Book Clubs on Ethics

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

Ethics Between the Lines

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

John Minser, instructor in the WMU Stryker School of Medicine’s Program in Medical Ethics, Humanities, and Law, will lead discussions of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic (2015) by Sam Quinones. This non-fiction book examines the parallel rise of opioid prescriptions alongside a change in heroin distribution. Among the ethics questions it explores: the over-prescribing of opioids and the unintended consequences of this crisis, systems and their effect on the people living within them – especially perverse incentives and behavioral reinforcement models ─ and an exploration of the biopsychosocial model of addiction vs. the layperson's “moral responsibility” narrative of addict behavior. Meetings will be at 5 p.m. on the following Wednesdays: Sept. 12, Sept. 19 and Sept. 26 at Walnut and Park café, 322 W. Walnut St. in Kalamazoo.

Jil Larson, associate professor of English, will be leading discussions of Allegra Goodman's novel Intuition. Cliff, a postdoc in the Philpott lab run by Marion Mendelssohn and Sandy Glass, has been working unsuccessfully for 2 ½ years on a variant of a respiratory virus that may transform cancer cells into normal ones. He has disobeyed orders to discontinue his experiments, but feels vindicated when his rogue experiments show spectacular results and his prospects as a scientist take off. Are the results too good to be true? This fictional narrative has many research ethics implications, ranging from what constitutes research misconduct and what are the responsibilities of mentors, to the role played by gender inequities and conflicts of interest in the corruption of the scientific enterprise. Meetings will be at 4 p.m. on the following Tuesdays: Sept. 25, Oct. 2 and Oct. 9 in 2072 Moore Hall.

T.J. Broy, M.A. Philosophy student, will be leading discussions of Shannon Vallor’s book Technology and the Virtues: A Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Having prior to her presentation on campus on Nov. 9. Vallor argues that emerging technologies are reshaping our institutions and habits in ways that are hard to understand and to predict. What are the implications for human flourishing? Drawing from the philosophical tradition of virtue ethics dating back to Confucius and Aristotle, Vallor examines questions raised by our 21st century technologies, including the role of social media in shaping civic participation and the impact of AI on employment and the nature of work. To flourish going forward, Vallor argues that we need to develop “technomoral virtues” to live well with technology. Meetings will be at 5 p.m. Monday, October 15, 22, and 29 in 2072 Moore Hall.

William Santiago-Valles, associate professor emeritus of Africana Studies, will be leading discussions of Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power. The author, endowed chair in the History Department at University of Wisconsin-Madison, sets out the ethics agenda early in the book: "What is the character of this American empire?" Initially this text explores the rise of the U.S. as a world power from the time of its war against Spain and Cuba (1898) to the invasion of Panama (1989). The second part goes into the means used to extend that power. The third part then analyzes the economic and military instruments used to maintain global domination, the possible scenarios for the (economic, military and climate) decline and end of the American Century, and what can be done now. Can the decline of U.S. power open up the possibility of a more ethical stance toward the rest of the world? Meetings will be at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30; and Wednesdays, Nov. 7 and Nov. 14, at Water Street Coffee Joint, 3037 Oakland Drive in Kalamazoo.


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