“Great Books” vs. History of Consciousness

Posted: January 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

“The texts for IT courses include those that educated persons are commonly expected to know, but the class is not a ‘great books’ class.”

–University of Utah, Honors College webpage

So, if Intellectual Traditions is not a Great Books program, what is it, and what are you supposed to learn in it. The Honors website strives to answer those and other questions, though this is simply a committee-generated statement. Individual professors will have their own opinions. If it were up to me, I would teach this course under the heading History of Consciousness.

What might be the difference between Great Books, Intellectual Traditions, and History of Consciousness? From what we have read and discussed so far this semester, which of these does our class most resemble?

The History of Consciousness Department offers a Ph.D. program that operates at the intersection of established and emergent disciplines and fields, acquainting students with leading intellectual trends in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. Intellectual projects are problem based and draw upon diverse theoretical approaches. The major categories listed below have characterized work in the department over its more than 40 year history; faculty and student research projects typically fall within more than one of these categories. Fields and disciplines listed within these categories represent areas of specific current interest in the department, though we support student projects that move beyond the listed areas.

  1. Aleah Griffin says:

    Although Intellectual Traditions and History of Consciousness both reference books that we should know, they also include many other things that are included in the discussions, whether articles, music, art, or anything else that could relate. Based on that overview of History of Consciousness, it seems to be a good description of this class, because we have already discussed three of the four categories listed a significant amount, especially media, aesthetics, and poetics. The History of Consciousness implies a discussion of past thoughts and ideas that have affected society throughout history, and today.

    • To my mind, the History of Consciousness curriculum seems to derive directly from the thought that Great Books and Intellectual Traditions, for all their good intentions, are in fact modes of ideological indoctrination. Both of these programs seem to assume that history is a linear series of simple cause-and-effects events, each leading directly to the next. Great Books will concentrate more on outstanding minds, with the assumption that certain monumental figures had superior minds that rose above the noise of everyday reality, glimpsed eternal truths, and wrote them down so that ordinary humanity could reflect on their wisdom for the rest of time. Intellectual Traditions seems to focus more on Bid Ideas than Big Minds, but it still appears to retain the notion that there is such a thing as universal truths. These may only emerge over time, not is a flash of insight. Still, the transcendent is there for the open human mind to grasp.

      History of Consciousness, on the other hand, argues (perhaps in line with Greenberg) that there is no such thing as the ‘essential human mind’. Human consciousness, like the human body, is a historical product of complex material conditions. It’s not just that with the passing of time ideas change, but the very structure of the human changes – and these changes in the mind are a reflection of the changing technological and social conditions which bring it into being.

      That’s perhaps a lot to grasp, but it’s essentially the thesis of this entire course. So, we have many weeks ahead of us in which to grasp it more firmly. Again, thanks for your interest in all this!

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