Jun 262018
 June 26, 2018

Disagreements among people have existed as long as humans have, but the inability of opposing sides to compromise with one another seems epidemic today. Think Again: How to Reason and Argue, a new book by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Chauncey Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics in the Department of Philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics, reveals the benefits that sound, fair arguments grounded in mutual understanding can have.

Particularly on social media platforms such as Twitter, arguments seem to increasingly function as a means to both satisfy one’s allies and jab one’s opponents publicly. In contrast, “reasonable arguments” says Sinnott-Armstrong, “can create more mutual understanding and respect, and even if neither party is convinced by the other, compromise is still possible.”

His MOOC course of the same name, co-taught by Ram Neta, professor of philosophy at UNC-Chapel Hill and offered through Coursera, has attracted more than 900,000 registered students from over 150 countries.

In Think Again, Sinnott-Armstrong also teaches the reader how to argue and how not to argue. “This book is not about winning arguments or beating opponents,” he says. “Instead it is about understanding each other and appreciating strong evidence. It teaches logic instead of rhetorical tricks.”

Think Again is now available in the UK from Penguin Random House and will be available in the United States on July 2nd from Oxford University Press. Duke community members may borrow a copy of the book at the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Robert and Sara Pickus Library, 102 West Duke Building.

— Emily Bowles

Jun 222018
 June 22, 2018
Each year, the Kenan Institute for Ethics awards between 10 and 15 fellowships to outstanding graduate students at Duke University.

Students from any Duke graduate program may apply. What each cohort of Graduate Fellows will have in common is that their dissertation research engages in interesting ways with significant normative issues. Some students, for example – from disciplines such as philosophy, political theory, or theology – focus directly on fundamental ethical or political concepts and theories. Other fellows, from the sciences and social sciences, try to understand phenomena that are relevant to major, and often controversial, public policy debates. Still others attempt to resolve debates in their areas of research that seem to be sustained by long-standing disagreements over both empirical claims and ethical or ideological commitments.

The aim of the on-going discussions throughout the year, among the Fellows and KIE faculty members, is to enhance everyone’s ability to contribute to debates involving ethical issues, and to do so in ways that engage scholars and others within and outside of their own academic disciplines.

Ideal Graduate Fellow candidates will be in the third, fourth, or fifth year of their Ph.D. studies, finished all (or almost all) of their coursework requirements, but still developing new ideas and approaches for their dissertation research. Fellows each receive a stipend of $3,000 that supplements their current funding.

Graduate Fellows meet for a Monday seminar about a dozen times across the Fall and Spring semesters. These seminars usually feature visiting speakers and do not typically require preparation in advance. There are also two half-day workshops – one at the end of each term – in which Fellows showcase their own research.

Alumni in good standing of the Fellowship program will have access to conference- and research-travel funds during their final years in the Ph.D. program.

To apply: e-mail the application, along with a copy of your CV, to kie@duke.edu with the subject line “Graduate Fellowship.”

Deadline: 12 noon, Monday, July 23, 2018.

For further information, email kie@duke.edu with “Graduate Fellowship question” in the subject heading.

Jun 082018
 June 8, 2018

In 2013, India adopted a mandatory “comply or explain” corporate social responsibility (CSR) law requiring companies to spend 2% of their net profits on local social causes or explain—in their annual reports and on their websites—why they have failed to do so. With the five-year anniversary of this legislation approaching, the Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics recently held a two-day workshop with the goal of taking stock of the law and its impact, focusing on both the philanthropic and corporate responsibility landscapes.

Practitioners from a wide variety of fields, including academic scholars and business leaders from both the U.S. and India, gathered at KIE on June 4th and 5th, to discuss conceptual, empirical, and policy-related questions related to CSRs. The workshop was funded by the Duke India Initiative.

Suzanne Katzenstein, research scholar and the project director at the Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, as well as the workshop’s organizer, has long been interested in India’s CSR law. “Considering how unusual and innovative it is, there has been very little interdisciplinary conversation about the law, and even less discussion between academics and practitioners,” she says. “This workshop seemed ideal: bringing people together, who normally don’t have the opportunity to interact, to reflect on and discuss the law.”

A presentation early in the conference by Shankar Venkateswaran, MBA and retired chief of the Tata Sustainability Group, acknowledged that the broader impact of the mandatory law may be that companies think of their role in society differently. “CSR legislation has the potential to rewrite the normative role of business in the community and to transform how corporations think about their role in inclusive development, in line with the National Voluntary Guidelines for Responsible Business,” he said. “At the very least, the legislation has meant that the topic has become a conversation at the board level, elevating its status.”

Other questions and issues discussed during the two days of sessions included:

  • What is the objective of the 2013 CSR and how do we measure its impact? What kind of effect is the law having on poor communities it is intended to help?
  • How should we understand the broader impact of the law beyond potentially affecting corporate culture? How is it changing the character and role of NGOs, as NGOs now aim to receive funds under the law? What does it signify in terms of the retrenchment of the state providing public services or the expansion of the state in channeling corporate philanthropy for certain development projects?
  • How do CSRs differ across different types of companies, such as public and private? How does the law interact with corporate governance structures in India?

The “Four Years Out” workshop was a rare and valuable opportunity to have many interdisciplinary—and international—practitioners gathered together to discuss the progress, problems, and promise of CSR in India. As more and more countries around the world—and especially in Asia—learn about India’s mandatory legislation and become interested in adopting something similar, it will become increasingly important to have a consistent definition of what is meant by a CSR and procedures for how they are implemented.

As more and more countries around the world—and especially in Asia—learn about India’s mandatory CSR legislation and become enthusiastic to adopt something similar, it will become increasingly important to have a consistent definition of what is meant by CSR and how one is implemented.

“It is rare to have so many interdisciplinary practitioners gathered together to talk about the same topic. This is a great opportunity,” says Aaron Chatterji, associate professor at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. “This is a law that has gotten so much press, that other countries are going to look at this law and say ‘we want this.’ Many people will be looking for the literature on this (type of law), to understand what they should do.”

— Emily Bowles

May 302018
 May 30, 2018

Facing the Anthropocene is a project that considers humanity’s place in the world and what it means for social, political, and institutional change. The Anthropocene marks the unprecedented moment when humanity becomes a dominant force in planetary history, responsible for widespread alterations of the world’s land, ocean, and atmospheric ecosystems.

Photo courtesy of Duke Lemur Center.

Led by professors Norman Wirzba and Jedediah Purdy, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, and housed at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Facing the Anthropocene offered three 2018 Summer Graduate Research Grants, open to Duke doctoral students incorporating investigations of Anthropocene themes into their research. Grant recipients each received a stipend of $6000.

Sally Bornbusch, a graduate student in Evolutionary Anthropology, will be traveling to Madagascar this summer to conduct research on lemur health and ecology, as well as implications of human decisions on wildlife and their ecosystems.

“Specifically, my research examines the effects of anthropogenic disturbances — including habitat destruction, environmental contamination, and human-wildlife interactions — on the gut microbiomes and overall health of ring-tailed lemurs.”

Of the connection between her work and ethics, Bornbusch says, “As scientists and people, understanding our ethical obligations to the natural world and its other inhabitants is vital in performing progressive and successful research. The ultimate goals of my research are not only to better understand animal biology but also to inform conservation practices and help shine a light on how ethics can play an important role in determining how we interact with the natural world.”

Jieun Cho’s research will take her to Japan this summer, where she will be meeting with refugees and returnees of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. “I will continue to work with the nuclear-affected, as well as scientists, lawyers, and activists, to see how low-level exposure to radiation is made sense of in different fields.”

One of Cho’s specific areas of interest is residents living in irradiated environments who are caretakers of children. She plans to work with a group of citizen-scientists studying this sub-group and in so doing, “think about how ‘exposure’ is complicated through practices on the ground. This will help me to understand the specific contexts and constraints of care work, and how caregiving becomes (im)possible through loose connections in degrading environments, both social and ecological.”

Her summer fellowship will enable Jieun to visit multiple locations in Japan, “which is crucial for a study of mobile populations. Thinking through ethnographic materials, I hope to join the broader conversation about cultures of science, social justice, and human agency in the Anthropocene.”

Ryan Juskus’s research goal for the summer is to deepen his ethnographic field research in North Birmingham, Alabama, where he is studying and participating in a citizen-driven environmental health project.

“Residents of this area suspect that their extremely poor health is related to two nearby coal facilities,” explains Juskus. “Federal investigators recently exposed a corruption scandal involving one of the coal companies, their lawyers, and local politicians in an effort to keep these residents’ suffering invisible to the public. After spending most of this year organizing for the project, the faith-based environmental organization that I research is launching a health study, and I will spend this summer preparing for and conducting fieldwork.”

The connection between Juskus’s current work and ethics are many. “For one,” he says, “citizen-driven science that puts scientific knowledge in the hands of residents is an ethical act.” In addition, because “the dominant narrative about the Anthropocene has been shaped by earth systems scientists…[it] sets out a rather narrow range of prescriptive measures: technical problems demand technical solutions. However, my work looks at how ethics is not a second, normative, and evaluative step that takes place only after a first, descriptive step is completed; rather, how we describe problems and narrate things already points toward those solutions that can be seen as responsible and appropriate.”

Lastly, Juskus considers another category for thinking about ethics and the Anthropocene: theology. “Through making visible the environmental injustice of coal pollution in the neighborhoods that nurtured Birmingham’s Civil Rights Movement,” he says, “[individuals] are also pointing toward the unseen forces of grace operating in creaturely life and human community to make all things new.”

— Emily Bowles

May 292018
 May 29, 2018

The faculty, staff, and students of the Kenan Institute for Ethics are saddened at the news of the passing of J. Peter Euben, beloved Research Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Kenan Distinguished Faculty Fellow in Ethics.

Peter Euben was one of KIE’s founding faculty members, as well as the architect and inaugural director of the Ethics and Society Certificate program.

“Peter brought his remarkable spirit to the Kenan Institute in the early days and helped to shape it,” said Ruth Grant, Senior Fellow, Kenan Institute for Ethics. “He taught with humor and with love. And those of us who were his colleagues and students remain very much in his debt.”

Dr. Euben received his PhD from UC Berkeley in 1968 and had a 34-year career teaching at UC Santa Cruz before coming to Duke in 2002 to become the Kenan Distinguished Faculty Fellow in Ethics, a newly created post. He specialized in ancient, modern, and contemporary political thought; literature and politics; political education; democratic culture and politics; and the politics of morality.

“My heart sank when I heard the news. I met Professor Euben during my freshman year when I took his class on ‘Challenges of Living an Ethical Life,’” said Poorav Rohatgi (T’10). “From that moment until I graduated Duke (and off and on after then), he was my close mentor, always teaching me how to improve my critical thinking and writing skills and encouraging me to pursue the professional passion that burned within me. I will never forget his patient teaching style, his genuine feedback, his not-so-subtle humor, and, of course, his iconic mustache. He will always hold a special place in my heart.”

Peter Euben was the author of The Tragedy of Political Theory, Corrupting Youth, and Platonic Noise; editor of Greek Tragedy and Political Theory; and co-editor of Athenian Political Thought and the Reconstitution of American Democracy. He received fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the National Humanities Foundation, and was a Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Fellow at the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University.

Read “This is Ethics? An Idiosyncratic Guide” by Peter Euben from DukeToday, May 2010.

May 252018
 May 25, 2018

Kenan Institute for Ethics visiting professor Lisa Ann Richey has co-authored an op-ed piece, with Noelle Sullivan, published in the Huntington Post.

Entitled “There Are Better Ways To Fight Poverty Than Giving Money To Corporations,” the article describes how, in turning charity into consumption through campaigns such as Red Nose Day, “corporations and nonprofits distract from how the current unequal global economic system contributes to the very challenges these campaigns aim to address.” How well-meaning individuals are drawn to these campaigns offering “low-cost heroism” was also addressed by Richey in her talk at the April 12th panel discussion “Commodifying Compassion,” held at KIE.

Lisa Ann Richey is a Visiting Professor at the Kenan Institute for Ethics and Professor of International Development Studies and Director of the Doctoral School of Social Sciences and Business at Roskilde University in Denmark. She served as founding Vice-President of the Global South Caucus, and Advisory Board Member of the Global Health Section, of the International Studies Association (ISA).

May 162018
 May 16, 2018

The Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics is again running the Pathways of Change program this summer. Students interested in the areas of business and human rights, women’s rights, and environmental justice are matched with internships with partner organizations working for social change across these fields, including Corporate Accountability, Feminist Majority Foundation, and NC Conservation Network. Together they explore the trade-offs between different approaches towards social change.

Sydney Speizman (’17) summarized the positive impact that her internship had on her: “The Pathways of Change program opened my eyes to the complex web of stakeholders and strategies involved in protecting human rights and the environment as the economy becomes increasingly globalized…[it] provided me with both deeper insight into how international development projects can better support the communities they aim to help, and valuable work experience that will undoubtedly shape my future career path.”

In addition to working for 8-10 weeks, Pathways of Change students conduct profiles of the people in their organizations and write “letters home” about the best ways to effect change in human rights practices.

May 142018
 May 14, 2018

The Kenan Institute for Ethics will welcome two visiting professors in the 2018-19 academic year.

Margaret Hu‘s research interests include the intersection of immigration policy, national security, cybersurveillance, and civil rights. She earned her JD at Duke and is associate professor of law at Washington and Lee University School of Law.

“I am thrilled to visit with Kenan next year — honored to have this opportunity to engage in an interdisciplinary conversation on data ethics and cyber ethics.” says Hu.


Previously, Margaret Hu served as senior policy advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and also as special policy counsel in the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC), Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, in Washington, D.C. Learn more about her work.


Thomas Nadelhoffer‘s main areas of research include free will, moral psychology, neuroethics, and punishment theory. He is particularly interested in research at the crossroads of philosophy and the sciences of the mind.


Dr. Nadelhoffer’s visiting professorship marks his return to the Kenan Institute for Ethics, as he spent the 2010-11 year working with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong while a post-doc with The MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project. “I am very excited to once again join the interdisciplinary team at the Kenan Institute, where I will have the opportunity to work with students and faculty from across the Duke community,” he says.


Thomas Nadelhoffer is associate professor of philosophy at the College of Charleston, as well as an affiliate member of both the psychology department and the neuroscience program there. He has been teaching and running an experimental philosophy lab since 2012. Learn more about his work on his website.
May 112018
 May 11, 2018

Photo courtesy of Duke Magazine.

“The Millennial Perspective: Intergenerational Ethics,” a course co-taught by Duke sophomore Deepti Agnihotri and senior Rachel Gallegos, links eight undergraduate students with eight “overgraduate” students from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Betsy Alden (’64) has been the course’s faculty adviser for the past eighteen years — it’s the only intergenerational course offered at Duke.

Read more in the Duke Magazine article “The House Course where Millennials and Boomers Meet.”

Apr 242018
 April 24, 2018

The Kenan Institute for Ethics’ annual What Is Good Art? exhibition was begun as a means to explore how visual art and ethics are intertwined. Every year, students across the Duke campus are invited by Team Kenan, the student branch of the KIE, to submit original works of art that explore ideas of how we should live, the role that art plays in our lives, and its impact on how we see the world.

The 2018 exhibition theme — “Community” — originated from a Team Kenan discussion about what shapes our identity and how our associations define us. How do we agree on a shared basis for experiencing and navigating the world around us? Do we choose our communities or do they choose us?

This year’s exhibition opened on Monday, April 23rd with a well-attended afternoon reception. The works on display were reviewed by a distinguished panel of experts in art and/or ethics and were selected for their interesting combination of aesthetic accomplishment and reflection on the notion of community. Some of the works demand change, some may make the viewer grimace, laugh, squirm, cry, and/or wonder, and all confront the question, “How ought we live?”

The 17 works on view include photographs, drawings, video, paintings, and mixed media works.

Judges’ Awards

First Prize: FORM Magazine (Cassidy von Seggern, editor-in-chief), Solidary and Solitary: An Introspective, video, run-time 3:40.

Second Prize: Sheridan Wilbur
 (Political Science, 2019), Activists – Are You Asleep Too?, photograph.

Third Prize (tie):

  • Danielle Smith (MFAEDA, 2019), I don’t Understand, mixed media.
  • Adam Beskind (Music and Public Policy, 2020), Afterglow, photograph.

Audience Choice Award (3-way tie):

  • Nathan Liang (Trinity, 2021), Thinking Without the Box, charcoal on paper.
  • Jackson Steger (Public Policy, 2018), Under the Surface – Empathy at Duke, video, run-time 3:49.
  • Jeainny Kim (Visual Arts, 2018), Mandalay Bay Suite 2017, scanner prints.

What Is Good Art? is on display as a collective exhibition in the Keohane-Kenan Gallery of the West Duke Building through May 16, 2018.