Boston University Ethics Seminar to Host One-Hundredth Speaker

On November 4, the Boston University Ethics Seminar (sponsored by the BU Center for the Humanities) will host Daniel Wodak (University of Pennsylvania, Philosophy) as its one-hundredth speaker over thirteen years. 

Photo credit: Irina Mikhalevich

The BU Ethics Seminar grew out of the philosophy department’s ethics reading group. In 2008, during his first year as an assistant professor, Daniel Star (CAS Philosophy) recognized the Center for Humanities’ project grants as an opportunity to turn the informal reading group into a seminar series with visiting speakers. The shift to a more formal schedule increased the visibility of the speakers and broadened the audience; the seminar now regularly attracts audience members from departments across BU and from other universities in the area. 

The seminars are valuable in the bilateral collaboration that occurs between audience members and speakers. Star notes that “nearly all presentations are works in progress,” and as the audience learns from the presenters, the presenters are given feedback on their work. Star makes it a priority to invite new speakers each year in order to afford this reciprocal opportunity to as many scholars as possible. Out of the ninety-five sessions held prior to this academic year, there have only been three returning speakers.

Daniel Star, Philosophy

The seminar’s overarching theme relates to Star’s own interests in the relationship between philosophical considerations of ethics and how people approach ethical considerations ordinarily. Star notes that some ethical dilemmas require philosophical inquiry, while others are more straightforward when confronted in everyday life. For instance, Star referenced philosopher Bernard Williams’ concept that it is “one thought too many” to consider saving the life of a loved one over a stranger. “Even if saved,” Star explains, “one doesn’t want to hear ‘well, I thought about it, and I realized it was my duty to save you, rather than the stranger.’”

Despite the connection between Star’s own research and the seminar, he credits the series with expanding his and other attendees’ horizons beyond their areas of expertise. While attendees’ research is sometimes directly informed by the presentations, the seminar largely serves as a means of allowing participants to remain informed about developments in the field. “It’s intellectually healthy not to be too hemmed in by one’s own particular research,” Star explains, “and to keep learning more about what others in the field are doing.” Learning about new developments can also indirectly impact attendees’ research as they are introduced to different perspectives and conceptualizations. 

Photo Credit: Irina Mikhalevich

While the overall vision for the seminar has remained consistent throughout its thirteen years, a notable shift occurred when Star re-structured the seminar to have loose themes each semester. The themes—which have included ethical theory, love, the nature of reasons, and the relationship between aesthetics and ethics—are selected to correspond with the advanced undergraduate and graduate classes that Star is teaching in a given semester. This year’s theme is well-being. Star explains the subject choice saying: “Well-being is a topic that has interested ethicists throughout the history of our field and there is particularly exciting work being done on it these days both in philosophy, and in other fields such as psychology, economics, and public health.” 

From September to April, the seminar will host eight speakers hailing from universities across the country and abroad. As it welcomes its hundredth speaker and beyond, the Ethics Seminar will continue to encourage conversations regarding the newest philosophical research. Star explains: “There are no plans for the series to come to an end at any point. When I think about all the exciting work being done in ethics these days by so many different people, I just want to keep hearing more, and I’m sure those colleagues who share my interest in the field, as well as our students, feel the same way.” 

The Boston University Ethics Seminar meetings are open to all faculty and students, at Boston University and elsewhere. Please contact Daniel Star ( to be added to the email list to receive announcements and papers in advance.