Values and Public Life

Program Offerings

Offering type

The interdisciplinary minor in values and public life, offered by the University Center for Human Values, focuses on modes of inquiry into important ethical issues in public life. The program helps students develop competence in pursuing such inquiries generally and supports them in applying these intellectual skills to the advanced analysis of one or more related topics. Students who complete the minor will be equipped to bring informed discussion of values into the public sphere and to integrate a critical value perspective into their future studies and pursuits. The minor is open to rising juniors intending to major in any discipline.

Goals for Student Learning

Through courses, independent work and workshops, students learn to bring informed discussion of values into the public sphere and to integrate a critical value perspective into their studies and pursuits. Its requirements include general approaches to the field of ethics and public affairs, while also offering students an opportunity to deepen their understanding of a particular area of focus. Students from any University major may apply.

Admission to the Program

Admission to the program requires an enrollment essay outlining the student's rationale for completing the minor, area of interest, and plan for fulfilling the requirements. Students interested in applying to the program are advised to consult the website for a full description. They are also encouraged to schedule a meeting with the program director, who can discuss the minor and the ways it might support the student’s major and specific areas of interest.

Students will be considered for admission upon meeting the following prerequisites: submission of the enrollment essay; submission of the name of an academic referee; and a minimum GPA of 3.0 overall. We recommend (though do not require) that students complete one of the core courses by the end of sophomore year.

Students are normally accepted in the second semester of their sophomore year to enter the program as juniors, and must apply by a deadline announced each spring. In exceptional cases, juniors may be accepted into the program at the director's discretion. For more information on the application process and current deadlines for the Program in Values and Public Life, please visit the program's website.

Program of Study

To complete the minor, students are required to complete three core courses, two thematic courses, and independent work as described below. No course counted toward the minor may be taken pass/D/fail. No more than two courses used to satisfy the course requirements for the student’s major may also be counted toward satisfaction for the VPL course requirements.

Core Courses (three courses)

Students must take one course from each of the following three categories:

  1. PHI 202/CHV 202: Introduction to Moral Philosophy
  2. One political theory course, chosen from the following list (not all courses are offered every year):
  • POL 210  Political Theory
  • SPI 370/CHV 301/POL 308  Ethics and Public Policy
  • POL 301/CLA 301/HLS 303  Political Theory, Athens to Augustine
  • POL 302  Continental Political Thought
  • POL 303  Modern Political Theory
  • POL 305  Radical Political Thought
  • POL 306/CHV 306/PHI 360  Democratic Theory
  • POL 307/CHV 307  The Just Society
  • POL 309/REL 309  Politics and Religion
  • POL 313/CHV 313  Global Justice

    3.  A junior/senior seminar in values and public life (topics change from year to year) or, if necessary, another seminar on normative issues approved by the program director.

Thematic Courses (two courses)

Students must identify their individual thematic focus within the minor and take two courses with explicit values components related to it, chosen by the student in consultation with the program director. Some examples of a thematic focus follow. However, students are not limited to choosing among these; rather, they are encouraged to identify their own in consultation with the faculty director of the minor. Examples of a thematic focus include the following:

  • Bioethics
  • Poverty, Incarceration, and Freedom
  • Race, Social Justice, and Public Life
  • Gender and Leadership
  • Environmental Ethics
  • Cognitive Psychology, Ethics, and Public Policy
  • Democracy in Theory and Practice
  • Global Justice and Human Rights
  • Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law
  • History and Theory of Human Rights
  • Public Dilemmas in Literature
  • Ethics, Religion, and Theology


Independent Work

Students will write a senior thesis, a portion of a senior thesis (or, in exceptional circumstances, another substantial piece of independent work) on a normative topic approved by both the director of the program and the normal procedures of the student's department of concentration. The thesis will be written according to the department regulations of the student's major. Students will be expected to participate in non-credit-bearing senior thesis workshops convened by the minor that discuss the different aspects of ethical study presented in the participants’ projects and that support the writing of the thesis.


  • Director

    • Sandra L. Bermann
    • Stephen J. Macedo (acting)
  • Executive Committee

    • Edward G. Baring, History
    • Charles R. Beitz, Politics
    • Sandra L. Bermann, Comparative Literature
    • Lara M. Buchak, Philosophy
    • Molly J. Crockett, Psychology
    • Eric S. Gregory, Religion
    • Elizabeth Harman, Philosophy
    • Melissa Lane, Politics
    • Tania Lombrozo, Psychology
    • Stephen J. Macedo, Politics
    • Jan-Werner Müller, Politics
    • Alan W. Patten, Politics
    • Philip N. Pettit, Center for Human Values
    • Kim Lane Scheppele, Schl of Public & Int'l Affairs
    • Peter A. Singer, Center for Human Values
    • Michael Smith, Philosophy
    • Anna B. Stilz, Politics

For a full list of faculty members and fellows please visit the department or program website.