In a world of change, upheaval and conflict, in other words, the world as it always has been, Sonoma State University philosophy lecturer Joshua Glasgow hopes to help guide an exploration into what is right or wrong and why.
Although not on some issues close to home, at least just yet.
But take, say, illegal immigration and the estimated 11 million to 12 million people in the country without permission. On that thorny issue, Glasgow, director of SSU's newly hatched Center for Ethics, Law and Society, posed questions that give rise to more questions.
"By what right do we exclude people from immigrating in the first place? We set up borders and say some people are allowed to come in and others aren't. There's a real question there as to whether that's a legitimate thing to say," he said.
He suggests applying philosophy's famous "luck argument."
"It says, 'We were lucky to be born in a nation with a robust economy and various freedoms; we didn't do anything to earn that, so why do we think we get to enjoy these privileges and not extend them to others?' "
He concluded: "This is a question about what we're morally entitled to. Why are we morally or ethically entitled to the goods of living in the United States and . . . to prohibit others from receiving those same rights and goods?"
As for himself, he acknowledges, "I'm conflicted about it."
So goes a conversation with the head of an academic venture intended to engage SSU students, faculty and the larger community in addressing a range of complex subjects.
Initially, the center is planning a series of events, the first of which is Feb. 6: a lecture by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman, "Big Law, Small Law: Old and New Civil Rights in the 21st Century."
"The grand ambition is to reach a bunch of different constituencies," he said, and to wade into issues including water use, food ethics, clean technology and income inequality.
"Issues that seem to be of pressing concern to the Bay Area interest me as possible topics of focus to the center," Glasgow said.
The center, contemplated since the philosophy department started offering a pre-law concentration a few years ago, was launched in December.
Perhaps because of its fledgling status, there are some things around which Glasgow treads delicately. They include the center's $16,000 first-year budget, two-thirds of which came from American International Group, or AIG.
The insurer's risky, lightly regulated bets on financial derivatives were implicated as central in the 2008 economic crisis, and it got a $182 billion taxpayer bailout that it has since repaid.
But Glasgow declined to discuss AIG's role in the crisis, and if it deserves the infamy heaped upon it.
"I don't feel I should comment on that. I just feel I have a conflict of interest," he said. "First of all, I'm really grateful, and I hope we get more support."
But he said he had no qualms about accepting the grant and that AIG was acting as it, or any big business, should.
"The way we distribute money in our society is (that) it funnels toward corporations; that's just the way it flows," he said. "It's imperative that corporations do return that, in some sense, to the community."