Book Clubs on Ethics

The Center for the Study of Ethics in Society at Western Michigan University is sponsoring reading groups during the spring 2018 semester. Join us for spirited discussions about ethics.

Ethics Between the Lines

Books are provided free of charge for the first 10 people who sign up for each group.

  • Jil Larson, associate professor of English, will be leading discussions of Lit-Up: One Reporter, Three Schools, Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives(2016) by David Denby prior to his presentation on campus on February 8. Denby’s book engages many questions related to the ethics of reading. Why is reading valuable? How do young people learn to love serious reading in our age of technology? What can we learn about education and the ethics of reading by observing today’s high school English classrooms? Denby’s book unfolds as a lively narrative of discovery and, in his words, “a small demonstration . . . of why literature should be central to the moral, spiritual, and pleasurable life of young people.” The group will meet on the following Tuesdays at 4 p.m. in 2072 Moore Hall: Jan. 16,Jan. 23 and Jan. 30.
  •  Alec Sculley, a master’s student in philosophy, will be leading discussions of Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong (2010) by Wendell Walach and Colin Allen. This book argues that robots need to be programmed with moral decision-making skills as they become more intertwined with the everyday lives of humans. Some questions that are sure to arise include: (1) Should autonomous vehicles value different lives differently? (2) If they are to value different lives differently, then how can they do so morally? More specifically, should autonomous vehicles be in the business of assigning responsibility for accident scenarios? These questions are imminently relevant. Google, and various automobile manufacturers are merely years away from having the ability to produce road ready autonomous vehicles. In September 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that lays the groundwork for future autonomous vehicle legislation. The time to address these questions is now (or maybe even years ago), and we still are not close to having answers in which both ethicists and public policy makers can have confidence. The group will meet at 5 p.m. on the following Wednesdays in 2072 Moore Hall: Jan. 31, Feb. 7 and Feb. 21.
  • Kathy Purnell, an instructor in the Department of Political Science, will be leading discussions of Education and Equalityby Danielle Allen prior to Allen’s presentation on campus on April 12.  The book is based on a series of lectures examining debates around education’s purpose as being primarily vocational or primarily humanistic. Allen argues that the way to resolve these debates is to focus on the civic role that education can play. Questions that will be explored include, What role can education play in ensuring political equality? What role can education play in fostering economic fairness? The group will meet at 6 p.m. on March 26 at the College of Health and Human Services Room 4267. Dwayne Powell, Neighborhood Business & Special Projects Coordinator, City of Kalamazoo, will help lead the discussion as a special guest.
  • William Santiago-Valles, associate professor emeritus of Africana Studies, will be leading discussions of the report The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerization?(2013) by Oxford University professors Carl B. Frey & Michael A. Osborne. The report examines the impact of robotics and information technologies on U.S labor markets (especially routine intensive occupations) and how both relate to wages and educational achievement. The sessions will cover Sections II, III, V, VI of the report.  One of the conclusions of the report is that nearly 50 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk of disappearance in the next 10-12 years. The recurring question will be, Which North American universities have research units whose work connects the causes for this development with its consequences, with who profits, and at whose expense? The point of asking this question is to end the series by asking each participant to recommend other readings with which to pursue the subject further. The group will meet at 5:30 p.m. on the following Fridays at Water Street Coffee Joint, 315 East Water Street: April 6, April 13, April 20 and April 27. Note: The report can be read online; hard copies of the report will be provided upon request. THIS BOOK CLUB HAS BEEN CANCELLED.


All groups are open to everyone. To sign up, send an e-mail to no later than one week before the first group meeting.


Schedule and updates