Contemporary Civilization

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Contemporary Civilization, commonly referred to as CC, is part of the Columbia College Core Curriculum. It is officially entitled Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West.

Essentially a "Great Books" of philosophy class, it spans two semesters, and is usually taken sophomore year, although this is not necessarily a requirement, as commonly believed.


On January 20, 1919, the college faculty resolved to merge the courses History A and Philosophy A into a new course called "Contemporary Civilization". The class began as a response to the First World War. Having cooperated with the military to produce a war issues course for student soldiers, they now set about creating a "peace issues" course that would "deal with the present". At first, then, CC had little to do with learning the "Great Books" of philosophy.

Originally, students read mostly secondary sources in standardized, hardcover course readers which included essays by many on the then-current faculty, among other prominent intellectuals. By the 1960s, in the wake of student unrest, the course evolved into a "Great Books" seminar, in the effort to broaden discussion and grant students a closer relationship to the texts and ideas being studied.

In order to supplement the CC curriculum, Dean Austin Quigley inaugurated the CC Coursewide Lecture in Fall of 1999.


The syllabus varies a bit from time to time.

First semester

Author Title Online versions "Lite" study guide
God Book of Genesis [] God created man, twice.
God Book of Exodus Book of Exodus God gave the ten commandments, twice.
Plato The Republic [1] Make kings philosophers or philosophers kings.
Aristotle Politics (Aristotle) [2] Man is a political animal.
Aristotle Nicomachaen Ethics [3] []
God (via Muhammad) Quran [4] Jihad is exactly what you think it is.
Saint Augustine City of God [5] The non-believers will be friends with the fire.
René Descartes Discourse on the Method [] I am thinking therefore I am.
[[]] [[]] [] Christianity is corrupt. It needs modest reforms.
Niccolo Machiavelli The Prince [6] How to stay in power: it's appearances that count.
Niccolo Machiavelli The Discourses [7]
Thomas Hobbes The Leviathan [8] Life is nasty, brutish and short. So men form states with social contracts.
John Locke Second Treatise of Government [9] Actually, men cooperate by their very nature.

Second semester

Author Title Online versions "Lite" study guide
[[]] [[]] [] What is Enlightenment? It's good.
David Hume An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals [10] Why do we have morals? Utility, experience, sympathy.
Adam Smith The Wealth of Nations [] Countries get rich by specializing, not hoarding gold.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau Discourse on the Origins of Inequality [11] Society gives rise to inequality. Let's be cavemen once again.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau The Social Contract [12] Or we could have a social contract like those Genevans.
[[]] [[]] [] I can't let you do that. If I did, I'd have to let everyone else do it.
[[]] [[]] [] Independence, it's self-evident.
[[]] [[]] [] New laws after the exodus.
[[]] [[]] [] The French Revolution is ugly.
[[]] [[]] [] Give women more freedom so that they can better serve their men.
[[]] [[]] [] What's so great about America? Democracy.
John Stuart Mill [[]] [] Disinterested benevolence.
Immanuel Kant Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals [13] The Spirit drives world history. Ideology drives the material world.
Hegel [[]] [] Kant got the dialectic the wrong way round. Material conditions drive ideology. Revolution!
[[]] [[]] [] Blacks are oppressed; whites wage wars.
[[]] [[]] [] Might makes right.
Freud [[]] [] Your human psyche is probably disturbed. You need psychoanalysis: a deep dive into your molested childhood.
[[]] [[]] [] Maybe we sort out civilization in the same way?
[[]] [[]] [] Three tales of poverty.
Rawls [[]] [] Let's consider justice before even being born.

See also

External links