Fall 2017

Education: For Whom and What For?

Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-134


Jyl Gentzler (Section 01)
Catherine M. Sanchez (Section 01)


Who should have access to education and to what sorts?   Should people shoulder the costs of their and their children’s education, or would a just society insure an equal opportunity to education for all members?  These issues, in turn, raise basic philosophical questions.  What is the nature of a just society? Are we entitled only to the results of our own labor (and luck) in a market economy? Or does a just society guarantee rights to certain goods to all citizens (or all members)? If the latter, which goods must a just society protect?  What role does education play in a good human life? Is its value mainly instrumental in giving one the skills and credentials that are desired in a market economy?  Does the optimal functioning of a democratic society depend on its citizens having a certain level of understanding of the way the world works?  Does it depend on its citizens having a certain moral character? Can character be taught? Should it be? These issues, in turn, raise questions about the relative weight and nature of various goods (e.g., life, liberty, and happiness) and questions about the justice of various distributions of these goods between different individuals.  Finally, our attempts to answer these questions will raise basic questions about the nature of rationality. Is it possible to reach rational decisions about ethical matters, or is ethics merely subjective?

This course is designed as a First-Year Seminar for transfer students. In addition to the philosophical content of this course, we will focus on the academic skills (e.g., critical reading, writing, discussion, public speaking) and institutional knowledge required for students to thrive academically at Amherst College. 

Fall semester.  Professor Gentzler and Senior Writing Associate Sanchez.

If Overenrolled: Priority given to incoming transfers over transfers who have been enrolled for a semester or longer.


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018