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Ethics in Literature studies poems, short stories, drama and novels with the intention of probing both their literary merit and the ethical questions embedded within them.  Students apply literary terminology and basic principles of ethics in order to understand and appreciate these works. The course emphasizes close and perceptive reading, thoughtful discussion and reflection. This course is writing intensive.

Credits                 3
Prerequisites       ENGL 121
Instructor             Ryna May
Office                    DH 243
Phone                    (443)518-4195

Statement on General Education and Liberal Learning

A liberal education prepares students to lead ethical, productive, and creative lives and to understand how the pursuit of lifelong learning and critical thinking fosters good citizenship.  General education courses form the core of a liberal education within the higher education curriculum and provide a coherent intellectual experience for all students by introducing the fundamental concepts and methods of inquiry in the areas of mathematics, the physical and natural sciences, the social sciences, the arts and the humanities, and composition.  This course is part of the general education core experience at Howard Community College.

Course Requirements

Grading procedures will be determined by the individual faculty member but may include exams, papers and participation.  Specific writing assignments will require at least 2,500 words of formal academic writing, as well as informal in-class assignments to explore ideas and respond to class materials.

Other Course Information

This course is a Literature and Humanities core course and a Humanities, English, and Arts and Sciences elective.

Overall Course Objectives | Major Course Topics | Course Format | Orientation |  Course Requirement |Texts and Materials | Exams 

Overall Course Objectives

Upon completion of this course, the student will be able to:

1. Recognize literary terms, concepts, critical strategies and stylistic characters in the texts studied.

2. Demonstrate critical and independent thinking in the interpretation of texts.

3. Write analytically about literary works, using appropriate research and documentation.

4. Demonstrate an understanding of ways the literature studied reflects its intellectual, social, historical, and cultural contexts.

5. Evaluate the power of literature to address personal values and goals and to challenge human endeavors.

6. Discuss specific principles of ethics relevant to each author's work.

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Major Course Topics

I. Classical principles of ethics, concerning:

A. The distinct function of human beings
B. The nature of the good
C. Intellectual virtue
D. Moral virtue
E. Natural law
F. Moral reasoning
G. Conscience

II. Literary terminology

III. Literary criticism

IV. Student critical essays

V. Student reflective essays

VI. Literature selected for artistry and ethical questions:

A. Short stories
B. Poems
C. Drama
D. Novels

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Course Format

  • The syllabus lists course readings, homework assignments, projects, quizzes and exams.
  • This schedule is posted within the course and is available for students all semester.
  • Does not require on-campus meetings.
  • Does not require real-time chats.
  • The Canvas site will detail all readings, materials and links necessary for the semester
  • Communications will take place through e-mail and scheduled posted threaded discussion questions (weekly).

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This course has no required face-to-face orientation.

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Important Information

Review the “What you should know before you register” section of the eLearning home page.

  • All materials are administered online.
  • Active participation in discussions is mandatory.
  • There are weekly discussion questions and quizzes in addition to tests and formal essays in this course.
  • All work must be your own and sources must be cited ethically; your work for this course will automatically be submitted to (See Academic Honesty Policy below)

Academic Honesty

The college is an institution of higher learning that holds academic integrity as its highest principle. HCC expects that all students, faculty, and staff will share responsibility for adhering to the values of honesty and integrity. The Code of Academic Integrity advances the principle of honest representation in the work that is produced by students. The complete text of the Code of Academic Integrity is in the Student Handbook and posted on the college's website. A common violation of the academic honest policy is plagiarism: the improper use of, or failure to attribute another person's writing or ideas. Students who are caught plagiarizing will be subject to disciplinary measures according to the college policy. When you are caught, you will receive a failing grade of zero for the assignment and the incident will be reported to the Office of the President for Student Services. Subsequent incidents may result in your dismissal from the college. Here are some general guidelines as to what constitutes plagiarism:

• Copying a source word for word without using quotation marks/without identifying the source 
• Extensive borrowing of words and phrases from a source without using quotation marks and without identifying the sources 
• Too close paraphrasing 
• Using others' ideas or information (including graphics, statistics, observations, or research data and findings) without giving credit to the source in the text of your paper in a footnote or endnote 
• Submitting the work of someone else as your own

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Texts and Materials Required (all available in the HCC Bookstore):

Exploring Ethics: An Introductory Anthology (edited by S. Cahn) – 2nd edition [paperback]

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles’ Antigone – Translated by Seamus Heaney

Additional textbook information:  Please visit and follow the instructions for selecting textbooks.

Technical Requirements and Plug-Ins:

Review the Technical Requirements link above. The following software or plug-ins are required for this course:

  • Acrobat Viewer
  • Flash
  • A Current Browser (Firefox, Safari, Explorer or Chrome)
  • PowerPoint Viewer, if you don’t have the full version of Microsoft PowerPoint
  • QuickTime
  • Real Player
  • Windows Media Player
  • Word 2010 (or better)
  • A webcam with microphone

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For purposes of verification and assessing learning outcomes, this course may have online testing or proctored exams at the HCC Test Center for students in the local region or at a regional institution for remote students. The exam will have a flexible window of time during which it needs to be taken rather than a single date and time. 

If you have any questions or comments about this class, please send a message to

Ryna May,

Last updated on June 14, 2012
© Howard Community College, 2012

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