PPE-GFURR Lecture: Catherine Herfeld

Catherine Herfeld from the University of Zurich will give a talk on the topic “The Many Faces of Rational Choice Theory.” The talk takes place on April 2, 2018, from 4-6 PM in 118B Surge Building. Professor Herfeld’s talk is co-sponsored by the Global Forum on Urban and Regional Resilience at Virginia Tech and is tailored to appeal to both students and faculty, with plenty of time for discussion and interaction with the guest speaker. You are cordially invited to attend.

Here is the abstract of the talk: Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, theories of rational choice have been extensively employed in economics and the social sciences more generally. They have been used in the hope of solving a variety of distinct conceptual, methodological and epistemic problems and are thus to be found in nearly any context in which economists aim at generating knowledge about the economy. At the same time, theories of rational choice have been attacked from various sides. As they have been empirically falsified countless times, they have often been identified as responsible for the explanatory and predictive shortcomings of economic models and theories. In this talk, I aim to provide a fresh perspective on persistent debates about the epistemic potentials and limitations of rational choice theory. First, I suggest that rational choice theory has many conceptually and methodologically distinct faces that remain prevalent in contemporary economics, but have emerged from a history of earlier attempts to conceptualize the behavior of human agents. By looking more closely at a set of historical and contemporary cases, I argue that the way in which rational choice theories have been used and justified in economics has depended crucially upon the problems that economists addressed. They should accordingly be evaluated against the backdrop of precisely those problems they were meant to provide a solution for. Second, I argue that even if economists could draw upon an empirically more adequate theory of human behavior, it remains to be seen whether they have found an appropriate solution for the empirical difficulties that economic models and theories actually confront.

PPE Speaker Series: Marion Fourcade

Marion Fourcade from the University of California Berkeley will give a talk on the topic “Faust in the Digital Era.” The talk takes place on March 21, 2018, from 4-6 PM in 135 Goodwin Hall. The talk is tailored to appeal to both students and faculty, with plenty of time for discussion and interaction with the guest speaker. You are cordially invited to attend.

Here is the abstract of the talk: The modern digital economy is built upon an implicit Faustian bargain: companies provide online services for free, and individuals ‘pay’ them back by signing intrusive terms of service that provide access to their personal data. The data is then refined and recombined to sort individuals into marketing niches, skill sets, rankings and reputations, and more. It is used for price discrimination, product differentiation, and the distribution of financial and symbolic rewards and penalties. This presentation will provide an overview of these new sorting processes, and of their existing and potential consequences for how we think about inequality in today’s society.

PPE Speaker Series: Fabian Wendt

Fabian Wendt from Chapman University will give a talk on the topic “Defending Unfair Compromises” at Virginia Tech. The talk takes place on February 21, 2018, from 4-6 PM in 135 Goodwin Hall. The talk is tailored to appeal to both students and faculty, with plenty of time for discussion and interaction with the guest speaker. You are cordially invited to attend.

Here is the abstract of the talk: It seems natural to think that compromises ought to be fair. But it is false. In this paper, I argue that it is never a moral desideratum to have fair compromises and that we are sometimes even morally obliged to try to establish unfair compromises. The most plausible conception of the fairness of compromises is David Gauthier’s principle of minimax relative concession. According to that principle, a compromise is fair when all parties make equal concessions relative to how much they can gain from an agreement and relative to how much they would lose without an agreement. To find out whether fair compromises sometimes are a moral desideratum, I discuss several paradigmatic cases in friendships, economics and politics, and I try to show that even when the parties have principled moral reasons to refrain from trying to maximize utility in the negotiations, they do not have moral reasons to aim at a fair compromise. My second claim is that we are sometimes even morally obliged to try to establish unfair compromises, in particular when we are dealing with parties that try to establish morally very bad political arrangements. In such cases, we should try to concede as little as possible to achieve an outcome that is morally acceptable. Fair compromises, in other words, are morally much more dubious than is usually appreciated.

PPE Speaker Series: Itai Sher

Itai Sher from the University of Massachusetts Amherst will give a talk on the topic “Reasons and Preferences” at Virginia Tech. The talk takes place on November 29, 2017, from 4-6 PM in Holden Auditorium. The talk is tailored to appeal to both students and faculty, with plenty of time for discussion and interaction with the guest speaker. You are cordially invited to attend.

Here is the abstract of the talk: The notion of preferences is fundamental to welfare analysis in economics, and one of the most basic principles concerning preferences is the Pareto principle: If everyone prefers x to y, then x ought to be socially preferred to y. The notion of preference that is used in economics does not include a representation of the reasons that people have for their preferences. Yet it is essential to preferences that people have reasons for holding them. This paper considers the consequences of taking reasons seriously. In particular it considers criticisms that have been leveled against the Pareto principle with an emphasis on the role of reasons for the preferences that people have. I consider two arguments for the Pareto principle, one that considers the satisfaction of preferences to be a good, and the other in terms of decision rights, which resonates with the anti-paternalistic rationales that are often given for Pareto. I find that neither argument fully justifies the principle.

PPE Speaker Series: Javier Hidalgo

Javier Hidalgo from the University of Richmond will give a talk on the topic “The Ethics of Integration” at Virginia Tech. The talk takes place on October 04, 2017, from 4-6 PM in Surge 107. The talk is tailored to appeal to both students and faculty, with plenty of time for discussion and interaction with the guest speaker. You are cordially invited to attend.

Here is the abstract of the talk: This is a chapter of a book in progress. The book argues that immigration restrictions are generally unjust and explores some of the implications of this claim for individual ethics. In this chapter, I ask: do immigrants have obligations to integrate into their new societies? Many people answer “yes.” They think that immigrants are obligated to learn the local language, adopt mainstream cultural norms, avoid segregating themselves, and assimilate in other ways. I reject this view. I instead advance a liberal view on the ethics of integration. On my view, it is both permissible for immigrants to integrate and permissible for them to refuse to do so. I defend the liberal view on integration against a range of objections, such as the objections that immigrants consented to assimilate, that immigrants should integrate out of gratitude, and that a failure to integrate would bring about bad consequences.

PPE Speaker Series: Andrew Light

Andrew Light from George Mason University will give a talk on the topic “The Road From the Paris Climate Agreement” at Virginia Tech. The talk takes place on April 12, 2017, from 4-6 PM in Surge 117a. The talk is tailored to appeal to both students and faculty, with plenty of time for discussion and interaction with the guest speaker. You are cordially invited to attend.

Here is the abstract of the talk: In December 2015 over 190 countries met in Paris for the 21st meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change where they succeeded in creating a new international climate agreement. Many have heralded the outcome as a groundbreaking achievement for international diplomacy and global climate action. Others have argued that the climate commitments that parties brought to the table in Paris are ultimately too weak to achieve the agreements’ lofty aspirations. To better understand the significance of the new Paris Agreement we will review the recent history of the UN climate negotiations, how this outcome evolved from earlier failed attempts in this process, and be sure what its impact could be. A more pressing question however may be what new future for global climate cooperation is now required of us after Paris, especially in light of the recent federal election in the United States. To close the current gap between the Paris pledges for emission reductions, and what is needed to achieve our long-term goals for climate stabilization, we will need to continue to strengthen the profile of climate change as equal to other global priorities, and find new opportunities for enhanced climate action that all parties can embrace despite their differing domestic circumstances.

PPE Speaker Series: Gerald Davis

Gerald Davis from the University of Michigan will give a talk on the topic “New Institutions for a New Economic Order” at Virginia Tech. The talk takes place on March 22, 2017, from 4-6 PM in Surge 117a. The talk is tailored to appeal to both students and faculty, with plenty of time for discussion and interaction with the guest speaker. You are cordially invited to attend.

Here is the abstract of the talk: Ubiquitous information and communication technologies are radically changing what organizations look like, and in many cases rendering formal organizations unsustainable. As ongoing organizations are replaced by supply chains and pop-up enterprises, we face renewed philosophical questions around ontology (what counts as a “firm”), epistemology (can organizations know things?), and ethics (who can and should be held responsible in a world of dispersed enterprise?). Organization theorists have a number of advantages in helping construct both new theories and new institutions to help channel the economic forces unleased by information and communication technologies for human benefit.

PPE Speaker Series: Jonathan Anomaly

Jonathan Anomaly from UNC-Chapel Hill will give a PPE Talk on the topic “What’s Wrong with Factory Farming?” at Virginia Tech. The talk will take place on Wednesday, November 16, from 4-6 PM, in 223 Engel Hall. The talk is tailored to appeal to both students and faculty, with plenty of time for discussion and interaction with the guest speaker. You are cordially invited to attend.

Here is the abstract of the talk: Factory farming continues to grow around the world as a low-cost way of producing animal products for human consumption. However, many of the practices associated with intensive animal farming have been criticized by public health professionals and animal welfare advocates. The aim of this essay is to raise three independent moral concerns with factory farming, and to explain why the practices associated with factory farming flourish despite the cruelty inflicted on animals and the public health risks imposed on people. I conclude that the costs of factory farming as it is currently practiced far outweigh the benefits, and offer a few suggestions for how to improve the situation for animals and people.

PPE Speaker Series: Cedric De Leon

Cedric de Leon from Providence College will give a PPE Talk on the topic “The Origins of Right to Work: Race, Class, Party and the Freedom of Contract” at Virginia Tech. The talk will take place on Wednesday, October 26, from 4-6 PM, in 223 Engel Hall. The talk is tailored to appeal to both students and faculty, with plenty of time for discussion and interaction with the guest speaker. You are cordially invited to attend.

Here is the abstract of the talk: “Right to work” states weaken collective bargaining rights and limit the ability of unions to effectively advocate on behalf of workers. As more and more states consider enacting right-to-work laws, observers trace the contemporary attack on organized labor to the 1980s and the Reagan era or the early 1950s and the immediate aftermath of the Taft-Hartley Act. In contrast, I argue that this antagonism began a century earlier with the Northern victory in the U.S. Civil War, when the political establishment revised the English common-law doctrine of conspiracy to equate collective bargaining with the enslavement of free white men.

PPE Speaker Series: Gwen Bradford

Gwen Bradford from Rice University will give a PPE Talk on the topic “The Badness of Pain” at Virginia Tech. The talk will take place on Wednesday, September 28, from 4-6 PM, in 223 Engel Hall. The talk is tailored to appeal to both students and faculty, with plenty of time for discussion and interaction with the guest speaker. You are cordially invited to attend.

Here is the abstract of the talk: Why is pain bad? The literature abounds with discussion of well-being, but there is so little about what is bad for us that you would think we’re in denial about it. Ideally, an account of pain’s badness will fulfill these desiderata: (1) capture the badness of pain broadly construed, i.e., both physical and psychological, (2) give a univocal explanation for human and animal pain, and (3) entail that only pain that is indeed intrinsically bad is bad. There are two central puzzles, namely pain that is enjoyed and pain that is not painful (as experienced by people with asymbolia for pain). A new view is proposed, reverse conditionalism, and it is argued that this view does best in fulfilling the desiderata and capturing enjoyable pain and asymbolia cases.