Postcards to the Core: From Israel, August 2015


Our latest postcard comes from Core alumna Jenn Kalik (nee Greene),who graduated with her degree in archaeology, and a minor in Judaic Studies, in 2012. She writes:

“… medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love — these are what we stay alive for.”
– Dead Poets’ Society

To the Core Staff:

Thinking of EWE from Israel! [This pun is a reference to the sheep on the front of this holographic postcard. -Eds.]

As I do my research for my master’s dissertation, I realize how many life skills, reasoning skills, (and the ability to understand the big picture with compassion) I gained from my years with Core. Thank you — and I hope your next crop of Core students continue to learn not just what life is, but what makes it worth living.

I am now a permanent resident of Jerusalem! Keep in touch and send students (and staff) my way!

Much love and gratitude,

Jenn Greene

Congratulations on the master’s program, Jenn! And thanks so much for saying hello.



Core loves postcards; we like to think of them as very brief books, and you know we lovebooks. Whether you’re at home or abroad now, we’d love to hear from you. Send your postcards and correspondence to Core Curriculum, Boston University, Boston MA 02215.

Why Criminal Justice Isn’t Just

“Justice” is something of a buzz word in the Core: what it means, how it should be administered, and what constitutes a crime are just a few of the topics that are addressed by writers like Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, and Dante. For the most part, these great thinkers propose systems wherein criminals are punished retroactively for their wrongdoings. This model works under the assumption that criminals operate under free will and are not affected by factors like poverty and mental illness.

Adam Benforado proposes in the August 7th edition ofThe Chronicle Reviewthat the reality is not so straightforward. Many criminals are actually suffering under various circumstances that are aggravated by their being taken to jail. What we should do instead, he suggests, is take a public-health approach to criminal justice that helps prisoners to recover and assimilate back into society rather than take revenge upon them. Benforado writes:

… [A] public health model of crime allows us to shift resources from punishment to prevention. A reactive criminal-justice system, like the one we have now, is doomed to always come up short. There is no execution that can compensate for a victim’s murder. There is no appeal process that can restore the lost years of a wrongful conviction. In the future, our major tools for fighting crime will not be police officers, trials, and incarceration, but better prenatal intervention, improved schools, and widely available mental health care.

This article provides some interesting food for thought for summer readers who can’t get Core ideas out of their head; in fact, this entire issue of The Chronicle Review will challenge your conceptions of justice both in theory and in practice. Be sure to stop by the Core office and give it a read!

100+ more free books!

Book art by Brian DettmerWhen we posted a list of give-away books last week, you guys claimed more than 100 of them. Time for a new batch!

We invite you — student, alumni, and friends of the Core — to peruse the list of books below. If you would like any of them, they are yours for the asking!

All you have to do is email the Core office, letting us know what book you want, and to what mailing address we should send it. (Or if you’re in the Boston area or plan to be soon, you can let us know that, and we’ll set the book aside for you to pick up in person.

Read More »

100+ books, free to those that want ‘em!

6a01543325a25d970c01b7c785f602970bCore people read books, contend with books, collect books, re-read books, and are basically book people.

If you’re reading this — as a student, alumnus, staff member, or friend of the Core — youvery likely are a book person, too. To that end, we invite you to peruse the list of books below. If you would like any of these, they are yours for the asking!All you have to do is email the Core office, letting us know what book you want, and to what mailing address we should send it. (Or if you’re in the Boston area or plan to be soon, you can let us know that, and we’ll set the book aside for you to pick up in person.

Read More »

Have It Your Way: Cheeseburgers and Moral Responsility


Here at the Core, we spend a great deal of time examining a wide range of perspectives on morality, returning semester after semester to examine questions such as “how do we define right and wrong?” and even “do right and wrong really exist?”

As we explore these ethical questions through the lenses of science, literature, and philosophy, it can be helpful to reference professional ethicists to shed light on our discussion.

Eric Schwitzgebel, philosophy professor at UC Riverside, takes a ‘meta’ approach to these conversations in a recent piece for aeon magazine, titled “Cheeseburger ethics”. In the piece, he raises intriguing questions, such as: “Are ethics professionals good people, and if not, what is the point in learning ethics?” And further, he wonders about the ethics of professional ethicists:

When I meet an ethicist for the first time by ethicist, I mean a professor of philosophy who specialises in teaching and researching ethics its my habit to ask whether ethicists behave any differently to other types of professor. Most say no.

Ill probe further: why not? Shouldn’t regularly thinking about ethics have some sort of influence on ones own behaviour? Doesn’t it seem that it would?

We recommend this piece as being 1) entertaining, 2) provocative, and 3) not visibly unethical. If you’re hungry for some stimulating summer reading, check it out ataeon.

This post contributed by Core summer staffer Michael Enwright.

Postcards to the Core: From Utah, July 2015


Our latest postcard comes from former Core office staffer, and Core alumna, Suzyn-Elayne Soler, now a member of the Admissions team for the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College at Florida Atlantic University. She was in in Salt Lake City, Utah, last week, traveling and meeting prospective students. Her report:

Greetings from Salt Lake! Visited the Mormon Temple and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, which is much smaller than the Boston MFA. Off to the mountains now, then Wyoming this weekend.With love, SUZYN.




Look: Core loves postcards. Whether you’re at home or abroad now, we’d love to get one from you. Our address is easy: Core Curriculum, Boston University, Boston MA 02215.

New Languages@BU site

Here’s a helpful development: a new one-stop webpage providing information about language study here at BU. Find all the majors and minors that require language study, as well as a list of all 28 languages taught at BU:

Recommended reading: “How to Build a Universe”

If you’ve been driving yourself batty, scouring Amazon and the shelves of your local bookstores in search of a copy of Building Universes…for Dummies, we know why you’ve been unsuccessful: that particular book does not exist. However, if you’re dead-set on building your own universe, look no further than Daniel Hudon’s “How to Build a Universe.” This short work of imaginative, cosmological DIY was re-published in this year’s Core Journal, Volume XXIV. From the piece:

Consider first the type of universe you’d like to build…your main choices are finite and infinite….factor some advertising into your budget so that people can actually see the wonders of your universe. If you just broadcast the existence of your newly created universe to all and sundry, people will likely see you as a crackpot, so we don’t recommend that.

Hudon’s easy-to-follow, conversational tone provides a solid 101-foundation for those of us who really just want to make our own universes.Let us know if you have any luck in your own world-building experiments.

The Quest for Wu-Wei

As the core office is situated on a college campus, we have, ever so often, heard variations of this unfortunate conversation:

Timmy: “How’d you do on the paper, Josh?”

Josh: “I did alright. You?”

Timmy: “Oh you know, just a 98. I’m surprised though. I started the book yesterday, watched TV until 1am. Wrote it mostly this morning, and turned it in right at 12pm when it was due.”

Josh: [Deflates and looks with chagrin at his perfectly decent, stressed- over- for-a-week-paper, which received an 83%] “Oh. Cool. I like, I … hey is that a man walking a miniature pig down Comm Ave? Let’s say hello!”

Timmy, who put in no apparent effort towards his schoolwork, obtained stellar results. Josh, who tried hard, did only so-so. How annoying.

In a piece in the New York Times, author John Tierney defines the Chinese terminology for this paradox–“wu wei,” or “effortless action:”

“Pronounced ‘ooo-way,’ it has similarities to the concept of flow, that state of effortless performance sought by athletes, but it applies to a lot more than sports. Wu wei is integral to romance, religion, politics, and commerce. It’s why some leaders have charisma and why business executives insist on a drunken dinner before sealing a deal.”

The real question is how does one achieve this sense of “wu-wei?” Is it, as Confucius suggested, through the disciplined practice of virtue? Or is it, as the Tao suggests, through accepting the world as it is, and going with the flow?

Perhaps the answer lies in the words of a wise, somewhat green Jedi, who said: “Do or do not do. There is no try.”


What We Lose if We Lose the Canon

As the Internet becomes a larger and larger part of our everyday lives, many aspiring creators use the platform to launch their artistic careers. For better or for worse, anyone with an Internet connection can post their illustrations, novels, music, or films for others to see. (Here at the Core blog, we always strive to land in that “for better” category.)

Importantly though, this, in conjunction with the pleasure reading of popular fiction, may have changed our perception of the literary canon, says Arthur Krystal of The Chronicle Review in a recent article. He fears a loss of appreciation for its greatness as new artists turn out works that will never have the same resonance as, say, a Shakespearean sonnet or a Homerian epic.

Literature has always been a conversation among writers who borrow, build upon, and deviate from each other’s words. Forgetting this, we forget that aesthetics is not a social invention, that democracy is not an aesthetic category; and that the dismantling of hierarchies is tantamount to an erasure of history.

What do you think about the role of the literary canon in our studies and in our everyday lives? What place do popular fiction authors and independent writers have in our perception of what is “great”?