Undergraduate Spotlight: Jessica Faith Lee

Headshot of Jessica Faith Lee

Photo of Jessica Faith Lee

Jessica Faith Lee is a political science major with minors in Spanish and music. She’s also completing the Sustainability Science and Practice Coterminal Master's program. She loves playing the cello, having jam sessions with her friends, and performing in the Stanford Symphony Orchestra. As a classical musician, Jessica has her favorite composers, which include Gustav Mahler, Ludwig van Beethoven, Edward Elgar, and Johannes Brahms. However, her favorites often change since she is constantly exposed to music. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Why did you choose to participate in the Honors Program in Ethics in Society?

I’m really passionate about environmental justice, and I wanted to explore this issue through normative, philosophical, and theoretical frameworks. Many of the honors thesis programs across campus use empirical approaches to answering questions about climate change and environmental justice. I found that the Ethics in Society program fosters an environment where you can focus on normative questions and theory, which is a better fit for my interests and the questions I want to explore in my thesis.

What are you exploring for your honors thesis research?

My honors thesis aims to apply the philosophy of John Rawls to the moral questions arising from the climate crisis. More specifically, I’m interested in the seeming lack of a coherent framework within Rawlsian theory dealing with both global and intergenerational justice. I wanted to see how an application of Rawls could potentially explore the intersections between both types of justice and how these insights could be applied to our understanding of climate change. One thing I have found so far in the literature is an interesting principle, articulated by Hyunseop Kim, that which I find bears interesting similarities to another principle (the Perpetuity Principle), argued by Justice Josephine Staton in a recent court case (Juliana v. United States). At this point, I’m focusing on the application of Rawls on the ethical questions of climate change and looking at different climate litigation cases to see how, if at all, these ethical principles are used.  

Explain why your topic interests you and share any “aha” moments that you’ve experienced in your research.

An ongoing “aha” moment is me realizing that although it’s easy to think that ideal theory is stuck in the abstract world, it’s actually really tangibly important to engage in this type of thinking. Without it, we lack direction in knowing where to go and what a just world would look like. Ideal theory is useful in shaping our understanding of a just world, and we should think deeply about where our moral principles come from and how they are justified. 

How do you define ethics, and how has this approach affected how you examine your thesis topic and your other studies?

At the core of ethics is the question of how we pursue the sense of justice that I think we all have deep down in our hearts. We all share these intuitions, informing our basic ideas of right and wrong. I’ve always thought of ethics as addressing what we make of those intuitions that we all have. How do we explain them? How do we justify them? What happens when they conflict? How do we deal with those conflicts? 

In thinking about principles of environmental justice, I’m trying to ensure that I’m not just focused on the world of theory but also grounding it in the real world. A lot of my studies in the political science department have actually been about political and moral philosophy, which directly contends with these ethical questions. But, I feel like these questions of ethics often go unexamined for many of my other classes which focus more so on the policy and science surrounding climate change. My thesis has afforded me the opportunity to dig deeper, challenge, and critically consider these big “why” questions.