Public Life

How can we strengthen the ways humans live and interact with one another?

Public Life

In the convergence zones of our communal lives lie myriad topics of debate that clash as we seek harmony for ourselves while living among many others. The Rock Ethics Institute focuses on the intersections of these topics from both research and pedagogical perspectives. 

Sponsored Research

Principal Investigator:

Senior Research Associate in the Rock Ethics Institute
Associate Professor of Psychology
2023–26 Joyce L. and Douglas S. Sherwin Early Career Professor in the Rock Ethics Institute
(On sabbatical leave through June 2024)

The Moral Agency and Moral Development Initiative focuses on research that examines moral experience, deliberation, judgment, and action, and forms of education that support the development of moral agency. The recent focus of the initiative has been on developing research collaborations and connecting diverse academic and public communities to discuss the science of empathy and moral decision-making. The activities in the initiative have involved hosting the interdisciplinary Moral Agency Workshop, which brings together faculty and graduate students from across the sciences and humanities to develop research projects, as well as the Expanding Empathy Speaker Series, which brings prominent speakers from around the country to discuss empathy and moral decision-making with an interdisciplinary audience of academics and the public. The highlight of 2021-2022 was the return of the Expanding Empathy speaker series for the fourth year – we expanded the imprint of this series through connections to different units in the university, with increased promotion online as well as an international focus on bringing in scholars virtually from around the world. Additionally, this year’s series changed the format to host four panels, each of which paired a psychologist with a philosopher to give complementary talks on a theme (including emotions in online spaces; empathy and interpersonal interactions; the ethics of empathy; and empathy and intergroup relations).

Principal Investigators:

Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, Psychological, and Social Sciences, Penn State Abington
Associate Professor of English, Penn State Greater Allegheny
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Penn State Altoona

Co-convened by MaryEllen Higgins, Judith Newman, and Brian Onishi, this initiative focuses on the ethics of lingering trauma in films and eponyms. Using a collective, interdisciplinary approach to ethical dilemmas and solutions, the initiative examines, for example, the representations of discrimination, criminalization, violent conflict, assault, and climate anxiety in film, and the re-presentations of trauma when buildings, awards, and diseases are named after people who have committed ethically egregious acts.

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