Humanity and Hell

This section addresses the topic of explanation. To this end, we explore the social scientific concept of causation. For example, if we pose the following question, “How do we account for the fact that ‘Hell happens…?” we automatically have to consider possible causes.  One or more causes are possible.  This bring up a second issue: How do issues of cause and effect become muddled as a result of different understandings of Hell?  If I believe Hell means one thing and you believe it means something quite different, we are likely to  identify different causes.


Image IV. Tyrants, Murderers, and Madmen:  “The devil’s deeds . . .”

12. Thursday, September 30

Discussion:  In this section, we discuss those explanations of Hell that focus on the role of individual human beings.

  • Robert Todd Carroll, “Satan,” in the The Skeptic’s Dictionary  READ
  • NPR Interview with Riccardo Orizio about Talk about the DevilLISTEN
  • Milovan Djilas, Conversations with Stalin, pp. 56-84   READ
  • Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, pp. 36-55  READ
  • Timothy Snyder, “Springtime for Stalin”  READ

Your First Essay Assignment is HERE.  Your paper is due by class time on Thursday, October 7

Image V. Stalinist Terror: “a self-imposed hell. . .”

13. Tuesday, October 5

  • George Orwell, “Down the Mine”  READ
  • George Orwell,  Homage to Catalonia. Read at least the first half of the book, as well as the Introduction by Lionel Trilling.
  • A Photo Essay on the Spanish Civil War   LOOK
  • A brief assessment of the war   READ 

14. Thursday, October 7

  • Conclude discussion of Homage to Catalonia.  Finish the book.

15. Tuesday, October 12

We will watch the first half of a film on this date.  Originally, I thought we would have an evening showing.  But because I will be in Moscow on Thursday, I decided that you could simply see the remainder on Thursday.  You may find that this schedule will free up a little time for all of your other “challenges” during the week.

  • Richard Bugajski, “The Interrogation” (film)
  • Prepare for film by reading HERE.

You may find this depiction of Stalinist terror agonizing. In my opinion, there is no way to sugar-coat the horrors of Stalinism. Remind me to warn you beforehand about one especially disturbing scene.

16.  Thursday, October 14:   Second half of “The Interrogation.”  You will not want to miss the conclusion!


Saturday, October 16 – Sunday, October 24


17. Tuesday, October 26

  • Begin discussion of Aldous Huxley, Brave New World. Read the first half of the book
  • Benedict Carey, “Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory,” New York Times, April 6, 2009 HERE
  • Jonathan Colvin, “Me, my clone, and I”  READ
  • “Mary had a little lamb”  RECITE


Image VI. Technology is Us: “A hell of your own making . . .”

18. Thursday, October 29

  • Finish discussion of Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

19. Tuesday, November 2

  • Peter Singer, “Taking Life: Humans,” from Practical Ethics (hand-out)
  • Jason Zinoman, “The Ethics of Baby-Killing,” READ
  • Harriet Johnson, “Unspeakable Conversations” READ
  • Keith Fornier, “The Dignity of the Person” READ

For this discussion, I recommend that you surf around a bit to acquire a very general understanding of the philosophical approach known as “utilitarianism.”

20. Thursday, November 4

The Second Great Debate:  “Huxley’s dystopia is the logical consequence of Singer’s utilitarianism”

NOTE:  Please leave your technology at home. This includes electronic devices of any kind, such as laptops, i-Pads, cell phones, Kindles, video cameras, or other personal digital devices.