Further information on Fall 2020 courses


Ed Langerak: The Moral Life – Ethics and Literature


Expanded description

Our text is a widely used anthology edited by Louis Pojman and Lewis Vaughn, The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature (Oxford University Press). This text is now in its 6th and expensive edition. But we will use the 5th edition (2014, ISBN 978-0-19-995086-0), good used copies of which are available. Information about obtaining one (likely using Content book store) at reasonable cost will be provided to those who have been informed that they are enrolled; this information will come in plenty of time to obtain it before the first class. The text includes sections on specific moral issues (applied ethics) as well as on the basic and wider issues listed in the course description. A later Elder Collegium course may attend more to applied ethics, but this one will focus on the chapters listed in the agenda below. Participants will receive weekly emails about the upcoming class. Making a good faith effort to read the assigned selections will greatly enhance the value of class discussions.


Sept. 16: Can maximizing the common good be the sole basic moral principle? Selections from Chapter 4, including Bentham, Mill, and Le Guin.

Sept. 23: Can commitment to one’s duty be the sole principle? Do we need several basic principles? Selections from Chapter 5, including Kant, Ross, MacIver, and Bierce.

Sept. 30: Should we focus on what what we should be (our virtues) rather than on what we should do (principles)? Selections from Chapter 6, including MacIntyre, Frankena, Mayo, and Epictetus.

Oct. 7:      Feminist critiques of traditional western ethics. Selections from Chapter 7, including Jagger, Baier, and Held.

Oct. 14:    Why not just look out for oneself (and be smart about it)? Sections from Chapters 1 and 8, including Golding, Pojman, Plato, and Rand.

Oct. 21:    Whence and why evil? Selections from Chapter 2, including Melville, Dostoevsky, Styron, Benn, and Nietzsche.

Oct. 28:   Is everything relative? Selections from Chapter 3, including Herodotus, Benedict, Rachels, and Midgley.

Nov. 4:    Global inequities and lifeboat ethics. Selections from Chapter 16, including Hardin, Murdoch and Oaten, and Singer.