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Center for Practical & Professional Ethics Sacramento State University

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Recent & Upcoming Events

The Center is pleased to announce its series of events for the Fall 2019 - Spring 2020 academic year. Unless otherwise noted, these events (and those like it in the future) are free and open to the public.

Ethics for Police: Lessons from the Opioid Epidemic

February 3, 2020

Speaker: Jake Monaghan, Assistant Professor (Research) of Philosophy, Urban Entrepreneurship and Policy Institute (Greaux!), University of New Orleans

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The number of Americans dying of opioid related overdoses is unacceptably high, and police have been asked to take the lead in bringing this crisis under control. Yet, hardly a week goes by where police are not being embroiled in new controversies, and concerns about police militarization and excessive use of force are widespread. This urges the question: what would a good police response to the opioid epidemic look like? In this talk, Jake Monaghan uses the tools of political philosophy to examine how law enforcement and public health professions respond to the problems of drug abuse. He shows how principles of proportionality, leniency, and equality provide useful tools for evaluating law enforcement strategies and policies, empowering police to isolate morally problematic elements of existing strategies and identify alternatives that would be more equitable and just.

Details: 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., University Union, Orchard Suite

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14th Annual Fall Ethics Symposium: The Ethics of Having Children

(a co-production of Cosumnes River College and Sac State's Ethics Center)

November 18 – 19, 2019

Decisions we make about bringing other people into existence and parenting them are ethically fraught, and perhaps increasingly so. Additionally, these decisions are influenced by, and in turn influence, any number of developments in medical practice, public policy and law. Join us for an important conversation about the ethics of having children, as our visiting speakers address the following set of issues:

  • Having children adds people to an increasingly crowded and warming world. Should these concerns justify any moral or legal constraints on the decision to procreate? Is there an obligation to adopt already-existing children rather than create new ones?
  • Women facing the prospect of giving birth are subject to a dizzying array of solicited and unsolicited advice from any number of people — everyone from trusted medical professionals to random strangers on the street. How much of it is necessary? How much of it preserves the autonomy of the mother? How much of it promotes the welfare of the mother or the fetus? When does the institutional environment of giving birth lead to bad outcomes, especially in populations of marginalized racial groups? To what extent should we trust the reproductive medical and legal establishment?
  • Parents are typically thought to have an outsized influence over the person their child becomes. What responsibilities attach to this influence? In particular, what obligations do parents have to instill, or avoid instilling, their values in their children? Is it wrong to cause your child to be a Giants fan? Or a Christian? Or a Democrat?


Introduction and welcome video

Locations: Sac State University Union Redwood Room (11/18) and Cosumnes River College Recital Hall (11/19)

Full schedule of sessions


Breaking Deathbed Promises: The Case Against Posthumous Harm

October 28, 2019

Speaker: Beth Seacord, Instructor of Philosophy, College of Southern Nevada.

Most of us have a deep-seated psychological investment in post-mortem events: We care a great deal about the status of our reputations, the success of our projects and the wellbeing of our children after our deaths. Further, the belief (1) that we can be wronged/harmed by posthumous events, like broken death-bed promises is nearly universal. However, many of us also believe the prima facie plausible, yet inconsistent, proposition (2) that death puts us beyond the possibility of harm. I will argue that if persons do not persist after death, then the dead cannot be harmed or wronged. In addition, we cannot harm or wrong the deceased by breaking a deathbed promise. Though the act of promise-breaking might be wrong for other reasons, these reasons will be independent of any obligation we might have to the dead. But what of our strong and nearly universal intuitions to the truth of (1)? Finally, I will give an error theory that will explain why so many of us believe we can be wronged/harmed after death.

Details: 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., University Union, Cottonwood Suite III

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Love and Social Justice

October 14, 2019

Speaker: Ryan Preston-Roedder, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Occidental College.

There is a highly influential and widely admired principle within Black American moral and political philosophy that directs us to respond to certain forms of wrongdoing and injustice with love. In his “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. argues that the “way of love and nonviolence” is “an integral part of our struggle” for racial justice in the United States. In its 1960 Statement of Purpose, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee affirms its members’ commitment to remaining “loving and forgiving even in the midst of hostility.” And in the opening section of The Fire Next Time, which takes the form of a letter to the author’s nephew, James Baldwin writes, “there is no reason for you to try to become like white people, and there is no basis whatsoever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them … and accept them with love.” But, despite its influence, this principle is puzzling on its face, and it may seem apt to be applied in ways that do more harm than good. Indeed, reflection on some influential formulations of the principle raises some pressing questions: What does it mean to love someone in the relevant way? What are the grounds for the view that such love is an appropriate response to relevant forms of wrongdoing and injustice? How can we respond to any form of wrongdoing in this way without merely facilitating further, more severe mistreatment? Can we reasonably adopt this principle without also adopting certain religious beliefs or commitments? I want to characterize and defend a version of this principle that Baldwin develops in his early fiction and his early essays, and I want to address these four questions as they apply to Baldwin’s view.

Details: Noon – 1:30 p.m., University Union, Cottonwood Suite III

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How Prison Gangs Govern the California Prison System

September 24, 2019

Speaker: David Skarbek, Associate Professor of Political Science, Brown University.

When many people think of prison gangs, they think of chaotic bands of violent, racist thugs. Few people think of gangs as sophisticated organizations (often with elaborate written constitutions) that regulate the social and economic life of the prison. Yet as David Skarbek argues in his award-winning book, The Social Order of the Underworld (, gangs form to create order among outlaws, producing alternative governance institutions to facilitate illegal activity. This book is a fascinating look into the seemingly irrational, truly astonishing, and often tragic world of life among the society of captives.

Details: Noon – 1:30 p.m., University Union Hinde Auditorium

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