RCSSCI 280 - Moral Choice in Context: Social-Psychological and Historical Perspectives
Section: 001
Term: WN 2008
Subject: RC Social Sciences (RCSSCI)
Department: LSA Residential College
Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
Advisory Prerequisites:
Sophomore standing.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

This course — jointly taught by a psychologist-playwright and a sociologist-political scientist — examines the contexts in which, and the processes by which profound moral choices are made. It does so through a series of case studies that include both psychological experiments — especially Milgram's famous experiments on "obedience" — and selected historical situations. Examples also come from weekly films, from literature and drama, and from the analytic and creative reflections of course participants about the contexts and consequences of their own moral choosing.

Major topics include:

  • The process of moral choice within extreme situations; in particular,the ways some people became killers and others became resisters during the Holocaust and at the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. We will look at the ways our analysis of moral choice in such extreme circumstances may both inform and distort the ways moral decisions take place in everyday life.
  • The evolution of discrete acts of moral resistance into large-scale social movements; more specifically, the process of organizing sustained commitment within the civil rights movement in Mississippi during the 1960s. Here, we consider the role that social networks, shared participation, and a shared history play in the process and impact of moral choice. More generally, we explore "activism" as a context of moral choice.
  • Finally, in the light of what has preceded, we will consider issues of moral choice in contemporary contexts — the contexts of our own lives. This will include questions about the fate of character and moral commitment in times of war and widespread fear and uncertainty, the relationship between personal moral commitments and those that are national or even international, and the complex relationships between being a moral "bystander" to ongoing events and being, in one way or another, an "activist." One focus here will be moral choice in the context of contemporary genocides — in particular, an exploration of the forces that have shaped U.S. policies toward Rwanda and Iraq over the past two decades, and citizen responses to those policies.

Primary texts include Milgram's Obedience to Authority and later commentary on Milgram's work; Browning's and Goldhagen's Studies of Holocaust Perpetrators; Bilton and Sim's Four Hours in My Lai; Payne's I've Got the Light of Freedom; McAdam's Freedom Summer and Samantha Powers' A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide.

There will be films — both features and documentaries-every Monday evening from 7-9 p.m., so no student should enroll for this course who will not be free during those hours.

RCSSCI 280 - Moral Choice in Context: Social-Psychological and Historical Perspectives
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
1RC Ugrd
TuTh 11:30AM - 1:00PM
M 7:00PM - 9:00PM
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