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How do we choose? Humanities course explores assumptions

Application instructions: To secure your spot in this course, review the course syllabus on Canvas and write a 150-word essay answering either 1) how have your studies up until now prepared you for this course? or 2) how do you expect this course to contribute to your ongoing studies?

Application essays should be submitted in a Word or PDF to You can also send questions to that email address. Remember to include your name, email and student ID number on your essay.

President Schapiro and Professor Morson will read your applications and select the cohort of students in this class. Those selected will be contacted directly about registration.

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Everyone makes choices in life. At any given moment, how many alternatives are possible? Is there really such a thing as chance or choice? And, on what basis does one select, for example, a college or a life partner?

Questions like these are at the heart of the winter course, Alternatives: Modeling Choice Across the Disciplines, co-taught by Professor Gary Saul Morson and President and Professor Morton Schapiro. Former students describe it as a game-changer.

Topics reveal uncertainty, prediction, modeling and judgment through the lenses of literature, philosophy, economics, history, theology, evolutionary theory and even urban planning.

For example, planned cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C., are set on a grid of streets. Cities that grew organically have roads in all directions — picture London or Moscow. So, is symmetry a sign of rational choice, while asymmetry reflects numerous decentralized decisions?

Professor Morson, a specialist in literary theory and criticism, and President and Professor Schapiro, a labor economist focusing on the economics of higher education, will engage in a spirited debate from their respective positions. Students will learn that a strong argument necessarily engages with its opponents and have the opportunity to further develop their own positions through discussion and writing.

Related: Review last year’s syllabus on Canvas

"You engage with complex issues and ideas with a nuance that is so rare in today's world," said a former student. "This class changes your perspective on everything."

Space is limited to 80 students for this popular course co-listed by the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities and the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. The professors will select students by a short essay application. See CAESAR to apply.

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