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Everyday Ethics

Critical Philosophy of Race

Why a fractured nation needs to remember King’s message of love

The 2016 election campaign was arguably the most divisive in a generation. And even after Donald Trump’s victory, people are struggling to understand what his presidency will mean for the country. This is especially true for many minority groups who were singled out during the election campaign and have since experienced discrimination and threats of violence.

What is Ethics?

How can you move from ethical awareness to ethical action? The Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State can help guide you and give you some tools to help in both your professional and personal lives.

Welcome Message from the Interim Director

Eduardo Mendieta headshot It is my pleasure to welcome you back to another exciting year at the Rock Ethics Institute. This coming year promises to be a busy but also a creative and hope inspiring one for all of us at the Rock and the University Community in general.

Undergraduates honored with Rock Ethics Institute 2016 Stand Up Award

Heidi Lynne Photography Alanna Kaiser, 2016 Stand Up Awardee in AfricaNathan Larkin, 2016 Stand Up HonoreeJaden Rankin-Wahlers Stand Up honoree Penn State students Alanna Kaiser, Nathan Larkin, and Jaden Rankin-Wahlers are being honored respectively for their work in social & environmental justice; organizing efforts to address climate change; and combatting stigmas associated with poverty and homelessness.

The Rock Ethics Institute and Critical Philosophy of Race

Racism is not just a matter of personal feeling. It is deeply embedded in the structure of and institutions of our society and of the world in general. It is reflected, for example, in the distribution of wealth, of health resources, and of educational opportunities.

Rock research associate speaks at a United Nations co-sponsored conference

Human Cap panel at UN conference Yael Warshel, assistant professor of telecommunications and research associate in the Rock Ethics Institute, recently traveled to Baku, Azerbaijan to participate in a UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs co-sponsored roundtable about refugees and internally displaced persons. Dr. Warshel spoke about "mobile literacy" or the non-formal education which these populations are acquiring  and the irony that those skills better benefit global sensibility.  

Rock Ethics Institute names new director

Ted Toadvine headshot Ted Toadvine, professor of philosophy and environmental studies at the University of Oregon, has been named director of the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State. Toadvine’s tenure as director will begin in January 2017.

Robin Attfield on the Moral Consequences of Environmental Crisis

In his contribution to the Panel Discussion on Global Ethics, Dr. Attfield offered an analysis of how the environmental crisis has presented us with new moral consequences and implications for our moral thinking. The environmental crisis includes everything from climate change, to global warming, to the degradation of natural resources and environments. It has reached the level of a crisis thanks to its global extent, the fact that is stems from the accumulation of countless big and more trivial actions, and that it affects natural systems as well as current and future people and members of others species.In light of this environmental crisis, Attfield acknowledges that this means that more than happiness is at stake. We need a deeper value theory that extends beyond pleasure/happiness and pain/suffering. As part of the moral consequences, the environmental crisis also requires that we expand the range of those who bear moral standing to non-human creatures and future generations.

Race and Beauty

In case you were starting to pine for another 'teachable moment' in racial politics, Psychology Today has obliged. Satoshi Kanazawa posted an article on the magazine's website purporting to show that black women are objectively less attractive than other women. I was preparing to discuss some of the many problems with this way of framing the issue, and perhaps, if I could bear it, to say something about the problems with the argument, but the good folks at ColorLines and ColorOfChange.Org are already on the case. There are other articles in other places (like, but the ColorOfChange take is here, and the ColorLines piece is here. (PsychToday has removed Kanazawa's original piece from its site, in response to many, many public calls for them to do so.)

Penn State welcomes three new ethics core faculty members

From left to right: Joshua F.J. Inwood, associate professor of geography; C. Daryl Cameron, assistant professor of psychology; Alan R. Wagner, assistant professor of aerospace engineering The Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State welcomes three new core faculty members in ethical research: C. Daryl Cameron (Psychology), Joshua F.J. Inwood (Geography), and Alan R. Wagner (Aerospace Engineering). These faculty members will help strengthen an interdisciplinary community of scholars and educators from across the University and they are committed to enhancing Penn State’s curriculum and research expertise in ethics.

Nominees sought for the Rock Ethics Institute’s 2016 Stand Up awards

2015 Stand Up Graphic The Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State announces a call for nominations for its ninth annual Stand Up Awards in recognition of undergraduate students at the University’s campuses who have demonstrated ethical leadership in taking a stand for a person, cause or belief. The goal of the award is to recognize courageous individuals and to inform the entire Penn State community about how often the extraordinary act is possible in ordinary circumstances.

Nigel Dower on Philosophical Ethics and Sustainability

The first to be presented at the recent Sustainability Ethics Conference at Penn State University Park, Dower's paper provided a clear outline of the key concepts and questions that are at work in discussions of sustainability. The paper began by situating the role of the philosopher as one who 1) analyzes concepts, 2) identifies ethical issues and any underlying theories that might already be in use regarding these issues, 3) offers normative arguments for preferring some theories over others, and 4) considers implications of the application of those theories. His paper followed suit by raising questions about concepts like "sustainability" and "development."

New York Times Krugman Claims That US Congressional Hearings Are A Moral Failure: The US Congress and The Ethics of Willful Ignorance.

In an April 4, 2011 New York Times op-ed entitled "The Truth, Still Inconvenient," Paul Krugman charged that Republican led climate change hearings that had just concluded were a deep moral failure. (Krugman, 2011) Krugman described the GOP US House of Representatives hearings at which of five invited witnesses on climate change, one was a lawyer, another an economist, and a third a professor of marketing---witnesses without any expertise in climate change science. One of the witnesses that was actually a scientist was expected to support the skeptical position but surprised everyone by supporting the mainstream scientific view on the amount of warming that the world has already experienced. Yet he was immediately attacked by climate skeptics.

Michele Tracy Berger's PSU Campus Visit

Last spring, February 17-19, Michele Tracy Berger visited the Penn State campus. While here she gave two public talks (one co-sponsored by REI and the other a keynote address for the Women's Studies Graduate Student Organization Conference). She also participated in a luncheon discussion with the members of the Global Approaches to Intersectionality (GAI) reading group and other friends of the Rock Ethics Institute (REI).

Helping Haiti One Step at at Time

Cara with a baby whose mother participated in her Moringa Tree research project. Photo was taken by Kaitrin Rodgers.The room that the 18 year old who is in this post gave birth. Photo: Cara McDonaldBaby who was born in this blog post. This guest post is written by Cara McDonald, a 2015 Stand Up Award recipient. You can see more of her story at My motivation to help Haiti is driven by an undeniable passion to see the country and the Haitian people reach their full potential. I envision a day where children are lifted out of poverty, mothers and fathers are able to care for their families and the country is not known for its poverty, but for its beauty and prosperity. This passion did not come from reading about poverty or seeing it on TV, but from witnessing it, feeling it and taking action against it.

Four Penn State Researchers named Rock Ethics Institute Faculty Fellows

Jeffrey M. CatchmarkRosemary Jolly headshotPhoto used on people page.Amit Sharma headshot The fellows, Jeffery M. Catchmark, Rosemary Jolly, Sarah Clark Miller, and Amit Sharma, will help support initiatives that integrate curricular and research components by building interdisciplinary collaborations that will advance the Rock’s goal of integrating ethics into the Penn State curriculum.

Ethical Issues Entailed By Economic Arguments Against Climate Change Policies.

Ethical issues are everywhere. Perhaps the greatest ethical issue of the time arrives as a problem that has the power to change the planet. Climate Change is a grave issue that is facing the world today. This can be seen from evidence stated by the UNFCCC.

Environmental Justice

We Americans like to think of ourselves as an ethical people. For generations, our presidents have referred to America as the “shining city on a hill” and “the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.” We pledge allegiance to a flag that stands for “liberty and justice for all.” That word “all” is key. If our lofty declarations are to have any meaning, then justice must be available for everyone, including the vulnerable and the oppressed.

Engels, McDonald named Sherwin Early Career Professors

Two faculty members in the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts have been named Sherwin Early Career Professors in the college’s Rock Ethics Institute. Jeremy Engels now holds the title Sherwin Early Career Professor in the Rock Ethics Institute and associate professor of communication arts and sciences, while Bryan McDonald now holds the title Sherwin Early Career Professor in the Rock Ethics Institute and assistant professor of history. Both appointments are effective March 2016 and continue until June 30, 2018.

Diversifying a Discipline - Penn State produced an unprecedented number of black, female Ph.D.s in philosophy

In 2015, Penn State produced an unprecedented number of black, female Ph.D.s in philosophy. Here’s how.

Can the Critical Philosophy of Race help us understand the endurance of race?

A short animated video, produced by Wireless Philosophy (Wi-Phi), and presented by Eduardo Mendieta, Associate Director, Rock Ethics Institute.

Ask an Ethicist: Why should the U.S. reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Peter Buckland Photo At the Paris Climate talks, global society agreed to pursue a rapid decarbonization of the global economy to cap total global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Such actions would prevent some dire effects of human-caused climate change. What are some of the ethical issues from global climate change?

Ask an Ethicist: What should I do if I encounter discrimination in the workplace?

Tom C. Hogan The workplace should be an inclusive, safe and welcoming environment. But what happens if you feel discriminated against or someone who is known to discriminate or regularly uses offensive speech is promoted. How should you deal with this and what resources do you have at your disposal? This week’s column aims to offer some advice on the subject.

Ask an Ethicist: To stand or to sit for the national anthem

Josh Inwood headshot Expressions of patriotism can be important to the health of the nation and can serve as a rallying point for a diverse and multicultural nation. Equally important is the right to peaceful protest including the right to express opinions that some people might find antithetical to the nation. Recently this tension has come to the fore as athletes and other prominent public figures have begun silently protesting police abuses during the singing of the national anthem. This week’s column tackles this important issue.

Ask an Ethicist: Should I lower the volume of my music if a neighbor asks?

Don Thompson "Turn that music down!" is something many of us have heard from a neighbor or family member. In today's column, the ethicist takes a look at this predicament and offers some guidance on how to respond.

Ask an Ethicist: Should I engage with lay audiences about my research?

Brad R. Woods Headshot We now have access to more information than we’ve ever had and it keeps growing by the minute. We can quickly pull up restaurant reviews, journal articles, and real-time weather within seconds from devices in our pockets. But what happens when you come across something online that you know to be incorrect because you spent your life researching that topic? Should you feel compelled to engage in this online discussion since you’re an expert with several related publications?

Ask an Ethicist: Should I accept a job from an internship that didn't seem like the right fit?

Ashley Rippey In preparation for Fall Career Days at Penn State, we are publishing questions over the next week that will discuss internships, interviewing, résumés, and reference writing. This question centers around a job offer from an internship that didn't seem like the right fit. There are ethical implications in deciding whether to accept a job offer after completing an internship or co-op. Today, we discover what some of those issues might be and how to approach them.

Ask an Ethicist: Should I attend a career fair after accepting a job offer?

Lesley Jackson Headshot In preparation for Fall Career Days at Penn State, we are publishing questions over the next week that will discuss internships, interviewing, résumés, and reference writing. This question centers around attendance at the career fair. It's a great moment when you finally get that first job or internship offer. It feels even better to formally accept the offer, feeling secure about that next step in your career. But what if that offer comes before a career fair and you accept? Is it ethical to still attend the fair and take up the time recruiters could be spending with other students?

Ask an Ethicist: Serving as a reference (or not)

Jennifer Eury In preparation for Fall Career Days at Penn State, we are publishing questions over the next week that will discuss internships, interviewing, résumés, and reference writing. This first question centers around writing reference letters. Most of us have either served as a reference for someone or asked someone to serve as a reference for us. But what happens when someone is asked to serve as a reference for a colleague or student and for whatever reason, the individual is not comfortable serving in this capacity? How should someone respond to the request?

Ask an Ethicist: Profiting from a Cure

Dan Cahoy Headshot Should someone be able to charge high prices for important medical information? Can one even own such knowledge? This week’s article shed’s some light on these questions by taking a look at whether or not it is ethical for an acupuncturist to charge other licensed acupuncturists a large sum of money to learn about key acupuncture points.

Ask an Ethicist: Lost property on campus

Tom Sowerby This happens to all of us. For days, sometimes weeks, we may see a forgotten umbrella or other lost item sitting in the back of a classroom or office. After some time, many of us wonder if we could simply take that lost property. Is it ethical to take the lost property?

Ask an Ethicist: Is it wrong to ask my son about his combat service?

Justin Synder Headshot Combat experience is sometimes difficult to talk about, especially for loved ones. Concerned parents want to learn more about their children’s time in the military, but many aren’t sure how to go about it. This week’s column helps explain why many veterans choose not to talk about their experiences and suggests that being there to listen, not asking, is the most ethical way to communicate with them.

Ask an Ethicist: How important is empathy in the U.S. Presidential election?

Daryl Cameron headshot As Election Day nears, voters are debating the qualities that make for an effective leader. One of these contested qualities is empathy: the ability to understand and resonate with the experiences of others. Does it matter if a President can relate to you and care about what you are going through?

Ask an Ethicist: Embellishing on a résumé

Erica Kryst Headshot In preparation for Fall Career Days at Penn State, we are publishing a five-part series retailed to the career-fair. In many cases, the résumé is your first point of contact with the employer. You know how important it is and you really want to stand out from the competition. Is it ethical to embellish or exaggerate a bit on your résumé?

Ask an Ethicist: Can Plato help us pick the next president?

Image: Joel Priddy Caucus season is here. In picking the next POTUS, how do we choose well? Common criteria include candidates’ takes on specific issues, their ability to serve as commander in chief, and how we imagine they would navigate delicate international imbroglios. But what about ethical leadership? This week's column discusses what Plato and the power of invisibility can teach us about the role of ethical leadership in contemporary democracy.

Ask an Ethicist: Can money raised for a charity 5K be used to pay entry fees?

Francisco Javier Lopez Headshot Spring is around the corner, and that means all kinds of worthwhile charity 5K races. Many of these races have a reasonably priced entrance fee, but they also encourage runners to raise money for the charity. What if you create a crowd-funding campaign to raise money for that charity and want to pay for the entrance fee from the money that was raised? Is that ethical? Today's column looks at this dilemma and offers some advice.

Ask an Ethicist: Can I turn down an accepted internship offer for a better one?

Katie Wysocki Headeshot Question: I pushed myself to apply to top companies for my summer internship. I was so excited to get an offer from Company A that I accepted the internship immediately fearing I might not get another offer. However, I just received an internship offer from Company B, which is my top choice. I would much rather work at Company B, but I’m concerned reneging on the original accepted offer from Company A could hurt future opportunities. Can I change my mind? I have not started working at Company A yet.

Ask an Ethicist: Can I share my interview questions with peers?

Wayne Cross headshot In preparation for Fall Career Days at Penn State, we are publishing a five-part series retailed to the career-fair. Interviews can be stressful, especially for the first time. Many people feel that if they know the questions ahead of time, they’ll do a better job as they will be prepared. But is that really true? And, is knowing the questions ahead of time ethical or is it considered cheating?

Ask an Ethicist: Can I practice interviewing during an actual interview?

Cassie Rosas Interviewing can be stressful and a common way to help become better at interviewing is practice. But what happens when someone uses actual interviews with companies they have no interest in to just practice? Is it ethical to take away these interview slots to just practice or are there better ways to handle this situation?

Announcing the 2014 Stand Up Award Honorees

Announcing the 2014 Stand Up Award Honorees For Zachary Brubaker, taking a stand means uniting the blind and sighted to promote respect and equality for workers with disabilities. For Maggie Cardin, taking a stand means working to educate emerging teachers to recognize and prevent depression and suicide in students. Two Penn State students received the 2014 Stand Up Award for showing courage and fortitude and demonstrating ethical leadership through personal example. The Stand Up Awards are sponsored by the Rock Ethics Institute in the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State

2016 Stand Up awardees speak at ‘The Village at Penn State’

2016 Stand Up honorees The 2016 Stand Up honorees, Jaden Rankin-Wahlers, Alanna Kaiser and Nathan Larkin, spoke at ‘The Village at Penn State: State College Retirement Communities’ on Friday, October 21, 2016. The students presented on the topics of which they were honored last spring.