The Common Good Seminar: Questions of Citizenship

Fall 2018 Collegiate Seminar Elective  

SEM 146-01

Professor Rashaan Meneses 

TTH 11:30AM - 1:05 PM

This course may substitute for SEM 103 by emailing regoff@stmarys-ca.edu 

The liberal arts were originally understood in part as the arts proper to a life of political freedom; one aim of a liberal education was to prepare students to be citizens of a free state. This course is meant to support that aim by engaging students in questions of citizenship and the common good. Where did the institution of citizenship come from? How has it evolved? Who has been included or excluded by evolving definitions of citizenship? What does it mean to be a good citizen? How can citizens best contribute to the common good? How best to understand the common good itself? How do different visions of the good entail different views of human nature? How do views of human nature underlie ideas of the most just social order? How can citizens best work for a more just society? Does the concept of citizenship imply allegiance to a particular state, or can one be a cosmopolitan “citizen of the world”? Can one balance the claims of patriotism and cosmopolitanism? How should we understand the meaning of citizenship today? 

The course presents a series of texts in conversation with one another around these questions of citizenship and the common good. Through critical engagement with the readings, students will engage in these conversations on human nature, the common good, and a just social order. The current reading list examines competing claims in the Western tradition about the nature of human beings and the conditions of human existence, and explores the implications of these claims for our understanding of social justice and the ends of civic and human life. As students gain a deeper understanding of these debates, they will learn to uncover and to critically the assumptions about who we are that underlie claims about how we should live together. Moving deeper into issues of social justice, the course will look at how evolving definitions of citizenship have enfranchised and disenfranchised people in America, and how this evolution has been driven by movements of politically engaged citizens and non-citizens. The last part of the course challenges students to analyze current political issues from local and global perspectives, and to think about how citizens can best act together for social justice.

Reading List

  • Aristotle, Politics
  • James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
  • Ta Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
  • Plato, The Trial and Death of Socrates: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Death Scene from Phaedo 
  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Marx-Engels Reader
  • John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism
  • Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric 
  • Jean-Jaques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality