This module is structured around the reading and examination of four classic books — The Hebrew Bible (select passages mainly from the Pentateuch), Xenophon’s The Education of Cyrus, Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, and the Confucian Analects. The discussion revolves around the topic of moral virtue and human leadership, how they interact with each other, and everything else that impinges upon them (e.g., larger views about human nature or the cosmos of which we are a part).
Since the texts were written in various genres (religious, philosophical and literary), and produced in cultural environments very different from the contemporary world, fruitfully engaging them will require that readers make use of various tools of interpretation and analysis, and in general, attend to details both in the text and context. But the point will not be philological; rather, students will be expected to attend to the ideas the ancient writers expressed as they sought to grapple with the perennial human concerns. In this regard, the module will help to enhance students’ abilities to identify, present, and evaluate arguments in a concise and critical manner, and to give them a platform to fruitfully discussing ideas and argue for their own perspectives with others.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is this a philosophy course? What’s the closest equivalent type of class?
A: No, it’s not a philosophy course — of the sort you normally find in mainstream philosophy departments. The closest equivalent is a “great books seminar” type class.
Q: Will taking this course make me a better leader, or more virtuous person, or even better, a virtuous leader?
A: The course is not intended to do any such thing. The course is aimed at giving you exposure and practice to being able to think more deeply about issues to do with virtue and leadership.
Q: Isn’t that leadership theory and moral philosophy?
A: If you want to think more deeply about virtue and leadership, yes, one way is to study leadership theory, on the one side, and moral philosophy, on the other. But this class takes a different approach.
Q: Which is…?
A: By introducing students to seminal texts from the Biblical, Greek Philosophical, and Confucian traditions, and Machiavelli, one of the intellectual originators of modernity — texts that are still considered classics (in a couple of cases, scripture even), texts that exerted significant influence on the thinking and doing of people either historically or even today. But not just introduce: we will be reading and discussing them with a view to gaining insights on their competing conceptions of moral virtue and human leadership, and their underlying assumptions about the nature of human beings and the cosmos we live in.
Q: Ok, but it’s still a humanities course, right?
A: It’s in the “Humanities and Social Sciences” basket for USP requirements. But don’t worry — lots of engineering, computing, science, business students have done the course, and did well too (sorry, I don’t have a T-shirt that says “I survived UHB2204 and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt”).
The Readings (these editions preferred for consistency in class):
Old Testament; English Standard Version (ESV) (Crossway, 2001) (Available online)
D.C. Lau trans., Confucius: The Analects (Penguin, 1970)
Note: I didn't order the textbooks through the Co-op as I have a small stash of some of them. You can purchase them from me at the first session, and I can also make additional orders after that. Used copies might also be available from your seniors who took this class previously (the last batch was in Jan 2016). I'll be contacting the class by email regarding this matter. Look out for the announcement.