With ethical questions about technology multiplying fast, ODU wants to help students discover the moral positions they’ll need to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

A new class introduced this fall, “Raising Moral Issues in STEM”  or PHIL 160R,  teaches students to refine and articulate moral arguments related to science, technology, engineering and math.

“It often feels like ethical questions are falling into our laps that we didn’t see coming,” said Nathan Nicol, adjunct professor of Philosophy, who will teach the class. “There are new challenges every day. It’s a sign of the times.”

Crash test dummies Vince and Larry — characters created for a series of safe driving television ads in the late 1980s — visit ODU’s Webb University Center during a Fitness Fest event in 1988. Image courtesy of the ODU Photographic and Multimedia Collection, Old Dominion University Libraries.

But in academics, STEM fields and the humanities don’t often intersect. “With the steady march of technology, it’s clear that we need to talk,” Nicol said.

The idea of the class grew organically, out of conversations within ODU’s Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies.

For example, why did researchers originally model crash test dummies after male — not female — bodies?

“That’s the kind of implied ethical bias that’s just baked into some research and engineering,” Nicol said.

Similar issues abound. The department built a course intended to draw out questions from research projects and examine them from an ethics perspective.

After covering an introduction to ethical theory, Nicol plans to examine cases where the right moral answer is perfectly clear.

“We’ll focus on things where we know the right answers,” he said. “But how do you talk about it without getting people mad at you? How do we get our views across?”

The class is accessible to a broad range of students. There are no prerequisites. While it’s pointed at those interested in STEM fields, diverse perspectives are welcome.

“We want the class to be helpful and down to earth,” Nicol said. “These are skills that can be learned and practiced,” Nicol said. “They are everyday useful.”

Learn more about philosophy courses at ODU here.