ANT215H5 How Should One Live? An Introduction to the Anthropology of Ethics

Rastafarian man, poster showing Vietnamese citizens and Ho Chi Minh, man and child from the Pirahã tribe, person standing behind protest signs saying "no consent" and "no pipelines", statue of Marcus Aurelius with right hand outstretched.

Few questions are more obviously and universally important than that which Socrates poses in Plato’s Republic: "how should one live?”

In this course we will consider some of the ways this question has been asked and the kinds of answers it has received across a range of very different contexts. We begin with Socrates’ address to the Athenian assembly in “The Apology” and his conclusion that the examined life is the only one worth living. We then turn to a series of topics including:

  • Stoicism
  • the concept of the person among the Gahuku-Gama (a people of the Eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea)
  • Quakerism
  • the revolutionary ethics of Ho Chi Minh
  • Rasta livity
  • Indigenous peoples and the politics of recognition in Canada

Unique features of the course

  • close reading of primary texts
  • practice in ethical techniques of self-cultivation
  • review of some answers given across a range of contexts to a question of fundamental importance – “how should one live?”

Skills developed

  • critical reasoning
  • questioning basic, familiar, naturalized assumptions (e.g., about what makes life “good” etc.)
  • self-reflection through journal writing

Learning outcomes 

  • How does scholarship in anthropology and related lines of inquiry bear on fundamental problems of life in the 21st century?
  • How can anthropology and related lines of inquiry help us to understand who and what we are?


  • Instructor: Jack Sidnell
  • Schedule: Tuesday 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM in Winter 2023 "S" term at UTM
  • Prerequisites: none
  • Counts as a Social Science distribution credit at UTM

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