The Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics seeks to strengthen teaching and research about pressing ethical issues; to foster sound norms of ethical reasoning and civic discussion; and to share the work of our community in the public interest.
Our “Community Profiles” interview series highlights the longstanding members of our community at the Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics.An Interview with Danielle Allen, Director of the Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics and James Bryant Conant University Professor
By: Alexis Jimenez Maldonado
Danielle Allen is James Bryant Conant University Professor and Director of the Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics. She is a professor of political philosophy, ethics, and public policy. She is also a seasoned nonprofit leader, democracy advocate, national voice on pandemic response, distinguished author, and mom.
Alexis Jimenez Maldonado: You’ve been the director of the Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics since 2015. Can you talk about how you came to be in that role and what drew you towards the Center?
Danielle Allen: Oh, my gosh! That’s a big question. But I guess this does look like an unusual job. It makes sense that people want to know how a person gets into it.
The seeds were planted long ago when I was an undergraduate [at Princeton]. In the spring of my sophomore year, I took a class on ancient Athenian democracy with one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. We were reading tons of legal documents—prosecutions and defenses. And something was really bugging me about the material, but I couldn’t figure out what. It wasn’t until the New Jersey winter was receding, classroom windows were open, and spring breezes warming the classroom that I finally put my finger on it. I put up my hand. My professor called on me. I said, “Professor, did the Athenians not have prisons? We are reading all these speeches of prosecution and defense, and no one mentions prisons. Did they just not have them?” My brilliant teacher in a superb stroke of mentoring responded, “That would be a great dissertation question!” Then and there my academic career was born....