Colgate University

First-Year Course Offerings — Fall 2022

FSEM 199   Challenges of Modernity
RestrictionsNo 2025 2024 2023 Registrar approval required
Core AreaChallenges of Modernity

Faculty Profile for Professor Dudrick

Modernity is a crucial element of the intellectual legacy to which we are heirs. A matrix of intellectual, social, and material forces that have transformed the world over the last quarter millennium, modernity has introduced new problems and possibilities into human life. Within modernity, issues of meaning, identity, and morality have been critiqued in distinctive ways. People of different social classes, racial groups, ethnic backgrounds, genders and sexual identities have contributed to an increasingly rich public discourse. The human psyche has been problematized, and the dynamic character of the world, both natural and social, has been explored. Urbanization and technological development have transformed the patterns of everyday life. Imperialism has had a complex and lasting impact on the entire globe. The human capability to ameliorate social and physical ills has increased exponentially, and yet so has the human capacity for mass destruction and exploitation. In this course, taught by an interdisciplinary staff, students explore texts from a variety of media that engage with the ideas and phenomena central to modernity. To ensure a substantially common experience for students, the staff each year chooses texts to be taught in all sections of the course. This component of the Core Curriculum encourages students to think broadly and critically about the world that they inhabit, asking them to see their contemporary concerns in the perspective of the long-standing discourses of modernity.

FSEM 199: Modernity presents us with various challenges, none deeper than the challenge of nihilism, the view that nothing – neither our lives nor the world we inhabit – has value. The challenge of nihilism arises subsequent to the Enlightenment’s proclamation of a new order, one that takes itself to sweep away the traditions and superstitions of the past and to ground knowledge and morality using only science and reason. Enlightenment optimism took eventual universal agreement on these matters to be inevitable. The challenge of Modernity is a challenge to this Enlightenment proclamation. Though many questions arise throughout the semester – political, scientific, economic, and artistic – the overarching, guiding question will be: if we are to eschew Enlightenment optimism, as Modernity bids us to do, must we accept nihilism? Students approach this and other questions through close reading of the texts and works from Darwin, Marx, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Conrad, DuBois, Woolf, and others. Students who successfully complete this seminar will satisfy the Challenges of Modernity core requirement.

David Dudrick is the George Carleton Jr. Professor of Philosophy and co-author of The Soul of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. He’s interested in the relationship between philosophy and the Christian faith, the viability of naturalism as a worldview, and the profound ponderings of Norm Macdonald.