Course Materials

All course readings will be available on line (see links from on-line syllabus).

A paper bulkpack, including most but not all of the same material, will be available for purchase at Copy Center, basement of Towne Building (Engineering) (cash only). We will let you know when it is ready and how much it will cost.

The following book is available at House of Our Own bookstore:
Sahlins, Marshall (1977). The Use and Abuse of Biology: An Anthropological Critique of Sociobiology. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Videos will be on reserve at Van Pelt Rosengarten Reserve: see on-line syllabus for details.

Course structure

There will be two lectures each week, Tuesday and Thursday from 1:30-3:00.

On-line discussions

During the course of the term, there will be six on-line discussions, each lasting two weeks.

The typical time structure of a discussion will be as follows:

Question is announced Tuesday in class
You submit a 150-word "drop-box" answer Before Thursday's class
Instructors kick off a threaded discussion Friday-
Threaded discussion continues Through the next week
You submit a second 150-word "drop-box" answer Before Tuesday's class

We'll give you more information in class and via the class email listserv about the details of this process.

As discussed below, 30 points (out of 100) will be awarded on the basis of your two 150-word answers. Each discussion gets six points; of the six discussions, we'll count your five best scores.


In addition to the six essay/discussion topics described above, there will be a midterm and a final exam. There will also be five unannounced "micro-quizzes" given in class. Allocated of grading points is shown in the table below. Note that the five micro-quizzes are treated as extra credit, so that the points sum to 105.

Midterm Exam 25
Final Exam 35
Drop-box statements (best five of six) 30
Participation (threaded discussions and classes) 10
Micro-quizzes 5
Total 105

Letter grades will be awarded based on the usual mapping from numerical grade totals.

General advice

In keeping with the principles of the Pilot Curriculum, this is a broad interdisciplinary course, taught by three faculty members with different individual backgrounds and approaches. We're covering a lot of ground, and assigning a lot of background reading.

As a result, there isn't a one-to-one correspondence between the content of the lectures and the content of the associated readings. Each of the readings follows its own internal logic, which overlaps only in part with the set of ideas presented in the associated lecture. The readings go into more depth and detail than the lectures do, and also often cover related topics that the lectures omit, while each lecture covers a wider range of topics than any one reading. There are also cross links, so that for instance some of the readings for lecture 3 will be relevant to lecture 8 and lecture 13.

This kind of relationship between readings and lectures is inevitable in any course that doesn't simply follow a single text. The situation is unsettling at first, if you're used to neater and simpler structures. We sympathize, but we also advise you to get used to it. This is the way things are likely to be in more advanced courses, and in life. You'll often have to learn things by working through relevant material that hasn't been entirely pre-digested for you. If this is a new experience, consider it a gentle introduction to the intellectual big leagues.

How much of the content of the readings are you 'responsible' for? We certainly don't expect you to memorize every detail. We do expect you to read everything, and to understand the leading ideas, and to remember much of the important factual content. In homeworks and on exams, we expect you to be able to think things through against the background of what you've read, and to synthesize ideas that take this background into account, and to cite relevant details in support of these ideas.

In other words, we recommend the model of the bee from Francis Bacon's Novum Organum, Book One (1620), Aphorism XCV:

The men of experiment are like the ant, they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes a middle course: it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own. Not unlike this is the true business of philosophy; for it neither relies solely or chiefly on the powers of the mind, nor does it take the matter which it gathers from natural history and mechanical experiments and lay it up in the memory whole, as it finds it, but lays it up in the understanding altered and digested.