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The Rock Ethics Institute develops tools to help people identify ethical challenges, weigh their options, consider multiple viewpoints, and take a stand for their beliefs and the interests of others.
by admin Mar 24, 2020

Agricultural and Food Ethics

The aim of the Agricultural and Food Ethics initiative is to integrate ethical concerns, processes, and objectives into interdisciplinary food and agricultural scholarship at Penn State. The initiative strives to situate Penn State as a global leader in agricultural and food ethics scholarship, and a trusted voice on these issues among academics and the broader public. Its activities include convening small working groups on ethical challenges in the agrifood system, generating peer-reviewed publications, building capacity through interdisciplinary grant proposals, mentoring graduate students, and fostering community conversations on agricultural and food ethics.

Convener: Robert M. Chiles, Assistant professor of Rural Sociology


Children, Youth, and Media in International and Global Conflict Zones

Children and youth comprise the majority of conflict zones. Media constitute relatively accessible and non-threatening tools for humanitarian intervention into conflict zones. Yet, scholarship does not adequately address the roles media play and could play for children and youth who live in conflict zones, are displaced by, and/or produced by them (as war babies). This initiative, in turn, aims to help fill in that scholarly void. It explores media rights and uses that best aid and empower children and youth in conflict zones. To achieve its aims, and in conjunction with Penn State's broader globalization mission, the Initiative has established a Children, Media and Conflict Zones Lab at Penn State. The lab is anchored in the Bellisario College of Communications.

Owed to the lack of scholarship addressing children, youth and media in international and global conflict zones, the initiative promotes analyses of:

  1. Children, conflict zones and media as artifacts: the critical understanding of children and youth’s everyday lives, rights, artifact/technology-based uses, practices, reception and production of media in conflict zones.
  2. Children, conflict zones and media as intervention: the assessment and evaluation of how children and youth are social-psychologically and biologically affected and structurally impacted by peace communication interventions.
  3. Children, conflict zones and media as contents: the critical interpretation of how news, film, and NGO professionals cover and fundraise on behalf of children in conflict zones.


Conveners: Yael Warshel, Idan Shalev, and Oana Albu


Climate and Sustainability Ethics

The evidence suggests[1] that global climate change is impacting basic human needs such as food, water, health, and shelter.  The changes are affecting individuals and groups differently.  Certain groups of people are particularly sensitive to climate change impacts, such as the elderly, the infirm, children, native and tribal groups, and low-income populations.   Impacts are likely to differ in both magnitude and rate of change in different continents, countries, and regions. There are also concerns that conflicts, migrations, health impacts, or environmental stresses in other parts of the world could raise national security issues.

Who bears responsibility for protecting those whose basic rights are threatened by climate change? What constitutes an ethically justifiable response? These are just a few of the urgent ethical questions raised by climate change. The goal of the Rock Ethics Institute is to partner with researchers, stakeholders, educators, and policy makers to insure that questions like this do not go unaddressed. Global, national, and regional solutions must be fair solutions.

Climate change poses historically unprecedented challenges and profound ethical questions – but also new opportunities for global innovation and cooperation.

Who Can Help
Policy makers: those who are engaged in policy discussions, from the local to the global level, and scientists who are informing policy-making processes

Teachers and Administrators: educators in K-12 and post-secondary settings

Leaders: people of all ages who strive to be ethically informed to Stand Up for global justice

How is Penn State Contributing?
Penn State is taking a leadership role in responding to global climate change. Penn State scientists have served as Lead Authors in the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Penn State has joined the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge and pledged to reduce its building portfolio’s energy use by 20 percent by 2024. Penn State students have also taken on a leadership role. Through groups such as Eco-Action and initiatives like the newspaper recycling program and Friday Night Lights Out, students are helping to make Penn State an innovative leader in climate change response.

Research that focuses on ethically-informed decision support in response to climate change is a unique signature of this initiative.  This work is a central emphasis of the Center for Climate Risk Management (CLIMA) https://www.clima.psu.edu/.  CLIMA brings together scholars to catalyze transformative, integrated research on climate change, mitigation, adaptation, and decision making that transcends disciplinary boundaries and advances real-world climate risk management.  Ethically-informed decision support research has also been supported by the National Science Foundation through two major grants: the Sustainable Climate Risk Management (SCRiM) network scrimhub.org.  Centered at Penn State, SCRiM links a transdisciplinary team of scholars at universities and research institutions across many nations to answer the question, “What are sustainable, scientifically sound, technologically feasible, economically efficient, and ethically defensible climate risk management strategies?” and Visualizing Forest Futures (ViFF https://sites.google.com/a/pdx.edu/visualizing-forest-futures/)  a new approach to sustainable forest management under climate change that links human values, projections and visualization to decision-making under uncertainty. 

The Rock Ethics Institute is also a partner with the International Association of Environmental Philosophy and has partnered to publish the Environmental Philosophy journal. 

The Rock Ethics Institute supports Penn State in its efforts to become an ethical exemplar in meeting the global challenge of climate change, and we urge the larger University community to become informed of these and the many other ways Penn State is Standing Up for climate justice.

Convener: Casey Helgeson, Klaus Keller, Nancy Tuana 


Critical Philosophy of Race

The Critical Philosophy of Race (CPR) seeks to develop the philosophical tools necessary to meet the ethical and intellectual challenges posed by new forms of racism as well as the legacy of the inherited racisms. It also turns the spotlight on philosophy itself, its history and the shocking lack of diversity within many philosophy departments today. The CPR initiative of the Rock Ethics Institute seeks to:

  • promote the recruitment, retention, and graduation of racial minorities both at the graduate and undergraduate levels;
  • sponsor workshops on contentious issues with a view to promoting interracial understanding;
  • be a clearing house for resources that promote the study of the history and current state of race thinking and racism;
  • mentor young philosophy faculty toward tenure;
  • become a site for interdisciplinary engagement with issues of race both in the Penn State system and more broadly;
  • set up global as well as local partnerships at every level with a view to promoting a better informed discussion of racial issues.

The Rock Ethics Institute sponsors Critical Philosophy of Race, which is regarded as the premier journal in this area.

Convener: Robert Bernasconi


Engineering, Technology, and Ethics

The purpose of this initiative is to examine the intersection of ethics, engineering, and technology by focusing on these topics from both a research and pedagogical perspective. From a research perspective we hope to better understand how the use of technology impacts student ethics, engineering students in particular, and to develop new methods to enhance engineering education. Another portion of this initiative focuses on faculty development and teaching aimed at fortifying ethics understanding and decision-making in the classroom. Our goal is to position the Rock Ethics Institute as a thought leader in the ethics of technology and engineering education. Towards that goal we are developing a workshop focusing on implicitly ethical robots with the intention of stimulating a significant research program from the event.   

Convener: Tom Litzinger, Eduardo Mendieta, Alan Wagner

Moral Agency and Moral Development

The Moral Agency and Moral Development initiative focuses on fostering research collaborations (such as articles and grant applications) about moral experience, deliberation, judgment, and action, and forms of education that support the development of moral agency. Part of the initiative includes the Moral Agency Workshop (MAW), which faculty and graduate students in psychology and philosophy are invited to attend. The MAW meets every 2-3 weeks over coffee to discuss readings and ongoing projects related to the topic of moral agency: why and how do people behave in moral and ethical ways? This group is designed to encourage active interdisciplinary discussion, and foster the development of grant applications and research projects that transcend traditional boundaries. The initiative also hosts a number of events, such as the Moral Psychology and Research Group (MPRG) Conference in October 2017 at Penn State. The MPRG is an interdisciplinary collective of psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers who meet twice a year to discuss and generate research projects related to moral decision-making, ethics, and cognitive science.

Convener: Daryl Cameron 

Restorative Justice

The Restorative Justice (RJ) initiative brings together philosophers, social scientists, and other experts to examine the ethical challenges involved in responding to injustice. Too often, past injustices go unaddressed, or current responses exacerbate rather than remedy them. Given these challenges, the RJ initiative pursues interdisciplinary research that explores how, in the wake of injustice, individuals and communities can respond in ways that promote both accountability and healing. The initiative primarily focuses on two (overlapping) areas of research: criminal justice policy and racial reconciliation in societies characterized by histories of injustice. Activities of the initiative include organizing public lectures and conferences, an education program for inmates housed in facilities near Penn State, and fostering collaboration on grants and peer-reviewed publications that advance scholarship on restorative justice. Currently, the initiative is planning an international conference at Penn State for September 2018 on the ethics of policing, which will be part of a series of events during 2018-2019 entitled “Enduring Inequalities in Criminal Justice.”

Conveners: Joshua Inwood and Eduardo Mendieta


Ethics and Health

Conveners: Jonathan Marks  and Javi Lopez 

The ethics and health initiative brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars who share an interest in the systemic and institutional influences on health, and in their ethical and policy implications. Among the topics of interest to the group are: the relationship between individual and public health; the influence of industry actors on health research and policy; the impact on health of food systems and the environment (whether local or global; both natural and built); the framing of exercise as medicine; and the social construction of gender. The group is open to new members, and the exploration of other topics.

Democracy and Human Rights

(description coming soon)

Convener: Rosemary Jolly 

Gender and Sex Equity

Members of this initiative engage in research and outreach projects designed to address forms of oppression, disadvantage, bias, and general inequality pertaining to gender and sexuality. Current members of the initiative heartily welcome the participation of new members.

Conveners: Hilary Malatino and Sara Clark Miller



Religion, Spirituality, and Public Life

The Religion, Spirituality, and Public Life Initiative engages the following questions: What role do religion and spirituality play in public life--and what role should they play? How might religion and spirituality contribute to engaging students, fostering and embracing a diverse world and enhancing global engagement? How might we as scholars collaborate to address these challenging issues? We are particularly interested in scholarship related to religious and spiritual activism and scholarship that promotes dialogue across difference relating to values of respect, responsibility and discovery.

Convener: Jeremy Engels