Course Detail

Designing a Good Life (38119)

Course Description by Faculty

  • Epley, Nicholas
  • Content

    This class is based on the assumption that you want to live a “good life” in three senses of the term. First, “good” in the sense of being successful.  Second, "good" in the sense of being ethical and honorable.  Third, "good" in the sense of feeling good: living a life rich in happiness, meaning, purpose, and well-being.  If you wanted to increase your odds of living a good life in all three senses, what would you do?  If you wanted to lead an organization that was “good” in all three senses of this term, how would you lead it?  

    This is primarily an ethics course, but not a typical ethics course.  We will not spend time discussing ethical dilemmas, or trying to decide what is right or wrong in ethical gray areas.  Science simply does not offer clear moral authority on many of these issues.  Instead, we will adopt a psychological approach that focuses on the fundamental psychological processes that lead people to behave ethically and unethically. These processes can lure anyone—including you and me—into ethical lapses.  Understanding these processes gives insight into how to design your life, your teams, and your organization to be as ethical as they can be.  

    We will end this course by focusing on how ethical behavior is related to wellbeing, happiness, and meaning in life—the third sense of a “good life.”  Ethics and hedonics are sometimes described as opposites; either you do good or you feel good, but you don’t do both.  The existing empirical evidence on wellbeing demonstrates that this is simply untrue.  You will learn about surprising research demonstrating how and why doing good can be aligned with feeling good.  You will participate in a few class activities that might also leave you feeling good.


    Course Format:

    This course will involve a combination of lecture, class discussion, in-class and out-of-class exercises, and occasional case discussion.  There will be a take-home (open-book) midterm exam that you will have two hours to complete after the Week 5 class session, and a final group paper due at the scheduled time of the final exam.

  • Prerequisites
  • Materials

    —Course website:


    —Readings, Movies, Podcasts:  All posted on the course website.  

    You will  watch two documentaries: The Social Dilemma and Enron:The Smartest Guys in the Room.

    You will also listen to a podcast episode of Radiolab.


    —Books:  There are two books assigned for the course:


             1.  Bazerman, M.H., & Tenbrunsel, A.E. (2011).  Blind spots: Why we fail to do           

                  what's right and what to do about it.  Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.


             2.  Haidt, J. (2012).  The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics 

                  and religion. Vintage Books: New York, NY.


    You will read most of Bazerman and Tenbrunsel’s book, but only the opening chapters of Haidt’s book.  I ask you to buy the entire book because it is worth reading the entire book when you can, and because the entire book is less expensive than excerpting chapters.  


    —Lecture notes:  I will post .pdf versions of the lecture slides on the course website at the same time I post the lectures.  I will post any lecture slides shared during recorded live class sessions after the recorded session is posted on the Canvas site.   

  • Grades
    No auditors.
    • No auditors

  • Syllabus
  • Winter 2024Section: 38119-01T 8:30AM-11:30AMHarper CenterC25In-Person Only
  • Winter 2024Section: 38119-02T 1:30PM-4:30PMHarper CenterC10In-Person Only
  • Winter 2024Section: 38119-81T 6:00PM-9:00PMGleacher Center408In-Person Only
Description and/or course criteria last updated: November 3 2023