School of Athen by Raphael

LBST 420 The Modern Experience and Beyond Course Outline - Spring 2014

  "The noble and the necessary"


LBST 420 is an examination of important works of Western literature, philosophy, social science, science, art and music from the late 19th into the 21st Centuries. Through seminar discussion of key works by important modern and postmodern thinkers, we will critically investigate issues revealing radical shifts towards contemporary cultural perspectives, including individual alienation, the problem of technology, moral relativism, and modernity and its discontents.

Prerequisite: Third-Year Standing or permission of instructor

What to do first:

If you are new to Liberal Studies, you might want to read the online Program Overview , which contains information about the purposes and methods of the Liberal Studies BA program. The Advice on Seminar Participation is also useful and important.  

Weekly Timetable


Thu 10:30a.m.-12:30 p.m.

David Livingstone, Janice Porteous, or Guest

VIU 355-107

Nanaimo Seminar


Tue & Thu 1:00 p.m. -2:30 p.m.

David Livingstone

VIU 355-107


Instructor's Office Hours  






David Livingstone

Wednesday: 10:00 am - 11:30 am or by appointment




Attendance Expectations

You are required to attend:

1) all lectures on Thursday mornings; 2) your seminar group twice per week; 3) the Spring Conference (explained below). Failure to attend regularly will have a significant negative impact on your mark for participation.

The lectures serve to initiate discussion and debate around issues raised by the texts; to provide occasional background or contextual information that will make reading and discussing the texts easier; and, occasionally, to show how issues arising from the text are connected to issues in the modern world or to issues arising out of texts we have looked at before.

Seminars provide you with the opportunity to develop and deepen your own understanding of the text and to consider thoughtful alternatives to your own interpretations. Active engagement is the key to successful learning, and seminars are the most important venue for engagement. See the detailed explanation available online and under "Seminar Participation" below. Because the focus is on full participation in the discussion, the Liberal Studies Department prohibits audio- or video-taping of seminars, except in rare cases where this is a required accommodation. Students with documented disabilities requiring academic and/or exam accommodation should contact Accessibility Services, Building 200, or call 740-6446.


The following list indicates the required reading. It is important that you attempt to obtain the exact editions specified. This is largely because translations differ in significant ways, but is also for ease of reference during seminars and in written work. Unless otherwise specified, all books are available for purchase at the VIU Bookstore , Nanaimo campus.


Fyodor Doestoevsky, Notes from Underground; White Nights; The Dream of the Ridiculous Man, and Selections from The House of the Dead . Translator Andrew MacAndrew. Signet Classics. ISBN: 0-451-52955-3.

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities . Vintage Books/A Division of Random House, Inc. 1992. ISBN: 978-0-679-74195-4

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood . Pantheon (Random House); REP edition (2004). ISBN 978-0375714573.

Robert Heilbroner, Twenty-First Century Capitalism . House of Anansi Press (1993). ISBN 0887845347

Alain De Botton, Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believers Guide to the Uses of Religion . Signal. ISBN 978-0771025983.

Richard Rorty, Contingency, irony, and solidarity . Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN 0521353815.

Porteous and Livingstone, LBST 420 Custom Coursepack (edited collection of readings)

Additional readings may be posted to VIU Learn (D2L) website. You will be advised by your instructor about these readings.


Babington, LePan, Okun, Anderson, The Broadview Guide to Writing , fifth edition. Broadview Press (2010).

Assignment Grades

Essays (2 at 20% each): 40%

Seminar Notes: 10 x 1%: 10%

Seminar Participation: 25%

Conference Presentation: 5%

Final (Take-home exam): 20%

For further details, see explanations following the detailed schedules below.

Schedule of Topics:


Week of

Course Introduction and Orientation

  January 6- 10

Dostoevsky, "Notes From Underground" (p.84-195)

January 13-17

Heidegger, "Essay Concerning Technology" (packet)

  January 20 - 24

Various: Fascism, Nazism, Winston Churchill's war speeches (packet)

January 27- 31

Modern Art: Arthur Danto, Richard Brettell (packet)

February 3 - 7

De Botton, Religion For Atheists

February 10 -14

Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy

February 17 - 21

VIU Study Days – no classes

February 24 - 28

Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity ("Introduction" and Chp.s 2,4,9)

  March 3 - 7

Leo Strauss, selections from Natural Right and History (packet)

  March 10 -14

Robert Heilbroner, Twenty-First Century Capitalism

  March 17 - 21

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

(Chpts 1-6, 8, 9,14,17, 21, 22)

  March 24 - 28

Marjane Satrapis, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

  March 31 – April 4

Liberal Studies Spring Conference

April 7 - 11

 Last day of classes at VIU. No LBST 420 classes this week.

April 14 (Monday)



You will be writing two essays during the semester (not including the final exam), one before the end of the Study Days break, and one after (see details of the sign-up process below). Essays will be graded according to the Liberal Studies guidelines posted here.

Your essay should be approximately 1500 words long (about 6 pages double-spaced, 12-point font size); it is not to be a research paper but a thoughtful response to particular topics in the core reading (you will be choosing from topic questions provided by us). No outside reading is required before you write the essay. The essay assignments are designed to allow for dialogue on a topic, and to encourage you to develop your ideas and writing skills. For information on formatting, please see "General Writing Requirements" later in this document.

You will be required to sign up to write two essays. A sign-up sheet will be distributed at the beginning of the course. The first draft of your essay will be due the week following the first seminar in which the text is discussed.

Your first draft will be submitted to and evaluated by your instructor. Once the first draft has been graded and returned to you, you will then have one week to revise it and resubmit it for a final grade. Please note that your original graded essay must be submitted with your rewrite. Also note that incomplete essays, partial outlines, point form notes, and so on are not acceptable as first drafts of seminar essays (i.e. "draft" here does not mean "rough copy;" you should be submitting the best essay you can write). You will have an opportunity to rewrite your essays only if you hand them in on time. No final drafts for the second essay will be accepted after April 15 th , 2014 .

Conference Presentation

At the end-of-term LBST Spring Conference, students who are not presenting LBST 400 thesis papers will choose one of their essays to present. The Liberal Studies Spring Conference will be held from April 7 - 11, 2014. The presentation, lasting approximately 10 minutes and worth 5% of your total grade, should be a condensed version of one of your essays.

Final Exam

This take-home exam will consist of questions to be answered in short-essay format. The questions will be chosen by your instructors from several questions handed out at least a week ahead of the exam's due date, and will be relevant to all the readings covered in the course. It will be due on April 22, 2013. More details about this exam will be given closer to the end of the term.

General Writing Requirements

Word-Processing: All written work, including seminar notes, should be typed or prepared on a word processor, double spaced, and saved in a format that is readable by VIU issued computers and software. Currently MS Word is the only approved word-processor for faculty computers. If you use different word processing software, you must save your document in a format that does not distort the formatting of your paper and that is readable by MS Word.

Students in 400 level courses at VIU should be familiar by now with standard formatting requirements, including proper in-text citation formatting. Liberal Studies generally follows the Modern Languages Association (MLA) rules. Students who do not correctly format their essays, including first drafts, will lose marks accordingly. If you are unsure about how to format your essay properly, please consult The Broadview Guide to Writing , fifth edition (available in the VIU Bookstore) or visit a reputable online site that provides writing help, such as The Online Writing Lab at Purdue University .

Plagiarism: You should be familiar with the policy on academic misconduct. You will incur severe penalties for intellectual dishonesty: a plagiarized paper will receive a mark of zero with no opportunity to make up the assignment. A second occurrence may result in a mark of F for the course. Further penalties are possible. See VIU's Student Academic Code of Conduct .

You should always retain a copy of any assignment you hand in.

Seminar Notes

Seminar notes are due at the beginning of the Tuesday seminars. They are graded on a pass/fail basis: a pass receives the full 1% grade, a fail receives "0." Your seminar instructor will provide written feedback on each seminar note. No seminar note will be accepted after the seminar in which the text was discussed . Please keep track of your seminar note submissions throughout the course.

The purpose of these notes is to enhance your depth of engagement with the texts, and to better prepare you for seminar discussion of these texts. In your seminar note, draw attention to a feature of the text that you find particularly puzzling or engaging, and which you think would form a good topic for seminar discussion.

Your question should take us into the text rather than away from it, and it should address interpretive issues rather than matters of fact or context that cannot be answered by reading the text.

Seminar Participation

Seminar participation is a fundamental component in all Liberal Studies courses. It is therefore important that you come to every class, that you have prepared yourself for every class, and that you contribute to class discussion and activities. Valid reasons for missing a seminar include such things as illness, emergency child-care demands, and car break-down en route to class. Valid reasons for missing seminar do not include having to work on assignments, the need to carry out a part-time job, having to be out of town for a vacation, etc. That is, under normal circumstances, only an unforeseen emergency that actually prevents you from attending class will offer you a valid reason for not being there. Please consult with your instructor if, for any reason, you anticipate a number of absences from seminar.

The minimum criteria for effective seminar participation include the following:

* preparation for the seminar (Did the student have the book? Did the student read the text, bring the text to class and come to the seminar prepared to participate fully?)

* quality of the participant's contributions to the discussion (Did the student contribute some intelligent questions, answers, doubts about matters arising in the discussion? Were the remarks relevant? Did any of the remarks challenge the participants in useful ways?)

* nature of the participant's interaction with others (Did the student listen well? Did he/she encourage others to speak up? Did he/she ask useful questions or offer helpful follow-up remarks to keep the flow of the conversation polite and relevant?)

* some negative points: excessive digressions; verbal or non-verbal hostility, indifference, boredom, ridicule; over-eagerness to contribute; dominating the discussion; refusal to put any views on the table.

The following scale gives a guide to the factors the seminar leader will consider in evaluating seminar participation, as well as a rough picture of their impact on your mark:

F: Student is physically absent without a valid reason; the mark in this case will count as zero.

F-D: Student is physically present, but otherwise quite absent;

C-: Student provides some potentially useful participation, but is very poorly prepared or insensitive or uncooperative in the group setting;

C: Student is present, evidently prepared and interested, but offers quite limited verbal contributions to the discussion;

C+ to B-: Student is present, well prepared, and offers some useful comments, some of which might be more incisive or more relevant or further developed

B to B+: Student is present, very well prepared, maintains a good relationship with the others (i.e., contributes actively to the dynamics of the seminar), and offers useful comments in a constructive way;

A range: Student makes a major contribution and not just to the understanding of the material but to the social dynamics of the session, a contribution which would be difficult to imagine being any better.

Web Resources

There are a number of valuable and helpful web resources for your use in LBST 420:

1) VIU uses a learning management software system called "Desire2Learn." You can access your Liberal Studies courses by navigating your internet browser to . Once you are there, log in using your "Discovery" id and password (the same ones you would use to access your student record). Once you are logged into the system, you should see LBST 420 as one of the courses you can access. Click on the links and you should see the course content displayed week-by-week. There is an online help button. Go there first and try to answer any technical questions you have before you contact us about them. Since we are Liberal Studies professors and not IT specialists, we may not have the answer. For further assistance, contact the VIU IT Help desk.

2) The Liberal Studies Homepage : this departmental page contains a vast amount of information about the theory and practice of Liberal Studies courses, and all the links you will need to other resources. Please explore it at your leisure: . Take especial note of the Program Info and Coursework pages.

3) Helpful advice on essay writing and other aspects of study is available at " johnstonia " - the homepage of Ian Johnston, one of the founding professors of Liberal Studies and now a Research Associate in the Liberal Studies Department. To reach this instructional material, go to and follow the links to "General Study Materials." We recommend especially Essays and Arguments and Guide to the Marking of Written Assignments .

4) An excellent source of biographical and bibliographical information about the figures you will encounter in the course is the Great Books Homepage, created by Russell McNeil, also one of the founding professors in Liberal Studies and now a Research Associate: .

5) There is a Facebook group created by the Liberal Studies Club for all those involved in Liberal Studies: it is called VIU Liberal Studies and is listed under Student Groups - General. Use it to stay in touch with other students, past and present. The Liberal Studies Club is a student-run organisation that aims to help students get the most out of their experience in the program.

University Grading Scale

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Letter Grade

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