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Humanomics Students looking at screen on laptopHumanomics serves as a nascent interdisciplinary program to teach and research a humanistic science of economics. Economics and the humanities are often perceived as fundamentally disconnected. Economics asks why Homo sapiens is the most prosperous species in the history of the planet, but the tools of the discipline are inadequate to account for the wide range of human motives. In economics the human predicates of feeling, wanting, thinking, and knowing have been boiled down to the single motivation of naked “self-interest.” What does prosperity have to do with justice, courage, faith, hope, and love? The answer in economics is, “That’s for the humanities to ponder.”

The humanities do ponder such virtues, and prudence, too. The humanities give voice to feeling and artistic shape to experience. Exploring human stories and ideas helps us make meaning of our lives. Meaning is as much a part of the scientific evidence in economics as is behavior, and, of course, meaning influences behavior itself. Through the Humanities, through literature and film, philosophy and history, we can come to better understand ourselves as human beings, broadening our perspectives of the world as we move beyond the boundaries of our own lives and culture, asking “What does it mean to be human?” And quite fundamentally “being human” includes Homo sapiens’ unique propensity to specialize, to exchange, to create markets, the latter of which is often viewed skeptically from the humanities. Humanomics grew out of a desire to explore economics through the lens of the humanities and humanity through the lens of economics.

  • Humanomics FFC Courses
  • Topics in Humanomics
  • Presidential Seminar
  • Fall 2018 First-year Foundation Courses:

    FFC 100: “Humanomics: Exchange and the Human Condition”

    Michael Moses

    What makes a rich nation rich? What makes a good person good? And what do these questions have to do with one another? While exploring these and other questions about markets and ethics, students will challenge the perception of economics as distinct from the humanities. This course combines an economic inquiry into the human propensity to exchange with the cultural interpretation of the human condition in the HBO television show Deadwood. The instructional methods include Socratic roundtable discussions of the texts, laboratory experiments, journaling, focused free writes, and five expository papers.

    FFC 100: “Humanomics: The Ism Schism”

    Kyle Hampton and Jan Osborn

    Human societies are complex, encompassing a plurality of ideas and ideals, of cultures and languages, of beliefs and points of view. This course explores moral monism in a world of pluralities, questioning political, religious, and ideological polarization, asking “Why are good people divided by politics, by religion, by ideological extremism; why is there an “ism schism”? this course asks students to think critically about challenges facing the global community.

    FFC 100: “Tyranny and Resistance from the Ancients to 1989”

    Katharine Gillespie Moses

    Course Syllabus

    What is power; how is it gained; how is it exercised over others; how is it lost? Is it something that rulers possess and their subjects lack? Or is it something that is created and recreated within an “economy of power relations” comprised of both acts of dominance and strategic acts of opposition? Do we need structures of power to live peacefully? If so, when might those structures become problematically violent in and of themselves and hence subject to questioning? What comprises a legitimate versus an illegitimate form of resistance? While exploring these and other questions through a broad survey of works spanning from ancient Greece to the pivotal year of 1989, this course combines a social, cultural, economic, and political inquiry into tyranny and resistance with a consideration of how various “economies of power” give rise to various forms of both dominance and opposition.

    FFC 100: “The Tragedy in Morality: Greek Drama and the Birth of Law and Ethics”

    Brennan McDavid and John Thrasher

    The Greek tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, as well as the comedies of Aristophanes explore the moral complexity of human life. The Orestes series of plays by Aeschylus (the Oresteia) shows how the search for justice, without the structure of law leads to violence and disorder. Oedipus Rex is the exemplar of how bad luck can make a moral mess—Oedipus (spoiler alert) unluckily and unwittingly ends up married to his own mother. Iphigenia at Aulis considers the conflicts that arise under the threat of war when moral emotions, superstitions, and old promises all clash in a perfect storm. And Antigone—perhaps the most famous of these plays in our contemporary times—examines the destruction that can result from a clash between human law and natural morality. In this class, we will explore several of the themes that the Greek tragedians wanted us to consider, and we will do so through engagement with the dramas themselves together with complementary philosophical writing on these same topics. The aim is to understand how the Greeks thought about complex moral issues and to reflect on what lessons we can take from their presentation of those problems in the tragedies.

  • Topics in Humanomics:

    Using Socratic dialogue this course engages students in dialogically exploring economics, philosophy, and literature texts to examine two questions at the core of Humanomics: What makes a rich nation rich? What makes a good person good? This course encourages in-depth study of the co-constitutive social texts regarding the exponential economic growth of the last two-hundred years, asking students to consider how knowledge, ethics, and aesthetics shape and reshape the basic principles of exchange and the human condition.  Examples of possible texts include but are not limited to: Paradise Lost, Goethe’s Faust, Great Expectations, Frankenstein, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge, The Fatal Conceit, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World.

    Current, Upcoming, and Past Courses:

    Interterm 2019
    ECON/ENG/PHIL 357: “Milton’s Paradise Lost and the Ethics and
    Economics of Wealth Creation”

    Katharine Gillespie Moses and Bart Wilson

    Course Syllabus

    To be human is not to be an angel, but to know good and evil. To be human is to have the liberty to decide. To be human is to be limited, to face trade-offs. This course dialogically explores John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, F.A. Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty, and Thomas Sowell’s Knowledge and Decisions to shape one of the most fundamental questions of economics outside the Garden of Eden—not what must be decided but who shall decide. How do we apply the knowledge of good and evil in a society of strangers? What does the human constitution—”sufficient to [stand], though to free fall”—mean for responsibility and liberty in the creation of wealth? “The world [is] all before [us], where to choose.”

    Fall 2018
    ECON/ENG/PHIL 357: “Working with Marx”

    Erik Kimbrough and Bas van der Vossen

    Course Syllabus

    Karl Marx’s theories have been a source of intellectual and political motivation, spawning revolutions both figuratively (in academic thought) and literally (in Russia, China, and elsewhere). In this course we will dive deep into Marx’s thoughts on the nature of work, capitalist society, and the social and ethical problems of that surround it. The goal of this course is to assess how these ideas have resonated since his time and whether they remain relevant today. We will use a variety of sources and media that illustrate the continued appeal of these ideas, including Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, and Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Central questions for the course include: What is exploitation? And is it possible in a free market? Is exploitation avoidable? What is alienation? Do we experience alienation today? What is the value of work? And what should a worker expect to get out of a job? Will we ever live in a world without work? Would we want to?

    Spring 2018
    ECON/ENG 357: “Consumerism and its Discontents”

    Erik Kimbrough and Jan Osborn

    Course Syllabus

    The consumer society that has blossomed since the Industrial Revolution is the wealthiest, healthiest and freest society ever known.  Yet with this wealth and the freedom to choose we see people opting to expend incredible resources on “conspicuous consumption”, as they attempt to keep up with the Joneses (and Kardashians).  This course will explore the logic of consumption and ask whether it is possible to mount an ethical defense of consumption and the life of the “leisure class”.  What do people want?  What do they need?  Where do those wants and needs come from?  And what should they want?  Who gets to decide?

    Interterm 2018
    ECON/PHIL 357: “Social (In)Justice”

    Bas van der Vossen and Bart Wilson

    Course Syllabus

    This course attempts to clarify our understanding of the pervasive concept of social justice in the modern world. F.A. Hayek contends that the concept, despite well‐meaning intentions, is meaningless, incoherent, and harmful to the prosperity of a free society. David Miller argues that when considered contextually the principles of desert, need, and equality can be used to delineate a theory of social justice as a viable political ideal. How do the dystopian aesthetics of the “Good E” and “Bad E” in L.P. Hartley’s novel shape and reshape Hayek’s and Miller’s ideas on economics and the human condition?

  • Inspired by Oxford University’s High Table, the Humanomics community regularly breaks bread together as part of the Presidential Seminar, creating and enhancing bonds between students across all four years, between professors, and between professors and students.

    Presidential Seminar Texts

    • Fall 2018: To be announced
    • Spring 2018: The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream (Cowen), The Locals (Dee)
    • Fall 2017: Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions Enriched the World (McCloskey), Candide (Voltaire), and La Bohème
    • Spring 2017: Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions Enriched the World (McCloskey) and Robinson Crusoe (Defoe)
    • Fall 2016: The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality (Deaton) and Great Expectations (Dickens)
    • Spring 2016:Markets without Limits (Brennan and Jaworski) and Frankenstein (Shelley)
    • Fall 2015:The End of Abundance: Economic Solutions to Water Scarcity (Zetland) and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Hamid)
    • Spring 2015:The Logic of Liberty (Polanyi), The Study of Man (Polanyi), The Trial (Kafka), and The Complete Stories (Kafka)
    • Fall 2014:The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Smith) and The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky)
    • Spring 2014:Individualism and Economic Order (Hayek), Creative Destruction: How Globalization is Changing the World’s Culture (Cowen), and Netherlands (O’Neill)
    • Fall 2013:Personal Knowledge (Polanyi) and Gulliver’s Travels (Swift)
    • Spring 2013:The Ethics of Competition (Knight) and Faust (Goethe)
    • Fall 2012:The Constitution of Liberty (Hayek) and Germinal (Zola)
    • Spring 2012:The Constitution of Liberty (Hayek) and The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
    • Fall 2011:Bourgeois Dignity (McCloskey) and Pride and Prejudice (Austin)

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