From the Director of the Center for Values and Social Policy


Boonin, Marquis, and HikeThese two pictures illustrate a number of things that make the Center for Values and Social Policy a special place.  The one on the top was taken several years ago, right after I had moderated a CVSP-sponsored panel event discussing Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous article, “A Defense of Abortion.”  It shows me with Don Marquis, one of the panelists. Marquis is the author of “Why Abortion is Immoral,” widely viewed as the single most important philosophical article arguing against abortion. I’m the author of a book called A Defense of Abortion, which defends the opposing view and which explicitly criticizes Marquis’s argument.  It’s hard to think of a more important and philosophically challenging issue relating to values and social policy than abortion, and hard to think of two people who disagree about it more than Don and I do. But as the picture of the two of us nicely illustrates, the event brought together people with different views for an evening of discussion that was friendly, respectful, and enjoyable. That particular event was aimed at a general audience, but the Center has also had Marquis to Boulder to give a keynote address at its annual Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress (RoME), a leading international gathering of faculty and graduate students in the field. Another panelist from that evening, John Martin Fischer, has also been a RoME keynote speaker, as has Thomson herself.  Don Marquis, Judith Jarvis Thomson, John Martin Fischer, these are three of the most distinguished senior scholars in the field, certainly among the most important contemporary philosophers who have written on issues involving values and social policy.  And their visits to Boulder are a testament to one important part of the Center’s mission: bringing leading thinkers to campus so they can interact in a friendly and productive way with our faculty and students and participate in public forums that bring them into meaningful dialogue with members of our local community.   

The picture right below that one was taken a few years later, while I was leading a group of about thirty philosophers on our annual Saturday afternoon RoME hike. That’s me third from the front.  Immediately in front of me is Rivka Weinberg, a mid-career scholar at Scripps College who has done important work on practical issues in procreative ethics. Right behind me is Eden Lin, a young philosopher now at the Ohio State University who has already done significant work on more theoretical issues involving the nature of human well-being. Rounding out the group was a truly diverse collection of philosophers from around the country and across the globe, ranging from graduate students to established senior scholars and including people working on an almost bewildering range of subjects both theoretical and applied.  That picture evokes a number of additional things I truly value about the Center: its commitment to bringing people together from backgrounds that differ along many dimensions – personal, philosophical, generational, institutional – and providing a supportive and enjoyable environment for both formal and informal conversation. RoME is the Center’s signature annual event (you can read more about it here) and we are proud that it has become widely known and celebrated not only for the high quality of the work that is presented there each August but also for the welcoming, collegial environment it provides.

Finally, the more recent picture at bottom of this page captures a moment that reflects why I am truly excited to serve as the Director of the Center: our willingness and eagerness to try new things as we continue to search for more ways to bring the importance of critical reflection on matters of value and social policy to our students, our faculty, and our local and professional communities.  The picture shows me presiding over the conclusion of the first annual Colorado High School Ethics Bowl Tournament, which was organized and sponsored by the Center this past February.  Ethics Bowl is a collaborative and competitive team-based activity, similar in some ways to debate, but with a focus on developing the ability to think critically and speak effectively about ethical issues.  This was a brand-new initiative both for us and for the state of Colorado.  The picture caught my hands assuming a kind of prayer-like position, clearly reflecting my nervousness about whether we could successfully pull off a kind of event that was so new to us.  But at the same time, I hope the expression on my face reflects some of the pleasure and pride we took in helping to introduce high school students from several cities in the area to this truly valuable and rewarding extra-curricular activity.

Bringing high school Ethics Bowl to the state of Colorado and serving as its official home is just one of several recent developments for the Center. The Center is housed in the Philosophy Department at the University of Colorado, but we have recently begun to do more to reach out and take advantage of the substantial amount of relevant expertise that is found in a number of other units on the CU campus. We have now assembled an impressive collection of CVSP Faculty Fellows from a variety of departments and programs within the College of Arts and Sciences – including Political Science, Economics, Environmental Studies, Sociology, and Women and Gender Studies – as well as from the Law School, the Business School, and the School of Education.  And these expanded contacts have enabled us to collaborate in new ways: bringing a broader range of perspectives to our weekly Center Talks and occasional Think! Talks, for example, and putting together interdisciplinary panel events on such subjects as “Indigenous Peoples and Climate Justice” and “Parental Rights and School Choice,” both successful and well-attended events that we could not have put together on our own. We have also launched a new CVSP Visiting Fellows Program that brings scholars to campus for extended stays during which they give talks and do guest presentations in classes while also conducting their own research and engaging in more informal interactions with our faculty and students.  At the end of just its second year, our Visiting Fellows Program has already brought to campus an exciting mix of relatively junior, senior, and even distinguished emeritus faculty, and has featured philosophers from the United States, Great Britain, and Cameroon, representing institutions in the United States, Great Britain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

If you are interested in learning more about our newer activities or about our more long-standing programs, I hope you will take the time to explore the other parts of this website. And if you have ideas for still further things our Center could do or for better ways it could do what it already does,Boonin at Ethics Bowl or if you would like to get involved with the Center or just have a question about it, I hope you will feel free to contact me at the e-mail address below. Either way, on behalf of my colleagues, I thank you for your interest in what we are up to.


David Boonin
Professor of Philosophy
Director, Center for Values and Social Policy