Appearance and Reality

The attempt to frame a distinction between appearance and reality has always been a major preoccupation in social, political, philosophical, and literary works, leaving some to question whether ultimate reality is fated to lie beyond our grasp, others to wonder whether there is some way to access reality through appearance, and others to question or reject the distinction entirely. This course explores the nature and challenges of the appearance—reality distinction via a diverse literature of ancient, modern, and postmodern works. While the idea that “things are not always as they seem” is a very old notion, it has never been more timely, as social media has greatly amplified the power to disseminate views tainted by personal values, and opinions packaged as irrefutable fact. In a world permeated by allegations of “fake news,” allusions to “virtual reality,” and where once venerable grand theories can look like little more than competing and self-serving stories, sustained reflection on the validity, salience, and evolving forms of the appearance—reality distinction beckons.