Two philosophers ignited an intense political debate during the last century. Alexandre Kojève, a Russian philosopher who became enormously influential in France, argued for a world-wide, classless state, while Leo Strauss, a German philosopher who immigrated to the U.S., maintained that such a world-state would culminate in tyranny. Matthew Wells ’18 and Hannah Marcum ’18 received grants from Central’s Arthur J. Bosch Endowment and Moore Family Foundation to study this debate in Paris this summer with professor of religion Terence Kleven.
“To say that this debate is relevant to our society today would be a gross understatement,” says Wells, a philosophy, religion and French major from Rathbun, Iowa. “Kojève’s influence on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the United Nations was no accident.”
Besides examining the merits of a world-state, Wells explains this debate raises all humanity’s fundamental questions, ultimately asking: How do we know that we know the truth? “Needless to say, this is the question anyone who claims to know anything must tackle,” says Wells.
Meanwhile, Marcum, an English major from Blockton, Iowa, examines these questions through the writings of Jane Austen. “Austen didn’t write about the debate in so many words, but she fought against that future in her own way, using her novels,” she says.
Strauss admired Austen, and even said that her novels provided an advantage to readers of classic writings by Plato, Aristotle and Xenophon, Marcum explains. “I’m exploring what Strauss meant by connecting Austen to these classics. What makes them similar? Austen’s works are 200 years old, which is old by our standards, but Plato and Xenophon wrote 2500 years ago, and we’re still reading them. What is it that keeps such outdated, even ancient, work relevant to us today?”
All Central’s summer researchers will present their work at a symposium on campus this year. Soon after, many also plan to take their studies to international conferences and publications to share their findings.
Read about more summer research to discover Central students’ work in taboo language, jury psychology, prairie biology and more.