L&S Curricular Connections

L&S Discovery Courses

LS 160B

Effective Personal Ethics for the 21st Century: Awakening at the Center of an Evolving Universe

Philosophy and Values

Ethics comes from the Greek root ethos, meaning essential character. Each ethical decision we make (or avoid) actually co-creates who we are, our lives, our relationships, and the world we live in. Readings from Aristotle through the existentialists, an exploration of comparative religion, studies in intra- and inter-personal psychology, and cases from literature to business will orient and inspire and support students’ quests to find and live their deepest values. We will investigate those characteristics and habits of human nature that hinder affirmative ethical behavior (and the realization of maximum human potential generally), and explore characteristics and practices that can foster each student’s inherent imagination, creative capacity, integration, and fully satisfying participation in the life and the larger Earth adventure. Ultimately, L&S 160B will empower students to transcend basic reaction to difficult and significant challenges and instead move into a genuinely creative response, thus fostering the “response-ability,” stability, emotional intelligence, discrimination, and discerning self-awareness required of 21st-century global citizens.


In a world of increasing specialization, individuals frequently find themselves feeling disoriented and incompetent in the face of staggering global, national, local, and even personal challenges. Denial, addiction, various types of fundamentalism – all sorely manifest the frequent lack of courage and confidence to enter, consciously rather than unconsciously, and shape the currents of enormity that surround us. Ethical dilemmas demand and deserve attention because they focus theory, responsibility, and action in a way that we can attempt to deny but cannot escape.

Ethical decisions are far more than just “tough choices.” Ethics comes from the Greek root ethos, meaning essential character. When we make ethical decisions, we are, each time, by encouraging certain possibilities and discouraging others, actually re-creating ourselves, our relationships, our own lives, and the world we live-in. At the same time, however, certain traditional sources of wisdom (elders, families, ethnic traditions, individual religions) seem increasingly incapable of providing complete and concrete orientation and guidance in the complex, fast-paced, multi-ethnic, evolving global society in which we find ourselves today. This becomes even more significant when we consider that modern human practices and lifestyle choices are changing the way entire cultures think, relate, and live, and are now even altering fundamental planetary dynamics.


This course is intended to strengthen students’ abilities to anticipate, critically analyze, appropriately respond to, and provide personal and professional leadership regarding, the ethical issues that will continuously arise during an individual life, personal career, and while acting at the local, national, and global level.

Through reading, discussion, and experiential assignments, the course is designed to provide each student with both a context and actual tools for greater personal clarity about core values and more confident and effective ability for comprehensive ethical decision-making and action. The course will deeply explore – and provide practice overcoming – those characteristics of human nature that currently hinder ethical behavior and the realization of maximum human potential. It will also seek to highlight – and provide experience with developing – those characteristics and practices that can, with cultivation, allow a fuller realization of each student’s inherent integration, imagination, creative capacity, and fully-satisfying participation in the business of life and the larger Earth adventure.

The course will provide an opportunity for students to “orient” themselves as co-creative agents of their present world and future. It will encourage the ability to transcend reaction and move into a genuinely creative response to difficult and significant challenges, thus fostering the “response-ability,” stability, emotional intelligence, discrimination, and “corrective self-awareness” required of 21st-century global citizens.

The course will continuously combine and cumulate a brief backdrop of evolutionary understanding of the position of the human in the continuing story of the universe with comparative perspectives from religious and philosophical traditions and apply them in concert to the particular and concrete challenges presented by case studies drawn from contemporary life in business, world events, politics, and the arts.

Although challenging, the practice of sustaining the dynamic tension of these simultaneously is specifically intended to counter a modern/post-modern retreat into over-specialization. It is also expected, that, as upper-division students, the participants will have acquired some familiarity with many of the concepts that will be drawn-upon. Although students will, of course, be able to broaden and deepen their inquiry into particular fascinations developed during the course (e.g. astronomy or physics, psychology, comparative religion, philosophy) with special-topic courses in other departments, this course is expected to be unique in its attempt to provide a comprehensive approach to whole-being ethical orientation – that encompasses yet transcends more traditional religious, philosophical, utilitarian, and jurisprudential approaches.


A Course Reader will provide numerous primary and secondary works for exploration in philosophy, literature, and religious contemplation. The attached Preliminary Bibliography provides a listing of the works from which excerpts will be drawn. Substantial readings will be assigned for every class meeting.

Topics, which will draw-upon multi-disciplinary revelations from the 20th century in quantum physics, more comprehensive evolutionary understanding, systems theory, depth psychology, etc., and thus allow us to meet the challenges of the 21st century with unprecedented insight, will include:

• Exploring the role of the human enterprise in the overall evolving story of the universe
• Exploring the essential character of professional life, human nature, and the individual
• Exploring the development of the human mind, its limitations and its potential
• Exploring aspects of self deeper than personality
• Exploring practices that foster the availability of integrated, whole-being wisdom in approaching critical decisions
• Exploring one’s unique vocation and creative contribution in the universal scheme of things

The course will also include engagement with examples of dynamic challenges found in film, contemporary and historical literature, business, and current events. Personal choices and outcomes will be evaluated from various comparative religious and comparative philosophical perspectives. The significant impact of individual personality on the range and creativity of choice available will also be investigated in depth.

The course will simultaneously proceed along two lines of development:

1) from the uniquely and deeply individual, through the personality system, through intimate and professional relationships, through commerce, through ecology, to the universal, and

2) from the evolutionary past (physical, biological, psychological), through the present, into visions of a creative future.


The intended audience would include all Berkeley undergraduates. No prerequisites other than an open mind and willingness to respectfully engage with others would be required.


This course follows the commitment of The College of Letters and Science to the conviction that no person is truly educated without substantial exposure to the universe of significant human knowledge, and that such exposure is the foundation for lifelong self-development and effective contribution personally, professionally, and as a global citizen. This course obviously cannot itself individually provide this complete exposure, yet it can reinforce and integrate prior and contemporary coursework and encourage further study.

Finally, this course will offer fulfillment of the L&S Breadth Requirement in Philosophy and Values, and will in fact encourage students to ponder and resolve the types of questions that will enhance their ability to understand their heritage, their contemporaries, and themselves, and to apply that understanding creatively and pro-actively in their individual private and public lives.

Instructor: Jack Phillips (http://www.haas.berkeley.edu/faculty/phillips.html) has been a member of the faculty at U.C. Berkeley since 1987, and at the Haas School of Business since 1989, and is a two-time recipient of the Cheit award for distinction in teaching. Jack holds a B.A. in Rhetoric from U.C. Berkeley, and a J.D. from Hastings College of the Law (followed by 15 years of professional experience in commercial and nonprofit law), is a certified Iyengar Yoga and Pranayama instructor, and a certified Brainwave and Consciousness Trainer. Jack is primarily interested in the development of individual human potential, and the integration of this potential into an ultimate context of meaning and purpose.

Jack Phillips (Haas)

Terms Offered

  • Spring 2020
  • Spring 2019
  • Spring 2018
  • Spring 2017
  • Spring 2016
  • Spring 2015
  • Spring 2014
  • Spring 2013
  • Spring 2012
  • Spring 2011
  • Spring 2010
  • Spring 2009
  • Spring 2008
  • Spring 2007
  • Spring 2006