Trinity One Ethics Stream

Welcome to the Ethics stream in the Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program at Trinity College in the University of Toronto.

The Ethics stream has two main goals. The first is to provide students with a broad introduction to the field of ethics. The second is to provide an introduction that is intimate, immersive, and interdisciplinary.

A Broad Introduction to Ethics

The Ethics stream introduces and examines some of the most challenging and urgent issues of our time. Tackling ethical challenges in areas that range all the way from interpersonal relationships to international obligations, students become more deeply aware of the assumptions about right and wrong that undergird public debate and personal experience. 

The University of Toronto’s Centre for Ethics located at Trinity College offers access to seminars, speaker series, conferences, symposia, and roundtables. The Centre for Ethics is an important hub for scholarly investigation, cross-community collaboration and creative research and teaching within the university community.

The University of Toronto’s Ethics, Society, and Law (ES&L) undergraduate major program, hosted by Trinity College, is one possible destination for students of the Ethics stream. Students who do well in Trinity One Ethics are given special consideration when they request the ES&L major (at the end of first year).

Stream Requirements

Students in the Ethics stream enrol in two Trinity One semianr credits in their first year.

TRN170Y1 Ethics and the Creative Imagination

How should we live? How do we maintain ourselves as moral beings in circumstances indifferent or hostile to the very notion of moral integrity? In this seminar we investigate ethical questions through a wide range of literature—novels, poetry, and drama—and a broad historical perspective ranging from ancient Greek theatre to contemporary fiction. These works, concerned with complex ethical dilemmas and the people caught up in them, will allow us to discuss such issues as choice, responsibility, autonomy, authenticity, artistic representation; they will also help us to engage our own creative imaginations with those of the poets, dramatists, and novelists whose works we read.

TRN171Y1 Ethics and the Public Sphere 

To whom and what are we obligated, and on what grounds? What rights do we have over our selves, our bodies, our privacy, our choices, and how should we secure these rights? What do we owe one another, and why? What are our obligations to future generations and how do we fulfill them? In this course, we will read texts from philosophy, history, political science, cultural studies and beyond that engage with the theme of ethics in the public arena. These will provide valuable analytic tools as we go on to confront contemporary issues that raise urgent ethical questions.

An Intimate, Immersive, and Interdisciplinary Experience

The small-group, discussion-oriented, seminar courses are the heart of the Trinity One program. They provide a rigorous introduction to the central issues in Ethics through a pedagogical process that allows students and instructors to get to know each other, to work collaboratively, and to develop individual perspectives—benefits only deepened by the requirement that students take two classes of this type at the same time with the same classmates. Each student is immersed in a rigorous academic endeavour, but also an interpersonal and engaging experience.

Exploration is not limited by the constraints and assumptions of any single approach, because Trinity One approaches Ethics in an interdisciplinary manner. For example, the legitimacy of war is treated differently by the disciplines of international law, political theory, literature, sociology, and philosophy, shaped by different foundational questions and different investigative tools. But war is war, a single, multifarious and dreadful material event. Working across disciplines, we can get as full a picture as possible of our theme. Across the full span of ethical issues, the program makes this interdisciplinary approach its central goal, drawing both on the considerable disciplinary resources available at the University of Toronto.

What Students Are Saying

The Trinity One Ethics stream allowed me to engage with fellow students and excellent professors in an intimate academic setting. This was extremely valuable in first year, where occasions for in-class debate and discussion are often limited. The regular interaction with, and feedback from, professors was of particular value in managing the academic transition from high school to university. Moreover, the Ethics stream challenged me to consider issues, both in the public sphere and the creative imagination, through a unique lens. From normative theory to fiction, and beyond, the material was fascinating and thought provoking.
--Aditya Rau (Ethics Stream 2012-13)

The Ethics steam fostered my critical thinking and writing skills, and helped me develop the confidence to voice my opinion in an academic setting. The interactive seminar format and thought-provoking course material made me excited to go to class every week. We discussed real ethical issues, and explored them through great literary, philosophical, and political works. I would recommend the Ethics stream not only to students interested in ethics, literature, and politics, but also to anyone who wanted to broaden their horizons in a personal and engaging learning environment.

--Rebecca Zhu (Ethics Stream 2011-12)

I was enrolled in the Life Sciences in my first year, but also took the Trinity One Ethics stream. My experience with Trinity One changed the course of my academic career; I went on to declare an Ethics, Society, and Law major after my second year and eventually transitioned out of the sciences. It is rare to find a first year seminar that combines one-on-one interaction with professors, small class sizes, and roundtable debate. In my upper years especially, I look back and realize how unique a program it is and how lucky I was to be a part of it. I would recommend the Trinity One Ethics stream to any and every incoming student.

--Pauline Karpazis (Ethics Stream 2011-12)

Anyone interested in questions of right-and-wrong, of what ought to be done, etc., should seriously consider applying for the Trinity One Ethics stream. The small class sizes gave me the opportunity to interact with handpicked students, some of whom are now my closest friends. Two excellent instructors designed the courses in unique ways that allowed us to grasp and tackle some of the greatest ethical questions there are. Moreover, because of this program I realized I wanted to further immerse myself in the field, so I decided to switch from Commerce to the Ethics, Society, and Law program.

--Pujan Modi (Ethics Stream 2011-12) 

Co-curricular Events

Trinity One co-curricular lunches with guest speakers occur about every third Tuesday between noon and 2:00 p.m. at Trinity. Students are encouraged to keep this time slot open.  

The co-curricular events draw upon the rich resources of the University of Toronto's Centre for Ethics, School of Public Policy and Governance, Munk School of Global Affairs, and the Faculty of Medicine and University of Toronto Affiliated Hospitals. These events enable students in all Trinity One streams to meet guest speakers and to engage in informal but high-level conversation with one another, their professors, and guest experts.

Recent Events

Some of the guests who visited the Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program during the 2013-14 academic year to discuss their work included the following, each of whom addressed the Trinity One community over lunch and kindly agreed to be interviewed by a faculty member or student.

Michael Ignatieff

Audrey Macklin

Graeme Smith

Natalie Zemon Davis 

Robyn Doolittle


What Instructors Are Saying

The Trinity One pedagogical environment engages students, brings out the best in them, and encourages them to apply themselves. The program is blessed with some of the best incoming undergraduates in the country, something the teaching staff is keenly aware of.

The Trinity One Ethics stream provides both instructors and students with the opportunity to explore the theory and application of ethical principles in small classes with lively presentations and discussions. It is an enriching experience for all participants. 

--JoAnna Dutka teaches TRN170Y1 Ethics and the Creative Imagination. She is an Emeritus Professor of English, is a recipient of an OCUFA Teaching Award, and has been with the Trinity One Ethics Stream since its inception. She also teaches in the Continuing Education Programme at St. Michael’s College. Academic history:  MA (Alberta), English; PhD (Toronto), Medieval Studies; ARCT, performance and theory. Teaching areas: English medieval literature, especially Chaucer and Drama; Canadian literature, especially poetry; History of Children’s Literature. She has had numerous administrative positions in the English Department and University, including Associate Chair and Graduate Director; she has served on the editorial boards of a number of scholarly journals. Her major research project, a volume in the Records of Early English Drama series, is on pre-Reformation drama and music in Norwich; she is one of the founding members of the series, was editor of its newsletter, and is currently one of its Senior Advisors. Her publications include books, articles and reviews on Canadian literature and painting, medieval literature and music, and children’s literature. 

I am always grateful to facilitate the remarkably lively conversation and thoughtful inquiry shared by the young men and women who take part in the Trinity One experience. The students in a Trinity One Ethics seminar are intellectually and ethically engaged, supportive of one another, and ready to face the challenges that confront our world. In the context of a campus and a city so rich with resources, Trinity One Ethics students learn through reading, writing and research—and also through the lived experience and deep exchange that this intimate, immersive program provides. It is a joy to behold!

--Simone Davis teaches TRN171Y1 Ethics and the Public Sphere. A professor of English literature, Cultural Studies and Gender Studies, her approach to the teaching of Ethics is interdisciplinary. Simone has worked especially closely in two areas: commodity culture—its history and its impact on power and our experience of identity; and prison education, a field that examines two of society’s most influential institutions, higher education and criminal justice. In addition to her work at Trinity, Simone is the coordinator of Inside-Out Canada, a program that brings university and incarcerated students together as classmates, based at Wilfrid Laurier University. Publications include Living Up to the Ads: Gender Fictions of the 1920s (Duke, 2000), and Turning Teaching Inside Out: A Pedagogy of Transformation (Palgrave, forthcoming). Simone delights in the collective teaching and learning that can happen in a small-size seminar.

Useful Readings in Ethics

The following lists were compiled from suggestions made by past and current Trinity One instructors. The readings would be useful for students to look over if they wanted to review material before classes began.

No reading is required before classes begin.

Because each instructor may revise his or her syllabus during the summer months, it cannot be guaranteed that any of these texts will end up on any particular syllabus.

Sometimes a particular edition or translation of a text will be required in a course (which is not indicated here).

TRN170Y1 Ethics and the Creative Imagination 

Among the works that may be read are Seamus Heaney, The Burial at Thebes; Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe; Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.  Visual art and film may also be included.    

TRN171Y1 Ethics and the Public Sphere

  • Thomas Hobbes, Chapters 13 – 15, Leviathan
  • Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
  • Agustin Fuentes, “It’s Not All Sex and Violence: Integrated Anthropology and the Role of Cooperation and Social Complexity in Human Evolution,” American Anthropologist 106.4
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
  • Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights
  • Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem