Faculty of Arts & Sciences
"The vigor of the Ethics Center ensures that all schools at Harvard, and all disciplines within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, are exposed to the issues surrounding moral choice. If ethics can be taught, then the Center is doing superbly. If ethics can only be caught, then the Center is maximizing the likelihood of infection by all who come here."
Jeremy Knowles, Dean, from the Center's 10th Anniversary Report
The study of ethics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) engages students and faculty with diverse interests in a serious consideration of values and moral reasoning. Courses and research in the Philosophy and Government departments are the focal point of ethics-related activities, but initiatives also involve interdisciplinary collaboration with other Harvard departments and schools.
Over the years, distinguished Faculty Associates of the Ethics Center from a variety of departments have provided leadership in teaching, course development, and research. Key faculty in Philosophy and Government include Stanley Hoffmann, Frances Kamm, Christine Korsgaard, Nancy Rosenblum, Michael Sandel, Thomas (Tim) Scanlon, Amartya Sen, and, until his death in 2003, John Rawls. Faculty Associates from other departments have extended the ethics effort to literature (Elaine Scarry), psychology (Marc Hauser), and African and African American Studies (Tommie Shelby). The Ethics Center's Graduate Fellowship Program, under the leadership of Arthur I. Applbaum, has attracted many of the most talented FAS graduate students working on normative topics.
From its earliest days, the Center's leadership recognized the importance of giving ethical issues a more prominent place in Harvard's undergraduate curriculum. In the late 1980s, a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the American Express Foundation made it possible for the Center to support the development of more than fifty undergraduate courses at Harvard College. Faculty from fields as varied as economics, biology, literature, and anthropology responded with imaginative course materials dealing with ethical aspects of their respective disciplines. Beginning in the late 1990s, the "Ethics Education in the College Fund," endowed by Harvard alumnus Paul Josefowitz, also aided in the development of additional Moral Reasoning courses in the Core Curriculum.
Courses in the Moral Reasoning component of the curriculum include popular offerings by political philosopher Michael Sandel, philosophy professor Tim Scanlon, and Nancy Rosenblum, chair of the Government Department. Sandel's "Justice" course introduces students to philosophers from Aristotle to John Stuart Mill and encourages debate on topics that include affirmative action, income distribution, and same-sex marriage, showing that even the most hotly contested issues of the day can be the subject of reasoned moral argument. To date, more than 14,000 students have enrolled in Sandel's legendary course, now available on the internet. Scanlon's "Issues in Ethics" uses readings from contemporary philosophers to analyze issues such as moral relativism, assessment of the quality of life, and free will. His course "Equality and Democracy" looks at economic inequality and considers equality in the framework of just political institutions. The course places special emphasis on the perspectives of the late political philosopher John Rawls, a founding Senior Fellow of the Ethics Center. Entitled "Legalism: Ruly and Unruly Practices," Rosenblum's course explores the distinctive characteristics of legalistic modes of thought and the moral justifications offered for legalism.
Numerous activities outside the Core Curriculum provide opportunities for collaboration and interdisciplinary learning among FAS students and faculty and Ethics Center fellows and faculty. The Project on Justice, Welfare, and Economics is one example. Led by Amartya Sen (another of the Ethics Center's founding Senior Fellows), the Project fosters scholarly research on issues at the intersection of the social sciences and applied ethics. The initiative stimulates new research and teaching and supports the work of younger scholars who are interested in ethical, political, and economic dimensions of human development. The Political Theory Colloquium, a Government Department offering, brings together Ethics Center Fellows and graduate students from government, philosophy, history, classics, the Law School, and the Kennedy School for discussions of scholarly works-in-progress. Coordinated by Rosenblum, the colloquia, which often are cosponsored by the Ethics Center, give graduate students a chance to critique papers presented by distinguished scholars from leading universities. Several sessions each semester are reserved for graduate students to present dissertation work.
The Philosophy Department's Workshop in Moral and Political Philosophy has been one of the most valuable elements of the department's program and of the Center's FAS activities. Fellows of the Center meet weekly with graduate students and faculty members to discuss students' presentations and to engage in debate with visiting speakers. In addition to increasing student-faculty contact, the Workshop promotes interaction among students with a wide range of interests, including those considering practical issues, such as abortion and the right to life, as well as those working on more theoretical questions, such as the objectivity of ethical judgments. The Workshop demonstrates the benefits of interaction between the Center and the Philosophy Department, as well as the Center's impact on institutions across the country, as graduate students go on to positions at other leading institutions. Also in the Philosophy Department, Ethics Center faculty associate Christine Korsgaard, recipient of a Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award, teaches a series of workshop-style seminars on topics in ethics and philosophy, which incorporate sessions with leading visiting philosophers.
For over a decade, the Seminar on Ethics and International Relations has provided a forum for scholars to explore a broad range of ethical issues relevant to international affairs. Speakers have offered both a philosophical perspective - applying moral theory to practical problems such as humanitarian intervention or global distributive justice - as well as more empirically focused views on topics that have included global poverty and the economics of AIDS drug provision in Africa. The seminar is sponsored by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and chaired by Ethics Center faculty associate Stanley Hoffmann.
A collaboration between Sandel and Harvard Stem Cell Institute co-Director Douglas Melton led to the development of "Ethics, Biotechnology, and the Future of Human Nature," an exploration of the moral, political, and scientific implications of new developments in biotechnology. Intended for both science and non-science concentrators, the course draws on readings in biology, philosophy, and public policy to facilitate discussions of complex issues, such as stem cell research, human cloning, and genetic engineering.
In recognition of the powerful and lasting effect that ethics education can have on undergraduates' aspirations and career plans, the Ethics Center has established the Lester Kissel Grants in Practical Ethics, which provide funding for FAS students to conduct ethics-related summer research in the U.S. or abroad and to write reports, articles, or senior theses. Grants awarded in 2006, the inaugural year, included topics on justice and individuals' rights in China, India's market in human organs, the role of luck in legal responsibility, and the legitimacy of religious argument in decision-making. The merit of these topics and the quality of the work produced are admirable examples of the range and depth of the work in ethics undertaken by undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty, and an encouraging sign that FAS initiatives in this area will thrive well into the future.