Course Instructor Days Times Room


English 3440

Literature and Philosophy

Dr. Elizabeth Kraft

Office: 332 Park Hall; Hours 4:45-5:45 TTh and by appointment




This course aims to introduce to students to the rich conversation between literature and philosophy through study of common themes and preoccupations. This term, we will concentrate on Ethics by examining major philosophical statements on the subject and, in turn, reading and critiquing literary works from the vantage point such statements provide. The course will be discussion-based. Students are not required to have any prior knowledge of philosophy, but those who do are welcome to share their insights from their study of that discipline.


The course is divided into ten “modules.” The first three are introductory in various ways and will focus on the distinction between ethics and morality, the concept of “otherness,” and the practice of resistant reading. Then we will turn to more specific ethical concerns: happiness, bioethics, alienation, race, and sexual difference.


Note: The texts for this course have been selected because they force us to confront difficult issues. There will be discussions in which violence (rape, genocide, slaughter) and bigotry (racism, sexism) will be central. If such topics trigger emotional responses that you need to avoid, I think this will not be the class for you, though I will make every possible effort to create and maintain a respectful, supportive classroom environment.


Required Texts:


Mapping the Ethical Turn, ed. Todd F. Davis and Kenneth Womack, U Press of Virginia, ISBN: 0-813902956-6


Billy Budd, Herman Melville, ed. Michael Everton, Broadview Press, ISBN: 9781554812387 / 1554812380


The Country Wife and Other Plays, William Wycherley, ed. Peter Dixon ISBN-13: 978-0199555185; ISBN-10: 0199555184


Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, Penguin Classics, ISBN-10: 0140444491 ISBN-13: 978-0140444490


J.M.Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello, Penguin, ISBN-13: 978-0142004814 ISBN-10: 0142004812

J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace, Penguin, ISBN-10: 0140296409 ISBN-13: 978-0140296402


Toni Morrison, Beloved, Vintage ISBN-10: 1400033411 ISBN-13: 978-1400033416


Leonard Cohen, Poems and Songs by Leonard Cohen, Everyman's Pocket Edition,  978-0307595836.


There will be additional readings posted online (ELC) from works by philosophers Emmanuel Levinas, Luce Irigaray, Stanley Cavell, and writers Leonard Cohen, Aphra Behn, and Margaret Atwood


Course Responsibilities: To keep up with readings and screenings as assigned; to participate in class discussion; to post weekly to the discussion list in response to a prompt (posts should be between 200-300 words); to submit three 4-6 page papers; a final project (8 pages) interpreting a literary work of your choice through an ethical lens (or from an ethical perspective). Final grades will be calculated thus: Discussion posts: 25%; 3 papers 15% each; final project 20%; class participation 10%.


We will be viewing three films during the semester. They are widely available for your private viewing. I will also arrange a class screening time for each film, though you will not be required to attend these sessions as long as you see the film by the time we discuss it in class.


Course Outline


Note: This outline is a general plan for the course. Modifications may be necessary as the semester progresses.


January 5 - 19

Ethics v. Morality; Responsibility; "Here I am"; Face-to-Face



Jan. 10  Genesis 22; Wilfred Owen, “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young,” Leonard Cohen, “Story of Isaac”; Kierkegaard Fear and Trembling


Jan. 12 Fear and Trembling, cont’d


Jan. 17 Herman Melville, Billy Budd


Jan. 19 Billy Budd, cont’d



January 24-26


. Otherness, Subjectivity, Being, Intention, Ambivalence


January 24 William Wycherley, The Plain Dealer 


January 26 Plain Dealer, cont’d;  Booth, “Why Ethical Criticism Can Never Be Simple” (Davis and Womack, 16-29)


January 31 – February 2


Topics: Reading and Resistance


January 31 William Wycherley, The Country Wife; Schwarz, “A Humanistic Ethics of Reading”; Altieri,”Lyrical Ethics and Literary Experience” (Davis and Womack, 3-15; 30-58; William Wycherley, The Country Wife (Act 1)


February 2 Sedgwick The Country Wife (Acts 2-5); “Sexualism and the Citizen of the World: Wycherley, Sterne, and Male Homosocial Desire” (ELC); paper 1 due Feb. 2


February 7-9


Happiness, Morality, Democracy


February 7 The Philadelphia Story (film), Stanley Cavell, from Pursuits of Happiness (ELC);


February 9 Nussbaum, “Exactly and Responsibly” (Davis and Womack, 59-79); skim (no need for close reading) Diamond “Henry James, Moral Philosophers, Moralism,” (Davis and Womack, pp. 252-70)



February 14-16


Substitution; Bioethics


Februay 14 J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello


February 16 J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello


February 21-23


Biocentrism, Suffering, Analogy/Equivalence


February 21 Margaret Atwood’s Snake Poems (ELC)


February 23  Gubar, “Poets of Testimony”; Marshall, “Forget the

Phallic Symbolism, Consider the Snake” (Davis and Womack, pp.



February 28-March 2; March 14-16


Witness, Didacticism, Prophecy


February 28 Spielberg’s Schindler’s List

March 2 Davis and Womack, “The List is Life” (Davis and Womack, pp. 151-64); paper 2 due


March 14 Toni Morison Beloved


March 16 Beloved cont’d and Phelan “Sethe’s Choice” (Davis and Womack, pp. 93-109)


March 21-28


Feeling, Alienation, Desire, Alterity, Narcissism


March 21 Leonard Cohen selected works, Lundeen, “Who Has the Right to Feel?” (Davis and Womack, pp. 83-92)


March 23 Leonard Cohen, cont’d; from Michael Ondaatje, Leonard Cohen, and Winfried Siemerling, Discoveries of the Other: Alterity in the Work of Leonard Cohen, Hubert Aquin, Michael Ondaatje, and Nicole Brossard       


March 28 Leonard Cohen, cont’d

March 30; April 4-6


Race and Power, Violence, Cosmopolitan vs. National Ethics


March 30 J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace


April 4 Disgrace, cont’d; paper 3 due


April 6 Hanssen Walker, “Moral Repair and Its Limits” (Davis and Womack, pp. 110-27);


April 11-20


Sexual Difference, Women and Power


April 11 Aphra Behn’s “History of the Nun”; Judges 4 and 5; Joshua 2

(handouts and bible, any English translation) (all on ELC)


April 13 Gaslight; from Stanley Cavell, Contesting Tears


April 18 Thomas Otway, The Orphan


April 20 The Orphan and Gaslight, cont’d


April 25

Concluding Discussion focused on Student Projects

Projects due: May 2, by 6:30 p.m.