Friday, June 9, 2023

The Ethics of Academia (Podcast Series)

About a year ago, I put together a series of podcasts called 'The Ethics of Academia'. The purpose of the podcast was to explore the ethical dilemmas facing academics in their work as researchers, teachers and (to a slightly lesser extent) administrators/leaders. Here are the links to all 12 episodes, along with brief descriptions of their content. You can subscribe/download the full set of episodes on Apple or Spotify or Amazon or Google a range of other services

  • 1 - Sven Nyholm and the Division of Labour: A wide-ranging conversation with Sven Nyholm (now Professor of the Ethics of AI at University of Munich) in which he reflects, in particular, on the ethical importance of the division of labour in academia (among many other topics)

  • 2 - Michael Cholbi on Being Answerable to Humankind: Interview with Michael Cholbi, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. We reflect on the value of applied ethical research and the right approach to teaching. Michael has thought quite a lot about the ethics of work, in general, and the ethics of teaching and grading in particular. So those become central themes in our conversation

  • 3 - Regina Rini and the Value of Speaking to the Public: Interview with Regina Rini, Canada Research Chair at York University in Toronto. Regina has a background in neuroscience and cognitive science but now works primarily in moral philosophy. She has the distinction of writing a lot of philosophy for the public through her columns for the Time Literary Supplement and the value of this public writing becomes a major theme of our conversation.

  • 4 - Justin Weinberg on the State of Philosophy: Interview with Justin Weinberg, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina. Justin researches ethical and social philosophy, as well as metaphilosophy. He is also the editor of the popular Daily Nous blog and has, as a result, developed an interest in many of the moral dimensions of philosophical academia. As a result, our conversation traverses a wide territory, from the purpose of research to the ethics of grading.

  • 5 - Brian Earp on Connecting Research to the Real World: Interview with Brian Earp, Senior Research Fellow with the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics in Oxford. He is a prolific researcher and writer in psychology and applied ethics. We talk about how Brian ended up where he is, the value of applied research, and the importance of connecting research to the real world.

  • 6 - Helen de Cruz on Prestige Bias and the Duty to Review: Interview with Helen de Cruz, Danforth Chair in Humanities at the University of St. Louis. Helen researches the philosophy of belief formation, but also does a lot of professional and public outreach, writes science fiction, and is a very talented illustrator/artist. We talk about the ethics of research, teaching, public outreach and professional courtesy. Some of the particular highlights from the conversation are her thoughts on prestige bias in academia and the crisis of peer reviewing.

  • 7 - Aaron Rabinowitz on the Pedagogy of Moral Luck: Interview with Aaron Rabinowitz, veteran podcaster and philosopher. He is currently doing a PhD in the philosophy of education at Rutgers University. He is particularly interested in the problem of moral luck and how it should affect our approach to education. So that's what we talk about. 

  • 8 - Zena Hitz on Great Books and the value of learning: Interview with Zena Hitz, currently a tutor at St John’s College. She is a classicist and author of the book Lost in Thought. We talk about losing faith in academia, the dubious value of scholarship, the importance of learning, and the risks inherent in teaching. I learned a lot from Zena and found her perspective on the role of academics and educators to be enlightening.

  • 9 - Jason Brennan on the Moral Mess of Higher Education: Interview with Jason Brennan, Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. Jason has written quite a bit about the moral failures and conundrums of higher education, which makes him an ideal guest for this podcast. We talk about the purpose of research, the ethics of (excess?) scholarly productivity, the problem with PhD programmes and the plight of adjuncts.

  • 10 - Jesse Stommel on the Philosophy of Ungrading: Is grading unethical? Coercive and competitive? Should we replace grading with something else? In this podcast I chat to Jesse Stommel, one of the foremost proponents of ‘ungrading’. Jesse is a faculty member of the writing program at the University of Denver. We talk about the problem with traditional grading systems, the idea of ungrading, and how to create communities of respect in the classroom.

  • 11 - Jessica Flanigan on Gadflies and Critical Thinking: Interview with Jessica Flanigan, Professor of Leadership Ethics at the University of Richmond. We talk about the value of philosophical research, whether philosophers should emulate Socrates, and how to create good critical discussions in the classroom. I particularly enjoyed Jessica’s thoughts about effective teaching and I think everyone can learn something from them.

  • 12 - Olle Häggström on Romantics vs Vulgarists in Scientific Research: Interview with Olle Haggstrom, a professor of mathematical statistics at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. Having spent the first half of his academic life focused largely on pure mathematical research, Olle has shifted in recent years to consider how research can benefit humanity and how some research might be too risky to pursue. We have a detailed conversation about the ethics of research and contrast different ideals of what it means to be a scientist in the modern age. 


  1. It seems I have been reading about this for years---well, certainly since I began to follow blogs on this platform. Especially the gentleman from Chicago. What I have not deduced is,:where in academia does ethics reside? It does not show itself in administration, near as I can tell. If it tries to emerge on a faculty level, it is quickly extinguished and people either lose their jobs or are compelled to look for work elsewhere. I have no idea what students think, or if they say anything about what they think. Maybe ancillary staff are still ethically minded? I just don't know.

  2. Let's go all the way 'round. Supposing, for the moment, that academia has no compelling responsibility to be ethical, on any level. Academia is not obligated to raise children, is it? No responsibility to teach right from wrong, good from bad. Hopefully, the experience teaches students how to think, realize and understand (some) of what they are taught. Axiology and deontology are, fundamentally, beyond the sphere of education, unless we are talking about matters of theological interest. So, insofar as subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education are about how things work, not why, ethics and morality are useless. Medicine, of course, is a different story...its' realm intersects that of religion and the metaphysical. Therein lie abstractions: we all die. It must be painful to be a medical practitioner. But, academics who participated in that education have no cross to bear either.
    Rhetorical question: who is buried in Grant's tomb? Pragmatic answer: remains.

  3. A few final, general remarks on the state of ethics and morality, and my responsive consciousness views those matters. For a very long time...or at least as long as I have been around, these subjects have been discussed, jointly or individually. People never seem to tire of them. At first, during my earliest exposure to philosophy, the fascination seemed enigmatic to me. The ideas themselves engendered the 'nod and a wink* response. In a competition-driven capitalistic society, for example, too much attention to and concern with such fundamental, historiographic core values could affect the economic bottom line. Then, after some time, an epiphany gently slapped me, up side the head: ethics and morality are safety valves in competition-driven systems. They have, albeit subtle, a dampening effect upon a free-wheeling, anything goes economy. I am not sure this is as useful and helpful as it may have been, fifty years ago. Then, I had no real interest anyway. And, it is hard to place subtle influences on any sort of timeline. I have elsewhere mentioned Eisenhower's admonition regarding a military-Industrial-complex. War, rumors or war and outcomes of war lead to consequences, whether better or not-so-much.

  4. I am all good with Matthew's views and remarks. There is no perfect world now, however, and there never was. My beef rests on cooperation v. competition. Another contributor claims the beef is, roughly, spam---my assessment, not his. Ethics and morality are mostly moot now, and philosophy is not guilty of advancing that outcome. In this reality, as I have claimed about infinity, you can't get there from here., when it comes to ethics and morality. This, I think, is why moral philosophers find things hopeless. Upholding ethical and moral standards does not comport with the hyper-competitive nature of when we are living. I cannot say this any better. No lo tengo nada mas.