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Our events are sponsored by the Philosophy and Religion Department, PPE Program, and CSSH

Upcoming Events

AI, data science, and machine learning are increasingly a part of everyday life, and every sector of society. The headlines are filled with examples of AI and data science used for great benefits, but also leading to great harms. The IDEAS residential summer program will provide an opportunity for undergraduates to spend a week in either Boston or San Diego to learn from world experts on data science, ethics, computer science, philosophy, law, and more. The program will help the next generation learn how to think critically and systematically about the ethical risks posed by these technologies, and how to responsibly develop AI and data science systems that benefit the many, not only the few. Topics covered include: values in AI design, justice and fairness, privacy, interpretability and transparency, and broader personal and societal impacts.

The Northeast Workshop to Learn About Multicultural Philosophy (NEWLAMP) is designed to equip philosophy professors with the competency to integrate modules on traditionally underrepresented areas of philosophy into their undergraduate philosophy courses. For its first edition, which will take place at Northeastern University in Boston, July 11-15, 2022, NEWLAMP will focus on African and Africana social and political philosophy.

Undergraduates from underrepresented groups are invited to study logic — five topics over five days, with ten top international instructors —  at Northeastern University for one week in the summer of 2022.

‌There is a competitive application process for this Summer Program, and we will accept 10 students. Transportation to and from Northeastern, as well as room and board will be provided. And, a modest stipend will also be awarded to each participant.

By participating in this supportive program, undergraduates study logic in an inclusive setting and learn that there is a place for them in the field and that they have something valuable to offer the discipline.

Past Events

Ethics Institute Speaker: Justin Bruner 

Date: April 22, 2022

Time: 3:30pm-5:00pm

Location: Renaissance Park 426

Title: Risk, rules and agreement

Abstract: What does it mean to divide fairly? One approach popular in computer science and economics begins with a fairness rule, a procedure or algorithm that determines how to allocate various goods. Normative criteria are then invoked to compare different rules.  Yet no rule satisfies all normative criteria.  We outline an alternative approach that draws inspiration from the social contract tradition.  Briefly, contractarians take the ideal rules to be those rules rational individuals would agree to in certain circumstances.  With the help of a computer simulation, we explore the fragility of agreement and consider whether consensus still exists when individuals have different attitudes toward risk and, alternatively, have drastically different beliefs about the extent to which their interests overlap.

PPE Speaker, Regine Jean-Charles


Date: Thursday, April 21st

Time: 11:45am-1:25pm

Location: Renaissance Park 909 and on Zoom (Register for the Zoom event here.)

Title: Do Something Transformative: Black Feminisms and Social Justice
Abstract: This talk explores how Black feminist authors, activists, and artists have use their work to intervene in social justice issues. Using the example of the Combahee River Collective’s statement of their politics as a guide, we will trace how attention to race, gender, and justice animates and inspires the work of Black feminists over time.

Speaker: Alicja Dobrzeniecka and Rafal Urbaniak 

Time: 3:30pm-5:00pm

Location: Renaissance Park 310

Title: Taking uncertainty seriously: a Bayesian approach to bias estimation in natural language processing

Abstract: A considerable amount of literature exists on bias detection and mitigation in natural language processing models, especially word2vec embeddings, which represent words as vectors of real numbers. The most common methods used compare cosine similarity between vectors corresponding to words from protected groups and (vectors corresponding to) attributes that are considered to be stereotypical or harmful in some way. Such methods will be in our focus. We will argue that the existing methods are for various reasons deficient and propose a better approach.
Speaker Bio: This event’s speakers are Alicja Dobrzeniecka and Rafal Urbaniak. Alicja Dobrzeniecka is an MA student in AI at Vrij Universiteit Amsterdam. Urbaniak is a scholar interested in applications of formal (esp. probabilistic) methods to philosophical and social problems, such as those related to legal applications of probabilistic methods, algorithmic fairness and formal epistemology.

Speaker: Espen Stabell

Location: Renaissance Park 426 (Common Room)

Time: 3:30pm-5:00pm

Title: Moral uncertainty: the two-level view

Abstract: It has been argued that under uncertainty about which first-order moral theory or view is correct, decision-makers should employ a distinct, ‘second-level’ theory for decision-making under moral uncertainty. I call this the two-level view of decision-making under moral uncertainty. In the paper, I discuss a version of the two-level view which says that decision theory should be employed on the second level: if you are uncertain between two (or more) theories, you should ‘hedge your bets’: you should decide based on your preferences and beliefs (credences) with regard to the theories in question. I point out a worry regarding this view: that it can lead to a kind of ‘moral laziness’, where decision-makers avoid work on the first-level and move too quickly to the second level. I connect this worry to a more general issue: how the work on the first level might affect the legitimacy and strength of the ‘second-level oughts’ of moral uncertainty. This, I argue, must be clarified in order to put something like the two-level view to work in our actual decision making.

The Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) at the Northeastern University School of Law invites you to attend a virtual book event: The Coming Good Society: A Conversation with the Authors, William F. Schulz and Sushma Raman! Detailed information and a Zoom registration link are available on the Northeastern University event site. The event is co-sponsored by the Ethics Institute and the Department of Philosophy and Religion of Northeastern University.

Speaker: Daniela Gandorfer

Time: 3:30pm-5:00pm

Location: 326 Renaissance Park

Title: “Down and Dirty in the Field of Play: Startup Societies, Cryptostatecraft, and Critical Complicity”
Abstract: Phenomena such as human-induced climate change, global rise of authoritarian regimes, mistrust in democratic structures, and the potential of new digital technologies for producing novel modes of governance are  inducing fundamental shifts in the conditions of existence on earth. Furthermore, they are also constituting normative indeterminacies which are providing a fertile ground for political experiments in organizing, governing, and imagining societies differently. This talk focuses on a particular mode of governance, namely competitive crypto-governance, outlines the implications of its underlying imaginaries, and suggests collaborative approaches towards an alternative understanding of law and governance in the 21st century.
Speaker Bio: Daniela is trained in legal theory, science and technology studies, media studies, as well as process philosophy. Her research focuses on scientific and technological frontier spaces — such as quantum physics, digital and crypto-technologies, and psychadelics — and their implications for emerging forms of normativity and governance. Special interest lies on the possibilities for an ethics of sensing and sense-making (synaesethics) attentive to these phenomena.
She is the recipient of the 2021 ASciNA Young Scientist Award, and has co-edited the Research Handbook in Law and Literature (Edward Elgar Publishing, with Peter Goodrich and Cecilia Gebruers) as well as the Theory & Event special issue “Matterphorical” (Johns Hopkins Press, with Zulaikha Ayub). Her book Matterphorics: On the Laws of Theory is forthcoming with Duke University Press.

Speaker: Alex Gourevitch

Time: Tuesday, March 1 from 10:00am-11:30am

Location: 909 Renaissance Park

Title: On Necessary Labor: Why a UBI can’t be a path to a post-work future
Abstract: It was once standard to understand socialism as a regime of freedom because it was based on shared labor. The contemporary Left is captured by an alternative ‘post-work’ vision, in which emancipation is equated with being freed not just from work but from a work-based society itself. Policies like a ‘Universal Basic Income’ are now supposed to ground a emancipatory vision of a society in which nobody is forced to work. Promoting a UBI is supposed to re-ignite left-wing politics by guiding the political imagination towards the attractions of a post-work utopia. Unfortunately, this vision is grounded in a series of deceptions about why some labor is necessary. These deceptions are both an intellectual and political liability. Intellectually, the deceptions leave the Left without the ability to properly describe, let alone theorize, the problems that any serious socialist project has to face. The core question is about how to define, organize and distribute necessary labor in a way consistent with human freedom. Politically, Left proponents of a UBI are left unable to see what is utterly reasonable, even valuable, about popular attachments to work. They end up representing socialist views about work and freedom as far more marginal and at odds with widespread views than they need or ought to be. In many ways, the public tacitly understands, better than UBI proponents, the need for some formal organization of necessary labor.

PPE/Ethics Institute Speaker, Dr. Robert Talisse

Time: 12:00-1:15pm

Location: Renaissance Park 909 and on Zoom (Register for the Zoom portion here)

Title: Why We Need Political Enemies

Abstract: When engaged in democratic politics, it often strikes us that our opponents are not only wrong, but in the wrong.  We tend to see them as not merely mistaken, but ignorant, corrupt, and on the side of injustice.  Most accounts of responsible citizenship contend that we must nonetheless uphold civil relations with them.  But why?  When the stakes are high, why not just dismiss our opponents? Why bother trying to maintain civil relations with them?  In this talk, Robert Talisse draws on empirical work concerning belief polarization to argue that we must uphold civil relations with our political enemies, not because we are required to regard them as reasonable, but because in the absence of those relations our political alliances crumble.

Speaker Bio: Robert B. Talisse is W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He specializes in democratic theory, with an emphasis on justice, citizenship, public deliberation, and political disagreement. His most recent research is focused on polarization and partisan animosity. His new book is titled Sustaining Democracy: What We Owe to the Other Side.  It explores the challenges of treating one’s political opponents as nonetheless one’s equals.

PPE/Ethics Institute Speaker, Dr. Larry Blum

Time: 12:00-1:30pm

Location: In-person (location TBA) and Zoom (register here)

Title: Can School Integration Bring About Equal Education?

Abstract: Racial integration has been oversold to the American public as a low-cost route to equality of education. Educational equality can be created only by reducing inequality—of both a class and a race nature—in the wider society. Serious reduction of poverty, and challenging the wealthy’s “opportunity hoarding” are necessary. Integration by itself is a diversion from the need to challenge white supremacy, requiring a reparative justice response, and the extreme class-based inequities of our current social order. However, integration is a vital component of the moral, civic, and social aspects of education that have been sidelined in our current neoliberal era. Bringing diverse populations into the same schools and classrooms, as a school like CRLS does, is a necessary foundation for preparing future citizens of our multiracial democracy.

Speaker Bio: Lawrence Blum is (Emeritus) Professor of Liberal Arts and Education and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He works in the areas of philosophy of race, philosophy of education, moral philosophy and social and political philosophy. He is the author of 6 books, including “I’m Not a Racist, But…”: The Moral Quandary of Race, and High Schools, Race, and America’s Future: What Students Can Teach Us About Morality, Diversity, and Community.

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University.

Title: The Case for Climate Reparations

Abstract: A partnered investigation between ProPublica and the New York Times has revealed the writing on the wall. We are at the beginnings of a “Great Climate Migration” that will transform the world. There are two ways forward: climate colonialism and apartheid or climate reparations. Climate apartheid describes the fact that we can expect a new kind of social division to arise within countries and communities: between those who can pay to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and those who cannot. Climate colonialism simply considers this same phenomenon on an international scale.

Reparations is a way forward through the climate crisis that doesn’t double down on these dismal precedents. A reparatory approach to climate migration would involve an overhaul of climate policy in both nation-states and multinational institutions. It would be broadly redistributive of wealth and power, both within and across countries. That redistribution would be historically informed: we would reject both the ‘rescue’ framing of state elites’ naked pursuit of self interest in refugee policy and the “voluntary repatriation” centered model that allows them to act on it with international authorization. Ultimately, we endorse the argument, developed and defended by legal scholar E. Tendayi Achiume, that corrective, distributive justice demands recognition of the entitlement of “Third World persons” to “a form of First World citizenship”.

However extreme this renegotiation of state sovereignty and citizenship may strike some readers, it’s nowhere near as extreme as the logical conclusion of the status quo’s violent alternative: mass famine, region-scale armed conflict. Compared to the horrors of climate apartheid and colonialism, having more neighbors is a small price to pay.

We suggest to read an article he wrote in Foreign Policy on this topic, The Case for Climate Reparations

Register here: https://forms.gle/vrDjEzpw7J72M5yw5

*This event was recorded

Information Ethics Roundtable Speaker Prof. Josh Simons, Harvard University

Title“Regulating Informational Infrastructure: Are Facebook and Google utilities for democracy?”

Abstract: Now that the nation and the world have woken up to the manifold threats internet platforms pose to the public sphere and to democracy, we need a framework for understanding why internet platforms matter for democracy and how they should be regulated. This paper and talk aim to sketch out that framework.

Facebook and Google use algorithms to rank and order vast quantities of content and information, shaping how we consume news and access information, communicate with and feel about one another, debate fundamental questions of the common good, and make collective decisions. Facebook and Google are private companies whose algorithms have become part of the infrastructure of our public sphere.  This infrastructure is a critical tool for communication and organization, political expression, and collective decision making. By controlling how this infrastructure is designed and operated, Facebook and Google shape the content and character of our digital public sphere, concentrating not just economic power, but social and political power too. Private powers who exercise unilateral control over vital information infrastructure should be held accountable to the public good.

I argue we should regulate Facebook and Google as a new kind of public utility – utilities for democracy. The public utility concept offers a dynamic and flexible set of regulatory tools to impose public oversight where corporations are affected by a public interest. Regulating Facebook and Google as public utilities would offer opportunities for regulatory innovation, experimenting with new mechanisms of decision making that draw on the collective judgement of citizens, reforming sclerotic institutions of representation, and constructing new regulatory authorities to inform the governance of algorithms. Regulating Facebook and Google as public utilities would be a decisive assertion of public power that would strengthen and energize democracy.

*This event is being held in collaboration with Bentley University and has been sponsored by The State Street Foundation.

*This will also be a pre-read talk, with the paper attached to registrants. 

If you are interested please register here: https://bentley.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMrcuiqrTwoHNe1Q_Dg2UjyKZ_dsWt5b5U2

Title: Does Democracy Have A Future?

Abstract: Echoing Plato’s argument in Book VIII of The Republic, some thinkers contend that democracies have an unavoidable tendency to destroy themselves from within. Familiar Platonic concerns have been strengthened by the demise of print-journalism, the emergence of the “post-truth” era, the economic challenges of globalization and the digital economy, and the dangers of racist and xenophobic fear and resentment. But this talk will argue that even if democracy is on life support, the means of saving it from destruction are still within our grasp. We must be to reinvigorate democratic civic virtues such as collective compromise, civic sacrifice, horizontal trust, and allow mutual respect and compassionate concern to reshape our interactions in the “public square.”

Speaker Bio: Michele Moody-Adams is currently Joseph Straus Professor of Political Philosophy and Legal Theory at Columbia University, where she served as Dean of Columbia College and Vice President for Undergraduate Education from 2009-2011. Before Columbia, she taught at Cornell University, where she was Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Director of the Program on Ethics and Public Life. She has also taught at Wellesley College, the University of Rochester, and Indiana University, where she served as an Associate Dean.

Moody-Adams has published on equality and social justice, moral psychology and the virtues, and the philosophical implications of gender and race. She is also the author of a widely cited book on moral relativism, Fieldwork in Familiar Places: Morality, Culture and Philosophy (Harvard Press 1997). Her current work includes articles on academic freedom, equal educational opportunity, and democratic disagreement. Her next book, coming out in late 2021, is entitled Making Space for Justice: Social Movements, Collective Imagination and Political Hope (under contract with Columbia University Press). . She is also working on a project entitled Renewing Democracy and a book on the thought of Martin Luther King, Jr. Moody-Adams has a B.A. from Wellesley College, a second B.A. from Oxford University, and earned the M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from Harvard University. She has been a British Marshall Scholar, an NEH Fellow, and is a lifetime Honorary Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford.

**This event was recorded

Register here: https://forms.gle/92hdFiA5ddvPWeLLA