Humanities 100
Human Nature

Take-Home Final Examination

Answer four of the following eight questions in essays of about four pages each, for a total of about 16 typed, double-spaced pages. This is equivalent to about 1200 words for each essay. As noted below, you may submit your exam either on paper or electronically.

Each essay should refer to and quote from several of the assigned readings and should be clearly argued and written. Your grade will depend on how well you demonstrate a grasp of the concepts and readings in the course. You should feel free to cite additional relevant work, but not to the exclusion of relevant course material.

The completed exam is due by Monday, December 20, at 10:30 a.m., which is the end of the regularly scheduled exam period for this course. You are welcome to turn the exam in before this time. If you submit your exam on paper, please make two copies, and leave them in the English Department office in Bennett Hall. If you submit the exam electronically, please send it by email to both instructors:

Wendy Steiner <
Mark Liberman <>

We would prefer to get the exam as "plain text" email. You can submit a Microsoft Word attached document, or the like, but if you do so, please check with us that we can read it successfully before assuming that the submission is complete.

Exam questions:

  1. E. O. Wilson writes (Consilience, p. 13) that:
    "Every college student should be able to answer the following question: What is the relation between science and the humanities, and how is it important for human welfare?"

    Give your own answer, drawing where appropriate on the course lectures and readings; or describe and evaluate Wilson's answer.

  2. Hans Arp writes (in section 18 of the bulkpack, p. 51) that:
    "Man owes it to his incongruously developed reason that he is grotesque and ugly. He has broken away from nature. He thinks that he dominates nature. He thinks he is the measure of all things. Engendering in opposition to the laws of nature, man creates monstrosities. He desires that of which he is incapable, and despises what is within his powers."

    This system of ideas should by now be familiar to you from other readings in the course. Describe the other instances of these ideas, considering too the systems of belief underlying them. That is, write about not only what various authors say about human versus natural creation, man as the measure of all things, etc., but what ideologies lie behind their statements. You might end by presenting your own views on the matter.

  3. William James says that "we can experience union with something larger than ourselves and in that union find our greatest peace." Pynchon bases the drama of The Crying of Lot 49 on the effort to escape solipsism, symbolized by the painting by Remedios Varo of maidens locked within a tower who embroider a tapestry that flows out the windows of the tower and down its sides, eventually forming the world outside. How have various authors on the syllabus -- including these two -- dealt with the need to connect the visible and invisible spheres or the self and something beyond it?

  4. How have various authors and lecturers in the course argued for or against an essentialist idea of woman?

  5. Why do you think that narrative and song are found in every human culture? What do they contribute to (or reveal about) the human condition?

  6. Many thinkers in the course have tried to define what is human by comparison to animals, especially other primates. Describe these comparisons and compare their results.

  7. Writing in 1972 of her work in 1935 on human temperament, Margaret Mead discusses the issue of inborn differences as follows:
    "[We] also recognized that there were dangers in such a formulation because of the very human tendency to associate particular traits with sex or age or race, physique or skin color, or with membership in one or another society, and then to make invidious comparisons based on such arbitrary associations. We knew how polically loaded discussions of inborn differences could become . . . By then it seemed clear to us that the further study of inborn differences would have to wait upon less troubled times."

    How does this issue apply to the rational investigation of "human nature" in general?

  8. In the literature on primate cognition, what does the term "theory of mind" refer to? What connections are there between this cognitive problem and the structures of narrative as explicated by Culler?