PPE Speaker Series: Barry Maguire

Barry Maguire from UNC-Chapel Hill will give a talk on the topic “Rational Choice in Deontic Contexts” at Virginia Tech. The talk takes place on November 11, 2015, from 4-6 PM in Pamplin Hall 30. 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: A number of puzzles focus pressure on a deep structural assumption shared by Act Consequentialism and Orthodox Rational Choice theory. These include Warren Quinn’s classic “self-torturer” puzzle along with other sorites cases, infinite goods cases, imprecise goods cases, sunk costs, and time-stamped options. In all these cases the agent knows that her action is one in a series the whole of which has an evaluative significance not identical to the evaluative significance of the aggregate of the parts. The deep structural assumption is that the deontic status of an action is explained just by facts about that action and its consequences and never by facts about the deontic status of sets of actions of which it is a possible part. By rejecting this assumption and replacing it with something better we can develop solutions to these puzzles while fully vindicating the core motivations for value-first ethical theory.

PPE Speaker Series: David Lefkowitz

David Lefkowitz from the University of Richmond will give a talk on the topic “Institutional Moral Reasoning and Secession” at Virginia Tech. The talk takes place on October 14, 2015, from 4-6 PM in Pamplin Hall 30. 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: Outside the colonial context, international law does not include a right to unilateral secession. Does that make it unjust? Should we reform international law so that it includes a right to unilateral secession, say for groups subject to widespread and systematic violations of their members’ basic human rights, or for any nation that wishes to have its own state regardless of how its members are currently treated? My position, which I briefly defend near the end of this talk, is that we should not, but my primary interest here is with two methodological questions. First, how should we argue for or against a right to secession? I contend that secession is an inherently institutional concept — there is no pre-institutional moral right to secession — from which it follows that we can only argue for or against a right to secession by using institutional moral reasoning. The need to theorize secession institutionally leaves any specific argument regarding the morality of secession vulnerable to the criticism that we lack the empirical evidence necessary to sustain its conclusion. This presents a second methodological question: how should we proceed when our identification of the just institutional rule depends on data of which we have little, and/or in which we (should) have little confidence? With respect to secession, I argue that we ought to adopt a precautionary approach, and that under such an approach we should not give any weight to promoting political self-determination per se when deliberating about whether to reform international law governing secession. I conclude with several reasons to think that even a remedial right to unilateral secession, one limited to groups suffering grave violations of their basic human rights, will not enhance the international legal order’s ability to promote the minimal moral aims of peace and the secure enjoyment of basic human rights.

PPE Speaker Series: Chad Van Schoelandt

Chad Van Schoelandt from Tulane University will give a talk on the topic “Constructing Distributive Justice” at Virginia Tech. The talk takes place on September 23, 2015, from 4-6 PM in Pamplin Hall 30. 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 talk highlights two features of Rawls’s approach to distributive justice and shows how these features support an ongoing research agenda. The first feature is that for Rawls a conception of justice is meant to serve a social function and thus proposed conceptions can be assessed at least in part on their ability to so function. We highlight how this differs from more orthodox moral questions. Going forward, we suggest that the understanding of justice as a tool to serve a function brings a wide array of tool into philosophy. We illustrate this by discussing the relevance to assessing conceptions of justice of both psychological work on the emotions and social scientific work on constitutional political economy. Philosophic work need not be mired in conflicting intuitions about obscure counterfactual cases, for we may gain traction on questions of justice by drawing on many other disciplines. The second feature we highlight from Rawls is the fact that the conception is meant to be “political” and to constitute a “political point of view.” We can thus say, for instance, that one state of affairs is to be preferred “from the political point of view” even if not from the point of view of my self-interest, religion, or deep moral beliefs. The political point of view must be one we can share at least to give us common answers to certain questions and should be expected to differ from the way we might assess things if we did not have to coordinate with others. The possibility of such a political point of view and the way an individual can integrate it into her comprehensive point of view raise important questions for ongoing research. As a suggestion for future research, however, we specifically point to the options opened up by seeing the political perspective as artificial and we argue that contrary to Rawls it need not be supported by any shared values, though each individual member will have to be able to relate the political conception to whatever values she does hold.

PPE Research: Michael Moehler serves as John Stuart Mill Visiting Chair at the University of Hamburg

This summer, Professor Michael Moehler will be serving as the John Stuart Mill Visiting Chair of Social Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Hamburg (Germany) and as Visiting Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Graz (Austria).

Professor Moehler will teach three graduate seminars (one of which will be co-taught with a colleague from the Department of Economics at the University of Hamburg), give research talks in both Hamburg and Graz, and will be a guest speaker at the Peter Loscher Chair of Business Ethics at the Technical University of Munich.

In addition, Professor Moehler will organize a 1.5-day workshop at the University of Hamburg. The workshop will focus on his work on contractarian ethics and related topics and is sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Collegiate Times Article

The PPE minor was featured by the Collegiate Times this week. For the full story, please click here.

PPE Research: Michael Moehler publishes on the Nash bargaining solution

Michael Moehler’s article in defense of the (stabilized) Nash bargaining solution has been published with Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. Here is an abstract of the article.

In a recent article, McClennen (2012) defends an alternative bargaining theory in response to his criticisms of the standard Nash bargaining solution as a principle of distributive justice in the context of the social contract. McClennen rejects the orthodox concept of expected individual utility maximizing behavior that underlies the Nash bargaining model in favor of what he calls full rationality, and McClennen’s full cooperation bargaining theory demands that agents select the most egalitarian strictly Pareto-optimal distributional outcome that is strictly Pareto-superior to the state of nature. I argue that McClennen’s full cooperators are best described as reasonable agents whose rationality is constrained by moral considerations and that McClennen’s bargaining theory is moralized in this regard. If, by contrast, the orthodox concept of rationality is assumed and plausible assumptions are made about human nature and social cooperation, then a modified version of the standard Nash bargaining solution, which I call the stabilized Nash bargaining solution (Moehler 2010), is justified. From the perspective of rational agents, the stabilized Nash bargaining solution can accommodate McClennen’s criticisms of the standard Nash bargaining solution in the context of the social contract and, for such agents, it can serve as a principle of distributive justice in deeply morally pluralistic societies.

PPE Minor Approved

The Minor in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics has been approved by Virginia Tech’s Governance System. The new interdisciplinary minor involves eleven departments in seven colleges at Virginia Tech. Students can now enroll for the minor. For further information, please contact Professor Michael Moehler or Holly Belcher in the Department of Philosophy.