New moral psychology minor takes on challenging questions

Students across the university can now minor in the growing field of moral psychology, with faculty approving the new area of study July 15. The curriculum will offer students interdisciplinary engagement with moral psychology theory and research as well as hands-on experience applying moral psychology to practical ethical issues. The minor will first be offered in the spring 2022 semester.

The field of moral psychology seeks to illuminate social, cultural, and institutional influences on moral behavior, taking on challenging questions like how we can achieve ethical and sustainable solutions to social problems when people disagree about right and wrong. The interdisciplinary field draws on philosophy, law, psychology, economics, sociology and other disciplines, making moral psychology one of the most radically collaborative fields in the academy.

“Cornell’s embrace of collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and bold, integrative approaches to problem-solving make it the ideal place for this new minor. This minor invites students to explore and transform the understanding of what we know as morality through critical analysis and real-world applications, which provide experience and opportunities that can’t be matched inside a classroom,” said Laura Niemi, faculty lead of the minor, assistant professor of psychology in the College of Arts & Sciences and of management and organizations in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Interest in the field has grown dramatically in the past two decades, making the moment right for a minor, say the faculty leads. The minor’s courses are intended to apply both humanistic and scientific lenses to age-old questions about human behavior. According to the committee, their goal with the minor is to prepare students to lead the future development of scientifically informed solutions for today's ethical challenges.

"As a discipline, moral psychology is animated by the conviction that treating one another better requires understanding one another. As teachers at a research institution, our charge is to communicate the leading edge of the field's research to our students. The extraordinary strength of the university's faculty in moral psychology -- the best on the planet -- places Cornell very much at the field's leading edge, so it seemed imperative that we offer our students to systematically engage this research -- and in engage our community -- with the world's first moral psychology minor," said John Doris, Peter L. Dyson Professor of Ethics in Organizations and Life in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and professor of philosophy (A&S), who teaches Ethics in Business and Organizations in the Dyson School.

The minor was developed with the help of a grant from David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement, and will be housed in the new psychology/human development super department, with administration to be handled by the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

One core course is required, either Introduction to Moral Psychology, Psychology of Good and Evil or Ethics in Business and Organizations.

In addition, the minor emphasizes experiential learning, with the requirement of one community engaged course: either Moral Psychology in Action, Community Outreach, Social Entrepreneurship Practicum or Positive Psychology in Prison.

The Moral Psychology in Action course was developed thanks to grants from the Einhorn Center, said Rachana Kamtekar, professor of philosophy and classics (A&S). “The course allows students to put their classroom learning to work for the community. Students will be able to develop projects that serve the goals of our community partners — among them EcoVillage at Ithaca, Words Into Deeds, the Greater Ithaca Activities Center and Tompkins Community Action. As an example, this August students conducted a survey for our partner Friends of Stewart Park, to determine the accessibility of Ithaca’s great landmark, Stewart Park, to its diverse users.”

The moral psychology minor will also offer students a research practicum mentored by a faculty member, giving them valuable preparation to conduct socially responsible science in a number of fields, including medicine, law, policy, and business.

Faculty member Shaun Nichols, professor of philosophy and director of cognitive science (A&S), was also instrumental in creating the minor, and teaches Introduction to Moral Psychology in Philosophy. Julie Simmons-Lynch, program manager for moral psychology and cognitive science (A&S), helped to develop new engaged learning opportunities for the minor throughout the Ithaca area.

Linda B. Glaser is news and media relations manager for the College of Arts and Sciences

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