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Penn State Reads Seminars

In Chapter 1 of Beautiful Souls (“Disobeying the Law”) we are faced with a key distinction between morality and legality. Paul Gruninger makes a decision to dismiss his obligation to the law and instead uphold or affirm his moral obligation to persons in crisis (drawing on empathy and compassion and a sense of justice, perhaps). In Chapter 3 we see Avner Wishnitzer make a similar decision, choosing to reject “unjust” legal and institutional norms governing the treatment of Palestinians, and affirming principles of peace and equality. What, then, is the relationship between our moral and legal principles and obligations in a society, and how do these principles and obligations differ? How do we determine whether a law is just or unjust (and, in turn, determine our obligation to uphold or reject the law)? In this seminar we will discuss these questions and others, including broader discussions of the development of moral literacy and adjudicating between legal and moral obligations.

In Chapter 1 of Beautiful Souls (“Disobeying the Law”) we are faced with a key distinction between morality and legality. Paul Gruninger makes a decision to dismiss his obligation to the law and instead uphold or affirm his moral obligation to persons in crisis (drawing on empathy and compassion and a sense of justice, perhaps). In Chapter 3 we see Avner Wishnitzer make a similar decision, choosing to reject “unjust” legal and institutional norms governing the treatment of Palestinians, and affirming principles of peace and equality. What, then, is the relationship between our moral and legal principles and obligations in a society, and how do these principles and obligations differ? How do we determine whether a law is just or unjust (and, in turn, determine our obligation to uphold or reject the law)? In this seminar we will discuss these questions and others, including broader discussions of the development of moral literacy and adjudicating between legal and moral obligations.

Beautiful Souls Seminar Abstracts 

Penn State Reads: Beautiful Souls Book Discussion

Presented by:  Michael Burroughs, Assistant Director, Rock Ethics Institute
HUB-Robeson Center, Hetzel Lounge
Friday, October 4, 5:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Penn State Reads is a common reading initiative designed to provide a shared experience among new students, encourage intellectual engagement within and beyond the classroom, stimulate critical thinking, and foster a deeper connection to Penn State’s mission and core values. This summer, at New Student Orientation, your student received a copy of Beautiful Souls, by Eyal Press -- the 2013 Penn State Reads selection. Join other parents and family members for a discussion centered on the ethical themes presented throughout the book, including ethical leadership, the cultivation of moral literacy, and the ethical experiences and challenges facing college students today.

Michael D. Burroughs

In Chapter 1 of Beautiful Souls (“Disobeying the Law”) we are faced with a key distinction between morality and legality. Paul Gruninger makes a decision to dismiss his obligation to the law and instead uphold or affirm his moral obligation to persons in crisis (drawing on empathy and compassion and a sense of justice, perhaps). In Chapter 3 we see Avner Wishnitzer make a similar decision, choosing to reject “unjust” legal and institutional norms governing the treatment of Palestinians, and affirming principles of peace and equality. What, then, is the relationship between our moral and legal principles and obligations in a society, and how do these principles and obligations differ? How do we determine whether a law is just or unjust (and, in turn, determine our obligation to uphold or reject the law)? In this seminar we will discuss these questions and others, including broader discussions of the development of moral literacy and adjudicating between legal and moral obligations. 

Jonathan Beever

Eyal Press’ Beautiful Souls gives us access to a wide range of complicated ethical issues.  Key among them is the divergence of our moral obligations.  What are we to do, for instance, when what personally believe conflicts with the rules we are supposed to follow as good citizens, or good professionals? Is there sufficient difference to be made between WWII war criminal invoking the Superior Orders defense (99) and the Israeli or Palestinian soldier refusing orders for religious reasons? In this discussion, we will take a closer look at these issues as they relate to religious sentiment, moral pluralism, and the justifications of “refuseniks.”  Discussion will focus specifically on Press’ Chapter 3, “The Rules of Conscience.” I will provide a handout with some notes and brief readings as impetus to an open discussion.

Nicolae Morar

In the first chapter, one of the central questions the author raises is: how can we explain Paul Grüninger's heroic behavior? The most intuitive response would picture him as an exceptional human being, particularly virtuous and having a great character that makes him so sensitive to the suffering of other fellow human beings. However, the author does not favor this hypothesis since he constantly reminds us how normal and unexceptional this Swiss police commander was. So, why did Paul Gruninger behave the way he did? Out of character or simply based on the circumstances he found himself exposed to? In a dialogue with the students, I will explore the recent findings in social psychology that could help us understand the way humans behave, and the core difference about how they ought to behave.

Bryan Cwik

One of the most interesting stories in Beautiful Souls is the story of Leyla Widler. Unlike the other stories in the book, Leyla's acts of moral conviction did not take place in an extreme situation, but rather involved confronting something fishy in her day-to-day life. To Leyla, it was not immediately clear that she was in the kind of circumstances that called for moral leadership, and the author himself notes that Leyla often wondered if she was imagining trouble where there was none. We will use Leyla's story to explore everyday moral leadership; the practice of good ethical decision-making in our day-to-day lives that, as in Leyla's case, is very often essential to making our everyday worlds the kind of places that we want to live in. We will talk about the kinds of ethical decision-making skills that Leyla possessed and exercised, which enabled her to stand up to what she perceived as corruption and wrongdoing in her workplace. We will also discuss the important issue of institutional integrity: that is, the responsibilities of institutions (such as financial services firms) towards their customers, employees, and communities, which the Stanford Group vividly failed to live up to in Leyla's story.