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Ethics Reading Courses

Take a deep dive into ethics, one book at a time

No matter how busy you are, you can work ethics into your schedule with a quarter-credit Prindle Ethics Reading Course. In these courses, you’ll read and discuss with your professor and classmates a single work to enhance your understanding of the field of ethics or an individual ethical issue. These quarter-credit ethics reading courses allow students to easily weave an ethics component throughout their curriculum while at DePauw. Consult the Schedule of Courses to register for one of these courses today!

Ethics Reading Courses Information

A professor and some of her students seated around a table in a heated discussion
Make ethics a part of your DePauw experience

You can find these courses listed in the Schedule of Courses just like any other class.

Classes meet for the first eight weeks of the semester.

Please note that the information below is subject to change. Consult the Schedule of Courses for the most accurate and updated information.

Spring 2021 Ethics Reading Courses

UNIV291A: Jeremy Waldron, Political Political Theory
Instructor: Tucker Sechrest

“Even if our main preoccupation remains with justice, liberty, security, and equality, we still need to compliment that work with an understanding of the mechanisms through which these ideals–these ends of life–will be pursued.” This course will focus on the democratic and legal institutions we employ in the hopes of realizing our moral values. The central question the course will explore concerns how we might balance our search for abstract ethical principles with the need for answers to the applied ethics and legal quandaries confronting us today.

  • Key moral questions: How should we strike the right balance between ideal theory and non-ideal theory? How should we balance the search for abstract principles of liberty, justice, and equality with the need for answers to applied ethics questions today?

UNIV291B: Richard Bach, Illusions and Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Instructor: Tim Good

The simplest questions are the most profound. Where were you born? Where is your home? Where are you going? What are you doing? Think about these once in a while, and watch your answers change. Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours. You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.

  • Key moral questions: What is the source of limitations? To what degree do we have any agency in freeing ourselves from limitations, or are the external circumstances of our birth and existence the real authors of our lives? Bach uses these two shorter works to encourage us to seek a freedom from limitation within our interdependence on one another. He’s also simplistic at times, and the class will get to interrogate the privilege of his position.

UNIV291C: Confucius, trans. DC Lau, The Analects
Instructor: Yu-Hsin Lin

Do you have any questions in life? Confucius might have an answer for you! Confucius is arguably the greatest Chinese educator and philosopher of all time. Although he passed away around 2,500 years ago, his thoughts still have a great impact on how people think and act today in many parts of Asia and beyond. In this course, we will learn Confucius’s views on human relationships from The Analects. We will also use The Analects as a reference to reflect on our own self-development and interpersonal relationships, and how we fulfill our roles in society today.

  • Key moral questions: The Analects have had a great impact on the way people think in China and other East Asian countries for more than 1,000 years. The book presents Confucian views on how we should live as an ethical human being. Through a close reading of The Analects, we will discuss the Confucian ideals of human relationships, including how we should fulfill our roles in society, and how we should think and act in various situations in life. Although modern society has gone through huge changes since Confucius’s era, we still encounter similar moral questions as human beings. Students in this course will be able to use The Analects as a reference to learn how and why people in Confucian societies make certain moral choices and to reflect on their own moral bearings in life.

UNIV291D: Angela Saini, Superior: The return of race-based science
Instructor: Nipun Chopra

Angela Saini’s provocative novel forces us to recognize the explicitly racist history of 19th and 20th century Biology, and recognize how it has essentially armed implicit racism today. The book begins with the then-accepted-science of phrenology and how it was used to justify racist and xenophobic practices. The book explores the dark side of one of the greatest discoveries in Biology – the gene. And how genetics – and world-famous geneticists – propagated scientifically exaggerated or inaccurate ideas to eventually validate eugenics. Finally, we will dissect the origins and future of an inherently racist question that is still being asked today – whether one race is genetically superior or inferior to another? Via this journey, we come to a larger conversation on whether or not there truly is a biological underpinning of race.

  • Key moral questions: Based on the lessons we’ve learned from Saini’s book, is it ethical to study the biological underpinnings of race? Based on the lessons we’ve learned from Saini’s book, how do we begin to undo the decades of damage caused by race-based genetics?

UNIV291E: Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk about Racism
Instructor: Christina Holmes

We will discuss the books primarily through the lens of campus climate and diversity issues and Black Lives Matter protests, but we will also historicize social movement fractures (most notably between Black abolitionists and white abolitionist/suffragettes in the US; fractures in the Civil Rights and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s; fractures of women’s and lesbian movements in the 1980s and 90s along racial lines). The debate about whether “Naked Athena” and the wall of moms in the Portland protests against anti-Black violence is distracting from the message about racial injustice is just the most recent example of how would-be allies can fail. Feminist, anti-racist praxis emphasizes the need to center Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) experiences as well as social movement strategies and theories produced by BIPOC scholars and activists. Given the centering of BIPOC folx and the necessary decentering of whiteness and white activists, our primary ethical consideration is how white-identifying people ought to support a movement for Black lives. What kind of work should racially over-privileged people engage in to challenge racist socialization? And if white identifying people don’t share experiences of racial oppression with people of color and it is unjust to expect “the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes,” what ought racially privileged people do to learn about what they don’t know (Lorde 1984)? As white identifying people, how should we use unearned privilege to “find our place on the new frontlines” of racial justice (Arnold 2020)?

  • Key moral questions: What kind of work should racially over-privileged people engage in to challenge racist socialization? And if white identifying people don’t share experiences of racial oppression with people of color and it is unjust to expect “the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes,” what ought racially privileged people do to learn about what they don’t know (Lorde 1984)? As white identifying people, how should we use unearned privilege to “find our place on the new frontlines” of racial justice (Arnold 2020)?

UNIV291F: Anthony B. Pinn, Terror and Triumph: The Nature of Black Religion
Instructor: Nathanael Homewood

Using Pinn’s groundbreaking text, Terror and Triumph, as a guide, this course will explore African American religion and its intersection(s) with contemporary activist movements, art, in human suffering, and in human flourishing.

  • Key moral questions: This course will explore a variety of ethical and moral questions around issues of race, suffering, historical trauma, and the possibilities and problems of religion in answering such questions.

UNIV291G: Luke Dittrich, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets
Instructor: Jessica Mejía

On September 1, 1953, Henry Molaison underwent an experimental procedure to attempt to abate the severe seizures that he’d been suffering for the majority of his life. The procedure, which involved removing brain tissue, succeeded in reducing the seizures but it had the side effect of Molaison losing his memory. His condition eventually made him an important subject of medical and psychological research in the 20th century and he was given the pseudonym, Patient H.M.. While the book, Patient H.M., tells Molaison’s story as well as that of several other people who either underwent neurosurgery or suffered brain injuries, the book follows the career of one of the surgeons who operated on Henry Molaison, the neurosurgeon William Beecher Scoville. Scoville was probably the most prolific lobotomy surgeon in the early to mid 20th century. Patient H.M is written by Scoville’s grandson, Luke Dittrich. The story raises a host of ethical questions regarding the treatment of patients and research subjects whose ability to give consent is questionable to highly questionable and the experimental culture of medicine and psychology in which prominent researchers participated. Additionally, Dittrich explores his family’s history raising moral questions about the public airing of private and painful family stories of psychological distress. In this course, we will consider these questions and others.

  • Key moral questions: Is it permissible to publicize private, painful family stories such as this one? Was Henry Molaison treated well? How about the other patients and research participants? Was the experimental culture good? What is the moral significance of memory?

UNIV291H: Jessica Bylander and Abraham
Verghese, eds, Narrative Matters: Writing to Change the Health Care System
Instructor: Nicole Lobdell

This Prindle reading course introduces students to the ethical questions and issues connected with the study, practice, and experience of medicine and the healthcare system. At this historic moment of COVID-19 and the global pandemic, we need stories. We need to hear the stories of patients, their families, and the medical staff and examine the ways in which patient-centered care and discriminations and disparities within the healthcare system affect everyone involved. Our main text Narrative Matters: Writing to Change the Health Care System includes short personal essays and reflections from doctors, nurses, patients, researchers, and scholars working within the healthcare system and medical research today. It includes a transgender doctor fighting for the treatment and dignity of trans patients; a Black Alzheimer patient who wants to be part of the cure; family members taking care of elderly parents and grandparents; and leading researchers in the fight against cancer. These readings will prompt us to ask important ethical questions about life and death, the limits of medical research, the discriminations and disparities in medical education, and the inequities of medical access and health care for patients today. This text and course will appeal to students interested in ethics, literature, history, global health, and medical science.

  • Key moral questions: Is health care a basic human right? If so, are there limits to health care today? What ethical responsibility does the American healthcare system have to its patients and staff? Who should control choices made within the American healthcare system? Patients? Medical staff? Policy makers? Who should control medical decisions for patients? Patients themselves? Medical Staff? Insurers? Patients’ families? In general, do we need suffering to compel change? In medicine specifically? How should we tell the stories of patients, their families, and medical staff?

UNIV291J: Cord J. Whitaker, Black Metaphors: How Modern Racism Emerged from Medieval Race-Thinking
Instructor: Tamara Stasik

In the late Middle Ages, Christian conversion could wash a black person’s skin white—or at least that is what happens when a black sultan converts to Christianity in the late medieval English romance the King of Tars. The sensational transformation, however, is not what it might at first appear to be. Following Toni Morrison’s recent study of skin color as a metaphor in her book Playing in the Dark, Cord Whitaker examines the relationship between Christian identity and the normativity of European whiteness and argues that the profound anxiety about black characters found in English literature has its roots in the Middle Ages.

Our Prindle reading course examines Whitaker’s discussion of black metaphors in medieval literature and the textual moments in which black skin paradoxically signifies sameness and otherness, spiritual purity and sinfulness, salvation and damnation. We will ask how this perception of blackness influenced moral behavior in the West– Europe and the Americas- where it comes from, why white fear of and oppression and violence toward blacks made people of color the symbol of evil, and how it can help equip us to recognize current racist rhetoric in modern popular culture, politics, religion or elsewhere.

Whether you are interested in philosophy, popular culture, journalism, religion, history, literature, activism, or community organizing, this class is for you.

  • Key moral questions: How does writing and rhetorical influence moral action? How does reading examples of black metaphors in medieval literature help us understand whites’ fear of and oppression and violence toward blacks? How can they help equip us to recognize current racist rhetoric in modern popular culture, politics, religion?

UNIV291K: Excerpts from Cultural Legacies of the Great Migration Symposium
Instructors: Tamara Stasik and Ronald Dye

This Prindle Reading Course provides space for students to come together and learn more deeply about our longstanding issues of racial and cultural conflict while exploring the legacy of the Great Migration.

We will examine how a leaderless quest for freedom and social justice left legacies on culture, influencing perceptions on race, class, and politics. We will read texts on Blues great and troubled soul Robert Johnson, on tracing the Civil Rights Trail and landmarks on the way to freedom, on the first Afircan American Woman Millionaire Madam CJ Walker, and how one young woman traces her ancestral place in the flow of six million African Americans, to provide us glimpses into the motivations and perseverance that influenced the Civil Rights Movement and current issues of conflict and im/migration.

  • Key moral questions: How do these narratives of the Great Migration reflect or explain the struggle against social oppression, discrimination and margination? What values or principles became so important that a whole swath of Americans moved, leaderless, out of the South? What deeply held and widely shared norms and rules within communities contributed or inhibited cultural growth and transformation? How can they help us understand the purpose and role of reform and revolution for African Americans, and to live with others who might not share these same values?

Fall 2020 Ethics Reading Courses

UNIV291A: Frans de Waal, Mama’s Last Hug
Instructor: Nipun Chopra

UNIV291B: Omid Safi (ed.), Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism
Instructor: Jeffrey Kenney

UNIV291C: Mathias Thaler, Naming Violence
Instructor: Caitlin Howlett

UNIV291D: Ronald Dworkin, Law’s Empire
Instructor: Tucker Sechrest

UNIV291E: Jane Bennett and Sylvia Tamale, Research on Gender and African Sexualities
Instructor: Aldrin Magaya

UNIV291F: Nannerl O. Keohane, Thinking About Leadership
Instructor: Andy Cullison

UNIV291G: John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks
Instructor: Tamara Pollack

UNIV291H: Robert Nozick, Anarchy, the State, and Utopia
Instructor: Jessica Mejía

UNIV291J: Robin diAngelo, What Does It Mean To Be White?: Developing White Racial Literacy
Instructor: Tim Good

UNIV291K: Howard Zinn, A People’s History of American Empire
Instructor: Caroline Good

Spring 2020 Ethics Reading Courses

UNIV291A: Timothy Murphy, Case Studies in Biomedical Research Ethics
Instructor: Nipun Chopra
Meets at the Prindle Institute (room 135) the first eight Thursdays of Spring 2020, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291B: Bert Ashe, Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles
Instructor: Logan Dandridge
Meets at the Prindle Institute (room 135) the first eight Wednesdays of Spring 2020, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291C: Noam Chomsky, Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth and Power
Instructor: Tim Good
Meets at the Prindle Institute (room TBD) the first eight Thursdays of Spring 2020, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291D: Richard A. Oppenlander, Comfortably Unaware: What We Choose to Eat Is Killing Us and Our Planet
Instructor: Caroline Good
Meets at the Prindle Institute (room 138) the first eight Wednesdays of Spring 2020, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291E: Darrell Huff, How to Lie with Statistics
Instructor: Tucker Sechrest
Meets at the Prindle Institute (room 135) the first eight Mondays of Spring 2020, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291F: Kirk Wallace Johnson, The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century
Instructor: Lydia Marshall
Meets in Asbury Hall 009 the first eight Tuesdays of Spring 2020, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291G: Steven Johnson, The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
Instructor: Nicole Lobdell
Meets at the Prindle Institute (room 138) the first eight Thursdays of Spring 2020, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291H: Edward O. Wilson, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life
Instructor: Jennifer Adams
Meets on campus (location TBD) the first eight Wednesdays of Spring 2020, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291J: Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers
Instructor: David Alvarez
Meets at the Prindle Institute (room TBD) the first eight Wednesdays of Spring 2020, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291K: Bernard Suits, The Grasshopper
Instructor: Jessica Mejía
Meets at Asbury Hall 220 the first eight Mondays of Spring 2020, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291M: Sanitized Religion and Morality (articles chosen by instructor)
Instructor: Ted Bitner
Meets at the Prindle Institute (room 138) the first eight Mondays of Spring 2020, 7-8:30 p.m.

Fall 2019 Ethics Reading Courses

UNIV291A: Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, The Smartest Guys in the Room: 10th Anniversary Edition: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron
Instructor: Paul McGurr (paulmcgurr@depauw.edu)
Meets on campus (location TBD) the first eight Wednesdays of Fall 2019, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291B: Wendy Wong, Van Gogh on Demand: China and the Readymade
Instructor: Craig Hadley (craighadley@depauw.edu)
Meets in Peeler 213 the first eight Wednesdays of Fall 2019, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291C: Carolyn Bronstein and Whitney Strub, Porno Chic and the Sex Wars: American Sexual Representation in the 1970s
Instructor: Sarah Rowley (sarahrowley@depauw.edu)
Meets at the Prindle Institute (room 135) the first eight Wednesdays of Fall 2019, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291D: George Eliot, Middlemarch
Instructor: Meryl Altman (maltman@depauw.edu)
Meets at the Prindle Institute (room 138) the first eight Wednesdays of Fall 2019, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291E: Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
Instructor: Marnie McInnes (mmcinnes@depauw.edu)
Meets at the Prindle Institute (room 152) the first eight Wednesdays of Fall 2019, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291F: Charles Taylor, A Secular Age
Instructor: David Alvarez (davidalvarez@depauw.edu)
Meets at the Prindle Institute (room 152) the first eight Thursdays of Fall 2019, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291G: John Taylor Gatto, Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling.
Instructor: Tim Good (tgood@depauw.edu)
Meets at the Prindle Institute (room 135) the first eight Thursdays of Fall 2019, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291H: Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey, The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and the Blockchain Are Challenging the Global Economics Order
Instructor: Ashley Puzzo (ashleypuzzo@depauw.edu)
Meets on campus (location TBD) the first eight Wednesdays of Fall 2019, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291J: Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue
Instructor: Jessica Mejia (jessicamejia@depauw.edu)
Meets on campus (location TBD) the first eight Wednesdays of Fall 2019, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291K: Gandhi, an Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth
Instructor: Tamara Pollack (tpollack@depauw.edu)
Meets at the Prindle Institute (room 138) the first eight Thursdays of Fall 2019, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291M: Jacques Ranciere, The Ignorant
Instructor: Angela Flury (aflury@depauw.edu)
Meets on campus (location TBD) the first eight Thursdays of Fall 2019, 7-8:30 p.m.

UNIV291N: Sigmund Freud, “Civilization and Its Discontents”
Instructor: Ted Bitner (tedbitner@depauw.edu)
Meets on campus (location TBD) the first eight Wednesdays of Fall 2019, 7-8:30 p.m.

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