Rockhurst Professor Meets Irish PresidentJuly 23, 2014

During his career, Brendan Sweetman, Ph.D., professor of philosophy and chair of the philosophy department at Rockhurst , has had the chance to travel the world to lecture on subjects in philosophy and ethics.

But this summer brought an opportunity new even to him: an invitation to travel to Ireland in late May to share some of his expertise with Irish President Michael D. Higgins.

Sweetman said a friend and one-time instructor of his, Santiago Sia, Ph.D., a retired professor and dean of philosophy at the Jesuit Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy in Dublin, Ireland, invited him to be a part of the small-panel based seminar called together by Higgins. The discussion was based around Sia’s new book, Society in its Challenges.

“It just so happened I had already planned to be in Dublin with my family for a vacation,” Sweetman said. “So the timing was perfect, and I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. I’ve done a lot of travels, but this one was unique.”

The panel included eight representatives from across a spectrum of education, from primary school to university-level professors. With a series of banking scandals and the lasting effects of a recent financial crisis and its resulting austerity measures as a backdrop, the seminar focused on ethics in the realms of business. The seminar was part of a series of public conversations Higgins is hosting about various issues affecting modern Ireland.

“He wants to raise consciousness about the behavior among businesses and the institutions of state,” Sweetman said of the initiative. “So we discussed a broad range of views around that subject.”

Sweetman said it’s a conversation he felt he had something to add to. In recent years, he said he’s taught a class called worldviews and ethical principles in business alongside Turner White, MBA, executive assistant professor of management in the Helzberg School of Management, to the students in the school’s executive MBA program.

In that class, students engaged ideas of how companies and business leaders grappled with ethics and how important the formation of a worldview is in the development of ethical business leaders.

“The course at the Helzberg School was based, in part, on some of the ideas I had written about,” he said. “And some of the issues we discussed in that course were relevant to the conversation in Ireland.”

By sharing the results of the ongoing panel discussions with the public, Sweetman said hopefully Higgins’ initiative can lead to reflection for the country and its people, even if it does not result in a host of policy changes.

“I think he wants to get a conversation going,” he said. “And I think even the conversation itself can be fruitful.”

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