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PWR 1SPA: Character, Consequence, Conversation: Writing and Ethics

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Catalog Number: PWR 1SPA

Instructor: Sarah Pittock

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


Today the media and politicians regularly question United States Supreme Court justices about potential ethics violations. A long-running TV comedy, The Good Place, dedicates itself to an exploration of moral philosophy. And we often frame humanity’s existential threats, climate change and artificial intelligence, as ethical problems. It seems now more than ever we must confront difficult ethical choices and seek out workable ethical frameworks. At its root, ethics is about taking care – of each other, our selves, and our language.

In this course, we will write about ethics and we will conceive writing as ethics. While ethical dilemmas often play out on the most public of stages, we also encounter them regularly when making private decisions. These choices reflect our character and our assessment of consequences that we must articulate to ourselves and others. In our assigned reading and in class activities, we will explore the decisions we make as communicators as a set of ethical choices. Consider, for example, how you debate internally whether to confront a micro-aggression or to let it slide; the ways you may code switch to fit in with a particular discourse community; or the agony of word choice when discussing sensitive issues such as abortion or prostitution. We will explore rhetorical choices and ethical choices as intertwined.

We will begin the quarter by rhetorically analyzing arguments that explore the ethics of a particular language or communication situation. For example, Eduardo Galeano’s “In Defense of the Word” advocates for literary language in the face of dire poverty while Gloria Anzaldua’s “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” explores the close ties between her identity and language choices.

Then you will be able to pursue your own research question, whether by continuing to explore an issue of language or a dilemma in another domain such as public health, international relations, or technology. For instance, you may be interested in debating the ethics of zoos or physician-assisted suicide or driverless cars. You might also choose to do so from the perspective of a particular cultural tradition, by using, say, The Great Law of the Iroquois, which argues for seven generation sustainability, or the principle of tikkun olam, Hebrew for “repairing the world.” No matter what research-based argument you devise, throughout the process we will reflect on the soundness of your evidence, on the charity of your summaries, and on the thoroughness of your revision, in other words, on the ethics of your reading and writing.

PWR 1 Assignment Sequence

Rhetorical Analysis 

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages):  This assignment asks you to analyze the rhetorical strategies of a text of your choice addresses writing/communication as an ethical practice.

Texts in Conversation 

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages): This assignment marks the beginning of your research project. Here, you will research and investigate the larger research question you’d like to explore relating to the topic. You’ll analyze how different sources, voices, and perspectives inform the larger conversation about your topic. 

Research-Based Argument 

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages):  Your RBA is the final product of this course where your voice enters into the conversation. Here is where you’ll build on and expand the work you began with the Texts in Conversation assignment by integrating a variety of sources to produce your own complex, provocative argument as it relates to your topic.