English 382: The Enlightenment
Fall 2013  TTh 2:50 to 4:05
Humanities Classroom Building 402
Professor Michael Gavin
Office: Humanities Office Building, room 310
Office hours: WF 3-5 and by appointment

Course Rationale
What is an “Enlightenment”? The term has long been associated with a group of 18th-century philosophers like John Locke, Adam Smith, and Immanuel Kant. Collectively, these writers are said to have elevated reason over prejudice and to have ushered in a new era of science, democracy, and capitalism. They also wrote in the first modern information age: newspapers, mail delivery, print publishing, and imperial commerce connected people around the world like never before. This course will invite students to think about how changes in the technologies and economics of communication affect philosophy, literature, and politics. We will place “The Enlightenment” in a broader context of historical change, comparing 18th-century England and America to other times and cultures, while keeping a firm eye on the present. Has the Internet laid the groundwork for a new Age of Enlightenment? If so, some people worry that our 21st-century world is precarious, violent, and unsustainable. Many felt the same way during the eighteenth century. This course will ask students to read deeply and think hard about these issues.

At the heart of this course is the Enlightenment concept of the “social contract.” According to this theory, societies emerge as a system of agreements between individuals and groups. People agree to live together peaceably under a common set of rules that become binding on everyone. These contracts are sometimes explicit (as in the case of The Constitution of the United States) but are often tacit — any time you use money, John Locke argues, you agree to live by the rules of the money economy. In the same way, this class will feature “contract grading,” which means each student will get to choose what assignments they’ll complete and what grade they’ll receive for the semester. After the first two weeks, the syllabus will be completely open to students’ interests and direction, with coaching from the professor, as they build a common body of knowledge around the topic of the course.

This course provides an introduction to literature and philosophy of the Enlightenment period. By the end of the semester, students should be able to:

  • identify major philosophers and philosophical trends of the Enlightenment
  • describe the major political, legal, and economic questions of the Enlightenment
  • explain how economic and technological change affect intellectual and political developments
  • interpret literary works within their philosophical contexts
  • assemble philosophical debates from diverse historical periods around a common set of questions and problems
  • lead discussions and present findings about literary and philosophical questions
  • generate creative and engaging arguments about literary and political issues
  • speak and write authoritatively about the history of major philosophical and political questions
  • evaluate current affairs in relation to historical precedents

The attendance policy and most other course policies are described in the document “Contract Grading and Peer Evaluation: Explanation and Contract.” Students are also expected to adhere to the general university policies about academic integrity. (Copied below) For more specific guidelines about plagiarism and other questions, see

Statement of Academic Integrity

Academic ethical behavior is essential for an institution dedicated to the promotion of knowledge and learning. The University of South Carolina is committed to fostering a university environment which exemplifies the values embodied in the Carolinian Creed. All members of the University Community have a responsibility to uphold and maintain the highest standards of integrity in study, research, instruction, and evaluation; as well as adhering to the Honor Code.

University of South Carolina Honor Code

It is the responsibility of every student at the University of South Carolina Columbia to adhere steadfastly to truthfulness and to avoid dishonesty, fraud, or deceit of any type in connection with any academic program. Any student who violates this Honor Code or who knowingly assists another to violate this Honor Code shall be subject to discipline.

Course Requirements
All assignments and other course requirements are described in the document “Contract Grading and Peer Evaluation: Explanation and Contract.”

Required Textbook
There is no required textbook for this course. All readings will be made available on the course website, or otherwise distributed. If you have difficulty accessing materials online, please see the instructor immediately for assistance.

The course schedule will be subject to change throughout the semester. It can be found at Sometimes students will be asked to attend viewings or other events outside of normal class time. When students cannot attend a specially scheduled event, they will be provided with an opportunity to make up their work in some other way.

Please note class meetings will be cancelled on October 1, October 3, and November 26.

Hard-copy Disclaimer
A paper copy of the course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class. All aspects of the syllabus are subject to change, and the official, binding version of the syllabus will be maintained online at


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