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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : History

Undergraduate Course: Rational Animals: Human Nature in Early Modern Thought (HIST10386)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits40 ECTS Credits20
SummaryThis course is about theories of human nature in European thought, from roughly the mid fifteenth to the mid seventeenth century. This was a time of cultural, religious and philosophical ferment, in which established notions of what it is to be human were challenged and displaced by new understandings associated with the Renaissance revival of classical learning, the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, and the rise of the new science.
Course description The course is divided into four parts. Part 1, Contexts and Chronologies, explores the main trajectories of intellectual change in this period. The next two Parts focus on changing understandings of the body, the soul, and the relationship between them, drawing on perspectives from natural philosophy and medicine (Part 2) and from ethical and spiritual thought (Part 3). The final part of the course (Part 4) turns to questions concerning the boundaries separating humans from non-human (such as demons and animals). Emphasis throughout will be on first-hand, close analysis of primary texts, but always in relation to their social, religious, political and intellectual contexts.

Seminar topics may include the following: theories of body and soul; boundaries of the human (including gender and the status of women; demonology, witchcraft and possession; animal language and rationality; and the status of 'savages' and 'primitives'); the relationship between classical ethics (Aristotelian, Platonic, Stoic and Epicurean) and Christianity; theological debates about original sin, free will and human agency; ethical and spiritual perspectives on self-knowledge; conceptions of human nature in political thought; historiographical debates about individualism and the secularisation of knowledge.

Content note: The study of History inevitably involves the study of difficult topics that we encourage students to approach in a respectful, scholarly, and sensitive manner. Nevertheless, we remain conscious that some students may wish to prepare themselves for the discussion of difficult topics. In particular, the course organiser has outlined that the following topics may be discussed in this course, whether in class or through required or recommended primary and secondary sources: sexual violence, racial violence. While this list indicates sensitive topics students are likely to encounter, it is not exhaustive because course organisers cannot entirely predict the directions discussions may take in tutorials or seminars, or through the wider reading that students may conduct for the course.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements A pass or passes in 40 credits of first level historical courses or equivalent and a pass or passes in 40 credits of second level historical courses or equivalent.
Before enrolling students on this course, Personal Tutors are asked to contact the History Honours Admission Administrator to ensure that a place is available (Tel: 504030).

Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  0
Course Start Full Year
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 400 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 44, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 8, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 348 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework:
4 x 3,000 word Essay (25% each)
Feedback Students will receive written feedback on their coursework, and will have the opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser during their published office hours or by appointment.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate command of the body of knowledge considered in the course;
  2. read, analyse and reflect critically upon relevant scholarship;
  3. understand, evaluate and utilise a variety of primary source material;
  4. develop and sustain scholarly arguments in oral and written form, by formulating appropriate questions and utilising relevant evidence;
  5. demonstrate independence of mind and initiative; intellectual integrity and maturity; an ability to evaluate the work of others, including peers.
Reading List
Peter Dear, Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and Its Ambitions, 1500-1700, 2nd edn (Princeton, 2009).
D. Garber and M. Ayers (ed.), The Cambridge History of Seventeenth Century Philosophy, 2 vols (Cambridge, 1998).
P. O. Kristeller, Renaissance Concepts of Man (New York, 1972).
A. McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1993).
M. Moriarty, Fallen Nature, Fallen Selves (Oxford, 2006).
C. B. Schmitt, Quentin Skinner, Eckhard Kessler and Jill Kraye (eds), The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy (Cambridge, 1988).
F. Vidal, The Sciences of the Soul: The Early Modern Origins of Psychology, trans. Saskia Brown (Chicago, 2011).
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills This course will help students develop a range of transferable skills, including:
- the ability to manage one's time effectively, work to deadlines, and perform effectively under pressure;
- the ability to gather, sift, organise and evaluate large quantities of textual evidence;
- the ability to marshal argument in both written and oral form;
- the ability to work independently and as part of a pair or larger group.
KeywordsRational Animals
Course organiserDr Felicity Green
Tel: (0131 6)51 3856
Course secretary
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