Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

The Ethical Gangster: How to be Moral, How to be Good—Mafia Style

ENGLISH 67N

Is there a difference between being moral and being good? Does it matter? Does knowing the difference matter at all to how a person should conduct him or herself in close relationships, in social groups, in professional life, in politics? The answer to all these questions is a resounding yes. This class will explore human moral psychology:  the intuitions we have about right and wrong, fair and unfair, harm, justice, loyalty, authority, sanctity, freedom and oppression. We will then relate these intuitions to systematic ethical theories of right and wrong.  We will do so by immersing ourselves in a somewhat surprising source—the greatest hits of Mafia movies from Little Caesar to The Sopranos. We will also consider recent findings in experimental moral psychology.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Blakey Vermeule

Blakey Vermeule is a professor of English and earned her B.A. from Yale and Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. Her research interests include cognitive and evolutionary approaches to art, philosophy, and literature; British literature from 1660-1820; post-Colonial fiction, satire, and the history of the novel. She is the author of The Party of Humanity: Writing Moral Psychology in Eighteenth-Century Britain (2000) and Why Do We Care About Literary Characters? (2009). She is currently working on a book about what mind science has discovered about the unconscious.