15.269B Literature, Ethics and Authority

Fall 2002

Image of an open book.
Image of an open book. (Courtesy of EDSITEment Web site: http://edsitement.neh.gov/contact_us.asp.)

Course Highlights

The course features an extensive set of questions and issues to guide students through the reading materials. A number of the readings are available for download from the Project Gutenberg site - see the readings section for more information.

Course Description

Our subject is the ethics of leadership, an examination of the principles appealed to by executive authority when questions arise about its sources and its legitimacy. Most treatments of this subject resort to case-studies in order to illustrate the application of ethical principles to business situations, but our primary emphasis will be upon classic works of imaginative literature, which convey more directly than case-studies the ethical pressures of decision-making. Readings will include works by Shakespeare, Sophocles, Shaw, E.M. Forster, Joseph Conrad, George Orwell, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Henrik Ibsen, among others. Topics to be discussed include the sources of authority, the management of consensus, the ideal of vocation, the ethics of deception, the morality of expediency, the requirements of hierarchy, the virtues and vices of loyalty, the relevance of ethical principles in extreme situations.

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Prof. Alvin Kibel

Course Meeting Times

One session / week
2 hours / session