Coffeehouse Conversations on Practical Ethics
Where faculty, staff, graduate students and undergraduates from every part of our USC community are encouraged to talk about the ethical questions of the day. Free lunch and open dialogue.
Coffeehouse Program Director Sharon Lloyd, Professor of Philosophy, Law, and Political Science
Professor Lloyd founded the series and has moderated the Levan Coffeehouse Conversations since 2009. The multidisciplinary themes and wide range of panelists organized by Lloyd reach across the professional schools, the humanities, the social sciences and sciences.
SPRING 2014 CONVERSATIONS
PLAYING FAIR OR PLAYING GREAT: Why shouldn't athletes dope?
Wednesday, April 9, 2014, Noon
Athletics seeks to develop supreme excellence in human skills—faster, stronger, longer, farther, more complex than ever before. Advances in training techniques and equipment that improve athletic performance have been widely accepted, despite the fact that these often costly resources differentially advantage those athletes who do and those who do not have access to them. But we draw the line at performance-enhancing drugs. Why? For reasons of competitive fairness? For paternalistic concerns with athletes’ health? Are prohibitions on doping morally justified, or should we just allow athletes to improve their performance by any means they choose?William Morgan, Professor of the Division of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy and the Annenberg School of CommunicationMike Shapiro, Dorothy W. Nelson Professor of Law, USC Gould School of LawJohn Callaghan, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, USC DornsifeJames Collins, Assistant Professor of Classics, USC DornsifeAlida Liberman, PhD Candidate, Philosophy, USC Dornsife
ECONOMIC JUSTICE: Is our system fair?
Wednesday, March 12, 2014, NoonThere has lately been increasing discussion in the United States about economic inequality, as the gap between rich and poor has grown and upward mobility has declined. With decreased funding for social support programs and increasing costs of higher education, some fear that the American Dream has become out of reach. One particular locus of debate concerns not welfare policy, but wage policy. When a full time wage worker cannot support herself above the poverty line, still less her family, while corporate executives receive salaries higher by a factor of thousands than other workers at the same firm, it is natural to ask: Is there such a thing as too low a wage for work, too high a wage, or too great a differential in wages? Should we legislate a higher minimum wage, or cap executive salaries? Or would doing so infringe liberty, or prove counterproductive, making the worst off worse off still?Rhacel Parrenas, Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies and Chair of Sociology, USC Dornsife
Jonathan Quong, Associate Professor of Philosophy, USC Dornsife
Kevin Starr, University Professor and Professor of History, and Policy, Planning, and Development, USC Dornsife
Leandro S. Carvalho, Associate Economist at the Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR), USC Dornsife
PAST LEVAN COFFEEHOUSE CONVERSATIONS
MINDLESS MEAT: A Technological Solution To A Moral Problem?Wednesday, October 30, 2013World wide demand for meat is growing, particularly in the developing world. But concerns about the detrimental environmental impact of expanded animal farming, the inefficiency of feeding livestock rather than humans directly, and imposing suffering on sentient beings have led companies to invest in developing mindless meat, or lab-grown animal flesh, that lacks sentience. Is this a practical or morally desirable way of addressing those concerns? Would it be better to discourage meat consumption altogether, through educational, legal, or economic measures?Varun Soni, USC Dean of Religious LifeAlida Liberman, PhD Student in Philosophy, USC DornsifeTok Thompson, Associate Professor of Anthropology, USC Dornsife
DEMOCRATIC TRANSPARENCY AND STATE SECRETS: A Question of Values?Wednesday, September 18, 2013, Noon
Do extensive government surveillance programs of the sort recently revealed by Edward Snowden interfere with democratic citizens’ ability to exercise self-government? Would a government’s deploying secret interpretations of secret laws in secret courts be compatible with the rule of law? Should we grant our government the authority openly to conduct comprehensive surveillance of ourselves and our fellow citizens?John Dreher, Associate Professor of Philosophy, USC DornsifeMichael H. Shapiro, Dorothy W. Nelson Professor of Law, USC Gould School of LawKevin Starr, University Professor and Professor of History, USC DornsifeAri Ratner, Fellow at Truman National Security Project, formerly with Obama Department of StateTiffany Chang, Ph.D Candidate in Philosophy, USC DornsifeMatthew Gratias, Ph.D Candidate in Political Science and International Relations, USC Dornsife
Are We Responsible for Government Gridlock?
A majority of Americans today report dissatisfaction, even disgust, with Congress, largely because of its perceived inability to pass what all acknowledge to be needed legislation. Yet we are part of the electorate responsible for the composition of our dysfunctional Congress. If we elect representatives on their promise that they will not compromise on the issues we care about, and our opponents do as well, who is responsible for the ensuing paralysis of our government?Is it ethical to vote solely on the basis of our personal interests and our particular ethical or religious values—even as it threatens gridlock in a pluralistic society like ours? Or does morality require us to vote on the basis of our society’s common interest in functioning government in common matters, recognizing that others in our free society will disagree with our personal and particular values, and that ours may lose out?Nicholas Weller, Assistant Professor, Political Science, USC DornsifeJohn Matsusaka, Vice Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs, Charles F. Sexton Chair in American Enterprise, and Professor of Finance and Business Economics, USC MarshallErica Kula, PhD in Political Science, USC DornsifeAlida Liberman, PhD student, Philosophy, Levan Institute Graduate Ethics Fellows, USC Dornsife
MESSENGER OR MENACE: Can Media Still Act Responsibly?
In the not-too-distant past, there was a fairly clear line separating journalists from mere consumers of media. With the recent proliferation of media outlets, magnified by the rise of consumer-generated and disseminated “news,” the distinction between reporter and consumer has been blurred, if not entirely obliterated. We are all members of the media. Should we embrace a perfectly free “marketplace of ideas” totally unconstrained by moral values of honesty, fairness and concern for the welfare of others?Geneva Overholser, Director and Professor, School of Journalism, USC AnnenbergTom Hollihan, Professor of Communication, USC AnnenbergShlomo Sher, Philosophy, USC Dornsife
My Body Made Me Do It!Wednesday, October 24, 2012, Noon
Sadness is a medical condition. Addiction is a medical condition. Shyness is a medical condition. Lack of concentration, anxiety, fear, sleeplessness, hyperactivity- it's as if to lead a successful life, we must first get a medical diagnosis, locate causal factors in toxins and chemical imbalance. Rather than problems to be medicated, are these conditions simply personality features that can be improved by personal effort? What remains of personal responsibility?
Erin Quinn, Co-Director, Primary Care Community Medicine Program, USC Keck School of Medicine
Michael Shapiro, Dorothy W. Nelson Professor of Law, USC Gould School of Law
Joshua Crabill, Levan Graduate Ethics Fellow, Philosophy, USC Dornsife
Sydney Thayer, Biomedical Engineering, Viterbi School of Engineering, Bacc/MD program, USC Dornsife
Wednesday, September 26, 2012, Noon
From facing down riot police to tweeting, our ways of protesting have evolved from the Vietnam era to the present. The sixties saw sit-ins and the burning of draft cards, in the eighties we had economic boycotts of apartheid-era South Africa, while the recent Arab Spring protesters took it to the street with Twitter and other social media. And then there's WikiLeaks, flash mobs and the Occupy movement. Voting seems almost passé. Are the demands of active citizenship changing? Or, in this post-Citizens United era, have all but superwealthy citizens become irrelevant to the political process?
Niels W. Frenzen, Clinical Professor of Law, USC Gould School of Law
Ralph Wedgewood, Professor of Philosophy, USC Dornsife
Ron Osborne, Bannerman Fellow, Politics and International Relations, USC Dornsife
Scott Lepisto, Ph.D. student, Classics, USC Dornsife
Michel Martinez, Ph.D. student, Political Science, USC DornsifeRead About the Coffeehouse Event Featured on the Front Page of USC's Daily Trojan: Click Here
HARD-WIRED: Do We Choose Our Politics Or Do Our Brains Choose Them For Us?Wednesday, April 11, 2012, NoonDan Schnur, Director, Unruh Institute of Politics, USC Dornsife Wendy Wood, Provost Professor of Psychology and Business, USC Dornsife Vanessa Singh, Ph.D. Candidate, Brain and Creativity Institute, USC DornsifeBen Rolnik, Inquisitive Undergrad, Interdisciplinary Studies and Biology, President of the USC Philosophy Club, USC Dornsife
Recent research in neuroscience suggests that political preferences reflect differences in the very structure of the brain. How does this affect our ability to defend our political affiliations on rational grounds?Jesse Graham, Assistant Professor of Psychology, USC Dornsife
MIRRORS AND WINDOWS: Understanding Oneself By Knowing OthersWednesday, February 8, 2012, NoonCan we gain self-knowledge through the study of the lives of other people, historical or fictional? Panelists discuss how learning about the lives of others can affect one's sense of self.James Collins, Assistant Professor of Classics, USC Dornsife Thomas Habinek, Professor and Chair, USC DornsifeGreg Thalmann, Professor of Classics and Comparitive Literature, USC Dornsife Hilary Schor, Professor of English, Comparitive Literature, Gender Studies and Law, USC
Miruna Barnoschi, Inquisitive Undergrad, International Relations, Philosophy and Classics, USC Dornsife
THE AUTHENTIC SELFWednesday, November 9, 2011, Noon
Does our "self" depend in any meaningful way on our ancestral history? Could we reject that inheritance while preserving our identities? Is our identity at any given time nothing more than the result of our life experiences up to that point? Or is there an "essential" self that survives through all the changing causal influences that affect our desires, ambitions and roles in life?
Ara Astourian, Graduate Student of Philosophy, USC Dornsife
Ronald Garet, Carolyn Craig Franklin Professor of Law and Religion, USC Gould School of Law
Rebecca Lemon, Associate Professor of English, USC Dornsife
Ed McCann, Professor of Philosophy and English, USC Dornsife
SELF-KNOWLEDGE: A Perilous Pursuit?Wednesday, September 21, 2011, Noon
The quest for self-knowledge often involves concentrated attention on oneself. Could this inward focus actually prove counter-productive to developing the external interests, attachments and relationships that make our lives satisfying and worthwhile?
What does it mean to know thyself?
Scott Altman, Vice Dean and Virginia S. and Fred H. Bice Professor of Law, USC Gould School of Law
John Dreher, Associate Professor of Philosophy, USC Dornsife
Jesse Graham, Assistant Professor of Psychology, USC Dornsife
Alida Liberman, Graduate Student of Philosophy, USC Dornsife
TRUTH OR PREJUDICE: When Does a Professor's In-class Comments Cross the Line into Improper Advocacy?
Wednesday, April 27, 2011, Noon
Should professors disclose their personal and professional opinions in class? What does it mean to expect professors to teach all views equally? Should they state which views they find most compelling?Does knowing the professor’s opinion make a student feel that she needs to agree with the professor to receive a better grade? What has been your experience as a student or professor? When do a professor's in-class comments cross the line into improper advocacy?
Guest Moderator: Dallas Willard, Professor of Philosophy
Karen Sternheimer, Sociology, Center for Excellence in Teaching, Faculty Fellow
John Holland, Director of Writing Program, Dornsife College
Alyssa Min, Inquisitive Undergraduate
ENGAGING GEN Y: How Do We Engage Iran and North Korea for a More Productive Dialogue and Ethical Foreign Policy?
Wednesday, March 30, 2011, Noon
Historical conflict and more recent nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea have fueled long-standing moral and political concerns in the US about these two adversarial nations.
As the boom of Generation Yers -- those born in the 1980s and after -- begin to act in international politics, what can we expect and/or hope to see?
Most Y-ers around the globe are facing increased inter-connectivity with the web, migration, and communication systems, while at the same time facing increased stakes for global resources, increased arms build-ups, and fall outs from years of conflict. Will old conflicts and ideologies continue to dominate international dialogue or can we expect something different?
Guest Moderator: Lyn Boyd-Judson, director of Levan Institute
Hannah Garry, Director of International Human Rights Clinic, Gould School of Law
Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, Iranian-American researcher, writer and political commentator
Victoria Gu, Executive Director, International Student Assembly, USC Undergraduate Student Government and Program Board (double-major in Communication and Political Science)
Heba Abdelgader, Director of Alumni Relations, International Relations Undergraduate Association (International Relations Global Business major)
SECRETS IN CYBERSPACE: When Is It Ethical to Keep and Reveal Secrets on the Internet?
Wednesday, February 23, 2011, Noon
Douglas Thomas, Associate Professor, Annenberg School for Communication and author of “Hacker Culture”Douglas Becker, Assistant Professor (Teaching) of International Relations and President of International Studies Association- WestRavi Iyer, Inquisitive Graduate Student, Social Psychology and Founder of YourMorals.org
ROBOTS AND ALIENS: When the Time Comes, Should Human Rights Apply?
Wednesday, November 17, 2010, Noon
As robotic and Artificial Intelligence technologies that aim to imitate human beings continue to improve, we face the possibility that our creations may someday claim for themselves some of the rights and protections we take to be universal to man. Less likely, but also possible, is that if contact with aliens is made, they could also make this demand of us. What, if anything, would justify giving moral rights and protections to robots and extraterrestrials?
Guest Moderator: Richard Fliegel, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs in USC College
Paul Rosenbloom, Ph.D., Viterbi School of Engineering
Andre Bormanis, Screenwriter/ Star Trek scientific advisor
Michael H. Shapiro, J.D., USC Gould School of Law
Katharine Marder, Inquisitive Undergraduate
THE NEIGHBOR WITHIN: What Should We Do About America's Illegal/Undocumented Immigrants?
Wednesday, October 20, 2010, NoonCalls for immigration reform are coming from across the political spectrum. The one thing almost everyone seems to agree on is that the current situation is unsustainable. Immigrants who circumvented the legal immigration process in order to find a better life in the United States are accused of being a burden on social services, increasing unemployment and crime, and undermining the rule of law. Meanwhile, their undocumented status makes them subject to exploitation and forces them to live with the persistent fear that their families could suddenly be torn apart.
What should our “nation of immigrants” do about our 11 million uninvited neighbors within?Guest Moderator: Lyn Boyd-Judson, director of Levan Institute
Lanhee Chen, Ph.D., J.D., formerly a senior official in the Bush administration, strategist for Mitt Romney presidential campaign, and Deputy Campaign Manager for Steve Poizner’s gubernatorial campaignSonia Narario, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother (2007)Jody Agius Vallejo, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Sociology (USC College), specialist in immigration, immigrant integration, race/ethnicity and the Mexican-origin populationJay Juster, Philosophy major, Critical Approaches to Leadership minor and Inquisitive Undergrad
WAR OF WORDS: Where Do We Draw the Line Between Free Speech and Hate Speech?
Wednesday, September 22, 2010, Noon
Winning the fight for justice requires that you change the minds of those who disagree with you — or at least of the undecided. When the debate is passionate and increasingly divisive — Muslim mosques, gay marriage, abortion — what are the proper rules of engagement? How can you be true to yourself and your most strongly held beliefs, while respecting those who vehemently disagree with you? Where legal lines may provide protection, they may not promote conversation or meaningful dialogue. Beyond drawing a bright legal line between free speech and hate speech, are there other ethical limits to how you can publicly express your opinion?
Where do we draw the line between speaking our mind and expressing hate?
Guest Moderator: Lyn Boyd-Judson, director of Levan Institute
Varun Soni, J.D., USC Dean of Religious Life
Cynthia A. Merrill, Ph.D., J.D., Attorney, O’Melveny & Myers LLP
Robert Link, J.D., Chair of Communications Committee, ACLU of SC, Pasadena Chapter
Mir Amaan Ali, Internal Vice President, USC Muslim Student Union and Inquisitive Undergrad
PAST AND DISTANT PEOPLE: What Are Our Obligations to the Dead?
Wednesday, April 30, 2010, Noon
"Dead men tell no tales," so why should it matter how we treat them? What's wrong with partying on their graves, violating the terms of their wills, or speaking ill of them? What could be the basis of any moral obligations in the treatment of those no longer living among us?
Lynn Swartz Dodd, Lecturer, Religion, USC Dornsife; Curator, USC Archaeology Research Center; Director, Tell al-Judiadah Publication Project; Co-Director, Kenan Tepe Excavations (Upper Tigris Archaeological Research Project), Research Associate, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA
Dallas Willard, Professor of Philosophy, USC Dornsife
Ben Rolnik, Inquisitive Undergraduate, Philosophy
PARENTING OUR PARENTS: How Should We Manage the Care of our Parents as They Get Older?
Wednesday, March 26, 2010, Noon
We all know that parents have to take care of their children. But does there come a time when we have to start taking care of our parents? What if it costs us serious time and serious money? What if they fight us and tell us to go away and leave them alone? Should we respect their autonomy as we watch them deteriorate, or should we force them to do what we think best for them? How should we parent our parents?
Shawn Herz, M.S.G. L.M.F.T. Marriage, Family and Child Therapist, Director of Program Development for the Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center
Merril Silverstein, Ph.D., Professor of Gerontology and Sociology, USC Dornsife
Jack Peace, Inquisitive Undergrad, Pre-Med
XXTREME MINORS: When Should We Allow Minors to Put Themselves in Dangerous Situations?
Wednesday, February 26, 2010, Noon
(SEE LESSON PLAN)
Our society often complains that teenagers waste their time with idle senseless distractions. We like to see teenagers push themselves, strive to achieve great things, and take risks. And we turn those who are the youngest ever to accomplish anything of significance into celebrities. But taking risks can mean putting oneself in dangerous situations – particularly in extreme sports and natural expeditions. How dangerous is too dangerous? What principles should guide us when determining when should we allow minors to put themselves in dangerous situations?
Donna Spuijt-Metz, Keck School of Medicine
Jillian Schlesinger, Independent filmmaker and television writer-producer
Laura Small, Inquisitive Student, Anthropology and Whitewater Rafting Guide
NOT OKAY TO PAY THIS WAY?
Wednesday, November 20, 2009, Noon(SEE LESSON PLAN)
For those who find themselves at the top of the corporate executive ladder it’s become both accepted and expected to receive a salary based on very favorable terms that can bear little resemblance to those offered other employees. While this is perfectly legal, is it moral? Must executive compensation depend on the standard metrics of performance, merit, or contribution? Is there anything wrong with paying an executive a salary that dwarves that of those at the bottom of the corporate latter? And what about payment incentive structures that lead to risky behavior that could lead (as it has in the past) to economic disaster? When is it not okay to pay in a particular way?
Ed Lawler, USC Marshall School of Business
Nina Walton, USC Gould School of Law
Victoria Chernova, Inquisitive Student, Business and International Relations
THE ETHICS OF EATING: Is it Possible to Eat With a Clear Conscience?
Wednesday, October 30, 2009, Noon
We live in a world today where our food choices are almost limitless. So much so, that there is a television network devoted entirely to food. But as our food-options multiply, so do the methods of killing, raising, transporting, preparing, and engineering food for our consumption. How can we indulge in the vast array of food options open to us but still ensure that our choices are morally responsible ones? What we choose to eat may help perpetuate the cruel or unjust treatment of animals, utilize resources that have a profound impact on others around the world, and negatively impact the environment in a myriad of ways. Is it possible to eat with a clear conscience?
Edwin McCann, Professor of Philosopy
John Strauss, Professor of Economics
Kory DeClark, Inquisitive Graduate Student, Philosophy, USC Dornsife
LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HEALTHINESS
Wednesday, September 25, 2009, Noon
It may be legal in the United States for medical insurance companies to deny healthcare coverage in certain situations, but is it ethical? Is access to healthcare coverage a basic human right? And if we expect our employers and/or our government to provide coverage, do we have a responsibility to take care of our own bodies and keep them as healthy as possible? How much of the burden is ours and how much can we justifiably place on others? At the end of the day, do we have a moral right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of healthiness?
Alexander Capron, Professor of Law and Medicine, Scott H. Bice Chair in Healthcare Law, Policy, and Ethics, USC Gould School of Law
Pamela B. Schaff, M.D., Assistant Dean for Curriculum; Director of the Program in Medical Humanities, Arts and Ethics; Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Family Medicine, USC Keck School of Medicine
Stephen Finlay, Associate Professor of Philosophy, USC College
Jennifer auf der Springe, Inquisitive Student, Health and Humanities major, USC Dornsife
FUTURE AND DISTANT PEOPLE
Wednesday, April 24, 2009, Noon
Are you obligated to consider future generations of human beings? Are you responsible to people you've never met on the other side of the globe? It is so easy now to harm people without knowing we are doing it. What you eat, what you buy, what you drive profoundly affects the life prospects of other people. How do we behave ethically in such an interconnected world?
Gary Watson, Provost Professor of Philosophy and Law, USC College
Carl F. Cranor, Professor of Philosophy, UC Riverside
Francesco Denakar, Inquisitive Undergraduate and senior majoring in Biomedical Engineering
GOOGLE HUMAN RIGHTS
When you Google for information, are you supporting Chinese political censorship? Do global information gatekeepers like Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google have a responsibility to protect and promote human rights overseas? Aren't they businesses after all? And if you want them to stop blocking democracy sites for the Chinese government, what can you do—boycott? Come on, how could we live without Google? Does morality require that much of us?
Steve Lamy, Vice Dean of USC College, Professor of International Relations
Scott Voelz, Attorney at Law, O’Melveny & Myers, LLPlp (Partner)
Chelsea Mason, Co-Managing Editor of US-China Today, Business Ethics Representatives, USC Marshall School of Business
SELLING BODY ORGANS
Wednesday, February 27, 2009, Noon
Desperately need some money? Sell yourself. Blood, sperm, eggs: Why not a kidney? It's yours after all! Shouldn't you have the right to sell your organs? In the US alone, more than 77,000 people are on the waiting list for kidney transplants. Many of them will die because the organ they need is not available. Shouldn't they have the right to purchase these organs from those willing to part with them for monetary compensation? Or is there something fundamentally immoral about treating our body parts as a commodities to be bought and sold? Would a market in body organs result in the unfair exploitation of poor people who have little else to sell? Or could we devise an international legal system that precludes exploitation?
Guest Moderator: Dallas Willard, Professor of Philosophy, USC College
Michael Shapiro, Dorothy W. Nelson Professor of Law, USC Law School
Sharon Lloyd, Professor of Philosophy, Law and Political Science, USC College
Christina Yen, Health and Humanities major, Pre-Med, USC College