English 24

Freshman Seminar: Seeking Justice: The Art of Argument

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2014 Friedman, Donald M.
W 2-4 (1/29-3/12 only) 305 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

You will need a copy of John Mlton's Paradise Lost, any edition. There are lots of used copies avalable locally.  For the Court cases, a reader will be provided.


This course, like its title, has both a subject and an object. Its subject is argument; its object is to study how arguments are constructed, what the rhetoric of persuasion consists of, what constitutes evidence, how to identify good logic and weak reasoning. But the ultimate purpose of such study is to strengthen our abilities to make sound decisions and formulate our ideas clearly; that is, to provide practice in assessing analytical thinking and lucid expression, We are often told how important it is to “speak truth to power,” but we need also to know how difficult it is sometimes to decide what the truth is, and how challenging it can be to learn how to “speak” effectively and to the purpose.

The course will be divided into two parts, each devoted to a different kind of reading material. The first part will engage two crucial debates in John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost: the discussion between God and the Son about the meanings of justice and mercy, and the argument between Adam and Eve in Book IX about the conflict between individual freedom and the rule of law. For the second part of the course we will read at least (or perhaps at most) two decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, chosen not primarily for their topical significance but rather for their arguments, which show most clearly how the two sides of a difficult question engage each other clearly and directly (rather than simply stating opposed positions). Just as our judicial system is based on an adversarial structure—in recognition that the clash of ideas is the best arena we have so far found in which to decide hard cases—we will turn to debates as a fit model for our study.

These texts are challenging reading in themselves, but also because they deal with questions that don’t yield answers easily. That’s why the course is titled “Seeking” justice, which is often hard to find, but demands our best efforts.

This 1-unit course may not be counted as one of the twelve courses required to complete the English major.

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