Syllabus – COR 400G – Heroism and the Human Spirit, Fall, 2020 (as of 10/28/2020)


COR 400G TH section Fall, 2020

Tel:315-445-4489 (campus voice mail)

Office hours through zoom 
MW – 3:40- 4:30pm,
Thurs - 1:35-2:15pm,
Fri – 12:40-1:30pm, and by appointment.  You should receive a reply within a day or so (not including weekends).

Prof. Michael Kagan

Le Moyne College website:



In his 1907 address to the Alumnae Association at Radcliffe College, William James suggested that the aim of a successful college education is that those who have it will be able to recognize a good person when they are fortunate enough to encounter one.  This course shares that aim. It will involve varied readings from world literature, augmented by some extra readings from philosophy and psychology in search of responses to the question, "What makes a person great?" Of central concern will be the issue of the nature of the heroic; we will also be concerned with some other philosophical problems which arise in connection with this question (such as: the problem of evil; personal identity; determinism, free will and fatalism; death; the mind-body problem and the problem of other minds; philosophical anthropology and philosophical psychology as well as some philosophy of psychology; philosophical analysis of religious experience).  Students will be encouraged and expected to bring their own learning from other disciplines to this quest.


Student learning goals and objectives:


The main purpose of this course is to provide students with an opportunity to bring their disciplinary training and life experience to develop their own answers to the question, "What makes a person great?" It is hoped that giving students a chance to address this problem while seeing its inter-connections with fundamental philosophical issues will help them integrate their heroic visions into their own philosophies of human existence and/or philosophic religious faith.


Students in COR 400G are expected to develop their own approaches to the goals of this course, encounter new ways of approaching texts and problems, and to bring their own backgrounds and disciplinary training to bear on specific questions raised in the readings.  Students are expected to develop, present, and demonstrate:



Students will also demonstrate critical speaking, listening, reading and writing skills as they present interdisciplinary reflections and arguments.  

Requirements and grading

You are to select and complete three or four (the top 3 scores count for grading purposes) of the eight short writing assignments. A reading question is given along with each assignment. Unless otherwise indicated, please answer the reading question in less than one TYPED page (all assignments, except in-class writings, are to be typed). Make sure you are working with the current version of this syllabus.

STUDENT PRESENTATIONS:  For every presentation, you will be required to turn in an outline or abstract of your presentation,
complete with a list of all works used. Also, if you use any web pages, not only should these be listed on the outline with the rest of your bibliography, but you are also required to turn in a printout of all web pages used in preparing the presentation. If your group divides the work into separate parts, each member of the group will need to provide his or her own outline/abstract and printouts. Outlines/abstracts, and printouts are to be given to me BEFORE the presentation. Failure to do so BEFORE the presentation will result in a 30% deduction from the relevant presenter's presentation grade. If the outline and printouts are not turned in by the next class, there will be an additional 30% deduction. You may use up to but not more than 2 minutes of videotaped material for your presentation. In the event of a technical glitch, power failure, or delivery problem, make sure you can present without the computer/videotaped material.

All students are expected to do all readings and to share their understanding with one another in class discussions by leading their own and participating in other students' presentations on the various readings. Student presentations on readings begin after the second week of class, and will be scheduled during the first week. The subtopics will be divided up into student groups whose size will be determined by the class size.
       Remember: You have less than an hour to present. Focus on the aspects your group finds most interesting and important. Do not try to cover everything. Your presentation will be improved if you make it easier for others to participate. (Please try to help others' presentations by participating!) Please feel free to meet with me to discuss your presentations. If the posted office hours do not work with your schedule, please email me at  Although you can always leave a voice mail message at 314-445-4489, I tend to check email more often.

 might involve further investigating the issue of human greatness and heroism, a philosophical essay concerning some related issue of philosophical interest in a work of literature, a creative literary work of the student's own [e.g., a short story, 1st chapter of a novel, & c.], or a philosophical analysis of some related issue present in one of the works we studied, detailing the position[s] set forth in the work, and developing and defending one's own philosophical response.  Students are encouraged and expected to bring their own learning from other disciplines.  I expect the length of most written projects to be about 5-7 typed pages.  If you’re interested in doing a project that will be significantly longer, please let me know in advance.


25% of the grade is based on participation, in-class writings, and the optional journal and other optional writing assignments. Since you are not participating when you don't attend class, you will need to make up any absences with extra-credit assignments and journaling.

25% of the grade is based on the presentation on the readings.

25% for the top three short writing assignments (the grade will be the average of the best three out of four).

25% is determined by the project and its presentation (this can be done as a presentation, a paper, or both).

Grades are based on a 10 point scale as follows:
90-100 - 'A' range (97-100 = A+; 94-96=A; 90-93=A-); 80-89  - 'B' range (87-89 = B+; 84-86=B; 80-83=B-);
70-79  - 'C' range (77-79 = C+; 74-76=C; 70-73=C-); 60-69  - 'D' range (67-69 = D+; 64-66=D; 60-63=D-).
Below 60 - 'F'.
Failure to complete any of (1)-(4) can result in a failing grade. Plagiarism will result in a failing grade.

Required Reading List: (in approximate reading order)

Walter Mosley, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned.
Stephen King, Different Seasons (also published as Shawshank Redemption and as Apt Pupil).
Ayn  Rand, Anthem.
Ernest Becker,  Denial of Death.
Octavia E. Butler, Bloodchild and Other Stories, 2nd edition.
Orson Scott Card, Maps in a Mirror
Plato, Symposium.


In coordination with the Academic Support Center (ASC) and Disability Support Services, reasonable accommodations are provided for qualified students with disabilities. Please register for disability verification and determination of reasonable accommodations. After receiving your accommodation form, you will need to make an appointment with me to review the form and discuss your needs. Please make every attempt to meet with me within the first week of class so your accommodations can be provided in a timely manner. You can either stop by the ASC, Library, 1st floor, or call (445-4118-voice or 445-4104-TDD) to make an appointment.


If you miss class for Mass of the Holy Spirit 2020 on Wednesday, Sept. 2 at 10:45am (or for any religious observance throughout the semester),
please let me know (so it gets recorded as an excused absence).

OPTIONAL (for those who present their projects), WRITTEN PROJECTS DUE THURS, NOV. 12, and




This semester (Fall 2020) the plan is to start meeting synchronously using Zoom.  Please check your email and Canvas for information and the links to the Zoom sessions.  I will attempt to record the lectures for student use.

When campus/dorms are closed due to flu or other circumstances, my intent is that the course continue.  Assignments continue to be due electronically (if Canvas is down, email to may still work). Presentations will be replaced by papers, virtual presentations, or extended descriptions of presentations.  In addition to notes and group work already available there on-line,  I will post updates, lecture notes, etc., to Canvas and to my Le Moyne College website at

As at other times, if your situation results in your needing an extension, please let me know.  Also, if internet service is down or there are other infrastructure problems, please complete the assignments and turn them in when services are restored. 



#1 (Thurs., Sept. 3) Introduce course, choose groups and schedule presentations on readings. In-class writing on childhood heroes.

#2 (Thurs., Sept. 10) Discussion of heroic scripting.  Read Orson Scott Card’s “Middle Woman” (from Maps in a Mirror). Group work on “Middle Woman.”

*#3 (Thurs., Sept. 17) Students present on Walter Mosley's "Crimson Shadow" (in Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned).  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT: What do two of the characters’ actions in this story reveal about their prior experiences?  How do their experiences affect their lives?  What can we learn from this? Self-deception and bad faith. Read Card's "The Best Day" (from Maps in a Mirror). The temptation to deny the best and the worst.  Group work on self-deception.
*#4 (Thurs., Sept. 24). SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE:   Students present on Stephen King's "The Body" (in Different Seasons).   What do two of the characters’ actions in this story reveal about their prior experiences?  How do their experiences affect their lives?  What can we learn from this? Instructor presents on Rand's philosophy.
No classes or office hours on Monday, September 28, Yom Kippur

*#5 (Thurs., Oct.  1)  Students present on Anthem. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE: In the world Rand describes, people's careers are chosen by others at an early age - how do two of the book's characters respond to this choice?   Is our society like the one in Anthem?  Why or why not?  Lecture on problem of personal identity.

*#6 (Thurs., Oct. 8) Students present on Octavia Butler’s” The Evening and the Morning, and the Night" (in the Bloodchild anthology). SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE:  Compare someone in this story to someone you have encountered (in life or literature).  What can we learn from this comparison? Lecture on "Becker, Childhood, and Scary Stories."  Read Denial of Death, Introduction & Part I (Chapters 1-6).

#7 (Thurs., Oct. 15)   SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT:  How might you relate Becker's views to the experiences of two characters we have read about so far? Instructor presents one way of reading King (and others). Read Orson Scott Card's "Mortal Gods" (from Maps in a Mirror).  Group work on "Mortal Gods."

PROJECT PROPOSALS (for presentation and/or optional project paper) DUE Thurs., OCT. 15.

*#8(Thurs., Oct. 22)    Students present on Stephen King's "The Breathing Method" (in Different Seasons). SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE: Compare someone in this story to someone you have encountered (in life or literature).  What can we learn from this comparison?  Instructor presents on Heroic Myths (Campbell and Raffa) and the twice born. 

*#9   (Thurs., Oct. 29) Students present on "Last Rites" in Walter Mosley’s Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE:  What do two of the characters’ actions in this story reveal about their prior experiences?  How do their experiences affect their lives?  What can we learn from this?  Bring Bloodchild to class. Read Butler's "Positive Obsession"   and "Furor Scribendi." Group work.
*#10 (Thurs., Nov. 5) TWO PART SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE: Write a brief description of a friend or a brief story in which the sex of at least one major character is neither stated nor implied. THEN explain how one or two characters presented in the Symposium share beliefs about love that contradict or affirm the way they live their own life/lives.  Explain why. Note:  You are welcome to do this within one page if you can, but, for this assignment, the page limit is 3 TYPED pages.  Students present on Symposium. 
Lecture on "Time and Chance & Sex and Gender."  

SCHEDULE PROJECT PRESENTATIONS. These presentations are to be about 10 minutes in length per student, depending on the size of the class, and the number of students presenting.  A solo presenter will have 10 minutes; a group of 2-3 students will have 15 minutes; groups of 3-5 students will have 20 minutes).  Presentations will continue until the end of semester. Students who are unable to do their individual presentations at the scheduled time will need to schedule a make-up presentation.  If re-scheduling is not possible, the student will need to turn in a written version of their presentation if they have not yet done so. 
#11 (Thurs., Nov. 12). Buber's hasidut and Rebbe Nachman's "The Turkey Prince."  (includes group work on Rebbe Nachman's story).   In-class writing exercise on future autobiography. Lecture on "Possibilities and Practice: Heroic Tasks and Self Education." Student presentations on projects begin. Optional (for those who present their projects) WRITTEN PROJECTS DUE.

*#12 (Thurs., Nov. 19) LAST DAY OF CLASSRead Card's "Bicicleta" (from Maps in a Mirror).  Group work on "Bicicleta."  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE:  Compare someone in this story to someone you have encountered (in life or literature).  What can we learn from this comparison?  Student presentations on projects continue.  Make-up presentations and final evaluations (if not done, and depending on the implementation of the new evaluation system). LAST DAY OF CLASS.


November 30 - December 1: Study Days.



Ajami, Fouad. The Dream Palace of the Arabs (Pantheon Books, 1998).
Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and the Last Great Lesson.
Amdur, Ellis. Dueling with O-Sensei: Grappling with the Myth of the Warrior Sage, Old School:  Essays on Japanese Martial Traditions. Available from
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. (The movie "Smoke Signals" is based on this.)
Arnold, Matthew, Freddie Wong, Will Campos, and Brian Firenzi. Video Game High School (VGHS).  2012-2015.   
Becker, Ernest. The Birth and Death of Meaning, The Denial of Death, and other works.
Belenky, et al. Women's Ways of Knowing.

Benford, Gregory.  Timescape.

Berne, Eric. Games People Play, What Do You Say After You Say Hello? - The Psychology of Human Destiny, and other works.
Brown, Claude. Manchild in the Promised Land.
Brown, Christy. My Left Foot.
Bujold, Lois McMaster. Cordelia's Honor, and other works.
Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower, and other works.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, second ed.
Card, Orson Maps in a Mirror: The Short Fiction of Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game, and other works.
Chandler, Raymond. The Simple Art of Murder and other works.
Chesbro, George. Shadow of a Broken Man.
Chesterton, Gilbert K.  The Innocence of Father Brown, other Father Brown Mysteries, etc.

Cline, Ernest.  Ready Player One.
Cohn, Rachel, and David Levithan.  Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.
Cross, Amanda. Death in a Tenured Position, and other works.
Davies, Robertson. The Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business/the Manticore/World of Wonders, and other works.
DeWitt, Helen. The Last Samurai.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, Notes from the Underground, "The Crocodile,” and other works.
Effinger, George Alec.  When Gravity Fails, Budayeen Nights, and other works.
Elgin, Suzette Haden. Native Tongue, The Judas Rose, The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense and other works.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man.
Eugenides, Jeffrey.  Middlesex.
Frankl, Viktor. Man's Search for Meaning. Pocket Books Washington Square Press printing, 1985.
Friedman, C.S. This Alien Shore, and other works.
Fuller, Brian, and Todd Holland.  Wonderfalls.  (2004)
Gaiman, Neil.  Graveyard Book,  Coraline, and other works.
Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, On Becoming a Novelist.
Gibson, William.  Neuromancer.
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development.
Gilman, Dorothy The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax, Tightrope Walker, Incident at Badamya, and other works.
Goldman, William. The Princess Bride.
Goldstein, Lisa.  Dream Years, The Red Magician, Travellers in Magic and other works.
Goodkind, Terry.   Sword of Truth series, which begins with Wizard's First Rule.

Griffith, Nicola.  The Blue Place.
Haley, Alex, and Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Hammett, Dashiel. The Maltese Falcon (the book and the movie). You should look at his other novels as well.
Hargrove, Anne C. Getting Better: Conversations with myself and other friends while healing from breast cancer.
Heinlein, R. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger in a Strange Land, Citizen of the Galaxy, Double Star and other works.
Henderson, Zenna.  Ingathering:  The Complete People Stories (NESFA Press, 1995).
Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha, The Journey to the East, The Glass Bead Game, Steppenwolf, and other works.
Hitchens, Christopher.  Letters to a Young Contrarian.
Hoeg, Peter. Smilla's Sense of Snow, Borderliners.
Hong Kingston, Maxine. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts.
Howie, Noelle.  Dress Codes:  Of  Three Girlhoods--My Mother's, My Father's, and Mine.
Howatch, Susan. Glamorous Powers, and other works.
Hunt, Lynda Mullaly. Fish in a Tree (2015).
Irving, John. In One Person (2012),   A Prayer for Owen Meany, The World According to Garp.

Jarmusch, Jim. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.
Jewell, Lisa.  One-Hit Wonder
Junger, Sebastian.  War.
Kafka, Franz. "Penal Colony, " "Hunger Artist, " The Trial, The Castle, and other works.
Kagan, Michael . Educating Heroes (Durango, Colorado:  Hollowbrook, 1994).
Kamenetz, Rodger. The Jew in the Lotus : A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India, and Stalking Elijah:  Adventures with Today's Jewish Mystical Masters.
Kaye, Ronnie. Spinning Straw into Gold.
King, Stephen. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Hearts in Atlantis, Bag of Bones, and other works.
Kiyosaki, Robert T., and Sharon Lechter.  Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Kress, Nancy. Beggars in Spain, Maximum Light.
Leonard, George.  Mastery (New York:  Penguin/Plume, 1992).
Lowry, Dave. Autumn Lightning, Persimmon Wind.
Le Guin, Ursula K. The Telling, Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, The Dispossessed, and other works.
Levine, Gail Carson. Ella Enchanted.
Martinez, Guillermo.  The Oxford Murders (New York: Penguin Books, 2006).   
Monroe, Kristen Renwick.  The Heart of Altruism, The Hand of Compassion: Portraits of Moral Choice during the Holocaust, and  other works (recommended by Lowell A. Dunlap, Ph.D.).

Maktub (2017, directed by Oded Raz).

Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon, and other works.
Morrow, James. Towing Jehovah, Blameless in Abaddon, and other works.
Mosley, Walter.  47, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned,  Devil in a Blue DressFearless Jones, and other works.
Noddings, Nel. Caring.
McBride, James. The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother.
Oates, J. C. On Boxing.
Parker, Robert B. Mortal Stakes, and other works.
Peters, Ellis (Edith Mary Pargeter).  A Morbid Taste for Bones, One Corpse too Many, other Brother Cadfael mysteries, and other works.

Piercy, Marge,  Gone to Soldiers, and other works.
Plato. The Republic, and other works.
Pohl, Frederik.  Gateway
Polster, Miriam F. Eve's Daughters : The Forbidden Heroism of Women.
Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1996).
Raffa, Jean Benedict. The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth.
Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, The Virtue of Selfishness.
Remen, Rachel Naomi.  Kitchen Table Wisdom, My Grandfather’s Blessings, and other works.
Rollin, B. First, You Cry.
Rosenbaum, Lisa Pearl.  A Day of Small Beginnings.
Rothfuss, Patrick.  The Name of the Wind (DAW Books, 2007), and other works.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Rubin, Henry Alex, and Dana Adam Shapiro (directors).  Murderball.
Russell, Mary Doria. Dreamers of the Day, Doc, The Sparrow, and Children of God.
Sacks, Oliver.  Musicophila: Tales of Music and the Brain.
Salmonson, Jessica Amanda. A Silver Thread of Madness, and other works.
Sanderson, Brandon.  The Way of Kings (Tor Books, 2010), and other works.
Sapphire. Push:  A Novel.
Sawyer, Robert J.  Quantum Night (Penguin/ACE, 2016).
Scriptures, religious tales and teachings of interest to the student, from a variety of traditions (including, but not limited to, African, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Native American, Taoist, Vedic.)
Silverberg, Robert. Lord Valentine's Castle.
Smith, Dominic. The Beautiful Miscellaneous (New York: Atria Books, 2007).        
Stead, Rebecca.  When you Reach Me.  
Steiner, Claude M. Scripts People Live: Transactional Analysis of Life Scripts.
Suzuki, D.T. Zen and Japanese Culture.
Sturgeon, Theodore. More than Human, and other works.
Stephenson, Neal.  Cryptonomicon, Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and other works.
Stout, Martha. The Myth of Sanity: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness.
Taleb, Nassim Nicholas.  Antifragile:  Things that Gain from Disorder (2012), The Black Swan:  The Impact of the Highly Improbable (2007), Fooled by Randomness:  The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2001), and other works.  
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club, The Hundred Secret Senses.
Tremayne, Peter (Peter Berresford Ellis). The Spider's Web: A Celtic Mystery, The Chalice of Blood, other Sister Fidelma mysteries, and other works.
Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and other works.

Their Finest (2017, directed by Lone Scherfig). 

Ushpizin (2004, directed by Giddi Dar).

Vinge, Vernor.  Rainbows End, and other works.
Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt. Mother Night, Slaughterhouse Five, and other works.
Wachowski, Lana and Lilly. The Matrix and its sequels (including The Animatrix).
Walker, Alice. The Color Purple.
Walton, Jo.  Among Others.
Wiesel, Elie. Dawn, The Accident, and other works.
Willis, Connie. Blackout/All Clear, Passages, Doomsday Book, Bellwether, and other works.
Yoshikawa. Musashi.
Zettel, Sarah. Fool's War.
Zuzak, Markus. The Book Thief.

 Some of this page's links:

COR 400G, Heroism and the Human Spirit  2020 syllabus for TH section:

Other materials for COR 400G, Heroism and the Human Spirit

Back to Kagan's Homepage: