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Grant number: AQ-51134-14

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High Point University (High Point, NC 27268-0002)
Amy Lynn MacArthur (Project Director: September 2013 to present)

NEH Enduring Questions Course on Conceptions of Conscience in Western Philosophy, Religion, and History

The development of an upper-level undergraduate course on various understandings of conscience.

The development of an upper-level undergraduate course on various understandings of conscience. Amy MacArthur, an assistant professor of philosophy, develops a fifteen-week course for juniors and seniors on the question, What is conscience? Students focus on different sets of questions about conscience organized into four units; produce 1,000-word critical papers in the first three units; complete a longer research paper on a significant historical or current event, movement, or issue in which the notion of conscience has been invoked; and give an in-class presentation of their work. The first unit explores the place of conscience in the Christian religious tradition, both Catholic and Protestant, moving from St. Paul to Augustine and Aquinas before taking up more contemporary thinkers such as Tillich and Neibuhr. Secular conceptions of conscience in Western thought are taken up in unit two, from the ancient Greeks and Romans (Socrates, Aristotle, the Stoics, Marcus Aurelius) to philosophers of the modern period (Hobbes, Smith, Hume, Kant). The third unit concentrates on skeptics and critics who reject the idea of conscience as an internal guide to moral action, including Bentham, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud. The final section explores how the appeal to conscience has been used by individuals and groups in defense of their actions, with readings ranging from Plato's Apology to selections from Luther, Thoreau, and King. The themes of this unit and the capstone project are further illuminated by a class visit to Greensboro's International Civil Rights Center and Museum. In each semester that the course is offered, MacArthur convenes a panel discussion on conscience featuring faculty across a variety of disciplines and open to the public. She devotes course development time to narrowing down the topic and refining the selection of core readings for each unit, as well as to considering potential works of fiction and to selecting several "films of conscience" (required viewing for the course) to be shown in conjunction with an ongoing faculty film series.

Project fields:
Philosophy of Religion

Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants

Education Programs

Total amounts:
$22,000 (approved)
$16,436 (awarded)

Grant period:
5/1/2014 – 4/30/2016