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German Literature & Culture, 1150-1750: Free Will - Literary History of a Concept

Germanic Languages And Literatures 4100 - Fall 2020

Humans are autonomous subjects who make decisions based on free will. This assumption has served as the foundation of Western societies at least since the Age of Enlightenment. More recently, however, it has come under attack from various sides. Critics of Artificial Intelligence, for example, argue that AI and its industrial applications slowly undermine the very ideas of free will and autonomous decision-making. In this seminar, we will trace the discussion about the human will and the way it has been exercised through the ages, with a focus on the medieval and early modern eras. Texts from the "classical" period of medieval German literature (Hartmann von Aue), medieval German mysticism (Meister Eckhart, women mystics), the Renaissance and the Reformation periods (Martin Luther, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Faustbuch) will be flanked by contemporary accounts from, among others, neuroscience, behavioral economics, and the "philosophy" of AI. The diachronic approach of the course will help us to develop an understanding of the evolution of, and the changes in, the concept of human will over time and thus shed new light on current debates on the topic. Readings and discussions will (mostly) be in German. For the Middle/Early New High German texts, modern German translations will be provided. Prerequisite: German 302D and German 340C/340D OR German 341/341D OR German 342/342D or permission of the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Section 01

German Literature and Culture, 1150-1750
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