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Conferences Archive (1990-1991)

National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar for College Teachers

Jewish-American Writing Since 1945

June 25-August 3, 1990

Directed by Mark Krupnick, Department of English

Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, this seminar will explore Jewish-American writing since 1945. The focus will be on prose fiction. The major figures to be studied are Bellow, Malamud, Roth, and Ozi, but the seminar will also study critical writing by Lionel Trilling, Harold Rosenberg, Leslie Fiedler, Irving Howe, and others. Emphasis will be on the intellectual and literary interrelations among these writers. The seminar will be anchored in a brief study of earlier generations of Jewish writers in Europe and America. The seminar has been designed for college teachers in American literatures and history, religious and ethnic studies, and general programs in the humanities.

Guest speaker:
James Atlas, New York Times


1990 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar for College Teachers

Nature and Value of Autonomy

June 25-August 17, 1990

Directed by Gerald Dworkin, Professor of Philosophy

Guest Speakers
Michael Friedman , Department of Philosophy, University of Illinois at Chicago
Michael Perry , Northwestern University Law School
Christine Korsgaard , Department of Philosophy, University of Chicago
Mark Siegler , Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, University of Chicago School of Medicine

Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, this seminar will explore the concept of autonomy as it has been developed in classic texts, as it has been discussed by contemporary philosophers, and as it has influenced practical moral discussion. The concept of autonomy deserves the same kind of intense critical scrutiny and attention that other concepts such as liberty and equality have received in recent years.

We will examine a number of conceptual questions. How may we best characterize or analyze the notion? How does autonomy differ from various concepts of liberty? Is it possible to be coerced and to act autonomously? What is the relationship of autonomy to concepts of rationality, free-will, and self-determination? If the root idea is one of self-determination, what is the nature of the self which is assumed?

Having argued for some characterization of the concept, the next set of issues will revolve around the possibility of being autonomous. It has seemed to many philosophers that scientific knowledge about the determinants of human behavior renders autonomy an empty notion. What empirical and conceptual arguments can be given for or against the possibility that we can be autonomous? What is the significance of the fact that persons are born into a given environment and culture which they have not shaped themselves?

The next set of issues will be concerned with the normative issues surrounding autonomy. Why is it desirable to be autonomous, to apprehend that others are acting autonomously, and to be respected as an autonomous agent? Is autonomy something that is supremely valuable or is it merely one value which must be balanced against others such as liberty, welfare and equality? What justifications are there for limiting the autonomy of persons? Are there other values such as obligation and loyalty which are essential conflict with autonomy? What is the moral significance of the fact that people will differ in their capacity to act autonomously?

Having discussed these theoretical questions it will be useful to examine how the concept is used as a normative standard in various areas of practical concern. Our main interest in doing this is to see how the concept actually functions in normative debate. It is an open question whether the conception of autonomy developed by philosophers actually is the conception which functions in normative argument. It is also the case that examining some areas of normative concern can both provide a body of data against which to test existing conceptions as well as suggest theoretical improvements. I see the theoretical and practical aspects as providing a mutually fruitful interaction.