This course is a comparative inquiry into certain forms of moral consciousness and their metaphysical assumptions in the high cultures of Eurasia. We organize discussion around a broad background concern as well as a focused foreground theme. The background concern is the meaning or meaninglessness of human life: comparison of some of the ways in which philosophy, religion, and art in the West and in the East have dealt with the fear that our lives and the world itself may be meaningless. The foreground theme is the contrast between two answers to the question-how should I live my life? One answer, valuing serenity achieved through disengagement from illusion and vain striving, is: stay out of trouble. Another answer, prizing the acceptance of vulnerability for the sake of self-construction and self-transformation is: look for trouble. The second answer has come to play a major part in the moral and political projects that command attention throughout the world today. We seek to understand this second answer and to assess it in the light of speculative ideas that have been prominent in Western and Eastern thought. Conversely, we use our chosen theme to explore how Western and Eastern speculation have dealt with the limits of insight into what matters most. To these ends, we consider exemplary writings from several traditions: modern European, ancient Greek, Chinese, South Asian.
Extended take-home examination.
Jointly offered by the Law School and FAS.