John Barbour: Conscience in Literature

Expanded Description:  The course will involve guided discussion of multiple writings.  Required texts, available on-line at or at Northfield’s Content bookstore:

All other readings will be provided, either as an attached pdf document or by a link to an online version.

Tentative weekly schedule:

  1. Origins of conscience in Western thought.  Brief remarks on Greek thought.   Hebrew Bible: 2 Samuel 11-12:25; Jeremiah 17:9-10 and 31:31-34; New Testament: I Corinthians 8 and 10; Romans 2:12-16, 7:14-25; 13:1-5; Augustine: Confessions, Book 8, chapters 5-12 and Book 10, chapters 30-41; [if time: selections from Luther’s Commentary on Galatians];

Strohm, A Very Short Introduction to Conscience, introduction and chapter 1

  • A dramatic case of conscience: Shakespeare’s Hamlet
  • 18th and 19th century essays and stories:  Strohm, Short Introduction, chapter 2; Bishop Butler, “Upon Self-deceit”; Samuel Johnson, “Self-deception”; Immanuel Kant, “Conscience”; Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener”; Excerpt from Huckleberry Finn
  • A great novel and an overview of the history of ideas about conscience:  E. M. Forster, Howards End, chapters 1-14; Strohm, Short Introduction, chapter 3
  • Howards End, chapters 15-31; Strohm, chapter 4
  • Howards End, chapters 32-44; Strohm, chapter 5
  • Albert Camus, The Fall
  • Essays, a story, and a poem about conscience: Judith Martin, “The Oldest Virtue”; George Orwell, “Shooting an Elephant”; George Saunders, “The Falls” [in Pastoralia]; Donald Hall, “Cider, 5 cents a Glass”

[Other possible readings for discussion: Excerpts from Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird;

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.  Some movies to consider:  Crimes and Misdemeanors; The Lives of Others; Changing Lanes; Grand Canyon—will resolve as we get closer to deadline]