Why ethics? The Kenan Institute for Ethics offers undergraduates multiple pathways to explore meaningful ethical questions. The Ethics & Society Certificate is about ideas and action. Through coursework, faculty mentored research, internships and engagement with community, government and business leaders, students learn to both “think and do” at Duke and beyond.

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 & Society Certificate grapple with big questions and thorny problems using multiple perspectives while building marketable analytic and leadership skills.

Those who pursue the Ethics & Society Certificate will follow either a course-based pathway or an experiential pathway. Both share a Gateway and Capstone course. The course-based pathway requires a total of six courses, while the experiential pathway requires four total courses as well as two experiential components, such as mentored research or community-based field work.

Explore the Ethics & Society Certificate below, or click here to view the paths previous students have taken. Please email David Toole or Kali Wagner if you have any questions.


This course is an interdisciplinary introduction to ethical inquiry using materials from film to philosophy to explore questions of personal ethics as well as political and social ethical challenges. CZ, EI. Fall and Spring. No prerequisites. Open to everyone.

Spring 2021 offering: MW 10:15AM-11:30AM

This course should be taken in the spring semester of a student’s senior year, and it is open only to Ethics & Society Certificate students. The students choose a topic, read about and discuss that topic, and then write a book together on that topic, editing each other’s chapters.  Students bring together interdisciplinary insights from previous work in the certificate program and work collaboratively to produce their book. 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. EI, R, W. Spring only.

Spring 2019 offering: TBD based on seniors’ schedules.

We post a list of classes approved for each semester during the corresponding bookbagging period. Special Topics, Study Abroad, and Experiential Pathway courses must be approved on a case-by-case basis. To request course approval, contact David Toole.

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

  • The combined number of majors, minors, and certificates may not exceed three. Thus, you could declare as a maximum: two majors and either a minor or a certificate; a major and two minors; a major and two certificates; or a major, a minor, and a certificate.
  • For a traditional certificate, you can use no more than two course credits to fulfill the requirements of a certificate with another major, minor or certificate.
  • For an experiential certificate, you can use no more than one course credit to fulfill the requirements of that certificate with another major, minor or certificate.
  • At least half the courses taken to satisfy a major, minor or certificate must be Duke course credits, although individual departments and programs may require a greater proportion. Transfer students should consult with the department.

Course-based Pathway

The course-based pathway engages students in classical and contemporary ethical debates across many disciplines. Students may choose to concentrate their study in one of the thematic tracks, which currently include:

  • Ethics and Environmental Policy
  • Ethics and Technology
  • Moral Attitudes
  • Religion and Public Life

Concentration in a thematic track is not required for the course-based pathway.

In addition to the Gateway and Capstone courses, students must take at least four electives from the following categories (1 elective in Category I, 1 elective in Category II, 1 elective in Category III OR Category IV, and 1 elective in any category):

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 are not required to take a course in this category.

Experiential Pathway

In the Experiential Pathway, students work with the Ethics & Society Certificate Director, David Toole, to craft their own coherent pathway bringing together coursework, research, and community engagement focused in one of the following seven areas: arts & ethics, global migration, ethical economies, moral attitudes and decision-making, ethical tech, virtues & values, and religions and public life.

In addition to the Gateway and Capstone courses, students must take two additional courses (see Course Registration Information above for a list of approved courses) related to the track of their choosing as well as complete two different experiential components. One experiential component must total 150 hours of faculty-mentored research (usually completed over the course of one or two semesters) and the other component must total 300 hours of field work (usually completed over the summer).

  • Research Experience: One experience must be a faculty-mentored research experience (either for-credit or not). This could include an independent research topic or work as part of a research team, like Bass Connections.
  • Field Experience: The second experience is a non-credit, community-based field experience. Students may choose any type of field work, but this could include an existing program such as DukeEngage or Kenan Summer Fellows.

Interested students should contact David Toole for more information.