Technological change is everywhere, sparking basic questions: Where are these changes taking us? What values should inform society's choices? In 2019-2020, the Mudd Center will engage a host of questions about "the ethics of technology." How should we think about developments in CRISPR technologies for editing human DNA, what ethical guidelines should apply, and what vision of humanity should the guidelines reflect? In the realm of robotics and artificial intelligence, what ethical considerations should inform the practices of designers, builders, and users? As governments and businesses increasingly use digital decision-making systems, what duties arise to prevent unfair treatment of citizens? As surveillance technologies become ever more pervasive and effective, how should privacy be understood, and what rules should protect it from invasion by the state or private entities? Should the practices of big tech companies - including unprecedented gathering and selling of information about individuals - be regulated, and if so, how? What benefits and risks are associated with Big Data algorithms, and how can the technological revolution be harnessed to contribute to the public good? The aim of this year's series is to explore these and related questions.
Programs and Events at the Mudd Center
The Mudd Center welcomes distinguished lecturers throughout the year to speak on ethical issues. Students, faculty, and staff attend these lectures and jointly reflect on current ethical issues prevalent in our society.
What is, and is not, a part of our “identity”? Can we choose our identities, or are our identities given to, or imposed upon, us? How do our identities constrain our freedom, and how do they enhance it? What role (if any) should our racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, biological, national, religious, cultural, and/or professional identities play in our individual and collective decision-making? Can our identities generate ethical obligations for us? What should we do when our identities come into conflict? Should the government play a role in fostering or supporting the development of (particular) identities? The aim of this year’s series is to explore these and related questions about “the ethics of identity.”
Equality is an ideal that is widely embraced yet deeply contested. What does, or should, it mean to treat one another as “equals” in moral, social, or political life? Is there a tension between respect for individual differences and equality of treatment? Do groups or cultures, as well as individuals, have a claim to be treated equally? What happens if formal equality and substantive equality conflict? What is the relation between equality and justice? The aim of this year’s series is to explore these and related questions about “equality and difference.”
Our economic life raises a number of important ethical questions: What commodities should (and should not) be exchanged in the market? What is the relationship between a thing’s price and its value? Is voluntary exchange always just? What are the moral obligations of producers and consumers? What, if anything, is owed to those who lose out in market competition? Are corporations moral agents? How does the operation of the market impact behavior and character, and is this a good or bad thing? The purpose of this year’s theme is to examine these and other issues relating to “Markets and Morals.”
In a world marked by increasing globalization, transnational migration, and political, religious, and identity-based conflict, how should we understand the concept of "citizenship," and what role should this concept play in our thinking about questions of political membership and civic responsibility? Should our central understanding of citizenship remain state-based, or should we adopt more global or cosmopolitan conceptions of citizenship? What are the virtues that define, or ought to define, the good citizen? The purpose of this year’s theme is to examine various issues surrounding "the ethics of citizenship."
Fifty years after the landmark passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the United States is still a country marked by pervasive racial inequalities – in the areas of education, employment, health care, incarceration rates, and household wealth, among many others. What explains these continuing racial inequalities, and how, if at all, should a just society respond to them? We will explore this topic throughout the year through a series of speakers and events.
Washington and Lee has a long tradition of sponsoring professional ethics institutes that bring together current students, practicing professionals, alumni, and guest speakers to discuss ethical “case studies” in the areas of business ethics, medical ethics, legal ethics and environmental ethics.