September 22, 2016

Welcome to the 30th anniversary year of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. A little more than thirty years ago, Harvard President Derek Bok sought to draw medical ethics, legal ethics, and business ethics closer to the world of philosophy. In 1986, the Center for Ethics and the Professions was born. Nurtured by its Founding Director, Dennis Thompson, it grew to embrace ethics and public affairs broadly. Thanks to the generosity of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics is now able to engage comprehensively with issues of ethics pedagogy and research on the Harvard campus and beyond.

On May 4 - 5, 2017, we will be celebrating the conclusion of our anniversary year with a terrific two-day conference for alumni and the general public. We’ll tackle “Ethics and the End of Life,” a conversation with Ezekiel Emanuel and Frances Kamm, among others, and moderated by Arthur Applbaum; “Preparation for Public Office” with Chris Robichaud and Yuli Tamir; and the question of “The Engaged University?” with Harvard President Drew Faust, Dennis Thompson, and others.

In the meanwhile, we have a rich and challenging nine months ahead. Our focus this year, as last, is Diversity, Justice, and Democracy, a theme that has become only more resonant and ever more difficult in the last eighteen months. Our public lecturers will include philosopher and public intellectual, Cornel West, Seattle police chief Kathleen O’Toole, and conservative writer and thinker Yuval Levin alongside academic philosophers like Rae Langton and Cécile Fabre.

Our one-day workshops will tackle behavioral ethics; the ethics of early embryo research; and the “all-affected principle,” which seeks inclusive modes of decision-making that take account of all who are affected by particular decisions; and legitimacy. We have further workshops in development on migration, citizenship, and democracy as well as on policing and on shifting paradigms for drug control from a criminal justice to a public health strategy.

The Diversity, Justice, and Democracy working group is on the cusp of finishing a volume of essays to be titled, “Difference without Domination.” Participants take it that justice (on any number of accounts) requires unlinking difference and illegitimate hierarchy or disconnecting difference and domination. The working group has been pursuing an answer to the question of how to do that.

All the while, we also have our eye on a broad range of research and pedagogic innovations. In addition to our Edmond J. Safra Fellows-in-Residence and our Berggruen Fellows-in-Residence, our community of scholars is rounded out by stellar groups of undergraduate and graduate fellows. And we are particularly proud of our development of the Ethics Education Forum, which is connecting instructional personnel from all over Harvard in a community of practice to support pedagogic experimentation and curricular reform in ethics education.

This year we are working especially hard to weave together activities across all of our groups of Fellows, cultivating a shared conversation for our ethics community as a whole. To this end, we launched the year with a new event, the Ethics Bonanza. Members of the Center’s Faculty Committee each nominated a few all-time favorite ethics articles, and we sent out a summer reading packet with over twenty terrific essays for our incoming fellows to spend time with before joining us. During the first week of the semester we got together to discuss eight of those articles. If you’re interested in seeing what was in the Ethics Bonanza packet, please contact us at:

We hope you’ll join us in May to celebrate what is certain to be a great 30th year.

Follow us on Twitter @HarvardEthics. Friend us on Facebook. Share with us your formulations of the questions we should all be asking.

Danielle Allen
Director, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics
Professor, Department of Government, Graduate School of Education
Harvard University

See also: Danielle Allen