Human progress has been an obsession of thinkers of both the modern and the ancient worlds. It is a question posed in the literature, art, sciences, religion, philosophy, and politics of world culture and is, indeed, the premise of the Honors class Progress, taught by Dr. John McDowell.
As the epilogue to the Pacific Union College Honors journey, this course provides a safe environment for students to explore their own roles in society, how they respond to moral issues, and whether or not they, as individuals, have a responsibility to the world.
As McDowell quotes from Jeffery T. Nealon’s Alterity Politics, “an ethical response is the production of social relations, rather than the tracing of preexisting ethical templates.” In Progress, students are encouraged to take an objective look at their view of the world and how it works, a view which has been handed down to them by means of religion, family values, education, culture, and media.
By looking outside of their own life experiences and paradigms, students can experience the joy of learning through others’ eyes. “It certainly doesn’t comprise a new ethics,” says Nealon, “but rather tries to remain oriented toward what Charles Scott calls The Question of Ethics: ‘Learning to name things anew, to become alert to exclusions and to forgotten aspects in a people’s history, to overhear what is usually drowned out by the predominant values, to rethink what is ordinarily taken for granted.’”
Beyond this, McDowell’s overall goal for the class is to help students think critically about how they want to live their lives, especially after college, who they want to be, and how these choices can impact the world around them. “In Progress we examine questions related to ideas of human progress,” he says, “along with an examination of personal progress as a way to address the question of how we should live lives of agency in this world.”
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