This video features one speaker with voice over. Professor Michael Randall sits at his desk in an office area with white board to his side, only obliquely visible. His name appears on the screen and he begins speaking:
Hi. My name is Professor Randall, and I'm here to introduce a course called ECS 100B, also known as the Creation of European Modernity from 1250 to 1650.
This is a class which has one organizing principle, very simple, what is modernity? And so the question is what does modernity mean? And one of the organizing principles around which modernity is understood is this idea that we understand the world through a unified, intellect that allows the individual to understand the universe around him or her, and we can understand René Decartes' cogito of I think therefore I am which dates from the seventeenth century as a basic tenet of modernity. And so post-modernism has criticized this notion of a unified intellect and that's part of their critique of this.
And so what we want to do now is to look at how the whole notion of this modernity came into being. So what we're going to do is we're going to look at the historical evolution of thought that led up to this idea which we can understand beginning more or less with the era of Descartes. And so we are going to look at medieval, renaissance, to early modern thinkers to see how they understood the world and understood themselves within it. And then the idea is to basically always try to remember what does the debate mean for us, today? Although it's historical in nature, the class will remain very much focused on today. So we'll understand for example how Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century argued that individuals were part of a chain of being and participated in greater and lesser degrees in perfection which led up to God. And that would give people their meaning and understanding of reality. And then in the late medieval period people like William of Ockham thought that that was simply an abstraction, and reality was simply a series of singular events and things and that any unification of those singular events would be an abstraction or a concept of the mind. And then we'll look at other philosophers and thinkers such as Marsilio Ficino of the 15th century and try to understand how they also represented a different kind of understanding of being in the world.
We'll look at how writers represented these understandings in things like Dante's Inferno, Boccaccio’s Decameron. We'll look at poetry by Edmund Spenser. We'll look at novels by François Rabelais, essays by Montaigne, and so always at the back of everything is going to be this very visceral, real question that we all have in our lives: well, how do I understand the universe, and what is my position in it? And we'll take it back to our own understanding, our own feelings about these things, always while using this background development in the middle ages and the early modern period to understand what our own feelings are about these things.
So, it's a discussion-based class without a discussion basically this class doesn't happen. It's always been a class which has given rise to lots of interesting discussions and debates. A paper is going to be written on basically anything the students desire so long as it goes back to some of these basic questions, we'll be talking about related to how do I understand what's the modern point of view, what's not a modern point of view, how do I fit into a modern point of view? You're going to look at questions of gender, anything one likes in relation to these questions in as many different ways of looking at it. Lots of questions, not all of the answers but lots of questions.
So, in any case, this is a great class, at least I think it's a great class, and if you're interested, please sign up. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at email@example.com. It's R-A-N-D-A-L-L @brandeis.edu, and I'll be very happy to answer your emails either by email, by Zoom, or even by phone if you wish. Okay! Hope all is well. Hope to see you again next semester. Bye bye!