Sunday, December 12, 2010

End of Term Parties

The semester ended on Friday at CU, so I had my usual in-class parties for both my classes.

For my small Intro-to-Ethics freshmen class, which meets at 1:00, we had pizza and cupcakes. That course opens with our reading of The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy, which I present to them as the story of a life gone wrong: as he is dying, Ivan Ilyich keeps tormenting himself with the question, "Did I live as I ought?" And he keeps trying to reassure himself with the answer, "Yes, I did, because I lived as everyone else did." Only on the day that he is dying does he realize that that the answer is no, he did not live as he should have lived, and with that answer comes the relief of facing the truth and reorienting his life in his last hours toward what really matters. Then the rest of the course is structured as a series of books about how we SHOULD live our lives, with readings by Aristotle, Epictetus, Kant, Mill, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Trungpa (Shambhala). On the last day I have the students vote: if they could give only one of these books to a young Ivan Ilyich, which would they choose? This year, the winner was . . . Aristotle.

In my other class, Philosophy through Literature, which meets in the morning, we had donuts and orange juice for our party. This is the class where we read six books on utopia, each one with a different vision of a perfect society. I had the students vote on which was their favorite, which was the world in which they would most want to live. The default setting was our own world. And overwhelmingly, when they voted, our world won. Part of me felt disappointed that they had remained so conservative in their vote, so wedded to the familiar status quo. But part of me felt that it was a lovely thing, to survey all these visions of utopia and then decide that our own world, just as it is, was the most wonderful of all.


  1. I want to take your classes! Claudia, which Aristotle reading was it?

  2. The Nicomachean Ethics. I wish you were in my class!