Thursdays 18:00-20:15, Winter, 2013
Philosophy Seminar Room (PR-100)
Professor Justin E. H. Smith
Office Hours: J 14:00-16:00, PR-402
Course Description: This will be an advanced seminar in early modern political philosophy. We will be approaching our topic through a close reading of a handful of influential works in the so-called utopian genre, that is, works that give an account of a particular vision of the social good through the fictional artifice of an imaginary society. Arguably, the first work of this sort is Plato's Republic, but at the beginning of the modern era the genre enjoyed a new life, starting with Thomas More's Utopia of 1516, in large part as a result of new, real-world encounters with previously unknown civilizations in the Americas. This genre would also feature works that project the ideal society, variously, onto the moon or some imaginary planet, and in this respect early modern utopian writing also constitutes an important precursor to science fiction. We will be considering utopian writing from a literary and historical point of view, but our primary purpose will be to seek to learn what it has to offer for our understanding of the history of political thought in early modern Europe, in particular emerging ideas about liberty, self-determination, religious tolerance, justice, and punishment. In addition, we will be interested in the role of utopian thinking in the cluster of ideas about the progress of knowledge, and about the reformation of the investigation of the natural world, that we associate with the so-called Scientific Revolution.
Prerequisites: graduate or advanced undergraduate standing.
Required Texts (available at the Concordia University Bookstore)
Susan Bruce (Ed.), Three Early Modern Utopias: Thomas More, Utopia; Francis Bacon, New Atlantis; Henry Neville, The Isle of Pines, Oxford University Press, 2008.
In addition, a packed will be made available for purchase at Copies Concordia (on Maisonneuve between Mackay and Guy), with excerpts from the following texts:
- Plato, Republic
- Tommaso Campanella, The City of the Sun (1602)
- Johann Valentin Andreae, Christianopolis (1619)
- Johannes Kepler, The Dream, or Posthumous Work on Lunar Astronomy (1638)
- Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World (1666)
Means of Evaluation
60% Final research paper (10-12 pages for undergraduates; 15-20 pages for graduate students).
30% In-class presentation of work-in-progress.
Schedule of classes:
Week 1: 10 January
Introduction: The role of ideal models (or fictions) in political philosophy. Reading: Plato's Republic, Books I and II; Plato's Timaeus (excerpt).
Week 2: 17 January
'No Place': the context and origins of More's Utopia. Reading: More, Utopia, Book I.
Week 3: 24 January
The principal aims and arguments. Reading: More, Utopia, Book II, 1-4.
Week 4: 31 January
Renaissance ethnography and the problem of human nature. Reading: More, Utopia, Book II, 5-9.
Week 5: 7 February
Utopia and Religion. Reading: Campanella, The City of the Sun
Week 6: 14 February
Utopia and Encyclopedism. Reading: Campanella, The City of the Sun (cont.)
Week 7: 21 February Mid-Term Break!!
Week 8: 28 February
Esotericism and Communism. Reading: Andreae, Christianopolis. Research-Paper Prospectus Due!!
Week 9: 7 March
Utopianism and the Transformation of Science. Reading: Bacon, New Atlantis
Week 10: 14 March
The Geography of Early Modern Science. Reading: Bacon, New Atlantis (cont.).
Week 11: 21 March
Utopia between Astronomy and Science Fiction. Reading: Kepler, Somnium
Week 12: 28 March
Natural Magic and the Irrational. Reading: Kepler, Somnium (cont.).
Week 13: 4 April
Utopia and Libertinism. Reading: Neville, The Isle of Pines
Week 14: 11 April
Experimental Philosophy and Science Fiction. Reading: Cavendish, Blazing World
Recommended Preparatory Reading:
Stephen Gaukroger, Francis Bacon and the Transformation of Early Modern Philosophy, Cambridge, 2001.
Stephen Gaukroger, The Emergence of a Scientific Culture: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1210-1865, Cambridge, 2001.
Stephen Greenblatt, Marvellous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.
Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution, London, 1972.
Frank Lestringant, Mapping the Renaissance World: The geographical imagination in the age of discovery, trans. by David Fausett, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 2 vols, vol. I: The Renaissance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Quentin Skinner, "Sir Thomas More's Utopia and the language of Renaissance humanism," in The Languages of Political Theory in Early-Modern Europe, ed. by Anthony Pagden, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, 123-57.
Clare Jackson and Richard Serjeantson have put together a website with very valuable resources in connection with their course 'Utopian Writing, 1516-1798' at Cambridge University: