Hale Ethics Series, 2011-12

Sponsored by the Hale Chair in Applied Ethics


Thursday, October 13th, 4-5:30, Liberal Arts Auditorium (6-A205)

The Canons of Business Ethics: A Practical Framework for Ethical Decision-Making

James A. Nortz (Compliance Director, Bausch & Lomb)

Business professionals are compelled to safely navigate their firms through a thicket of conflicting legal and extralegal obligations owed to multiple stakeholders. In light of the painful missteps that have been and continue to be made by some of the most renowned practitioners of the business arts, it’s apparent that many could benefit from the adoption of a systematic methodology to integrate moral considerations into decision-making processes in business.

The Canons of Business Ethics set forth a practical framework designed to assist business professionals in charting an ethical course, thus lowering legal and reputational risks for both them and their firms. Rather than being an artificial moral construct designed for the purpose of advancing a particular social agenda or utopian dream of what ought to be, the Canons codify an approach conscientious business professionals have likely been applying for millennia to make rational and defensible business judgments. 

Thursday, October 20th, 4-5:30, Liberal Arts Auditorium (6-A205)

"'F--k You' and Other Salutations: The Unstable Politics of Civility"

Mark Kingwell (Philosophy, University of Toronto)

Traditional defences of civility are positive:  they argue that it is a good thing and should be valued as such. But such positive defences either preach to the choir or, worse, beg the question. I reverse the line of argument and offer a negative defence of civility by showing that incivility generates a discursive collective action problem (CAP) in the form of a race to the bottom. Along the way, historical confusions concerning politeness and civility are revisited and clarified. I conclude with an enjoinder, possibly unexpected, for the gift of less discourse.

Thursday, October 27th, 4-5:30, Liberal Arts Auditorium (6-A205)

Teaching and Truth: Plato, Levinas and the Vision of Universal Ethics

Brian Schroeder (Philosophy, RIT)

Since the days of its Greek inception the guiding paradigm of Western education (paideia) has been the pursuit of truth (aletheia), though in late modern thinking perhaps no notion has been more assaulted and rendered problematic. Following the groundbreaking leads of Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, among others, contemporary philosophy has reoriented itself, in large measure, toward language analysis, calling into question the classical construal of truth as adaequatio rei et intellectus. There is, however, another critique of the privileged hegemony long enjoyed by truth that has increasingly gained momentum of late—that from the perspective of ethicswhich has steadily eroded, in many thinkers’ minds, the seeming impregnable epistemological moorings of philosophical thought. The philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas stands at the forefront of this radical reassessment and, somewhat ironically, develops much of its impetus from Plato, the figure in philosophy generally associated with founding the transcendent, and hence universal, conception of truth.


Thursday, December 8th, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Kierkegaard's Existential Choice: Continuing a Recent Dialogue between Agnes Heller and Richard J. Bernstein.

Dr. Marcia Morgan (Philosophy, Muhlenberg College)

How does a person make an ethical decision? This question becomes all the more compelling and problematic when trying to behave ethically during, as Agnes Heller puts it, "the total breakdown of 'normal' ethical worlds." In her philosophical work Heller pieces together a moral compass internal to individual subjectivity to employ during such times. Kierkegaard's model of existential choice has played a formative role in Heller's solution to the problem. In my lecture I begin with Kierkegaard's framework of choosing oneself as an ethical being and consider a recent critique of Heller's Kierkegaardian ethics by Richard J. Bernstein, continuing the substantively productive tension between the irrational and rational forces that determine our ethical actions.

Thursday, February 16th, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Politics and Religion in Kant

Dr. Pablo Muchnik (Philosophy, Emerson College)

Liberalism hasa accustomed us to consider religion as an eminently private matter, something to be kept within the confines of one's own sciences and abandoned when entering the public square. This view is usually associated with a certain conception of the Enlightenment as a strictly secularizing project. Although it is tempting to trace these views to Kant, I will argue that such temptation must be resisted, for it seriously misconstrues the Kantian position. As an offshoot of his reflections on radical evil, Kant realized that politics alone fell irremediably short of transforming people's moral dispositions. One could be a good cirtizen but an evil human being -- and this left open an ineliminable space for religion to strengthen the precarious basis upon which we try, in vain, to build our polities. Without religion, Kant thought, there was no hope to overcome the antagonistic dynamics of our social relations. War, oppression, cruelty, greed and the litany of violent passions that tear our soul apart are sure signs that liberal theorists have ignored the Kantian lesson at too high a price.


Thursday, April 26th, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Taking the Same Things Seriously and Not Seriously

Dr. Katja Vogt (Philosophy, Columbia University)

Valuing comprises two perspectives. One perspective is framed by the question "what to do?" and aims at coming up with decisions for particular actions. To make these decisions well, the agent must aim to take matters of value -- life, health, wealth, and so on -- into account as best as she can. Another perspective is framed by the question "how do these values figure in a good life?", and sometimes, "is it possible to lead a good life without value X?". Here the agent steps back and asks whether, given conditions, she can lead a good life. Both of these perspectives are integral to rational valuing. It is a central feature of Stoic ethics to focus on these matters: to analyze the way in which matters of value and disvalue are the material of deliberation, even though it may well be possible to lead a good life if the valuable is lost. The Stoics are right in thinking that the apparent perplexities of taking the same things seriously and not seriously belong to the hardest challenges in ordinary life, and they are right to assume that ethics should analyze these perplexities.

Jointly sponsored with the Epictetus Conference


Thursday, May 10th, 4-5:30, Bldg. 7A, Room 1350

Ecological Aesthetics and Ethics: A Zen Perspective

Jason Tetsuzen Wirth (Philosophy, Seattle University)

This will be a close reading of the famous Zen philosopher Dogen's seminal chapter in the Shobogenzo (The Treasury of the True Dharma Eye) called the “Mountains and Waters Sutra.” The title of this chapter refers to nature by using a phrase that more typically refers to a particular form of Chinese landscape painting that literally depicts mountains, waters, and, as if a mere background note, human beings. I develop the relationship between the text's prescient and profound ecological vision, which has inspired contemporary thinkers like Gary Snyder, with the text's rootedness in East Asian art forms, especially Chinese landscape painting and Zen poetry. In so doing, I argue that Dogen's philosophy of Zen emerges at the crossroad of a deep earth ethic and Zen aesthetics, and that the same intersection is at work in Snyder's ethical writings, especially The Practice of the Wild, and his poetry. Dogen and Synder’s ecological aesthetic ambitions are then related to Dogen's theory of painting.


Special Series on Global Warming


Thursday, February 2nd, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Ethics of Inquiry, Climate Change, and Public Discourse, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Dr. Larry Torcello (Philosophy, RIT)

With its catastrophic effects on the planets' vulnerable populations, climate change is a plausible candidate for the most serious moral issue of our time. The scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic climate change is firmly established, and yet climate change denialism, a species of what I call pseudoskepticism, is on the rise in the industrial nations most responsible for climate change. Such denialism suggests the need for a robust ethics of inquiry and public discourse, which I describe and defend here. Those interested in preparatory reading should look at Dr. Torcello's "The Ethics of Inquiry, Scientific Belief, and Public Discourse."


Thursday, March 29th, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Climate Science and Policy Advocacy: Where is the Line Between Ethical Responsibility and Biased Science?

Dr. Evelyn Brister (Philosophy, RIT)

Posiitivist philosophy drew a sharp distinction between statements about values (ethics and politics) and statements about fact (science). For most of the twentieth century, common wisdom among scientists, philosophers, and politicians was that only constrained, well-defined scientific advisory positions were legitimate, and as a result these were open to only a few scientists. Science was considered an autonomous enterprise which ought to be insulated from political action for the good of both science and policy. But in recent decades, the consensus among philosophers of science has shifted away from drawing a sharp distinction between descriptive science and prescriptive policy-making and toward a greater recognition that scientific work is informed by both facts and values. In this talk I examine examples of scientists who have engaged in policy advocacy related to climate change and consider which criteria distinguish the controversial from the non-controversial cases

Thursday, May 3rd, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Global Warming and Decisions in Doubt

Wade Robison (Philosophy, RIT)

When we make decisions in situations of uncertainty, we make some assumption about the risk and magnitude of potential harm. We are far more cautious when we see a loaded gasoline tanker truck wandering back and forth across the center line as it comes towards us than we are with normal traffic: the magnitude of potential harm is great, and so we act to minimize the risk of an accident. The same sort of decision-making ought to inform decisions about how to respond to the threat of global warming.


These presentations are free
and open to all.

If you need interpreting services, contact Cassandra Shellman as early as you can at 585.475.2057 or via e-mail.

Presentations for previous years