Christopher Robichaud Photo

Christopher Robichaud

Senior Lecturer in Ethics and Public Policy


(Previously offered as MLD-208).  In recent years there’s been an explosion of interest over the role that moral leadership ought to play in the public sphere, due in no small part to the perceived lack of it in so many people wielding political power. But what is moral leadership, exactly? Ask a dozen people and you’ll get a dozen different answers.

This new course approaches this question not by offering another theory of leadership—“moral leadership”—but by exploring how moral practice can inform, complement, and most importantly improve all sorts of good public leadership. For our purposes, moral practice will be understood as just that—a practice, specifically, a set of exercises, activities, and methods, all of which involve the cultivation of moral perception, moral imagination, and moral character, and all of which are directed towards improved moral action in the public sphere.

To help us with this task, we will explore cross-cultural philosophical traditions, ancient as well as contemporary, to learn about this conception of ethics, understood not merely as a set of intellectual doctrines—not merely as a kind of thinking or reasoning—but as an entire ethos—as a way of life. Philosophy will therefore be the engine driving this course, but a kind of philosophy rescued from many of its current academic manifestations. As a bonus, students will come to learn how several of the most popular notions in leadership studies—purpose, character, authenticity, happiness and more—have their roots in philosophy. These roots are worth examining.

This course therefore pioneers a new approach to professional ethics—one that aims to tether much more closely action to thought—and it will deploy a variety of tools to accomplish its aims, from the “usual suspects”—cases, simulations, film and other forms of fiction—to new experiential exercises. Students will come away with insight into their own ethos, strategies on how to continue to develop it (a lifelong pursuit), and models on how to have it deeply inform their own public leadership practice.