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The Perfectibility of Man in the Late 18th & Early 19th Century Writing

ENGL 341.301
W 4:30-7:10

Utopian and idealistic notions of the potential for human nature to improve and for improved human nature to improve human society, in the revolutionary air at the end of the eighteenth century, provoked an immense amount of response. Some writers approved, others disapproved, others still changed their position. Many writers were engaged with these issues, however. In this class, we will look at a selected group of works that consider human and, relatedly, societal improvement from philosophical, political, and fictional perspectives. Among writers likely to be included are Rousseau, Condorcet, Thomas Paine, Jeremy Bentham, John Howard, William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Richard Price, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley. In addition, some American documents -- e.g., the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights -- will also receive attention. The class will require students' active participation. Assignments will include two shorter (ca. 10 pp.) and one longer (ca. 15-20 pp.) final papers. There will not be a final exam.