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Graduate Ethics

Dirty Leviathan Retreat

For several years, the Center for Ethics has sponsored an annual retreat for Stanford political theorists. PhD students and postdocs from various departments who share an interest in political theory come together to present — and debate — their work in a friendly and collegial environment. Scholars who have participated in the retreat have expressed appreciation of the "informal social and philosophical interations." In particular, they have praised the quality talks, breaks between presentations, hot tub, fire on the beach, and friendly atmosphere.

Read about previous retreats below.

Dirty Leviathan Retreat 2015

by Patrick Taylor Smith, 2014-15 Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Ethics in Society

On May 15th, 2015, a score of intrepid political theorists, law students, and political philosophers braved traffic along Highway One and arrived at a beachfront villa just outside Watonsville to begin the 6th Annual Dirty Leviathan Retreat. The Dirty Leviathan is a group sponsored by the Center for Ethics in Society that is designed to support interdisciplinary and applied work in ethics and political philosophy. Friday evening was spent debating the rise of ISIS, the history of the Assassins, and the appropriate interpretation of the Spike Jonze movie Her. After  Chinese food, we all had cake that was decorated with a classic early depiction of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, commemorating the long-term success of the Dirty Leviathan in bringing people together to discuss applied normative issues.

Read the rest of Patrick's article on The Buzz...

Dirty Leviathan Retreat 2014

by Lily Lamboy, PhD candidate in Political Science

Should healthcare systems protect people’s finances? Do parents have independent reasons, separate from the needs of the child, for claiming right to parent? What is the relationship between autonomous decision-making and distributive outcomes related to luck?

This is just a small sample of the questions tackled during presentations at The Dirty Leviathan’s recent workshop retreat in Watsonville, CA. The Dirty Leviathan is a group sponsored by the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, and its mission is to support interdisciplinary research on questions related to ethics, justice, and political theory by bringing together graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from all corners of the university. Over the weekend of April 4-6 this year, 25 researchers from law, Ethics in Society, history, classics, political science, and philosophy came together to workshop their ideas and forge relationships across disciplines. Within minutes of arriving on Friday evening, participants were engaged in fascinating informal conversations, ranging in topics from the ethics of college athletic compensation to gender inequality.

Read the rest of Lily's article on The Buzz.

Dirty Leviathan Retreat 2013

by Tomer Perry, PhD candidate in Political Science

Sunday, April 7th 2013, a group of political theorists drove to a little place on the shores of the Pacific Ocean called Moss Landing State Beach. This spot, about 15-20 minutes drive north of Monterey, is one of the secret hideouts of Sea Otters in California. On the way there and walking barefoot around the beach, admiring one of the cutest of God’s creation, some of the theorists were engaged in an intense argument about labor unions and their impacts on inequality. Others were making funny faces at the Otters and arguing whether or not they were responding.

Those theorists had just finished the 4th Annual Dirty Leviathan Retreat which is an annual event where PhD students from various department who share an interest in political theory come together to present and debate their work in a friendly and collegial environment. The weekend, sponsored by the McCoy Center for Ethics in Society, is an opportunity for students from the various department to hang out and socialize while also introducing each other to their work. It is a unique opportunity because it combines a social outing with an informal space to present work and receive great feedback. But it’s mostly unique because it is incredibly fun.

The retreat came out of a lunch meeting that Prof. Debra Satz organized four years ago. Satz invited theorists from different departments to discuss the different ways in which we could bring the community of theory grad students together and create a forum for students to present more work. The idea was to create some space (other than the political theory workshop, where students don’t typically present) where students could present work that is not situated in one department or another (so it is not like the Philosophy department’s Graduate Student Workshop). To lure students to the discussion, Satz promised it will be accompanied by lunch. And so, a large group of theory grad students arrived. The retreat idea was floated — as a way to generalize the successful formula of the lunch discussion. Dan Halliday, then a graduate student and today a professor of philosophy in the University of Melbourne, strongly advocated the idea of the retreat and took it upon himself to lead the organization of the first retreat.

The rest is, almost, history. The first retreat took place at a motel in Sacramento which was less than grandiose. Nonetheless, the good company and the formula of mixing socializing with informal presentation of work was already in place, attracting more than twice as many graduate students in the next year, where the retreat was held in Marin Headlands, by the beach. The 4th and most recent retreat was held in a beautiful villa in Pajaro Dunes, between Santa Cruz and Monterey. On Saturday evening, after six discussions sessions, the theorists sat on the beach by the fire. One group was debating ferociously the standing of economic rights as basic liberties; the other was playing a social game.