What do we want to know this year?

Fundamentals students ask fundamental questions.

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Socrates had questions: What is virtue? What is the good? What is justice?

Freud had questions: What is happiness? Can humans be happy?

And so do the undergraduates majoring in fundamentals: issues and texts. As the program’s website states, “Genuine questions cannot be assigned to a student; they must arise from within.” Each fundamentals student chooses a question, then designs a reading list to try to answer it over the next three years.

Here’s a sampling of what current fundamentals students are trying to figure out.

Why do bad things happen to good people?


(Source illustration by Burger, published by De Ruyter & Meijer in 1881, public domain)

Why do we read tragedy?


(Source painting by Cornelis Kruseman, public domain)

What does it mean to be normal?


(Source illustration courtesy the New York Public Library Digital Collections, public domain)

How do we define success?


(Source sculpture courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cesnola Collection, public domain)

What is beauty?


(Source illustration by Félix Bracquemond, published by Auguste Delâtre in 1865, public domain)

What follows postmodernity?


(Source etching courtesy the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Austrian National Library, public domain)

What’s surprising?


(Source sculpture courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Lesley and Emma Sheafer Collection, public domain)

Why do some people “give up” and others “keep going”?


(Source artwork by John Gould, courtesy the New York Public Library, Rare Book Division, public domain)

Why do we laugh?


(Source sculpture courtesy the Rijksmuseum, public domain)

What is power?


(Source painting by Benjamin West, courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Maria DeWitt Jesup Fund, public domain)

Should I be selfish?


(Source engraving by Jacob Matham Avarice, courtesy the Rijksmuseum, public domain)

What is opinion?


(Source print by Louis Marin Bonnet, published by François Vivares, courtesy the Rijksmuseum, public domain)

What is great learning?


(Source illustration by Robert Fludd, 1617, public domain)

What is the relationship between guilt and pleasure?


(Source illustration from l'illustration Européenne, 1871, public domain)

Why are we afraid of aliens?


(Source etching by Jan Luyken, public domain)

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