Understanding Oppression as a Critique of Hedonism

After teaching the hedonism of Bentham and Mill in my Introduction to Ethics class, I often assign Marilyn Frye’s classic feminist essay “Oppression.” (I got this idea from the late, great Claudia Card). This serves two pedagogical purposes for me. First, it exposes my intro students to excellent feminist philosophy without relegating it to its own “feminist ethics” unit at the end of the semester. Second, it offers a fascinating critique of hedonism (even though that is not the main point of the essay).




Intro to Ethics; Social/Political (lower division)

Assigned Texts:

  • Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Abridged, with Related Texts). Ed. Philip Barnard and Stephen Shapiro. Hackett 2013. ISBN: 1603849386

Suggested Schedule:

Day 1: Reading Lab (in class activity)
Day 2: Go over answers to Reading Lab, do discussion questions of: Intro, Ch. I-V
Day 3: Ch. VI-VII
Day 4: Ch. VI-VII

Social Obligations in the Bhagavad Gita


In the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna is asking an important philosophical question: what obligations do I owe to society when society has broken down (e.g. why should I fulfill my social obligation to fight in this civil war when the civil war itself represents a complete breakdown of society and society's obligations to people). This activity helps students connect that question with their own lives.

Freedom From Fear


This essay assignment asks students to connect ideas they've learned from studying the Dhammapada to Aung San Suu Kyi's essay "Freedom from Fear."


Western students may have associated Buddhism with Tibetan Buddhism - this activity helps them see Buddhism in a different context, and how it can be used as a means of resistance.


This is best done as an essay assignment to give students proper time to think through the relevant connections.

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