2000-01 Bulletin Entry for:

History of Ideas


Santayana put it well: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." To understand the significance of our beliefs and commitments--even to understand the significance of the questions and problems that beset us--we need to trace their sources and their history. Because ideas are expressed in social and political institutions as well as in philosophical, scientific, religious, and literary works, the program in the History of Ideas (HOID) is distinguished by its multidisciplinary approach. Since political structures and institutions are themselves articulated in vigorous intellectual debates, we need to understand the ideas that have formed and that continue to form them. HOID proposes to provide students with the historical background of the issues and values that have shaped their interests. It is intended to provide students with the skills and the knowledge, the guidance and the freedom to construct a focused and rigorous course of study, one that explores the historical transformation of a set of ideas and institutions across several traditional disciplines.

Students who successfully fulfill the requirements of the program will receive a certificate in the History of Ideas; their participation will be listed in their University transcripts.

How to Become a Program Member

Students may apply to the program in the History of Ideas any time before the end of their junior year. They are strongly encouraged to consult with the advisor in their primary concentration as well as with the director of the Program.


Tzvi Abusch

(Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

Pamela Allara

(Fine Arts)

Joyce Antler

(American Studies)

Bernadette Brooten

(Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

John Burt

(English and American Literature)

Jacob Cohen

(American Studies)

Stephen Dowden

(Germanic and Slavic Languages)

Gordon Fellman


William Flesch

(English and American Literature)

Richard Gaskins

(Legal and American Studies)

Stephen Gendzier

(Romance and Comparative Literature)

Eugene Goodheart


Robert Greenberg


Mark Hulliung


Patricia Johnston

(Classical Studies)

Jessie Ann Owens


Laura Quinney

(English and American Literature)

Michael Randall

(Romance and Comparative Literature)

Shulamit Reinharz

(Sociology and Women's Studies)

George Ross

(Politics and Sociology)

Silvan Schweber


Govind Sreenivasan



Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, Chair and Undergraduate Advising Head

History of Ideas.

Requirements for the Program

Students will work with the HOID advisor to form a plan of study that draws upon and develops their particular interests. Such a program might trace the history of a particular theme, problem, or tradition (e.g. Platonism: or the idea of revolution in politics, science, or the arts) or it might trace the mutual influence of distinctive approaches to a subject.

A. Students must have taken at least one course in each of the following areas:

1. Literature and the arts.

2. History, Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, and philosophy.

3. Social sciences.

B. Students must take at least five courses whose substantive theme falls within the history of ideas, as determined by the HOID advisor. These courses must meet the following distribution requirements:

1. At least two courses within the field of their primary concentration.

2. One course in a related field.

3. HOID 127a (Seminar in the History of Ideas: Case Studies, the topic varies annually).

Students are strongly encouraged to construct individual curricular programs and to include areas of study that are not presently listed (e.g., biology, chemistry, environmental studies, mathematics, physics). Since courses and faculty interests vary from year to year, the list of courses recommended for the program will change annually.

Members in the program are invited to participate in the History of Ideas Student Forum. The Forum provides the opportunity to present a problem or issue for discussion. Working individually or in groups, students propose a discussion topic and a list of readings.

Students are encouraged, but not required, to present a senior thesis. They may register for HOID 98a or b (Independent Study) to prepare their thesis.

Courses of Instruction

HOID 98a Independent Study

Signature of the instructor required.

Usually offered every year.


HOID 98b Independent Study

Signature of the instructor required.

Usually offered every year.


(100-199) Courses for Both Undergraduate and Graduate Students

HOID 108b Greek and Roman Ethics: From Plato to the Stoics

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Devoted to tracing the major issues of early Western ethics: Is there a general conception of human nature and the human good? What is the relation between pleasure, virtue, and happiness? What are the conditions of responsible agency? What distinguishes voluntary from non-voluntary actions? What is the relationship between ethics and politics, between "local" and "universal" ethical norms? Usually offered in even years.

Ms. Rorty

HOID 120a Immorality: Its Sources, Varieties, and Charms

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We trace the history of negative ethics, tracking transformations in conceptions of immorality: prohibitions of pollution and impurity, sin, vice, evil, malevolence, waywardness, outrageousness, incivility, criminality, and psychological pathology. What are sources of immorality? What marks a state of character as vile or despicable? Who judges? Usually offered in odd years.

Ms. Rorty

HOID 127a Seminar in the History of Ideas: Case Studies

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Brandeis faculty present case studies in the history of ideas as they affect the current agenda of their research agenda. Topics vary annually. Past topics have included conceptions of liberty and choice; conceptions of social progress; the idea of the good society; varieties of evil. Usually offered every year.

Ms. Rorty

HOID 130b Varieties of Liberty, Freedom and Choice

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Conceptions of public, political liberty affect ideas of individual "free will" and vice versa. We trace the history of the mutual influence of arguments for political/social liberty and those for the "inner freedom" of individual conscience. Readings range from Sophocles and Thucydides to Isaiah Berlin and include selections from Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, Rousseau, Kant, Jefferson, Constitutional Amendments, Mill, Dostoyevsky, Rawls. Usually offered in even years.

Ms. Rorty

HOID 140a What is Philosophy: Politics? Science? Poetry? Religion?

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Enrollment limited to 25.

The history of the aims, roles, and styles of philosophy: dialogues (Plato), investigations (Aristotle), letters (Cicero), poetry (Lucretius), spiritual and intellectual autobiography (Augustine, Rousseau), polemical articles (Aquinas), essays (Bacon and Hume), political programs (Locke, Bentham, Mill), and systematic treatises (Descartes, Kant). Usually offered every second year. Will be offered in the fall of 2000.

Ms. Rorty

Elective Courses

The following is a partial list of approved program courses. Other courses may be elected with the approval of the program advisor. The courses approved for the program are not all given in any one year and students are advised to consult the Course Schedule for each semester.

ANTH 108b

History, Time, and Tradition

ANTH 166a

The Nature of Human Nature

CLAS 115b

Topics in Greek and Roman History

CLAS 170a

Classical Mythology

COML 152a

The Rise and Fall of Humanism

ECON 32b

Comparative Economic Systems

ECON 74b

Law and Economics

ENG 5a

Nineteenth-Century Survey

ENG 25a

Romanticism I: Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge

ENG 44a

Rights: Theory and Rhetoric

ENG 111a

Theories of the Self

ENG 124a

Reason and Ridicule: The Literature of Britain in the Enlightenment

ENG 171a

History of Literary Criticism

ENG 174b

Eighteenth-Century Novel

FA 41a

Art and the Origins of Europe

FA 54b

Renaissance Art in Northern Europe

FREN 122b

The Renaissance

FREN 132b

The French Enlightenment

FREN 145a

Topics in French Fiction

FECS 182b

French Literature and Painting

GER 120a

German Enlightenment and Classicism

GECS 183b

A History of Death

HIP 30b

The Persistence of Tradition: As Introduction to Japanese Poetry, Drama, Fiction, and Film

HIST 80b

East Asia in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

HIST 126a

Early Modern Europe (1500-1700)

HIST 131a

The Scientific Revolution

HIST 132a

European Thought and Culture: Marlowe to Mill

HIST 132b

European Thought and Culture since Darwin

HIST 181a

Seminar on Traditional Chinese Thought

HIST 183b

Community and Alienation: Social Theory from Hegel to Freud

HIST 192b

Romantic and Existentialist Political Thought

HUM 10a

The Western Canon

LS 220a

Modes of Narrative: Epic and Romance

MUS 2a

The Western Tradition as Seen through Chamber Music

MUS 57a

Music and Culture: From Romanticism to the Modern Era

NEJS 105b

The Philosophy of Jewish Law

NEJS 120a

Modern History of East European Jewry

NEJS 132b

Ethics and the Jewish Political Tradition

NEJS 140b

The Jews in Europe to 1791

NEJS 155b

Judaism and the Religious Quest

PHIL 122a

Classical Political Theory

PHIL 161a


PHIL 162b


POL 10a

Introduction to Political Theory

POL 184a

Utopia and Power in Modern Political Thought

RECS 130a

Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature

RUS 148a

A Survey of Russian Theater from 1719-1917

RUS 148b

A Survey of Twentieth-Century Russian Theater: Chekhov to the Present

SOC 2a

Introduction to Sociological Theory

SOC 136b

Historical and Comparative Sociology

SOC 141a

Marx and Freud

SPAN 110a

Introduction to Peninsular Spanish Literature

SPAN 170a

Topics in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Spanish Literature

THA 100a

Theater Texts and Theory I

THA 100b

Theater Texts and Theory II