PPE Visiting Research Scholar: Douglas Noonan

Program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics

During the spring semester 2019, Professor Douglas Noonan will be a visiting research scholar in the Program of Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Virginia Tech.

Douglas Noonan is a Professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. His research focuses on a variety of policy and economics issues related to the urban environment, neighborhood dynamics, and quality-of-life. His research has been sponsored by a variety of organizations (e.g., National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, National Endowment for the Arts) on topics like policy adoption, environmental risks, energy, air quality, spatial modeling, green urban revitalizations, and cultural economics. Noonan earned his Ph.D. in public policy at the University of Chicago.

PPE Research: Gil Hersch publishes on business ethics

Gil Hersch (PPE Postdoctoral Fellow) published an article on “The Irrelevance of Unsuccessful Traders” in the Business Ethics Journal Review 6(8): 41-46. Here is an abstract of the article:

Alasdair MacIntyre argues that moral virtues are antithetical to what is required of those who trade in financial markets to succeed. MacIntyre focuses on four virtues and argues that successful traders possess none of them: (i) self-knowledge, (ii) courage, (iii) taking a long-term perspective, and (iv) tying one’s own good with some set of common goods. By contrast, I argue that (i)–(iii) are, in fact, traits of successful traders, regardless of their normative assessment. The last trait – caring about the common good – is often counterproductive in most for-profit ventures, including trading, and so singling out traders is inappropriate.

PPE Research: Michael Moehler publishes on diversity

Michael Moehler’s (Director of the PPE Program) article on “Diversity, Stability, and Social Contract Theory” is forthcoming with Philosophical Studies. Here is an abstract of the article.

The topic of moral diversity is not only prevalent in contemporary moral and political philosophy, it is also practically relevant. Moral diversity, however, poses a significant challenge for moral theory building. John Thrasher (Synthese, forthcoming), in his discussion of public reason theory, which includes social contract theory, argues that if one seriously considers the goal of moral constructivism and considerations of representation and stability, then moral diversity poses an insurmountable problem for most public reason theories. I agree with Thrasher that moral diversity poses a significant challenge for orthodox multistage social contract theories. In fact, I even add a further problem for such theories under the assumption of deep moral diversity. Nevertheless, I argue that my (Moehler, Minimal morality: a multilevel social contract theory, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2018) recently developed multilevel social contract theory overcomes these problems. I focus on some of the underexplored features of this theory to show that multilevel social contract theory offers one conceptually coherent and plausible way to render social contract theory viable and relevant for modern diverse societies.

PPE Research: Gil Hersch publishes on research ethics

Gil Hersch (PPE Postdoctoral Fellow) published an article on “Educational Equipoise and the Educational Misconception; Lessons from Bioethics” in Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 6(2) 2018, 3-15. Here is an abstract of the article:

Some advances in bioethics regarding ethical considerations that arise in the context of medical research can also be relevant when thinking about the ethical considerations that arise in the context of SoTL research. In this article, I aim to bring awareness to two potential ethical challenges SoTL researchers might face when playing a dual role of teacher and researcher that are similar to the challenges physicians face in their dual role of physician and researcher. In this article, I argue that two commonly discussed concerns in bioethics—the need for clinical equipoise and the possibility of a therapeutic misconception—have analogies when conducting some types of research on students. I call these counterparts educational equipoise and the educational misconception.

PPE Research: Thomas Rowe’s article forthcoming in Philosophy & Public Affairs

Thomas Rowe (PPE Postdoctoral Fellow) and Alex Voorhoeve’s (London School of Economics) article on “Egalitarianism under Severe Uncertainty” has been accepted for publication with Philosophy & Public Affairs. Here is an abstract of the article:

Decision-makers face severe uncertainty when they are not in a position to assign precise probabilities to all of the relevant possible outcomes of their actions. Such situations are common – novel medical treatments and policies addressing climate change are two examples. Many decision-makers respond to such uncertainty in a cautious manner and are willing to incur a cost to avoid it. There are good reasons for taking such an uncertainty-averse attitude to be permissible. However, little work has been done to incorporate it into an egalitarian theory of distributive justice. We aim to remedy this lack. We put forward a novel, uncertainty-averse egalitarian view. We analyse when the aims of reducing inequality and limiting the burdens of severe uncertainty are congruent and when they conflict, and highlight practical implications of the proposed view. We also demonstrate that if uncertainty aversion is permissible, then utilitarians must relinquish a favourite argument against egalitarianism.

PPE Research: Michael Moehler publishes Minimal Morality

Michael Moehler, Director of the PPE Program at Virginia Tech, recently published a book at the intersection of philosophy, politics, and economics.

The book includes discussion of the relationship between morality and self-interest, utility theory, rational choice theory, social and economic productivity, distributive justice, the welfare state, and global justice. In the book, Professor Moehler applies formal methods to moral and political philosophy and develops a new type of social contract theory that aims to ensure mutually beneficial peaceful long-term cooperation in deeply morally pluralistic societies.

Here is more information about the book.

PPE Research: Michael Moehler publishes on the Rawls-Harsanyi dispute

Michael Moehler’s (Director of the PPE Program) article on the Rawls-Harsanyi dispute has appeared in the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly. Here is an abstract of the article:

Central to the Rawls–Harsanyi dispute is the question of whether the core modeling device of Rawls’ theory of justice, the original position, justifies Rawls’ principles of justice, as Rawls suggests, or whether it justifies the average utility principle, as Harsanyi suggests. Many commentators agree with Harsanyi and consider this dispute to be primarily about the correct application of normative decision theory to Rawls’ original position. I argue that, if adequately conceived, the Rawls–Harsanyi dispute is not primarily a dispute about the correct application of normative decision theory to Rawls’ original position. Instead, Rawls and Harsanyi aim to model different moral ideals, and this difference in their moral assumptions leads them to significantly different conclusions about justice. There is no winner in the Rawls–Harsanyi dispute. Instead, the dispute merely clarifies the moral ideals and their formal representations that need to be assumed in order to justify either Rawls’ contractualist principles of justice or the average utility principle. Thus understood, the Rawls–Harsanyi dispute offers a promising starting point for future research that can deepen and enrich our understanding of the demands of justice.

PPE Research: SGA Policy Grant Award

Thomas Rowe (PPE Program), Adam Dominiak (Economics), Sudipta Sarangi (Economics), and Michael Moehler (Philosophy) have been awarded a Policy Strategic Growth Area Planning Grant for the project “Ethical Decision-Making Under Ambiguity.”

The grant will be used primarily to fund an experimental study that will be conducted in the Virginia Tech Economics Laboratory. The experimental study will invoke a unique combination of methods from economics and philosophy: it will borrow techniques from economics for establishing how individuals act in scenarios where there is a lack of probabilistic information, with methods from philosophy for establishing the fairness of different alternatives.

PPE Research: Michael Moehler publishes on impartiality and prioritarianism

Michael Moehler’s article “Impartiality, Priority, and Justice: The Veil of Ignorance Reconsidered” has been published in the Journal of Social Philosophy. Here is an abstract of the article:

In this article, I defend the veil of ignorance against the objection that the device is inadequate for deriving demands of justice, because the veil of ignorance purportedly enforces a stronger form of impartiality than Kant’s categorical imperative and, primarily as a consequence, it generally leads to non-prioritarian conclusions. I show that the moral ideal of impartiality that is expressed by the veil of ignorance is not essentially different from Kant’s notion of impartiality and that it does not generally lead to non-prioritarian conclusions. Although the moral ideal of impartiality that is modeled by the veil of ignorance demands solid justification for favoring particular positions of society, it generally does not rule out prioritarianism. Rather, the non-prioritarian conclusions reached by many theories of justice that rely on veil of ignorance reasoning are a result of the complex structures of these theories and the way that they combine and weigh different moral ideals, as well as their informational bases.