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Common Intellectual Experience 1
Fall 2007 Instructor: Nathan Baruch Rein
MWF 11-12 Office hours: Tu, Fri 1:30-3:30 and always by appointment
Olin 101 Olin 220, x. 2571, nrein@ursinus.edu

Course description and goals

The Common Intellectual Experience will form the foundation of your liberal arts education. As we
progress through the semester, you will be examining some of the most influential and important
answers that humans have given to the fundamental questions of life—questions that are
spiritual, moral, philosophical and scientific. Three questions—“What does it mean to be human?”
“How should we live our lives?” and “What is the universe and how do we fit into it?”—provide the
common themes. These are hard questions, obviously, and there are no clear universal answers
that have worked for all people in all places. The point here is not going to be to try to answer
them; rather, we want to look hard at the questions themselves and examine the ways people
have tried to think them through. Ultimately, we are each responsible for coming up with our own
answers and deciding for ourselves, as independent thinkers, what we believe in. One of
education’s primary purposes, in my view, is to further that process.

We will do this by means of reading, writing, and discussion. There will be no lecturing in this
course. Instead, you’re going to be reading for yourselves the words of some key thinkers of the
past, and trying to figure out, among yourselves as a group, what they meant and how they make
sense—or don’t make sense—to us today.

In this class, you will cultivate the skills associated with liberal education, in particular:
• critical thinking;
• analytical and attentive reading;
• clear, effective writing and speaking; and
• respectful engagement in discussion.

You must do the readings and assignments and learn from them; but just as large a part of the
learning you should do in this course will come out of the cooperative work you do in this room—
thinking, expressing yourself, and listening to your classmates. At a liberal arts college, we are all
engaged in a collective enterprise; we work together at the project of furthering learning and
building a better world. This course is a symbol of the enterprise you’ve joined as a new student
here at Ursinus: ultimately, it will succeed or fail based on your efforts.

Attendance and preparation

This course is conducted through discussion of the assigned readings in class. Therefore, it is
essential that you read the assigned texts carefully prior to class so that you are ready to
participate in the discussion. You also have to be here. Remember: this course is about
discussion, and you are graded on your participation—and to participate, you have to be present.
Cutting this class is a bad idea.

Assignments and grading

You will write four formal papers during the semester. Each will undergo at least one revision
following review of the first draft, either by me or by your classmates. All sections will have a
common due date for the first draft of each paper (give or take one day), but due dates of
subsequent drafts will vary depending on the preference of the instructor. The due date for the
final draft will be determined as the semester progresses. Paper assignments will be handed out
in the week before the due date. The first paper will be worth 10% of your final grade; the second
and third papers will each be worth 15%, and the fourth will be worth 20%.

The remaining 40% of your grade will reflect your in-class participation; this will include a certain
amount of informal writing (in-class quizzes, discussion-preparation notes, peer reviews of your
classmates’ papers, and similar short assignments; worth 10% of the final grade), most of which
will not be graded (but which is required). The most important part of the informal writing you will
do for this course is going to be a dialectical journal. This should be a notebook—either a real,
physical, handwritten notebook, or a Word document, whichever you prefer—in which each page
is vertically divided in half. On the left side of each page, you will copy out quotations from the
readings that strike you as particularly interesting, compelling, beautiful, ugly, confusing,
problematic, ridiculous, or whatever. On the right side of the page, you will set down your
reactions, thoughts, questions, etc. in your own words. You should make two to three dated
entries in this journal per week. Make sure that each entry also indicates what text you’re talking
about, with page numbers. Bring these with you to class. I will collect and evaluate your journals
occasionally as the semester progresses.

Reading list
The following books have been ordered for purchase and are available on reserve in Myrin
Library. IMPORTANT: Please be sure to have your reading with you at every class meeting.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, tr. N. K. Sandars (NY: Penguin).
Genesis, tr. Robert Alter (NY: Norton).
Plato: Four Texts on Socrates, tr. T.G. West and G.S. West (Ithaca: Cornell UP).
The Bhagavad-Gita, tr. B. S. Miller (NY: Bantam).
Galilei Galileo, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, tr. Stillman Drake (NY: Anchor).
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, ed. M. Lindsay Kaplan (Bedford: St.
Rene Descartes, A Discourse on the Method, tr. Ian Maclean (NY: Oxford UP).
Several other texts will be handed out in class or distributed electronically; in the case of
electronic texts, you should download these, print them, put them in a three-ring binder, and bring
them to class with you.

The fine print

WRITTEN WORK: All written work must be submitted in order to receive a passing grade for the
class. Late papers will be penalized by one grade-step (from B+ to B, etc.) for each day they are
late, unless you have arranged with me for an extension well in advance of the due date.
ATTENDANCE: Classroom participation is a key component of CIE. Skipping class also shows
disrespect for the other participants in the class. Accordingly, attendance counts. As per Ursinus
College’s attendance policy, missing two class meetings may result in the issuance of an
academic warning slip. Missing additional meetings may result in a failing grade for the course.
Remember that classroom participation counts towards your final grade, and you can’t participate
if you’re not in class. If you know you will need to miss class, please contact me as far in advance
as possible and let me know.
ACADEMIC HONESTY: Plagiarism is a serious offence. In written work, all quotations must be
properly attributed and appear in quotation marks. But at least as importantly, any time you are
drawing on someone else’s work you must cite it! This includes paraphrases, summaries, or any
time you make use of an idea that’s not your own. Anything else is plagiarism and can result in
one or both of the following: (1) a failing grade for the course or (2) College-level disciplinary
action, including expulsion. If you have questions about the proper use of sources, please don’t
hesitate to contact me. Either parenthetical citations or footnotes are appropriate.
INCLEMENT WEATHER: In the event that class must be cancelled due to inclement weather, an
announcement to that effect will be recorded on my office answering machine.

Course schedule
The dates shown below are the dates by which you should complete the reading. Also listed are
several out-of-class events. Participation in these activities is a part of the course and is therefore
mandatory (I'll take attendance and it will be treated like a normal class session). Where exact
date and time information is missing, I'll get it to you as soon as I can.
Epic of Gilgamesh (entire)

Epic of Gilgamesh (entire), continued.

8/27 7:00 PM. “Images of the Flood.” Lenfest Theater (Kaleidoscope).

Genesis, Exodus, and Matthew

Genesis 1-22
9/3-14 Exodus 20 (handout)
Matthew 5-7 (handout)

9/3-6 Scudera's Gilgamesh (date and time for our section to be announced)

Paper 1, first draft, due Monday, Sept. 7

Plato's Euthyphro
Four Texts on Socrates, pp. 41–61.

The Bhagavad-Gita (entire)

Paper 2, first draft, due Friday, Oct. 12

Renaissance painting and art

10/11-19 Images will be distributed electronically

10/17 "Visual images," a presentation in Olin Auditorium
4:45-5:45 and 7:00-8:00 pm

Europe encounters the "New World"

The Jesuit Relations, excerpts (handout)
Montaigne, "Of Cannibals" (handout)

The Merchant of Venice (entire)

Paper 3, first draft, due Friday, Nov. 9

11/12-20 Galileo
Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, excerpts from "The Assayer,"

"The Starry Messenger," and "Letter to the Grand Duchess"

Excerpt from "Dialogue on the Two World Systems" (handout)

11/26 Lecture on Descartes, Olin Auditorium
Either 4:00 OR 7:00 pm

11/26-12/7 Descartes
Discourse on Method (entire)

Paper 4, first draft, due Friday, Dec. 7

12/5 Heart dissection.
Fifty-minute periods, time t.b.a, between 6:30 and 9:30 p.m.