Bill Puka

Professor, Cognitive Science

Position:Professor of Philosophy and Psychology
Classes: Anarchism, Democracy, Cognitive-Moral Development, Ethics, Wisdom, Love and Character, Cognitive Science and Education
Background:  My teaching, like my research, combines philosophy and psychology, usually related to ethical values and public policy. For two decades I worked at Harvard's Center for Moral Development and its related "Just Community" program in the Connecticut prison system. This mission continues through service on the executive board of the AME (The Association for Moral Education), and the Ark Community Charter School in Troy. My public policy work began in the US Senate where I was an APA/AAAS Congressional Fellow. There I worked for the Senate Small Business Committee and in Senator Hart's Office on issues of urban economic development, employee ownership, budget and taxation (including tax resistance). A few years ago I directed a Sloan Foundation grant for Troy and Capitol District socio-economic redevelopment. For many years before and after I have run two ongoing community programs: "Be Your Own Hero: Careers in Commitment" (a character education program for the public schools) and The Umuluwe Sister-City Program (partnering certain RPI faculty and students with villagers in Nigeria)
Current focus: The guiding question: Can a full regimen be worked out for developing radical integrity and self-determination in ourselves, also for developing a full appreciation of what is valuable and democratic in our world? How can we become motivated and able to make a ruthlessly honest critical evaluation of our hypocrisies and rationalizations regarding injustice and dehumanization around us? And how can we nurture a powerful and unswerving passion for working against these intolerables while at the same time celebrating life? My current quartet of courses in ethics, moral psychology (development), the social entrepreneurship/civic engagement of anarchy and democracy, is designed to answer these questions and evolve such a regimen. On the conceptual or philosophical side of this quest, radical integrity implies non-ideological approaches to beliefs and viewpoints. Two models and methods are posed for doing so. The Savings Approach suggests that no current view is worth considering unless it at least encompasses the strengths of all major current views, including major rivals. It provides a model for integrating conflicting and complementary viewpoints. The Right Mix consists of various combinations of such views in theory and practice.(This includes accommodating dogmas and one-way ideologies that oppose to eclecticism.) Moral and politically speaking, to be less than a Kantian-Utilitarian-egoistic perfectionist, as well as a conservative-liberal-socialistic individualist libertarian is not to take views or one's comrades  seriously enough.
Current Research Interests: In addition to ongoing theoretical research in ethics and moral development, I conduct a long-term empirical research program in cognitive science, investigating ethical problem-solving processes using protocol analysis. An on-line ethical coaching system has been developed by my student and colleague, Russell Robbins. And the development of ETHICALADVISOR software is foreseen. More nascent research probes psychological and social  mechanisms for resisting authoritarianism and becoming "civically engaged." The RPI campus provides a handy laboratory for this project through its seemingly inexhaustible top-down disputation between faculty, administration and trustees.
In his own words: I consider myself post-academic in that academics has become increasingly focused on careerism and success-oriented professionalism. Philosophy and psychology, by contrast, aim at wisdom and perspective, grounding one in what is really important and valuable, including trying to live and worthy life. Ethics originally concerned how to flourish as a person in life--how to develop an admirable personality and character, a circle of excellent relationships, and a socially contributing lifestyle. It concerned how to be excellent as a person and create a life masterpiece. The aim was to become expert in one's thinking (philosophy), one's emotional sensitivity to self and others (psychology) and the authentic, socially apt expression of one's understanding (community organizing and engagement). Promoting these original and perennial concerns is the focus of my teaching, and teaching--partnering with students in learning--is my focus. Social activism is my focus outside of teaching. 
Writing and Publications: lists several of my academic publications and, for some reason, lush information my recording and songwriting career with Columbia (CBS/Sony) Records. Moral Development: A Compendium, contains 7 books I edited on moral psychology. The On-line Encyclopedia of Philosophy contains my long entry summarizing the field. A newer entry in The International Encyclopedia of Ethics contains a long entry on The Golden Rule, portrayed as the heart of western ethics. The first version of my Right Mix Theory is published in my volume Toward Moral Perfectionism. In the last few years I have been completing books on Martin Luther King's interpersonal problem-solving methods and like methods derived from research in cognitive development. An additional  book manuscript, For Goodness Sake, counterposes ideal and irreverent outlooks on ethics. It includes descriptions of exemplary people, love, ultimate integrity, posed alongside "The Good of Evil," "The Virtues of Hypocrisy," "Offending People: A Lost Art," and a critique of forgiveness as unjust, impossible, and near-incomprehensible.) Of, By and For: An Allegiance Beyond Patriotism and Good Citizenship is my most recent book project, responding to perennial US foreign policy and the undue power of political ideology in democracy. It locates democracy in social organization, not political systems, and exposes the objectionably authoritarian features of political republics. While also continuing to publish in academic journals I've most recently been invited to contribute chapters to volumes in philosophy and popular culture. A first essay will appear in Philosophy and College Sex (of all things) while simultaneous publications come out on robotics, "caring" in business, and technologically induced eugenics.
Stands: What someone stands for or endorses often is more informative than descriptive sketches. Hence the following tidbits on academic fraud (trumping student cheating), spiritual principles, and spirited resistance to oppression. These are followed by my curriculum vitae, which, like the photo of my family above, I usually do not keep up to date.
Bill Puka Resume | Unitarian Universalist Principles | V Speech to London | Fraudulent integrity

Research Focus
  • Cognition, Cognitive Development, Moral Reasoning