This is an archived course. A more recent version may be available at

Archived Versions

Literature, Ethics and Authority

As taught in: Fall 2005

A painting entitled Authority Consults the Written Law, by Constantino Brumidi.

Authority Consults the Written Law, painted lunette by Constantino Brumidi, 1875. (Image courtesy of Architect of the Capital.)


Prof. Leigh Hafrey

MIT Course Number:




Course Description

This course explores how we use story to articulate ethical norms. The syllabus consists of short fiction, novels, plays, feature films and some non-fiction. Major topics include leadership and authority, professionalism, the universality of ethical standards, and social enterprise, as well as questions of gender, cultural identity, the balance of family and work life, and the relation of science to ethics. Readings include work by Robert Bolt, Jane Smiley, Virginia Woolf, Ursula LeGuin, Wole Soyinka, and others; films include "Three Kings," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Hotel Rwanda," and others. The course draws on various professions and national cultures, and is run as a series of moderated discussions, with students centrally engaged in the teaching process.