Research - Center for Ethics & Policy at CMU

Research at the Center

Individual members of the Center pursue a broad range of scholarly and practical interests. The areas represented here are not exhaustive, but capture core areas of mutual concern and collaborative interest.

In addition to maintaining a broad range of research profiles, faculty at the Center contribute to the teaching of value theory and applied ethics across a range of sub-fields in the Department of Philosophy and beyond at Carnegie Mellon University. Courses offered include Ethical Theory; Social & Political Philosophy; Bioethics; Global Justice; Health, Development, and Human Rights; Philosophy of Law; Philosophy of Economics; Game Theory; Environmental Ethics; Engineering Ethics; Social Structure, Public Policy, & Ethics; Causation, Law, and Social Policy; Deliberative Democracy; Ethics and Global Economics; Modern Moral Theory; and topical graduate seminars.

Areas of Specialization

Biomedical Ethics

Progress in the life sciences, changing demographics and social values, the rising cost of health care, and the complexity of health systems create contexts in which a wide range of challenging ethical and policy problems arise. The CEP includes internationally recognized experts whose work focuses on ethical and policy issues that arise in relation to health, health care, and public health. In their research, CEP members explore novel ethical issues arising from advances in genetics, genomics, and other vanguard areas in the life sciences. They explore social and ethical aspects of communication, from deliberation among experts who provide oversight of research activities to health care advertising and doctor patient communication across a full range of clinical contexts. The CEP has particular depth in issues that arise at the end of life and in the interface of hospital wards, intensive care units, and hospice services.
Arnold, Dahl, Greenhouse, Kadane, London, Parker, Schenker, Vogelstein, Wenner, White

Research Ethics

Progress in many areas – from testing of new drugs and devices to evaluating programs for the promotion of international development – requires research involving human subjects. CEP members have made seminal contributions in a range of areas related to the ethics and policy of conducting research with human participants. These include trial designs that advance the social and scientific goals of learning while respecting the rights and welfare of individuals, ethical frameworks for identifying and evaluating the risks associated with research, and policy mechanisms designed to align the self-interested motives of research stakeholders with the production of socially valuable knowledge. The CEP also has a strong focus on ethical and policy issues in international research, including frameworks for assessing the value of research, determining the appropriate standard of care to be provided to study participants, and for avoiding exploitation and promoting justice. Center members also pursue active research in genetics, the return of unexpected findings to study participants, informed consent, and how to evaluate and regulate research outside of the biomedical realm, such as in social scientific, health systems, and economic development research.
Arnold, Dahl, Greenhouse, Kadane, London ,Parker, Schenker, Wenner, White

Global Justice & Human Rights

Traditionally, political philosophy has focused on the nature of political legitimacy, distributive justice, and other foundational concepts as related to the sovereign state. But the rapid expansion of globalized markets, global trade and finance regimes, and global governance have in many instances displaced questions of domestic justice and legitimacy with those related to the global distribution of wealth and the legitimacy of institutions that touch the lives of people the world over. The justice of the global distribution of wealth and resources, as well as the legitimacy of the global trade and finance institutions that have deep and lasting impacts on the life prospects of individuals spanning the globe is now a core focus of political philosophy, and as such is a central focus of several of CEP’s members. Questions include how best to structure global institutions and incentive structures to protect the vulnerable from exploitation, what kinds of obligations those in high-income countries have to those in low- and middle-income settings (and why), and what the content and force of human rights are. CEP members focus in particular on the ethical principles governing research conducted in and on low-income populations, issues surrounding transnational surrogacy contracts with women in developing countries, the benefits and harms of sweatshop labor, and the ethics governing research on, and the rolling out of, economic development programs.
Aronson, Goodhart, Ritivoi, Wenner

Democracy, Deliberation, & Communication

The political order of a society, or a group of societies, faces twin challenges. The first is to use its monopoly on the use of force and control over basic social institutions only in service of the public trust. The second is to do so only in ways that can be justified to those whose interests and freedoms are affected by its activities. Members of the CEP pursue a broad range of scholarly and practical programs relating to each of these challenges to good governance.
Cavalier, Goodhart, London, Ritivoi, Schenker, Wenner

Ethics of Autonomous Technologies

Autonomous technologies are rapidly becoming ubiquitous, and we are increasingly reliant on them, both as individuals and as members of political and social communities. Examples abound, including self-driving vehicles (e.g., Tesla’s “Autopilot”) and autonomous weapons in military and law enforcement operations. These different systems are neither mere tools that respond according to predetermined rules or procedures, nor full-fledged cognitive or moral agents. Instead, the current “state of the science” lies in an ambiguous middle ground, as most autonomous technologies exhibit some learning and adaptation to their environments, but are subject to significant software and hardware constraints. Autonomous technologies have profound implications for communities, societies, nation-states, and the broader international order. They open enormous opportunities, but carry great risks. In particular, they have the potential to challenge and change fundamental relationships between humans and machines. And to the extent that most of our human-human relationships are now mediated partly by machines, the rise of autonomous technologies raises issues for our core social values and norms.
Aronson, Danks, Harrell, London

Formal Methods in Ethics & Policy

Before stakeholders can address a problem from a policy or ethical perspective, they have to understand it. Formal methods from statistics, decision and game theory, modal logic, and causal modeling provide powerful tools for representing ethical and policy problems, focusing attention on key aspects and generating informative and practically relevant policy proposals. Members of the CEP bring internationally recognized expertise in these formal areas to the study of ethics and policy. Their work includes providing decision and game theoretic models of Kantian moral theory, exploring the benefits of different kinds of graphical models in moral decision making, modeling the decision making of agents who are bounded in some interesting respect, providing formal models of the value of information, and exploring novel statistical designs that balance the objectives of respect for persons with the generation of reliable medical information.
Bjorndahl, Danks, Greenhouse, Harrell, Hooker, Kadane, London, Wenner, Zollman

Corporations, Consumers, & Markets

Increasingly, the nexus of geo-political power is shaped and influenced by the activities of corporations. Consequently, the welfare and other interests of people and the environment are profoundly affected by the activities of these entities and the professionals who direct, manage, and run them. Members of CEP have active research interests in a range of issues surrounding models of corporate responsibility, the role of regulation and institutional design in fostering better corporate citizenship, and promoting ethics and accountability among professionals.
Bjorndahl, Hooker, London, Wenner, Zollman

Ethics & Conflict

Conflict can take many forms, from social struggles for political power to formal military combat in open war. Even when individuals and communities are not engaged in active conflict they often dedicate considerable time, energy and resources to considering how to avoid conflict, deciding when to engage in conflict, and determining how to behave if conflict must occur. CEP scholars investigate issues across the lifecycle of conflict, from the way that propaganda and related forms of communication are used to shape social attitudes about conflict, to how societies cope with the aftermath of conflict in an effort to promote justice, reconciliation and rebuild communities. Center members have also investigated ethical and policy issues surrounding the use of novel technologies in conflict, from ethical issues regarding preparation for biochemical weapons attacks to policy issues surrounding the use of drones or autonomous systems in various civilian and military contexts.
Aronson, Danks, London, Oddo, Parker, Ritivoi