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First-Year Research Seminar: Literature and the Idea of Justice

Semester and Year SP 2017
Course Number FIRST-UG717
Section 001
Instructor Sara Murphy
Days MW
Time 12:30 PM - 1:45 PM
Units 4
Level U


Open to Gallatin first-year students only.


A blindfolded woman holding scales aloft: the classic allegory of Justice might suggest that justice is an abstraction. It also represents justice as tied to a state of equilibrium, which can be completely restored. Yet justice itself is very difficult to define, shifting its meanings over time, between cultures and among individuals; can we presume such a balance? Is justice really only an effect of power, the right of the strong to define the terms under which the weak live? How are law and justice connected? While these seem to be questions for political philosophers, they have also been addressed by literary writers. In this course, our focus will be on how literary texts take up these problems at different junctures primarily in the Western tradition. We will also read some jurists and critical theorists on what constitutes justice—and for whom. Readings may include Plato, Aeschylus, Herman Melville, Bertolt Brecht, Richard Wright, Immanuel Kant, John Rawls, Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, Martha Nussbaum, and Nadine Gordimer. Assignments will include a variety of forms of writing, including a research essay in which students will seek to integrate their thinking with that of our authors.


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Course Type

First-Year Program: Research Seminars (FIRST-UG)