Jepson School professor Jessica Flanigan and George Mason University professor Tyler Cowen at the conference plenary session

The Ethics of Choice Conference

February 23, 2022
Ethics conference draws scholars and experts to Richmond campus

Some things are worth the wait. The Ethics of Choice Conference was one such thing. The University-wide initiative spearheaded by the Jepson School of Leadership Studies gathered academics and experts from at least nine states, four countries, and 16 universities to debate a wide range of ethical issues. Originally scheduled for April 2020, the pandemic necessitated a rescheduling of the conference to February 2022.

The conference kicked off Feb. 10 in the Jepson Alumni Center with an evening plenary session featuring Jessica Flanigan, University of Richmond associate professor of leadership studies and philosophy, politics, economics, and law, and Tyler Cowen, George Mason University professor of economics. The two engaged in a lively repartee that started with a discussion of the ethics of higher education before moving to police funding, men’s rights, animal welfare, vice taxes, and personal ambition, to name but a few.

“Higher education acculturates us, teaches us context, exposes us to a wide variety of personality types and situations,” Cowen said in response to Flanigan's question about the value of pursuing a postsecondary degree. “It is also about networking, which is about productivity.”

He could have been describing the value of the conference. 

In the two days following the plenary session, Richmond faculty from the Jepson School, School of Arts and Sciences, School of Law, and School of Professional and Continuing Studies led 12 sessions. Session topics included wealth inequality, school choice, the evolution of moral decision-making, individual responsibility, and more.

“The conference was interdisciplinary in a really interesting and productive way,” said Brigham Young University professor and conference participant Ryan Davis. “It gathered people with common substantive interests but different research backgrounds.”     

This was the intention, according to Jepson School Dean Sandra Peart.

“I wanted a theme capacious enough to connect with the scholarly interests of faculty in all the University’s schools,” she said. “The choices made by individuals and society writ large provided that capacious umbrella. The conference demonstrated the breadth and depth of the Richmond faculty’s scholarship on questions of human flourishing, meaning, and purpose.”

Photo: Jessica Flanigan and Tyler Cowen led the plenary session. 

Watch the conference sessions.