Ethics Program

The ethics program offers courses in theoretical and applied ethics for Agnes Scott College students as well as an annual series of public ethics lectures. Each year, speakers from a variety of fields approach a single topic of ethical importance or controversy. The Ethics Lecture Series is supported by the James T. and Ella Rather Kirk Fund. 

The ethics program at Agnes Scott College presents its 2013-14 lecture series:


January 23: McNair Ethics Lecture for 2013-14
Owen Flanagan, "What Does Neuroscience Have To Do With Ethics?"
7:30 pm, Letitia Pate Evans Hall, Rooms ABC
Ethics is normative; it tells us what is right and wrong, good and bad, and what we ought to think and do. Neuroscience is a science. It describes and explains the role of the brain in feeling, thought, judgment, and action. In his lecture, Owen Flanagan will explore some implications of neuroscience – and really the human sciences broadly construed -- for traditional philosophical views about (1) the nature of human flourishing, (2) freedom of the will, (3) punishment and excuses, (4) reasons for love and compassion, and (5) the role of reason.

Owen Flanagan is James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy, Professor of Psychology & Neurscience, and Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University, where he is also a Faculty Associate at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and Co-director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from Fordham University, and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Boston University. Among his many publications are the books The Bodhisattva's Brain: Comparative Neurophilosophy and Selfless Persons (MIT Press, 2011); The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World (MIT Press, 2007); and Consciousness Reconsidered (MIT Press, 1992). In 2006, Professor Flanagan was the Templeton Distinguished Research Fellow at the University of Southern California. In that capacity, he delivered six lectures on "Human Flourishing the the Age of Mind Science." Co-sponsored by the Agnes Scott College Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Beta of Georgia, through the McNair Fund.

February 5:Karen Rommelfanger, "Better than Well? Neuroenhancement and Beyond"
7:30 p.m., Letitia Pate Evans Hall, Rooms ABC
Professor Rommelfanger will present an overview of brain technologies used to enhance cognition and the current and future ethical implications of these technologies as they rapidly move beyond the laboratory and clinic. Commercial, military, and even do-it-yourself domains will be discussed. 

Karen S. Rommelfanger, PhD has over 10 years as a movement disorders neuroscientist. She now is the Director of the Neuroethics Program at the Emory Center for Ethics and is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology in Emory’s School of Medicine. She is the Neuroscience Editor-in-Residence at the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience and manages The Neuroethics Blog. Her work in general explores how emerging neuroscience data inform definition of disease, health, and medicine. She conducts research on placebo therapy and psychogenic movement disorders. For more information visit her website: 

March 6: Felipe De Brigard, “The moral demands of imagination: How memory and imagination can influence moral and legal judgments”
7:30 p.m. Teasley Lecture Hall, Bullock Science Center
Whether we want to admit it or not, we constantly generate moral judgments about other people. A large subset of these judgments depends on our capacity to imagine different hypothetical situations. In this talk I want to explore a number of ways in which different kinds of imaginative simulations, which are shown to depend on distinct memory-related processes, may differentially impact our moral judgments. Moreover, I will show that our capacity to imagine certain hypothetical scenarios is susceptible to a number of psychological manipulations that may affect the resultant simulations upon which we base our moral judgments. For instance, the way in which imagination recruits memory systems differs depending on how familiar or how similar we take ourselves to be with the individual we are judging. Likewise, said memory systems are differentially recruited by hypothetical scenarios we consider to be more or less likely, and this perceived likelihood is also modulated by how many times we consider a particular hypothetical situation. Taken together, the results reviewed in this talk will suggest that our capacity to imagine the kinds of hypothetical situations upon which we normally base our moral judgments is complex and highly dependent on previous experiences and knowledge. This complexity and dependence on previous knowledge, I claim, puts a lot of pressure on our imagination to produce simulations that can live up to the normative standard we impose on them when deployed for the purpose of generating moral judgments. At the end, I will suggest some strategies to improve imagination so it can live up to such normative standards.

Felipe De Brigard is Assistant Professor at Duke University, with faculty appointments in the Department of Philosophy, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and the Institute of Brain Sciences. He received a B.A. in Philosophy from the National University of Columbia, an M.A. in Philosophy from Tufts University, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Prior to his appointment at Duke, he was a post-doctoral fellow in Psychology at Harvard University. His research focuses on the interaction between memory and imagination. He has published in Neuropsychologia, Synthese, Psychological Science, and elsewhere.

The Ethics Program gratefully acknowledges the James T. and Ella Rather Kirk Fund for its support of the Ethics Lecture Series.


Director of the Ethics Program
Lara Denis, Professor of Philosophy