In order to make sure students are keeping up with the reading, I will give 5-8 “book” quizzes.  You can earn up to five points for each quiz.  Some quizzes will be done in class.  Others will be take-homes.  I also on occasion give surprise quizzes.  Be prepared!  If you are able to answer the questions below, you should do fine on these quizzes.


If you are planning to use the "online" editions of these works, be sure to see the links and additional instructions on my Web site. (


If you struggle with the reading assignments, you might find it useful to read through the advice in Chapter V of  my "college success" textbook (Dragons, History Professors, and Other Hazards of College Life).


 I would like you to read all of Descartes' Discourse on Method.  However, for the quiz (and to understand what goes on in lecture), you need only to have read Parts I, II, III and IV (pp. 2-21).  Use the following questions as a guide for your reading.

1.  Why does Descartes begin the essay the way he does?  Is he serious when he says that good sense is the most evenly distributed quality in the world?

2.  What subjects did Descartes study in school?  What pleased him about each of these fields of study?  Why was he dissatisfied with what he had learned in school?

3.  What did Descartes hope to gain through traveling in various places around Europe?  Why was he disappointed by his travel experiences?

4.  What are the four basic steps of Descartes' Method?

5.  In addition to the basic steps of the "method," what other practical advice to Descartes give those who seek the truth?

6.  How does Descartes attempt to prove the existence of God and of the human soul?  How convincing to you find his proof?


 Pascal died at the age of 39, before he could put together his "pensees" (thoughts) for publication.  What we have is only his partly organized notes.  Some of his remarks are cryptic, e.g. "Cleopatra's nose."  Don't spend a lot of time trying to figure these out.  Concentrate on what you can understand.  Please read as much as you can of Pensees.  Pay special attention to the material on pp. 33-55, 60-87, and 143-181.  Use the following questions as a guide to your reading.

1.  What evidence does Pascal give to make people wish Christianity were true?  What evidence does he give to show that it is true?

2.  What evidence does he give to show that people without God are unhappy?  How convincing is this evidence?

3.  What is there about the Scriptures that particularly impresses Pascal?  What is there about Jesus that impresses him?

4.  What is Pascal's attitude to religions and philosophies other than Christianity?  What does he find to praise?  Where does he think these religions and philosophies fall short?

5.  Pascal is one of the most quoted men in all history.  Why do you think that is so?

6.  What particularly good insights does Pascal have into the ways people really think and behave?  Are there any comments you disagree with?


 Please read all of Candide.  Almost all students find this easy reading and most like the story.  Some students may dislike the violence.  If you find the story distasteful, you may read instead Condorcet's Progress of the Human Mind.  See me for a copy. Use the following questions as a guide for your reading.

1.  Why does Voltaire subtitle the book "Optimism"?  What does he think of the Optimist idea that this is the best of all possible worlds?

2.  What type of humor does Voltaire use in Candide?  Are there any lines/episodes that make you laugh?  Why, or why not?

3.  Why would some students find Candide distasteful?

4.  Candide seems to be happiest in the land of El Dorado.  What makes El Dorado so wonderful?

5.  What is Voltaire's attitude toward nobles and clergymen?  What does he particularly dislike about these groups?

6.  Which of the characters in Candide does Voltaire view positively?  What qualities does Voltaire seem to value most in people?


 Please read The Communist Manifesto.  Use the following questions as a guide for your reading.

1.  According to Marx and Engels, how has the bourgeoisie changed the social, economic, and political structure of Europe and the world?  What positive changes has the bourgeoisie brought about? What harm has the bourgeoisie done to human society?

2.  What has happened to the proletariat as a result of the changes brought about through capitalism?

3.  The communists were accused of advocating the abolition of private property.  How do Marx and Engels respond to this charge?

4.  The communists were accused of advocating the abolition of marriage and the family.  How do Marx and Engels respond to this charge?

5.  What specific steps to Marx and Engels advocate in the move toward communism?

6.  How do Marx and Engels criticize non-communist forms of socialism?  What does communism offer that other forms of socialism do not?


 Please read "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" (pp. 204-226 of the Signet Notes from Underground and Other Stories and Notes from Underground (pp. 90-203 of the Signet Notes from Underground, and Other Stories).

 Many consider Dostoyevsky the greatest novelist of all time.  He is certainly one of the greatest.  Unfortunately, he is not always easy to understand, and you will probably have some difficulty here.

 Please note: both of these stories are written in the "first person," i.e., from the point of view of the main character.  But Dostoyevsky is not describing his own life in either of these stories.  He is simply inventing characters and allowing his characters to speak for themselves.

 You may find Notes from Underground particularly difficult.  The first half of the book particularly will seem strange to you--there's no action whatsoever!  The second half of the book is more straightforward, but still not easy reading.  Persevere! It's worth it!

 Please use the following questions as a guide for your reading.

1.  Why does Dostoyevsky use "first person" narration in these stories?  Why does neither character have a name?

2.  In what ways are the narrators of the two stories alike?  In what ways are they different?

3.  Discuss the "dream" itself.  How does Dostoyevsky describe the origin and progress of evil in the dream world?  Why is it that this once-happy society has so much trouble going back to their earlier, happier ways?

4.  What makes the "underground man" such an unattractive figure? Why does he behave as he does?  Does he have any admirable characteristics?

5.  What evidence does the underground man give to show that modern "believers in progress" (especially the realists) are misguided?

6.  Why do you think Dostoyevsky is considered one of the greatest of all novelists?  What do you think scholars find so impressive in his writing?


 Please read all of Eli Wiesel's Night.  You should find this easy and, in a way, enjoyable reading.  Use the following questions as a guide for your reading.

1.  Why does Wiesel call his book Night?  In what ways is this an appropriate title for the book?

2.  How do the Jews react to the approaching Holocaust?  Why are they so slow in reacting?

3.  How do Wiesel's religious views change as a result of what happens to him?

4.  What is Wiesel's relationship to his father like at the beginning of the book?  How does it change as a result of the things they experience?

5.  What seems to motivate those who run the concentration camps and those who collaborate with them?  What makes these people different from other human beings?