Dr. Marilie Coetsee joined the Jepson School as assistant professor of leadership studies in fall 2018. She currently teaches leadership ethics.

1. Your research explores the ethics of disagreement. What inspired your interest in that area?

I grew up in a relatively religious, conservative family, but went to mostly secular, liberal schools. I had close connections with people in both domains and was always surprised and dismayed by the extent to which people in both domains would leverage apparently decent, good moral principles, to motivate uncharitable and destructive approaches to the disagreements they had with others who contested those principles. Since then, I’ve been concerned to understand how we can maintain appropriate fidelity to important moral principles whilst also showing the right kind of responsiveness and respect to those who dispute them.  

2. A lot of attention has been given to the deep cultural and political divisions within our society today. What are some of the implications of your research for managing disagreements between individuals?

One important implication of my research is that in deciding how to respond to a disagreement with someone about an important moral principle, we need to be careful to distinguish the moral character of that person and the morality of the position that she takes. I argue that there can be obligations to engage someone who disagrees with us in deliberative dialogue even when the position she holds appears so unlikely to be true, or so bad, that (it appears) it does not all on its own merit such engagement, and that this is because the kind of moral character of such a person can nevertheless make her worthy of such engagement.

3. What attracted you to the Jepson School?

As a political philosopher, I’ve always been interested in how ethical questions intersect with questions about leadership; I’ve also always taken a practical, interdisciplinary approach to my research. I am passionate about working in a place where — unlike in some theoretically-focused philosophy departments — other faculty care about how their research relates to the real world.

4. You’re currently teaching Leadership Ethics. What do you hope students get out of your courses?  

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes that his lectures on ethics aim not at knowledge, but action. I follow in line with Aristotle in this respect. I hope that students will leave the course not just with a theoretical understanding of the material, but also with practical wisdom about how to approach complex, real-world ethical problems and with the skills to deliberate effectively with others about those problems.

5. What’s your teaching style like?

I aim to show students how the issues we talk about are continuous with problems they have already encountered and found reason to care about, and I try to get students invested enough in the importance of the problems we discuss to sustain their interest in the problems even after it turns out that there are not easy or obvious solutions.

6. What have been your favorite things about Richmond so far?

The things I have liked most so far about the city of Richmond are the number of opportunities for outdoor activity and the great degree to which I’ve found people be to amiable and down-to-earth. As far as the university goes, what I’ve been most impressed by is the openness of communication between students and faculty.