Honors 460 - Great Books of Western Civilization - Spring 2001

Ron Bombardi
Department of Philosophy
Middle Tennessee State University

Orientation Objectives Texts Mechanics Assignments Grades Disabilities Annotations

  The primary emphasis of the course will be focused on
  reading a broadly interdisciplinary collection of classic texts--
  works of enduring significance that have shaped the
  development of Western culture. In this, an age of
  anthologies, abridgments, and multiple-choice testing, our
  appetites for pre-digested learning are voracious--we are
  less inclined to read the great works of our tradition than we
  are to read about them. This seminar, however, proceeds
  contrawise. In many respects, both the warrant for, and the
  intent of, the course were adumbrated by T.S. Eliot in 1919:

  Some one said: "The dead writers are remote from us
  because we
know so much more than they did."

  Precisely, and they are that which we know.

Email: Ron Bombardi
Office: 307 JUB, Ext. 2049
Office Hours: 7:30-9:00, MWF; 1:50-12:30, TR

Course Objectives
Roughly, the objectives of the course are three: (1) to provide you with a functional understanding of how to read masterworks; (2) to foster and develop your sense of intellectual history; and (3) to assist you in the development of you own interdisciplinary criteria for assessing the enduring value of classic texts.


The following books (copies of which will be supplied by the Honors College) are required:
  • Bacon, Francis. The New Organon and Related Writings. Ed. Fulton H. Anderson. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril, 1960.
  • Beauvoir, Simone de. Second Sex. New York: Random House, 1974.
  • Darwin, Charles. Origin of Species. New York: Penguin, 1982.
  • Homer. Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Doubleday, 1963.
  • Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper & Row, 1979
  • Joyce, James. Ulysses. New York: Random House, 1967.
  • Machiaevelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Trans. Peter E. Bondanella and Mark Musa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.
  • Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine, 1977.
  • Pound, Ezra. The ABC of Reading. New York: New Directions, 1939.
  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Émile. Trans. Allan Bloom. New York: Basic Books, 1979.
  • Saint Augustine. Confessions. New York: Doubleday, 1960.
  • Thoreau, Henry. Walden and Civil Disobedience. Ed. Thomas Owen. New York: Norton, 1966.

Course Outline and Mechanics
After an introductory overview (following the main arguments advanced in Pound's ABC of Reading), the texts and our attendant discussions will follow a (roughly) chronological sequence, beginning with Homer and ending with Joyce; Huxley's Brave New World will serve, finally, as the context for a sort of conceptual debriefing.

For the most part, each week of the semester will be devoted to a specific work. On Tuesdays we shall follow a lecture format; on Thursdays, a seminar-discussion format. To prepare for the lectures, you should have completed your reading of the relevant text for that period. To prepare for the discussions, you should have completed the relevant entries in your Interrogative Notebook (see "Written Assignments, below).


Reading Assignments

In some instances we shall devote our primary attentions to selected portions of a text. Such selections will be made by your instructor during the course of the semester with a view toward satisfying student interests. However, unless otherwise stipulated, each text should be read in its entirely before the respective lecture date specified on the course calendar.
Written Assignments

There will be three written assignments, as follows:

  1. An Interrogative Notebook.

    Inasmuch as class discussion periods will follow the contours of your specific interests, each student is asked to prepare for each Thursday session by formulating no less than five (5) questions, the consideration of which s/he regards as suitable for initiating insight into the text at hand. In order to facilitate this process in a reliable manner, you are further asked to record your questions in a notebook which will be reviewed and graded by your instructor. Roughly twenty-three percent of the final grade will reflect the quality of this notebook. Cosmetics are unimportant; notebooks will be assessed solely with regard to evidence of your ability to open avenues of insight into the course materials.

  2. An Analytical Essay.

    Roughly thirty-one percent of the final grade will be based on your submission of a formal essay devoted to close semantic analysis of terms or passages drawn from a single work. Not to exceed fifteen (15) double-spaced typed pages, this assignment may be completed using either of the following formats:

    (a) Lab Reports:
    after indicating the particular sentence, paragraph, or extended passage on which you will focus, examine the selection from as many angles (style, import, function, etc.) as possible within the confines of a three- page report. Repeat this process five (5) times, each time adding new layers of refined observation.

    (b) Interpretive Lexicon:
    first select thirty (30) key terms or phrases used by the author of the text on which you have chosen to focus; next, define each term or phrase in a manner which directs insight toward the work as a whole. The idea here is to identify the pivotal, foundational, or vital notions which (respectively) orient, structure, or animate the work. The paper should be divided into two parts: a preface indicating the general drift of your interpretation, and the lexicon proper.

  3. A Critical Essay.

    Roughly thirty-six percent of the final grade will be based on your submission of a formal essay devoted to a creative synthesis of your insights into a single work. Not to exceed fifteen (15) double-spaced typed pages, this assignment may be completed using one of the following formats:

    1. Type One: assessing the author's achievement: this format divides into two parts: (1) a theoretical apparatus or account of the criteria by means of which the greatness of a written text should be measured; and (2) the synthesis proper, i.e., an examination of the work you've selected in light of your theoretical apparatus.

    2. Type Two: assessing the author's influence: this format addresses the question, How has the work contributed (or is now contributing) to the fabric of our contemporary culture?

    3. Type Three: assessing the meaning of the work: to complete the critical essay using this format, you should present the views of three critical works on the text of your choice and either defend one of these views or, if none proves defensible, advance the outlines of your own view.

Ten percent of the final grade (reported on the plus/minus scale) will reflect class participation. The remaining ninety percent of the final grade will be based on the following division (total possible points = 200):

   (a)  The Interrogative Notebook:      50 pts.
   (b)  The Analytical Essay:                70 pts.
   (c)  The Critical Essay:                    80 pts.

Accomodation for Students with Disabilities
If you have a disability that may require assistance or accommodation, or you have questions related to any accommodations for testing, note takers, readers, etc., please speak with your instructor as soon as possible. Students may also contact the Office of Disabled Students Services (898-2783) with questions about such services.

Essay Annotations
The following markers are designed to index problems in essay work. They are NOT arranged in order of severity. They do NOT necessarily correlate with grade assignments.


(1) Spelling error here.

(2) Noncritical weakness in sentence structure.

(3) Critical weakness in sentence structure. (meaning lost).

(4) Punctuation not clear.


(5) Term or phrase unclear or unexplained.

(6) Term or phrase ambiguous.

(7) New paragraph warranted here.

(8) Circumlocution here; simpler expression available.


(9) General structure of this argument unclear.

(10) Conclusion does not follow without unstated assumptions.

(11) Relevance of this point to your argument is not clear.

(12) This assertion is questionable and requires further support.

(13) Further consequences of this claim are unmentioned but relevant.

(14) This inference is formally invalid.