Ethics Certificate

How ought we to live?

From the challenges facing governments in a global world to the decisions you confront every day at Duke, the Ethics Certificate provides you with the skills and confidence you need to create and evaluate solutions to ethical dilemmas. Students pursuing the Ethics Certificate take courses from a number of disciplines and engage with multiple perspectives in order to answer this question. This rigorous approach helps develop clarity of thought and expression about ethical issues.

Does a government have the right to insist on another government’s adherence to human rights standards? Should a museum be forced to return artifacts that were stolen centuries before the museum acquired them? Is it ever OK to take drugs to improve performance on an exam? What similar problems were faced by people in the past, and how did they resolve them? How can art, music, and literature provide insight into our real-world challenges?

Students pursuing the Ethics Certificate have the option to pursue two pathways. The Curricular Pathway consists of six courses and provides an option to pursue one of three tracks: Bioethics, Science, and Society; International Law and Human Rights; and Markets, Policy, and the Professions. The Experiential Pathway combines three courses with two experiential components: a faculty mentored independent research project and community-based field work. One of these two required components in the Experiential Ethics Certificate Program must occur after the completion of the gateway course and before the capstone begins.

The Ethics Certificate is designed with the view that, in order to answer the question “How ought we to live” students need to undertake a course of study across a number of disciplines and engage with multiple perspectives. Whether you choose to engage in the study of ethics primarily to feed our intellectual curiosity, to serve your desire to change the world, or to provide definition for your own ethical path, the Ethics Certificate and the Experiential Ethics Certificate programs will help you to meet your goals.

How to enroll

ECP-BevAll students regardless of major are eligible to enroll in the Ethics Certificate Program.

Although students may officially register for the certificate with the University Registrar only after declaring a major, students are encouraged to arrange an in-person meeting as soon as they develop an interest in the program. In addition to enrolling through the registrar’s office, students must complete a brief essay outlining their interest in ethics and their plans for completing the certificate.

Sequencing is an important feature of the new Experiential Ethics Certificate pathway. Students are required to declare this track by the end of drop/add in the fall of their junior year. Declaration must include four components: 1) a written essay outlining the logic and rationale for the pathway; 2) identification of the four courses and two thematically related experiences; 3) establishment of publicly facing e-portfolio; 4) selection of a three person faculty advisory committee to vet student declaration proposals and advise students through the certificate.


Guest speakers, special lectures, and other exciting events play an important role in the Ethics Certificate Program. Here are some highlights from the past few years.

  • Bev Perdue, former NC Governor and Visiting Fellow at the Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Alejandro Sanchez of Accion Emprendedora USA in Durham
  • Kevin Trapani of the Redwoods Group
  • Anne Cubilié from the United Nations, who was the Visiting Human Rights Scholar at Duke in Spring 2012
  • Christine Bader, non-resident Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics and former advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for business and human rights
  • Craig Howe, Ph.D. in anthropology and architecture and director of the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies (CAIRNS) on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota


Both the Curricular and Experiential Ethics Certificate Pathways require the Gateway introductory course and the Capstone course. Approved courses will be listed approximately two weeks in advance of registration each semester, and a master list of past approved courses will be available from the program director.

Gateway: Ethics 101D/PolSci 120D: The Challenges of Living an Ethical Life
This course is specially designed for Ethics Certificate students and is offered once each academic year. All Ethics Certificate students are required to take this course.

Capstone: Ethics 490S: Research Seminar in Ethics
This course should be taken in the spring semester of a student’s senior year, and it is open only to Ethics Certificate students. Usually organized around a broad theme, the course allows students to undertake their own original research, integrating the knowledge obtained through a major or majors with insights gained through a study of ethics. As appropriate, the research for this course can link with (but not substituted by) research undertaken to graduate with Distinction in a major or in the certificate.

Experiential Certificate Requirements
In addition to the Gateway and Capstone courses, students must take ONE other course in ethics as well as complete TWO different experiential components totaling 450 hours of work. The first experience must be a faculty mentored research experience (either for-credit or not) that must exceed 150 hours and align with one of the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ five program areas: Human Rights; Global Migration; Rethinking Regulation; Moral Attitudes and Decision-Making; or Religions and Public Life. The second is a non-credit community-based field experience that exceeds 300 hours. This field experience will be of the student’s choosing, but may include an existing program such as DukeEngage Dublin or Kenan Summer Fellows.

Curricular Certificate Requirements
Option 1: In addition to the Gateway and Capstone courses, students must take FOUR courses which should be distributed as follows:

I. Philosophical Ethics: Develop a foundation in philosophical ethical traditions. Students must take at least one course from a list of approved courses in this category.

II. Cross-Cultural Ethical Traditions: Develop insight into a variety of ethical traditions across cultures. Students must take at least one course from a list of approved courses in this category.

III. Ethics in Historical Perspective: Develop knowledge of different ethical dilemmas across time, as well as the variety of solutions offered to those dilemmas. Students must take at least one course from a list of approved courses in this category or one course in Category IV below.

IV. Ethics in Literature and Arts: Develop a moral imagination and gain a deeper understanding of human frailty, creativity, and strength by studying fiction, poetry, painting, and film. Students must take at least one course from a list of approved courses in this category or one course in Category III.

V. Ethics of Contemporary Issues: Explore the ethical challenges in today’s workplaces, fields of study, and everyday life. Students may take one course from a list of approved courses in this category.

Students take one course each from Category I and Category II, one course in either Category III or Category IV, and one additional course in any of the five categories.

Option 2: For students pursuing one of the optional tracks, in addition to the Gateway and Capstone courses, they must take THREE courses from a list of approved courses in the chosen track and ONE additional course from a list of approved courses in one of the five categories listed above. Students may choose one of the following tracks:

  • Bioethics, Science, and Society
  • International Law and Human Rights
  • Markets, Policy, and the Professions

The following rules apply to students in all Duke certificate programs:

  • No more than half of the courses taken to satisfy the requirements of the certificate may originate in a single department or program.
  • Students electing to satisfy the requirements of a certificate program may use for that purpose no more than two courses that are also used to satisfy the requirements of a major, minor, or other certificate programs being pursued.
  • At least four of the courses used for a certificate must be 100-level or above.
  • At least half the courses taken to satisfy a certificate must be taken at Duke.

Course Registration Information
This is not a complete list of courses that are approved for the Ethics Certificate, but only those that were offered in each semester listed. Courses listed for Spring 2011 follow the old curriculum categories, but the classes themselves can still count towards the certificate.

Objectives & Assessments

The Ethics Certificate follows Socrates by asking, “How ought we to live?” The program is designed with the view that to engage in answering this question requires rigorous study across a number of disciplines. To fulfill our mission, we have created a course of study in which students take classes in philosophical and religious ethics that engage in examination of how those two areas of inquiry, with such rich traditions in ethical reflection and analysis, have approached the question of how we ought to live. Additionally, because other disciplines have developed their own approaches to ethical questions, we also require students to take courses examining how we ought to live from a selection of those other perspectives.

We believe courses in the program should model a particular kind of ethical inquiry that attends honestly and openly to diverse points of view, and thus, we require students to take courses that explicitly engage multiple perspectives. The goal is not to create moral or ethical confusion, but rather, through thorough examination, to help students develop clarity of thought and expression about ethical issues.

The student learning objectives of the Ethics Certificate are to stimulate students to think more broadly and deeply about moral issues. To assess our program, we rely on a mix of student surveys and interviews, evaluation of course syllabi and materials from select courses, and interviews with faculty. Students will

  • recognize ethical dilemmas and distinguish them from nonethical dilemmas
  • learn how to make ethical arguments and articulate what is distinctive about such arguments
  • develop a moral imagination, including the ability to see the world from another’s point of view
  • appreciate the value of reciprocal attentiveness in ethical dialogue, and develop the skill of such attentiveness
  • become familiar with the diverse intellectual and political traditions that frame and deepen ethical questions, and that may even, in some circumstances, move us toward something like a “solution”
  • develop an understanding of their own ethical principles or theories


2014 graduates
Grace Benson, Daniella Cordero, Kelly Howard, Esther Kim, Cory Lancaster, Caroline Marschilok, Julie Stefanich, Kenneth Strickland

2013 graduates
Sarah Bartleson, Bethany Horstmann, Kristian King, Shannon Sullivan, Catherine Thurner, Matthew Warren, Leah Yaffe

2012 graduates
Ryann Child, Max Cohen, Ben Elkind, Michael McCreary, Nancy McKinstry, Jessica Newman

2011 graduates
Adam Banks, Dustin Gamza, Sarah Kim, Emily Lang, Snayha Nath, Laura Nickelhoff, Andrew Ognibene, Rachel Revelle, Doug Ross, Joe Wilson

2010 graduates
Jared Blau (Biology, Genome Sciences and Policy),Alex Burns (Political Science), Amanda Catalani (Political Science, Literature), Jamie Falow (Political Science, History), Alexa Farmer (Political Science, History), Brandon Fyffe (Public Policy, Philosophy), Raisa Ledesma-Rodriguez (Public Policy, Economics), Caroline McGeough (Public Policy), Emmanuelle Noar (Philosophy), Poorav Rohatgi (Political Science), Rachel Silverman (Political Science), Jessica So (Political Science), Vikram Srinivasan (Political Science, Economics), Vivek Upadhyay (Biology, Chemistry), Yifan Wang (Political Science), Divya Yerramilli (Biology, Chemistry)

2009 graduates
Dan Haaren (Political Science/Political Theory), Mary Key (Women’s Studies, Chemistry), Pamela Lang (Psychology/Personality & Social Behavior), Anne Meyers (History/Europe, Art History), Amanda Norris (Political Science/International Relations, French Studies), Christian Pikaart (International Relations/Political Science, History), Melissa Wiesner (Public Policy Studies, Cultural Anthropology)