Human Nature & Social Theory

This is a Social Science senior capstone course. It is open to seniors and advanced juniors majoring in:

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The following syllabus reflects the last time this course was offered. The Social Science Division shall not offer this course before 2004. Changes being considered for future semesters are:

- more consideration of contemporary issues & sources in the Arts
- reduced focus on paradigm analysis, and greater focus on variety of viewpoints
- inclusion of some theological writings
- a focus on views of childhood (e.g., Lord of the Flies, The Bad Seed, Hansel & Gretel)
- full class participation in conducting & analysing a beliefs interview
Of course, any suggestions would be much appreciated! Direct your comments to Dr. Allen (Psychology, x3347, or Dr. Ehrenberg (Political Science, x1193,

Well, we hope you enjoy the course!



John Ehrenberg (Political Science) & Rhiannon Allen (Psychology)

Monday 2.00 - 4.30 pm

Allen's Office Hours: M 4.30-5.30 & W 10-11, rm. 824A, x3347,

Ehrenberg's Office Hours: MW 9-10 & W 1-3, rm. 866, x1193,

Teaching Assistant: Nina Patel (2nd year Psychology doctoral student)

Offered: Spring 1998

Is there such a thing as an essential "human nature" which transcends history, culture, race and gender? Do human beings have a shared inner core, or are similarities between us strictly conventional? What role do assumptions about "human nature" play in political theory and social organization? All social scientists have their personal and discipline-based answers, but this course will approach these questions by examining the related work of four different theorists.

Although the specific circumstances of their work were very different, Thomas Hobbes and Sigmund Freud shared some fundamental assumptions about human nature which have had an enormous impact on the development of political and psychological theory. The same can be said of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Jean Piaget. This course will examine both pairs of thinkers in their differences and similarities. The implications of their ideas will be extended into different realms of inquiry and the class will make use of theoretical material and current investigations in both Psychology and Political Science. Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Stephen Pepper's World Hypotheses both concern the issue of models of understanding, and will help provide intellectual and historical grounding for the semester's investigation of the nature of the human world and causality.

By the end of the course, the students should be familiar with the four theorists and related material, understand the debate about human nature in both an historical and a cross-disciplinary fashion, have demonstrated social skills by acquiring experience in collaborative work or by public presentation of research findings, and have written a substantial research paper incorporating the perspectives of several disciplines in the Social Sciences. Detailed objectives and their assessment are presented at the end of this proposal.

Required Purchases:

Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents (standard edition). New York: Norton.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Macpherson edition). New York: Penguin.

Jean Piaget, The Moral Judgment of the Child (Gabain translation). New York: Free Press.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile (Bloom translation). New York: Basic Books.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (Cranston translation). New York: Penguin.

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Tentative Calendar:

26 Jan - Introduction to course

2 Feb - Structure and approaches 9 Feb - Hobbes on Human Nature 17 Feb - Is our evolutionary heritage relevant, and other ruminations from Anthropology 23 Feb - Hobbes' Political Theory 2 Mar - Rousseau's psychology 9 Mar - Rousseau's politics I 16 Mar - Rousseau's politics II 30 Mar - Freud [due date for quantitative projects]

6 Apr - Piaget's theory

13 Apr - Piaget on morality & civil society 20 & 27 Apr - Summary 4 May - Presentations, final discussion & course evaluations Go back to main page

Course Requirements

Detailed Objectives

By the end of the course, all students should:

1. Be familiar with the writings and theories of the four thinkers, as assessed by evaluation of weekly writing, major essay, quantitative project and weekly participation

2. Be able to think critically about a social science issue relevant to the course, as assessed by evaluation of written essay

3. Recognize that topics can be approached from multiple perspectives and that different disciplines in the social sciences concern themselves with some of the same issues, as demonstrated in the essay

4. Understand that the theoretical debates in the social sciences have relevance to our current political and social situation, as shown in essays and projects

5. Be able to use both quantitative and qualitative data and methods to inform a theoretical issue, as shown by successful completion of a small research project (e.g., territoriality, acquisitiveness, aggression, morality)

6. Be able to use writing to articulate ideas in all prepared work; however, only the major essay will be graded for writing mechanics in addition to conceptualization

In addition, at least one of the following social skills will be developed by each student. Both are not required of each student because completion of a collaborative project is optional, and it is likely that not every student will be called on for an oral presentation. However, each student will meet one or both objectives.

1. Ability to work collaboratively, as indicated by successful completion of a collaborative project or essay accompanied by the collaborating members' reports

2. Clear oral presentation of information, as assessed by combined instructor and classmate evaluation of presentations

Key Questions and Topics

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The following is a list of additional readings intended to confuse & provoke you: Note that none are assigned, but any might be referred to in class or might be useful for projects

book listings on various philosophy, science & social science topics:

Rhianon Allen, Don't go on my property: A case study in transactions of user rights. Language and Society, September 1995.

Robert Ardrey, The Territorial Imperative

Aristotle, De Anima (book II chaps.1& 3, book III chap. 9); Ethics (books I, II & X chap. 5); Politics (book I)

William Bennett, The Book of Virtues

D.E. Brown, Human Universals

Confucius, Analects (books IV & XII)

Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species; The Descent of Man; this and related material available online at hot link on main page

Emile Durkheim, Suicide

Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther (chap. IV); Gandhi's Truth

Amitai Etzioni, The New Golden Rule

Adam Ferguson, The Theory of Human Sentiments

Steven Gerencser, Mister Oakeshott's Hobbes, or Mister Hobbes's Oakeshott

Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development

Stephen Jay Gould Room of One's Own (in Natural History, 11/97), A Tale of Two Worksites (in Natural History, 10/97)

Calvin Hall et al., Introduction to Theories of Personality (for coverage of Horney, Fromm, Sullivan, the humanist psychologists, the existentialist psychologists and, possibly, Freud)

David Hume, An Essay Concerning Human Nature

William James, Principles of Psychology (Vol. II chaps. 22, 24 & 28)

Alison Jolly, The Evolution of Primate Behavior ("Competition")

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason; Metaphysical Foundations of Morals; Critique of Pure Practical Reason (selections)

Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

Lawrence Kohlberg's chapter on moral development in Goslin's Handbook

Weston LaBarre, The Human Animal (Introduction, chaps. 5, 8, 12 & 15)

James Madison, selections from The Federalist Papers

Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto; The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte; The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape

Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent

Jean Piaget, numerous books, and some information can be found through hot link on main page

Plato The Republic, Symposium, Phaedo, Meno

Michael Sandel, The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self; Democracy's Discontent

Meredith Small, Family Values (in The Sciences, December 1997)

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

St. Augustine, The City of God

David van Mill, Hobbes's Moral Theory in Leviathan

Eduardo Velásquez, On the Pleasures of Civility and Citizenship: A reassessment of Thomas Hobbes and his Legacy for Modern Liberalism

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Eli Zaretsky, Bisexuality, Capitalism and the Ambivalent Legacy of Psychoanalysis

Suggested Quantitative Projects:

In all cases, projects must be approved by the instructors. You should make clear the relevance of your data to the theme of the course.

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Go to Rhiannon Allen's main page

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