As director of Stanford's interdisciplinary honors program Ethics in Society, Debra Satz is continually looking for ways to engage students with timeless questions of personal and political ethics: Am I free? Am I responsible? Why be virtuous? Why obey the state?
This month Satz, an associate professor of philosophy, and Rob Reich, assistant professor of political science, will take those questions off campus to teach Humanities for the Economically Disadvantaged in Redwood City. Social service organizations are providing textbooks, child care and hot meals for low-income adults who enroll in the weekly evening course, which Satz and Reich, MA '98, PhD '98, volunteered to teach. And Stanford's Continuing Studies Pro-gram is offering credit for those who complete the course "at a high level of achievement," according to Associate Dean Terry Shtob.
"Part of our mission is to extend the resources of the university outside the community," says Shtob. "And here are two wonderful faculty members who are hoping to serve a population that, because of economic circumstances, does not generally have access to Stanford."
Access, says Satz, means library cards--and a path back to school for people who want to earn high school diplomas or go to community colleges. She and Reich will teach Aristotle, Plato, Kant and Mill, among other moral philosophers--"and they won't be watered down," she says.
In the presentations she gave last fall to community organizations in Redwood City, Satz talked about the value of the humanities and liberal arts. "The liberal arts come from [the Latin] liberare, to liberate," she says. "And I suggested that reading the humanities literally can make people free. I said we wanted that message to reach a population that may feel the humanities have written them off."
The aim of Satz's program, which is grounded in moral and political philosophy, is to teach that ethical thought can be applied to social questions and personal conflicts. In a recent workshop for faculty, for example, Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann explored how religion can play a role in the public arena by introducing new, nonsecular perspectives in conversations.
Just the sort of values-juggling Satz encourages in her classroom.