PHIL 493-01 The Tenacity of Texts: The Diffusion, Endurance, and Transmutation of Great Books in Western History

Course Description

This undergraduate seminar begins with a deceptively simple question: why do some texts persist while others fade away? That is, what makes a mere book a “great book”, and why do such texts stubbornly continue to endure beyond the particular historical and discursive moments in which they were originally written? Organized around a guided exploration of rare copies of some of the western world’s most persistent, influential, contested, and even revolutionary books on loan to IPFW from The Remnant Trust collection, this seminar will probe the implications of this question. With an eye on the interrelated philosophical and historical dynamics at play in the diffusion, endurance, and transmutation of a series of “great books” composed over the course of some two millennia, we will use this rare opportunity to engage in a collective “hands-on” reading and discussion of selected passages from Plato’s Apology, the collected works of Aristotle, the Hebrew Bible and the Wycliffe New Testament, the Koran, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, the Magna Charta, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Calvin’s Institutes, Hobbes’s Leviathan, Locke’s Two Treatises on Government, Newton’s Principia, Marx’s Capital, Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, among others. In addition to interrogating the ideas contained in these books, we will also consider the very notion of “the book” itself, especially its meaning(s) as an object, idea, technology, artifact and symbol—something well exemplified in the very physicality of the rare books which have been put at our disposal.