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ACS 1001 Modernity and Its Discontents Page |

(Jacobs, Spring 2011)

SEMINAR INSTRUCTOR: Richard M. Jacobs, O.S.A., Ph.D., Professor

Office: St. Augustine Liberal Arts Center #365

(610) 519-4641 —or—



Characterized by the passionate pursuit of wisdom understood through the metaphor of “one heart and one mind,” the Augustine and Culture Villanova Seminar strives to inspire a student’s quest for knowledge and understanding in open, intelligent, responsible, and mutually respectful interaction among varying points of view.  Modernity and Its Discontents focuses upon contested themes discussed in texts and readings drawn from primary sources 1650 to the present which represent five historical eras—Early Modern, Enlightenment, Romantic, Modernist, and Contemporary. Different genres and disciplines are included. Extensive written work, seminar discussions, and an Augustinian critique of Modernity characterize this seminar.


The topic of this seminar, The Idea of Work, introduces students to one aspect of human existence that, following graduation from Villanova University, will consume more than one third of their adult lives. The very idea of work—what work is, what constitutes work, and why must people work—has provoked much discontent over the centuries, especially with the rise of the Industrial era and now into the post-Industrial era called the “Information Age.” Human beings oftentimes take the idea of work for granted—after all, who doesn’t have to work except perhaps for the rich, those who have inherited wealth, or the slovenly? Yet, there is much about the idea of work that human beings ought to consider carefully and critically, that is, if their lifetime of work is to become something greater and more meaningful than the wages of sin, boring drudgery, a means to an end, or even “droning on” as one awaits retirement, and preferably, sooner rather than later.


  1. To identify the idea of work from a variety of disciplines and genres.

  2. To clarify why and how it has been and continues to be argued that human beings ought to and must work.

  3. To investigate and assess critically various ideas about work.

  4. To state with precision, clarity, and conviction a holistic vision describing one’s life’s work.


Arendt, H. (1998). The human condition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. (ISBN: 0226025985)

Camus, A. The myth of Sisyphus and other essays (J. O’Brien, Trans.) New York: Random House. (ISBN: 9780679733737)

Herzberg, F., Mausner, B., & Snyderman, B. (1993). The motivation to work. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. (ISBN: 15600634X)

John Paul II. (1981). On human labor (Laborem exercens). Available online:

Tönnies, F. (2004). Community and society (Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publications. (ISBN: 0887387500)

Weber, M. (2001). The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism (T. Parsons, Trans.) New York, NY: Routledge. (ISBN: 041525406X)


I. Work as the “Implementing God’s Image and Likeness” or the “Wages of Sin”?

The Book of Genesis and Augustine’s Commentary (Genesi ad litteram)

(written 410-415)

II. Work as “Making a Meaningful Contribution”

Frederich Tönnies: Community and Society (originally published in 1887)

III. Work as “Salvific Love of God”

Max Weber: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (originally published in 1904)

IV. Work as “Consciousness of the Absurd”

Albert Camus: The Myth of Sisyphus (originally published in 1942)

V. Work as the“Action of Self-Expression”

Hanna Arendt: The Human Condition (originally published in 1958)

VI. Work as “Meaningful”

Frederick Herzberg: The Motivation to Work (originally published in 1959)

VII. Work as a “Personal Vocation”

Pope John Paul II: On Human Labor (Laborem exercens) (promulgated in 1981)

CLASS MEETINGS (dates/topics are tentative):

Class: Day: Date: Tentative Readings/Class Topics:

1 Mon. 01/10 Introduction and Overview

2 Wed. 01/12 Augustine on Genesis #1

Mon. 01/17 ML KING, JR. DAY: No Class

3 Wed. 01/19 Augustine on Genesis #2

Due: Reflective Analysis #1 (3 pages)

4 Mon. 01/24 Tönnies #1—Part 1

5 Wed. 01/26 Tönnies #2—Part 2

6 Mon. 01/31 Tönnies #3—Part 3-4

Due: Revision—Reflective Analysis #1

7 Wed. 02/02 Tönnies #4—Part 5

Due: Cultural Event #1

8 Mon. 02/07 Weber #1—Part 1

9 Wed. 02/09 Weber #2—Part 2

Due: Reflective Analysis #2 (3 pages)

10 Mon. 02/14 Weber #3

11 Wed. 02/16 Summary/Synthesis

12 Mon. 02/21 Camus #1—The Myth; Absurd Man

13 Wed. 02/23 Camus #2—Absurd Reasoning; Absurd Creation

Due: Revision—Reflective Analysis #2

Mon. 03/01 SPRING BREAK: No Class

Wed. 03/03 SPRING BREAK: No Class

14 Mon. 03/07 Arendt #1—Parts 1-2

15 Wed. 03/09 Arendt #2—Parts 3-4

16 Mon. 03/14 Arendt #3—Parts 5-6

Due: Reflective Analysis #3 (3 pages)

17 Wed. 03/16 Summary/Synthesis

18 Mon. 03/21 Herzberg #1—Part 1

Due: Cultural Event #2

19 Wed. 03/23 Herzberg #2—Part 2

20 Mon. 03/28 Herzberg #3—Part 3

21 Wed. 03/30 Summary/Synthesis

Due: Reflective Analysis #4 (3 pages)

22 Mon. 04/04 “Wurst Case Scenario”—Summary/Synthesis of the Idea of Work; Preparing for the Final Essay

23 Wed. 04/06 John Paul II #1—Introduction; Work and Man

Due: Cultural Event #3

24 Mon. 04/11 John Paul II #2—The Conflict between Labor and Capital I

Due: Reflective Analysis #5 (3 pages)

25 Wed. 04/13 John Paul II #3—The Conflict between Labor and Capital II

26 Mon. 04/18 John Paul II #4—Elements for a Spirituality of Work
27 Wed. 04/20 Summary/Synthesis: Producing the Final Essay

Due: All Additional Cultural Events due

Mon. 04/25 EASTER BREAK: No Class

27 Wed. 04/27 Due: Final Essay (8 pages)

Students will be assigned to report on individual sections of each text. The responsibility of each seminar reporter will be to discuss the section(s) assigned, not in intricate detail but what the section contributes to discourse about the idea of work. Generally speaking, the reporter will identify a key idea from each section and discuss how it relates to the author’s overall argument.

In order to complete this Augustine and Culture Villanova Seminar successfully, each student is required to fulfill the following requirements:

  1. to meet the University’s attendance policy;

  2. to fulfill one’s responsibilities as a member of a Socratic seminar (reading, analysis, questioning, active participation; seminar scribe);

  3. to attend and report on three cultural events;

  4. to write five reflective essays; and,

  5. to complete and submit the final essay.

Students are not permitted to use cell phones during the seminar sessions. Please turn off all cell phones upon entering the seminar room. In addition, students are not permitted to use laptop computers for this seminar. The purpose for this prohibition is two-fold: 1) for students to avoid the temptation to use their laptops for activities unrelated to the seminar (the negative purpose); 2) for students to focus their attention upon the texts and seminar discourse (the positive purpose).

It is the policy of Villanova University to make reasonable academic accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities. If any student has a disability and wishes to request accommodations to complete the course requirements, please make an appointment with Fr. Jacobs as soon as possible to discuss the request. Since there are documentation requirements, students with disabilities should contact the Office of Learning Support Services (610-519-5636) or visit the Office in Geraghty Hall prior to scheduling a meeting with Fr. Jacobs.
The five, three-page reflective analyses and final essay to be completed for this Augustine and Culture Villanova Seminar, The Idea of Work, are detailed on the seminar webpage. Details concerning the reflective essays can be found at:
All ACS students are required to attend three cultural events during the course of the semester.  This requirement is intended to benefit students by exposing them to the purpose of the University as an intellectual community whose members are united in its values of truth, unity, and charity.  The term “cultural” is used in the widest sense, meaning events that serve to broaden, expand, and challenge students to think about a variety of matters from diverse perspectives.
At a minimum, during the course of the semester and before the final date specified on the syllabus, students will submit three (3) cultural event reports.  Each report will be evaluated in terms of its content as well as how the content is related to the course.  Reports exceeding the minimum requirements (e.g., relating the event not only to seminar topics but to the texts used in the seminar itself with illustrative quotes, etc.) will be assigned extra credit points which, in turn, will be added to the student’s class participation grade at the end of the semester.
Further details concerning the required cultural events, go to:



(5) Reflective Analyses: 50% “A” = 90% top 10%

(1) Final Essay: 30% “B” = 80% top 20%

(27) Seminar Discourse: 20% “C” = 70% top 30%

FINAL GRADE: 100% “D” = 60% top 40%

“F” = < 60%

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