For a full description of all interdisciplinary courses, please visit the Courses page
Epistemology: A Theory of Knowledge
This course offers a journey into the geography of mind, thought, and reality and examines how we gain knowledge from different disciplines through the scope, methods, and limitations of each. The learner is at the center of the epistemological journey in order for him or her to construct the meaning that we call knowledge, which in turn allows for the directed reflection that makes the informed into the knowing, and the knowing into the wise. This is a semester course that meets four periods each week and carries a half-credit. It is available to Upper Mids and Seniors and is recommended for college preparation in terms of the exploration of metacognitive concepts and extended language application.
The world has become, some say, "a global village." Ideas and values, art forms and literature, circulate across borders no less than trade, technology, and people. Still-developing global institutions foster dialogue, manage disagreement, and respond to worldwide challenges like climate change. The ideal of "global citizenship" is celebrated; universal human rights are widely asserted. Science promises ever-increasing understanding and control of nature. Many people delight in the freedom to assemble their own individual identities from an ever-richer storehouse of possibilities.
Yet this view of the world is challenged from many quarters. Skeptics about global citizenship reassert more particular loyalties — to one's country, one's religious community, one's ethnic group. The movement of people across borders provokes alarm. Detractors see international institutions as a threat to national sovereignty. The power of science, some fear, exceeds our wisdom in its application; the benefits and burdens of economic globalization seem unfairly distributed. Some opponents of the "global village" view go beyond critical argument to violence in order to defend identities and ways of life threatened by change and pluralism. Groups and governments use force to promote values they believe right for all human beings.
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How can anyone comprehend such a seemingly contradictory world and prepare to contribute positively to it? The Humanities Program rests on the belief that one is best equipped for this task by developing a broad understanding of how people in diverse times and places have made sense of themselves and the world around them.
The following serve as essential questions to the course:
How do we know, and what do we count as "knowledge"? What makes a "good" society? What are the most important elements of a "good" life? What is the place of human beings in the natural world?
One could begin making sense of today's world by examining the different ways its inhabitants ask and answer these questions, which are in fact fundamental questions that, in some form, have been asked — and variously answered — in all societies.
Secondary school students have usually encountered such questions piecemeal: a few questions sometimes turn up in a history course, another two or three in English, and so on. The Humanities Program deliberately breaks from such a practice; the coursework is designed for students who enjoy discovering the connections among disciplines that deepen learning.
Though students will study the arts, English, history, and philosophy and religion (each with a teacher from the respective discipline), the course of study has been fashioned by an interdisciplinary team, to help students develop a richer understanding of how people in different times and cultures create meaningful worlds and make their place within their own context. Students in the Hotchkiss Humanities Program will play active roles in their learning, critically examining others' ways of asking and answering these basic questions and constructing their own.*
The program will pay special attention to ideas and aspirations of the 18th-century Enlightenment — a time when thinkers viewed themselves as the vanguard of a revolutionary era in which inherited beliefs, traditions, and institutions would be critically reexamined and then reformed, according to scientific reason and empirical understanding of human nature. But the historical period known as the Enlightenment will only be a springboard — for study that continues to the 21st century and reaches around the globe, examining how this "Enlightenment project" has been eagerly promoted by some people, partially accepted by more, and criticized and even fiercely rejected by others. The program does not rest on the assumption that the Enlightenment project is good or bad, only that it has powerfully influenced our world.
The successive Humanities courses are designed for the student who enjoys learning in collaborative conversation with peers and teachers. Students willing to seize the opportunities it offers will come out of the two-year program with important skills of critical thinking, research, and creative expression. These skills will do more than just equip students to pursue their own passions in upper-level electives in the arts, English, history, and philosophy and religion; they will enable students to think more creatively about issues we face in our contemporary world and to prepare to join the ranks of those responding with creative solutions.
*Recognizing that developing proficiency in a specific art form takes cumulative practice, the program allows for a concentration within the arts component of Humanities.