Skip directly to main navigation | secondary navigation | main content

Department of Philosophy

Department of Philosophy, Cornell University Cornell University Cornell University Department of Philosophy

Program on Ethics and Public Life

EPL home web banner7_Page_1

contact us at
(607) 255-8515





Kelsey Mollura ('15) has won a Neil Lubow prize for her essay, "The Right to Work:Dissonance Between Federal and Local Perspectives on the Undocumented Workers of Los Angeles." The prize is awarded every semester for an outstanding essay in ethics, including ethics and public policy, and is a joint initiative of EPL and the Knight Institute, funded by the Riger-Potash Family Fund.


The Cornell Program on Ethics and Public Life promotes interdisciplinary learning about morally central questions concerning public policies and social, political, and economic processes. Here are some of our activities, with links to further information.

"Where is China Headed?" Free Online videos by EPL. Beginning an innovative online presence, the Program on Ethics and Public Life has released the first four videos in "Where Is China Headed?", a free online series on facts and controversies with leading China scholars. "Tiananmen 1989 in Depth" is a stirring, richly informative documentary, including a recording made in the Square throughout the crackdown of June 4. "It made me cry and made me envy the students," one Cornell student from China wrote.  In "Demystifying China's Governance," Cornell's Andrew Mertha describes how China's vast, fragmented yet centralized apparatus works. In two videos from the "Judging China's Governance" group, leading scholars from Cornell, Harvard, UCLA and Middlebury advocate their diverse assessments of one-party rule and of what some regard as seeds of grassroots democracy in China today, others sources of corruption. The series will continue with videos on China's economic rise and economic crossroads, the 2014 Yue Yuen strike, clashing assessments of the prospects and value of the one-party system, and a powerful documentary of the experiences and reflections of migrant workers and those left behind in their home villages, "The Two Worlds of Mr. Chen." A Cornell Online Innovation grant and the Riger-Potash Family Fund contributed support. All videos are described in detail and are posted on release at

Public lectures. EPL organizes and co-sponsors public lectures on leading issues of ethical and political concern. In 2014-15, EPL organized three widely attended lectures, accompanied by workshops and extensive informal discussions with the distinguished visitors: Claudia Goldin (Economics, Harvard), "A Grand Convergence: Its Last Chapter," on the reduction of economic inequality between women and men; Ching Kwan Lee (Sociology, UCLA), "Buying Stability in China: Markets, Protests and Authoritarianism;" and Tony Saich (Kennedy School, Harvard), "The Political Culture of the Chinese Communist Party."

Semester series. EPL organizes semester-long series in which distinguished visitors address diverse aspects of a topic of vital ethical and political importance. The most recent topic was "After the American Century: Fears and Hopes for America's Future." Thomas Mann (Brookings Institution), Marilyn Young (History, NYU), Richard Freeman (Economics, Harvard), Daniel Rodgers (History, Princeton), Lisa Lynch (Economics, Brandeis), and Ellis Goldberg (Political Science, University of Washington) addressed widely prevalent worries that the new normal condition of the United States stifles important aspirations that were viable in the past. Other series topics have been "Deep Issues of the 2012 Elections: Equality, Liberty and Democracy" (with Jacob Hacker, Larry Bartels , David Schmidtz , Harry Brighouse, Doug McAdam, and Hilary Hoynes) and "The Politics and Ethics of the Rise of China" (with Justin Lin, Wang Shaoguang, Joseph Chan, Wang Jisi, Rosemary Foot and David Kang). An archive of videos of the public lectures in all three series is available here. Conferences, workshops and seminars in which visitors and Cornell faculty and graduate students share their current research. For example, major figures in ethics and its history came to discuss the diverse, fundamental topics of the work of Barbara Herman in a conference in September 2011.

Initiatives in undergraduate education. The Law and Society minor, open to all undergraduates, provides an opportunity for focused study of law and society from an interdisciplinary perspective. EPL-affiliated faculty and post-doctoral fellows teach a wide array of courses in ethics, social and political philosophy and the philosophy of law, including topics in international justice, biomedical ethics and environmental ethics.

Student awards. Our awards include the Neil Lubow Memorial Essay Prize, awarded each semester to an outstanding essay in ethics or ethical aspects of public policy in a Cornell writing course, and the Robert A. Hatfield Award supporting students in research on ethics in business.

If you would like to receive e-mail listserve event notifications, please contact the EPL Administrative Assistant, Margaret Nichols, at or (607) 255-8515.