Illustrations of Character: Faith, Reason, and Ethics

Fall 2019
Winter 2020
Freshman - Senior
Class Size: 46
16 Credits per quarter
Log in to add this offering to your saved list.
Taught by

What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?   - Henry James

How do we decide what to do when faced with hard choices? Is happiness uppermost in our minds, or something else – loyalty to a friend, say, or religious commitments?  How can we live with integrity in the face of temptation or tragedy?  These are ethical questions. They demand that we think about values, duties, and principles.  They demand that we call upon our character.  Character comprises not only our distinctive qualities but also our disposition to act in certain ways.  Indeed, our word “ethical” derives from the Greek,  ethos , which, like our word, can refer to a literary figure or to a combination of individual qualities.  Character, in turn, is formed by what we think, believe, decide, and do. 

In this program, we investigate character through ethical philosophy, religion, history, and literature.  We explore the ways in which character affects, and is affected by, desire, deliberation, faith, action, and suffering.  Borrowing from Henry James above, we are especially interested in literary and historical accounts of incidents in which characters are put to the test.  Texts in philosophy and religion challenge and broaden notions of how values and commitments are formed and sustained.  They provide powerful interpretive tools and a refined vocabulary for grappling with the questions posed by our other readings.

In the fall, we begin with ancient works: Aristotle’s ethical theory and the Hebrew Bible. These texts illustrate  an early contrast between a practical philosophy positing individual flourishing and virtue as the highest good, and a faith based on a covenant with God realized by means of laws and practices. In the winter, we explore the Christian espousal of a “new covenant” by which the faithful are promised individual salvation and bound to a moral obligation to others.  We also study Jewish, Christian, and Enlightenment philosophers who develop the notion of moral law from both rationalist and faith-based points of view.  In both quarters, we read ancient and modern dramas, novels, and histories, and write essays that allow our texts to illuminate each other.  Finally, we will visit contemporary religious and secular institutions that promote the good in their communities.

Students should be highly motivated and intellectually ambitious, and be prepared not only to think critically about what we read and see, but also to investigate their own beliefs and submit them to rigorous analytical scrutiny, that is, to practice ethical thinking as well as understand it.

Greener Foundations:  This program will incorporate Greener Foundations, a holistic course designed for first-time, first-year students. Faculty and staff collaborate to bring study skills, academic planning, health and wellness education, advising, and more into the classroom. More information at Greener Foundations


Fall 2019 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16): 10189
So (16): 10282
Winter 2020 Registration

Students will need to do key readings from Fall quarter, including selections from Aristotle's Ethics and the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in order to be prepared. Contact faculty for specifics. 

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16): 20065
So - Sr (16): 20146

Academic details

Preparatory for studies and careers in

humanities, education, human services, and the arts.

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing

$100 in fall for theater tickets and an overnight field trip; $150 in winter for transportation, lodging, and fees for a two day field trip.


In Person or Remote
In Person (F)
In Person (W)
Time Offered
Advertised Schedule

First winter class meeting: Monday, January 9th at 9:30am (Sem II E1105)

Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

SEM 2 A1105 - Lecture


Date Revision
2019-12-09 Program now open to Juniors and Seniors who meet conditional requirements
2019-11-07 Program now accepting new students in Winter quarter
2019-03-13 Changed to FY program