for a year or two - and to think about how they see themselves and how they experience the world around them.

But other texts that it would be good to have read in advance are:

Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey

Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women

Mary Hays, Memoirs of Emma Courtenay

The History of Mary Prince

Stendhal, Love - +/or Hazlitt's Liber Amoris

Those are good ways to build up your knowledge of texts that will feature at the beginning of the course. As background you might try Droh Wahrman's The Making of the Modern Self. But the course really does want you to read and think about the primary texts - and the ones I have mentioned are among the more accessible.

If you run out - read some 18th C novels and plays (eg. Elizabeth Inchbald's A Simple Story; Defoe's Moll Flanders, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Opie's Adeline Mowbray, Godwin's Caleb Williams, Sheridan's The Rivals, Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer). None of it will be wasted - because its also a course that wants you to read as widely as you can and to bring your own knowledge.

I hope that's some help. And enjoy it!