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Ethics: Ideals of the Human and Life



Elective, GC

Admissions requirements

History of Philosophy.
This course is an elective for all students. It complements all Majors that LUC offers but is not a part of any Major or Minor. Only for students in the “old” curriculum (i.e. start before September 2014) this course may count towards the Global Citizenship component.


In this course we will do things a bit differently. We will not use a textbook. And we will not read (excerpts from) the usual ethical treatises. We will take the fact that history has rendered only four ideals of the human person and of life as our starting point, and will try to acquire a rich(er) understanding of these ideals, by reading four works –cover to cover- that can be considered canonical expressions of each one of them.
Of the four ideals of the human person and life the first is the ideal of the soldier-statesman. Classically expressed by the ancient Greeks and Romans. (The East’s equivalent is Confucianism.) Homer’s epics discuss this ideal. As does Plato’s Republic, and Aristotle’s Ethics. In this course, however, we will read a book that, for centuries, was much more popular than all of these, namely Plutarch’s (c.50–c.120) comparative description of the lives of antiquity’s two greatest orators, and two greatest generals.

The second ideal of the person and life is the Christian ideal. (Which quite resembles the Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim ideal.) It’s the ideal of the saint. (Related to it are the ideals of the priest and the scientist.) To get an idea of what this means we will read a book by Thomas à Kempis (c.1380–1471), which, once upon a time, was the most studied book after the Bible.

The third ideal is that of the entrepreneur. It is an ideal originating in the Enlightenment, but very influential today, much more so probably, that ever before. To obtain an understanding of it, we will read a book that is a million seller and has acquired cult status all over the globe, written by a Russian emigrée to the United States, Alice Rosenberg, a.k.a. Ayn Rand (1905-1982).

We will end with an ideal of the human person and life that is at least as influential in the modern world, and virtually the opposite of the previously described ideal, namely that of the artist. This ideal goes back to Romanticism. We will study this ideal on the basis of the letters of one of the world’s most celebrated artists and romantics, namely Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890).

Course objectives

At the end of this course students are able to:

  • read and understand difficult texts

  • talk about the texts coherently, civilly, and with penetration

  • write short essays about these texts, coherently and with penetration

  • describe and explain what the main positions are on the fundamental ethical question ‘How to live?’

  • reflect on what one’s own position is with regard to these positions


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

Socratic conversation about the books that have been read. Using the content of the literature, students engage in a structured conversation with the instructor to hone their critical thinking skills. Active participation is thus a must. Before each class students complete a one page questionnaire about the literature for that week. This questionnaire is turned in at the start of the class. Without the questionnaire a student is not allowed to take part in the class .


  • Weekly questionnaire (1 A4), on two questions about the chapters read (40%)

  • Participation in class (20%)

  • Oral examination (40%)


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

  • Plutarch, Lives, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, vol. VII., ‘Demosthenes and Cicero, Alexander and Caesar’.

  • Thomas à Kempis, Imitation of Christ, Penguin Classics

  • Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, Random House

  • Vincent van Gogh, The letters of Vincent van Gogh, Penguin Classics


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Curriculum Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact



Students must have carefully studied the literature prescribed for each class. And the must turn in a questionnaire on it, at the beginning of each class. NO QUESTIONNAIRE=NO ADMITTANCE. This goes for the first class too. A week before the start of the course, the student will receive a mail, stating the two questions that must be answered in the first questionnaire.