Jun 242017
 June 24, 2017

Is it moral to respect the wishes of the dead, above the living? In an essay for Aeon, Barry Lam, a Humanities-Writ Large Fellow who has worked in coordination with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, explores the moral and ethical sides of lasting money and power.

As a visiting faculty fellow from Vassar College, Lam worked in the past academic year with Chauncey Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics Walter Sinnott-Armstrong on an audio documentary project, Hi-Phi Nation. The podcast series, produced at Kenan’s offices on Duke’s East Campus, uses philosophical examination of ideas to tell broader stories of human life.

In his essay, Lam builds off the first episode of Hi-Phi Nation which follows the story of the Hershey fortune to show how a 19th century industrialist constructed a business structure to ensure that his idiosyncratic wishes would be fulfilled hundreds of years after his death.

“I believe we honour the wishes of the dead out of a misplaced sense of moral duty, as we would feel if we made a deathbed promise to a loved one,” Lam writes.

Learn more about Lam’s Hi-Phi Nation and ethics of podcasting in this interview for Team Kenan’s Audible Ethics.

Jun 232017
 June 23, 2017

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, the Chauncey Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics in the Department of Philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics, was recently featured in Duke Magazine as part of a highlight on a course in neuroethics.

The class, which can be taken toward earning an Ethics Certificate, focuses on emerging ethical controversies concurrent with advances in neuroscience, covering biological bases of morality, emotions and decision-making and more. Sinnott-Armstrong, who leads Kenan’s Moral Attitudes and Decision-Making Lab, co-teaches a class of 40 students with Scott Huettel, professor of psychology and neuroscience.

As part of the course, Sinnott-Armstrong and Huettel encourage collaborative work among students, and as part of a final project this spring, allowed students to co-write papers to encourage broader thinking and understanding of course topics.

“There’s only one thing worse than a neuroscientist who thinks they know philosophy, and that’s a philosopher who thinks they know neuroscience,” Sinnott-Armstrong told Duke Magazine. “You don’t want these students to leave thinking they’ve mastered all the topics.”

For more information about Sinnott-Armstrong’s involvement in the nueroethics course, see this story.

Jun 202017
 June 20, 2017

The Kenan Institute for Ethics has opened a new library space as a resource for the Duke community.

Found in 102 West Duke Building, the library features more than 900 works of fiction and non-fiction, including published selections from all faculty affiliated with Kenan, selections from staff Ethics Books Clubs from across campus, as well as other scholars and writers. The library is named in honor of Robert and Sara Pickus, the parents of Noah Pickus, who served as Kenan’s director from 2007 to 2017.

Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to come by the Institute and visit the library. Beginning in the fall semester, books can be checked out by Duke community members. A searchable list of books can be found on the library’s webpage.

Along with books written by faculty, the library also includes a collection of books published as the capstone project for Kenan’s Ethics Certificate Program. The most recent release, “Gross! Ethical Issues Surrounding Disgust,” included chapters written by nine students and co-edited by Professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and recent graduate Sophie Katz. Previous Ethics Certificate publications explored drugs and addiction, crime and punishment, war and terrorism, and moral and political disagreement.

Have an ethics-focused non-fiction or fiction book you’d like to recommend for the library? Email kie@duke.edu.



Jun 072017
 June 7, 2017

A former Kenan TA, Graduate Fellow and researcher with the Kenan Institute’s Moral Attitudes and Decision-Making Lab (MADLAB) and Rethinking Regulation program will spend the 2017-2018 academic year teaching ethics in Canada.

Aaron Ancell, who has been a part of research in civility in public discourse and co-authored a paper on regulation and democratic theory among other work, will act as the Postdoctoral Fellow in Ethics for the University of Toronto’s Centre for Ethics. He’ll share his expertise in political philosophy and ethics through research and teaching two classes at the college.

“Kenan has been one of the most important parts of my experience at Duke,” Ancell said. “It’s easy to get lost in the particular questions, frameworks, and debates of one’s own discipline and to lose sight of how one’s research fits into the bigger picture, but my involvement with Kenan has left me with a much better view of that big picture.”

Ancell’s dissertation, “Public Unreason: Essays on Political Disagreement,” advances research on political disagreements informed by social epistemology and psychology. All four of Ancell’s dissertation committee members (Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Allen Buchanan, Wayne Norman, and David Wong) have affiliation with the Kenan Institute. Ancell defends his dissertation this September.

Jun 062017
 June 6, 2017

The co-director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Moral Attitudes and Decision-Making Lab is featured in a special 10th anniversary issue of GIST Magazine, produced by Duke’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI).

Jana Schaich Borg was among attendees at Kenan’s “Ethics, Codes, and Learning” symposium in April 2017.

In a Q&A with the magazine, Jana Schaich Borg, who also serves as an assistant research professor at SSRI, shares insight on what it’s like to teach one of the most popular Massive Open Online Courses on learning site, Coursera, and what it takes to be a successful data scientist. Her work with Kenan and at Duke has included research on how and why humans and animals make social decisions, including moral decisions.

“It is very difficult for me to get my head wrapped around the fact that humans intentionally hurt each other,” Borg said in the interview. “The only way I could handle learning about such events is if I tried to do something to stop them or at least understand them.”

Since 2010, Borg has co-authored seven publications with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, the Chauncey Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics in the Department of Philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics, who directs the Moral Attitudes and Decsion-Making Lab. Their most recent work, “Distinct neuronal patterns of positive and negative moral processing in psychopathy,” was published last year in Cognitive, Affective, & Behaviorial Neuroscience.

See Jana Schaich Borg’s Q&A in the latest issue of GIST.

Apr 112017
 April 11, 2017

Despite their opposing political viewpoints, John Hood and Leslie Winner encourage others to look past the heated polarization of today’s politics.

As Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Practitioners-in-Residence from April 3 to 7, the pair demonstrated how to work across ideological lines without compromising one’s own beliefs while meeting with students, faculty, staff and the public. A week-long series of events was organized through Kenan, the Center for Political Leadership, Innovation, and Service (POLIS) and the Policy Bridge.

Throughout their week on campus, Hood and Winner shared insight with the Duke and Durham community. Read more about their visit in this Duke Today story.

Watch Hood and Winner’s public talk, “Finding Common Ground in a Polarized World”:

Mar 082017
 March 8, 2017

For nearly a century, the cartoons in The New Yorker have been the standard for urbane wit. Now a Duke professor of computer science has shown he meets that standard.

Vincent Conitzer, part of the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ MADLAB, was the recent winner of a weekly contest to caption drawings seen in the magazine. Conitzer, the Kimberly J. Jenkins University Professor of New Technologies and professor of Computer Science and economics, provided the winning entry for a one-sentence exchange between two sharks: “The doctor said it might help me quit.”

Learn about Conitzer’s entry in this Duke Today story.

Feb 082017
 February 8, 2017  Tagged with:

how-to-ask-revA team of researchers from the Kenan Institute for Ethics was recently awarded funding as part of a project called “Towards a Culture of Questioning,” an effort to consider how asking the right kind of questions can make political discussion more productive.

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, the Chauncey Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics in the Department of Philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and director of Kenan’s Moral Attitudes and Decision-Making Program, is acting as principal investigator for a team that includes:

  • Adjunct Assistant Professor Jesse Summers (co-principle investigator)
  • Postdoctoral researcher Jordan Carpenter
  • Aaron Ancell, a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy and a former Kenan Graduate Fellow

Grant funding comes from the University of Connecticut’s Humanities Institute, funded by the John Templeton Foundation. “A Healthier Q&A” is one of 10 projects receiving funding to explore the landscape of American discourse and create strategies to spur and sustain open-minded, reasonable and well-informed debate and dialogue.

Duke’s team will work to determine which questions, and which contexts, produce humility and civility in public discourse, and which produce polarization and inflexibility. The goal is to find ways to promote a culture of democratically engaged inquiry. Ultimately, the research team hopes to train others to ask questions that lead to mutual appreciation and productive dialogue.

The project is also one of the 2017-2018 Bass Connections teams and will include undergraduate and graduate Duke students.

Dec 212016
 December 21, 2016

Sinnott-ArmstrongOn December 21st and 22nd, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong will appear on The Triangle’s Afternoon News with Scott Briggaman on NewsRadio WPTF to discuss the impact of the North Carolina Legislature’s most recent actions regarding the controversial House Bill 2. Briggaman’s two-part conversation with Sinnott-Armstrong will air at 3:42pm and 5:42pm, starting Wednesday and concluding Thursday locally on 680AM and online.

Nov 212016
 November 21, 2016

Twitter_BlindDuke Postdoctoral Fellow Jordan Carpenter has recently published an article on stereotypes of Twitter users based on the content of their tweets. In an innovative study, Carpenter asked participants to guess the gender, political identity, age, and education of a person based on a single tweet. While participants were more likely to guess gender, politics, and age correctly, they performed worse than chance on education.

“An accurate stereotype should be one with accurate social judgments of people,” but clearly every stereotype breaks down at some point, leading to “mistaken social judgement,” Carpenter said.
Read the full article here.