Humanities Circle: High School

Spring Quarter 2017: Course Information

Each class meeting of the High School Humanities Circle will be focused on one or more central questions. This quarter's program will be taught by a team of instructors, each of whom will teach from their area of expertise.

Introduction to Ethics

Instructor: All three instructors will team-teach this first session

Week 1: What is Ethics?


Weeks 2 - 4: Issues in Bio-ethics

Instructor: Lindsey Chambers, PhD

Week 2: Introduction to Reproductive Ethics - The ethical and moral issues raised by reproductive technology, including sex-selection.

Week 3: Shaping One's Children - The use of reproductive selection in IVF to select genetic traits of one's offspring (from selecting against genetic disorders to selecting for desireable traits).

Week 4: The Metaphysics of Creation - Why creating a person is a metaphysically unique kind of activity, and arguments about whether it is ever possible to harm someone by creating him or her.


Weeks 5 - 7: Ethics & Technology

Instructor: Willie Costello, PhD

Week 5: Genetic Engineering - In the near future, genetic engineering technologies will allow us to directly manipulate the genetic code of a future child. But when and why is it ethical for us to do so? Are the reasons for and against genetically engineering children the same as or different from the reasons for and against selecting children? And should such technology ever be used to enhance the human species?

Week 6: Self-Driving Cars - Accidents happen all the time on the road, and people often get hurt. In our current society, we have a complex system of laws and regulations which help us navigate such situations. But what happens when a self-driving car injures someone? Who is ultimately responsible for the injury – the person who owns the car, the company who made the car, or the car itself? Who should a self-driving car prioritize protecting – its passengers, other cars, innocent bystanders, or itself? And who should get to make such decisions – the company, the coders, or the public?

Week 7: Mars Colonization - Mars colonization is often presented as a solution to the looming crises of climate devastation and overpopulation of Earth. But do these problems actually justify such plans? Would we be doing a service to the Earth in leaving for another planet, or would we be neglecting duties that we have to the Earth and its environment? If there are such duties, where do they derive from? And how do those duties compare to the duties we have to the human species and its continued existence?


Weeks 8 - 10: The Ethics of Environment

Instructor: Blake Francis

Week 8: Moral responsibility for climate change - The scientific consensus is that climate change results from high concentrations of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Humans emit greenhouse gases while engaging in the activities of everyday life: heating the house, driving to work, putting food on the table, and keeping the lights on at school. Are these activities morally wrong because they contribute to climate change? Are you morally responsible for climate change? Is your family, school, city, state, country, or generation to blame? What about corporations, businesses and other institutions? In this class, we’ll consider arguments for and against holding individuals as well as groups morally responsible for climate change.

Week 9: Climate change justice - In this class, we will evaluate how the burdens of climate change should be distributed over time and across the world. How much should the current generation sacrifice to reduce threats from climate change? Which nations of the world should bear the greatest burdens of combatting climate change? The wealthiest nations? Corporations who pollute the most? Or should the nations most vulnerable to climate change damages pay the highest costs?

Week 10: Environmental ethics and climate change - A lot of ethical thinking about climate change focuses on harm done to human beings. But climate change also threatens the natural environment, including plants, animals, entire species, and ecosystems. How should we characterize our failure to combat climate change in light of these harms? What moral obligations do human beings have to plants and animals? Do we have a duty to protect nature for its own sake? Or does the moral importance of nature depend on its value to human beings?



About Our Instructors

Lindsey Chambers, PhD

Lindsey Chambers (Ph.D. University of California - Los Angeles) is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford's McCoy Family Center for Ethics and the Center for Biomedical Ethics.  She has research interests in normative ethics, bioethics, and political philosophy.  Her work focuses on the ethics of shaping future persons through the use of reproductive selection.  She argues that procreators can wrong their progeny by failing to act well in the role of parent, even if their actions don’t harm the persons they create.  She is particularly interested in the intersection between parental use of reproductive technology and education to confer advantage on their children.

Willie Costello, PhD

Willie Costello (Ph.D., University of Toronto, Philosophy; B.A., summa cum laude, University of Pittsburgh, Philosophy, Linguistics) is an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Philosophy Department at Stanford University. He specializes in ancient Greek philosophy, with particular interests in ancient Greek metaphysics and Plato. At Stanford and elsewhere, he has taught courses in ancient Greek philosophy, aesthetics, and the philosophy of literature. He is currently working on his first book, The causal origins of Plato's Forms: The natural philosophy of the Phaedo and its context.

Blake Francis, MA

Blake Francis is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Stanford University. His research explores the intersection of political philosophy and environmental ethics. In his dissertation, “Climate Change and the Moral Significance of Harm,” Blake investigates the moral status of the activities that contribute to climate change, identifying and assessing when these activities are wrong versus when they are morally justified by the social benefits they provide. He received an MA in Philosophy from the University of Montana, where he also studied Forestry and Conservation. Before graduate school, Blake worked in wilderness management and trail construction with the US Forest Service in Arizona and Alaska.