Thursday, March 31, 2011

More on the AHRC and the petition

. . . from Pears (part II) and a particularly excellent essay here.

. . . from James Ladyman in The New Statesman here.

The petition story is covered on ResearchResearch.Com

Details here (you may have to log in). We have nearly 2,000 signatures. Hopefully, our cross-party, multidisciplinary voices will make a difference.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Petition to remove "The Big Society" as an AHRC research funding priority receives more than 1,500 signatures in less than 24 hours

The petition can be found here and I urge readers to consider signing it. It makes a point of principle, not politics: that the UK-based Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) -- which funds research in areas such as law and philosophy -- should remove mention of "The Big Society" in its details of strategic research funding priorities. "The Big Society" was a campaign slogan of the Conservative Party. The principled objection is that the policial campaign slogans of any party should not be included. This would be true if the then AHRB had included "The Third Way" after the 1997 election which saw Tony Blair become Prime Minister. This is not about which political party you prefer, but a statement of principle.

I have been delighted to see such strong support across political and disciplinary divides for this proposal. Let us hope the AHRC takes notice and removes this language from its funding documentation. I will keep regularly updates on progress.

Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) launch at Yale University

Call for Proposals: “Impact: Global Poverty” (YALE)

Academics Stand Against Poverty Launch Conference at Yale (April 23rd, 11am-6pm)

We invite you to submit your proposal for a project aimed at reducing world poverty.

Selected proposals will receive a slot in the upcoming conference and be carried out with the support of the Academics Stand Against Poverty network and organization.

Background: Academics Stand Against Poverty, or ASAP, is a new organization in which academics collaborate in order to have a greater impact on issues of global poverty. Its aim is to help academics leverage their expertise on such issues by making effective interventions in public debates, by supporting good work by international agencies and non-governmental organizations, and by launching real-world projects aimed at realizing positive change. For more information go to:

The conference: On April 23rd we will hold our launch conference at Yale University. In the conference we will present two ongoing projects, "Health Impact Fund" and "Climate Voices", and discuss selected proposals for new ASAP projects. The discussion will be led by a panel of leading academic activists who will pass their experience and insight to the new ASAP project leaders. Among the confirmed speakers and panelists are: Anat Biletzki (Tel-Aviv University), Gerry Mackie (Princeton), Thomas Pogge (Yale), James Silk (Yale) and Mary Evelyn Tucker (Yale).

Call for proposals: This is an open call for contributions of up to 1,500 words outlining a project proposal that academics might initiate with good prospects of reducing world poverty. Guidelines and examples of proposals that are well on their way toward implementation are listed below. All proposals are due by April 7th.

Selected proposals will be posted on the ASAP website for open discussion. Following this, all proposal submitters will be invited to vote for the best of these proposals. These chosen proposals will become the next ASAP projects, will be presented and discussed in the launch conference, and shared-interest groups will be formed to take them forward. If your proposal isn't selected you will be invited to join one of the teams working on a selected proposal.

Becoming an ASAP project means benefitting from the support of the international ASAP network, having a page on the website and being able to raise funds through our non-profit organization.

All those, including faculty, graduate or undergraduate students, working on aspects of global poverty, global justice and related issues are invited to submit proposals and attend the meeting. You need not submit a proposal to attend, and broad participation will be encouraged

To submit a draft proposal, or if you have any questions, please contact: Gilad Tanay (Yale University, Philosophy Department)

Examples of proposals or efforts underway:

1. Giving What We Can (Toby Ord, Oxford University):

2. Clean Trade in Natural Resources (Leif Wenar, King’s College, London)

3. Health Impact Fund (Thomas Pogge, Yale University)

4. Climate Voices (Maximilian Webster and Gilad Tanay, Yale University)

Guidelines for writing a proposal

Your project proposal should clearly describe the real-world change the project aims for and the effects this change would have on global poverty. It should also describe the academic and political efforts through which a suitably composed group of academics could achieve the envisioned change.

In writing your proposal we recommend that you keep the following questions in mind:

1. What is the aim of your project? Why is this aim valuable? Why is it more valuable than other aims that could be achieved at the same cost?

2. Why, morally speaking, ought people to invest resources in this project?

3. What means are you proposing to achieve your aim?

4. How practical is your proposal? Is it feasible? Is it cost effective? Is it sustainable? Is it reproducible?

5. Try to address ethical consideration. For example: does this project worsen the condition of some in order to benefit others? If so, what is the justification for this?

6. How do you propose to build a team that will implement this project? What resources do you have and what resources will you need to move this project forward? How do you envision that this will take place?
7. Who else is working on this issue? How will your work combine, interact and benefit from the work done by others?

Marriage is in the air in 2011

First it was Prince William and Kate. (Second, of course, came me.) Then we have the announcement from Princess Zara. And now this: Ed Miliband, Labour Leader and Leader of the Opposition, has announced his plans to marry in 2011. Details here. Who will be next?!

GR Evans on the AHRC and government directives

. . . can be found here. Highly recommended reading.
UPDATE: An excellent chronology of events can be found here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Petition to remove "The Big Society" as an AHRC research funding priority

I strongly urge all readers to sign the petition that I have drafted here. It is a petition to remove "The Big Society" as one of the UK-based Arts and Humanities Research Council's six areas for strategic funding priority. The concern is that this idea -- "The Big Society" -- is the political campaign slogan of one party, the Conservative Party. My concern is not that it is a Conservative Party political slogan (although I am a Labour Party member), but that the slogan of any political party is given priority in this way. I would be as deeply opposed to the idea of making "The Third Way" an area of strategic funding after the 1997 election that saw Tony Blair become Prime Minister.

I would strongly recommend the petition to all readers of all political leanings: this is not about left and right, but right and wrong. The more cross-party, multidisciplinary, and international support, the better!

A true political coalition at work

Details here on the movement to change Britain's electoral system from first-past-the-post to the alternative vote.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The "Big Society" and research funding: political interference gone too far?

This weekend saw news in The Observer of possible political interference in arts and humanities research funding. The full story is here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] Academics will study the "big society" as a priority, following a deal with the government to secure funding from cuts. The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) will spend a "significant" amount of its funding on the prime minister's vision for the country, after a government "clarification" of the Haldane principle – a convention that for 90 years has protected the right of academics to decide where research funds should be spent.

Under the revised principle, research bodies must work to the government's national objectives, although the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that ministers will not meddle in individual projects. It is claimed the AHRC was told that research into the "big society" was non-negotiable if it wished to maintain its funding at £100m a year.

The director of research at Cambridge University's history faculty, Professor Peter Mandler, told the Observer that the AHRC was forced to accept the change by officials working for the minister for higher education, David Willetts, regarded as one of the intellectual driving forces behind the "big society".

[. . .] A principal at an Oxford college, who did not want to be named, said: "With breathtaking speed, a slogan for one political party has become translated into a central intellectual agenda for the academy." [. . .]"

One reply may be that this is the government's money: they should be entitled to spend it however they wish. Our response should be that -- even if this were true -- government ought not have any place in setting the research agenda for a country. If Britain is to remain academically competitive, then its focus should not be on researching a governing party's political slogan but engaging with the cutting edge of research. This priority may divert attention from engaging in cutting edge research. It therefore is against the party's long term interests and, thus, it ought not support this policy.

A second reply is that this is rather the taxpayer's money and so it is right to have government interference to ensure the money is wisely spent. Our response to this should be that, in fact, this has relatively nothing to do with taxpayer accountability. Most people -- perhaps even most who voted for Conservative Party candidates -- do not know about (let alone support) the "Big Society" (whatever it is). The Prime Minister has (at least in my view) performed rather poorly in setting out and selling his political vision for this idea. Indeed, if I was one of his ministers, I'd recommend that he drop "BS" now: it diverts too much attention and energy from the aims of his government and he'd be much better off in the long run without it.

We should have questions for others as well. Why has the AHRC accepted this "deal"? If the prioritisation of the Big Society was "non-negotiable", then why not take a stand and call the government's bluff? It would be hard to imagine the government refusing to fund the arts and humanities at all. Plus, if they did try to pull such a stunt, then the politics of the situation would surely shame the coalition into reversal (and perhaps a better cash settlement for the AHRC). So why has the AHRC gone along with this? It would be interesting to find out...

All in all, very bad news for research in the arts and humanities as -- if left unchallenged -- this may open the door to political parties dictating all aspects of research priorities, including the priority of focussing research on their political mottos. So much for the political party that claims the desire to cut red tape, cut bureaucracy and centralized control, and return freedom to the people.

The more we see new government proposals pertaining to higher education, the more authoritarian and intrusive they have become beyond previous governments.

UPDATE: Register complaints here.

UPDATE 2: The AHRC response is here. What do others think of this response?

Petrol cars to be banned across Europe

. . . by 2050. Details here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Paul Krugman on "The Austerity Delusion"

An absolutely brilliant essay found here with excerpts here:

"[. . .] Portugal’s government has just fallen in a dispute over austerity proposals. Irish bond yields have topped 10 percent for the first time. And the British government has just marked its economic forecast down and its deficit forecast up.

What do these events have in common? They’re all evidence that slashing spending in the face of high unemployment is a mistake. Austerity advocates predicted that spending cuts would bring quick dividends in the form of rising confidence, and that there would be few, if any, adverse effects on growth and jobs; but they were wrong.

It’s too bad, then, that these days you’re not considered serious in Washington unless you profess allegiance to the same doctrine that’s failing so dismally in Europe.

[. . .] Why not slash deficits immediately? Because tax increases and cuts in government spending would depress economies further, worsening unemployment. And cutting spending in a deeply depressed economy is largely self-defeating even in purely fiscal terms: any savings achieved at the front end are partly offset by lower revenue, as the economy shrinks.

So jobs now, deficits later was and is the right strategy. Unfortunately, it’s a strategy that has been abandoned in the face of phantom risks and delusional hopes. On one side, we’re constantly told that if we don’t slash spending immediately we’ll end up just like Greece, unable to borrow except at exorbitant interest rates. On the other, we’re told not to worry about the impact of spending cuts on jobs because fiscal austerity will actually create jobs by raising confidence."

Yet further evidence that the UK government has made a terrible mistake on the economy.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

How much will British universities charge from 2012?

The answers can be found here.

The British government and Maoism?

One essential doctrine of Maoism is that practice comes first, theory afterwards. There is more evidence that the British government seems to be following this advice. This evidence is the surprise and out of the blue announcement of a windfall tax on the British oil industry noted here. Is this a good policy?

It is doubtful. While it will save motorists -- ready? -- about 1 penny per litre from midnight yesterday, there are planned tax rises of up to 6 pence that may hit next year so the situation for motorists in the budget are clearly worse on the whole. Moreover, the oil industry claims several thousand jobs are now at risk.

While I do not think that the government should never stand up to industry (and while I also believe that often industry may present misleading testimony, although I make no claim either way on this issue), I do think any government should explore all relevant potential options of public policy decisions. This does not appear to be true here as no one seemed to see this coming. Moreover, there is the risk that not only will many goods and services rise still higher because of the increasing taxes on oil (which may be very damaging for the economy on their own), this is now coupled with the potential large scale loss of unemployment -- clearly the last thing the government needs given its own forecasts that unemployment will continue to rise every year until at least 2015. A bad situation has been made worse.

Nor is this the first time that they have had practice first and theoretical explanations second. There is higher education policy which has been a particular mess. Don't forget also the bizarre policy that if a couple with one earning partner has an income of £44,000ish then they would lose full child benefits while a couple where both work and earn a combined £80,000 would retain their child benefits.

They say the era of spin is over. Well, at least with spin we had clever explanations. Now we don't even get that, but only poorly managed policies ill thought out on their implications in the hopes of never arising positive front page headlines. It is no wonder the government is deeply unpopular: it should expect to remain so until it gives public policy-making greater attention.

Why publish an annual budget?

Yesterday, we learned the latest details from the coalition government concerning their budget plans for the next year. But why publish an annual budget?

My suggestion is not that there should lack a budget. Clearly, budgets are hugely important. Additionally, it is easy to see the attraction of an annual budget. Often households assess their expenses and holiday plans based around expected annual income as the expected income would be set for about a year -- there would be no need to make any major reassessments provided employment remained steady.

However, governments are unlike households. The amount of income (via taxes, etc.) does not arrive all at once, but often spread out and it varies month to month. Expenditures are also in flux. While some prediction can and should be made about the year ahead (as well as the longer term), there may be good reason to recommend government budgets every six months. This would better account for the realities and fluctuations in income and expenditures. If banking and finance groups meet more regularly to reassess priorities and interest rates, then why should government claim just one budget for the year? A day is a long time in politics; a year is almost an eternity.

Government should publish a new budget every six months. Whether or not it will is another story...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hegel Society of Great Britain annual conference: "Naturalism"

This year's Hegel Society of Great Britain annual conference will be on the theme of Naturalism: Was Hegel a naturalist or an anti-naturalist and can he shed light onto how we think about these issues in philosophy today.

The conference will take place on the 5th and 6th of September 2011 at St Edmund's Hall, Oxford.

The speakers will be:

Will Dudley (Williams College) 'Hegel's Critical Naturalism'

Alexis Papazoglou (Cambridge) 'Hegel, the Space of Reasons and the Realm of Nature'

Paul Redding (Sydney) 'Hegel: Naturalist-leaning Forms of Idealism and Idealist-leaning Forms of

Sebastian Roedl (Basel) 'The Self-Determining Concept'

Alison Stone (Lancaster) 'Hegel, Philosophy of Nature and Naturalism'

Kenneth Westphal (UEA) 'Aspects of Philosophical Naturalism in Hegel's 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit'

Registration and programme details to follow.
For more information, contact Alexis Papazoglou on

New books

The following have all been received in March:

Theodor W. Adorno, Lectures on Negative Dialectics. Cambridge: Polity, 2008.

Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse, Reasonable Atheism: A Moral Case for Respectful Disbelief. Amherst: Prometheus, 2011.

Ben Bradley, Well-being and Death. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

G. A. Cohen, Why Not Socialism? Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Falvio Comim, Mozaffar Qizilbash, and Sabina Alkire (eds), The Capability Approach: Concepts, Measures, and Applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Russell Cropenzano, et al, Social Justice and the Experience of Emotion. London: Routledge, 2011.

James Gordon Finlayson and Fabian Freyenhagen (eds), Habermas and Rawls: Disputing the Political. London: Routledge, 2011.

Gerald Gaus, The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom and Morality in a Diverse and Bounded World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

David Held, Cosmopolitanism: Ideas and Realities. Cambridge: Polity, 2010.

Otfried Hoffe, Political Justice. Camrbridge: Polity, 1995.

Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld, Fundamental Legal COnceptions as Applied in Judicial Reasoning, ed. Walter Wheeler Cook. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1919.

Sebastiano Maffettone, Rawls: An Introduction. Cambridge: Polity, 2010.

Susan Mendus, Politics and Morality. Cambridge: Polity, 2009.

Tariq Modood, Multiculturalism. Cambridge: Polity, 2007.

Martha C. Nussbaum, Love's Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Martha C. Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Martha C. Nussbaum, Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. Cambridge: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2011.

Martha C. Nussbaum and Amartya Sen (eds), The Quality of Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Susan Moller Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family. New York: Basic Books, 1989.

Pat O'Malley, The Currency of Justice: Fines and Damages in Consumer Societies. London: Routledge Cavendish, 2009.

Thomas Pogge, Realizing Rawls. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.

Thomas Pogge, John Rawls: His Life and Theory of Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Henry Shue, Basic Rights: Subsistence, Affluence, and U.S. Foreign Policy, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.

Iris Marion Young, Responsibility for Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thom Brooks on "Autonomy, Freedom, and Punishment"

. . . can be found here and forthcoming in Jurisprudence. An abstract:

"In Punishment and Freedom, Alan Brudner offers an important contribution to how we understand retributivism and legal punishment with his theory of "legal retributivism." One aspect of his legal retributivism is that we punish others not necessarily for the harms they threaten or enact, but for their threat to our individual autonomy. There is much promising in this account, although I believe that there are some significant concerns which remain. This essay will explain these concerns and why they may prove troublesome for legal retributivism."

MANCEPT Workshops in Political Theory 2011

Eighth Annual Conference: August 31-September 2nd 2011

From 2011, the Manchester Centre for Political Theory (MANCEPT) in Politics at the University of Manchester will be organizing the annual Political Theory Workshops. Over the last seven years, participants from over twenty countries have come together in a series of workshops concerned with issues in political theory/philosophy widely construed. We are pleased to announce the details of this year’s conference. These workshops reflect the wide diversity of interests and idioms within the discipline and give delegates plenty of time to discuss their papers in a relaxed setting as well as to attend other panels.

Those interested in taking part should vist the website noted above.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Surrey university may charge £9,000 fees

Several universities look set to charge the maximum fee (£9,000) permitted from 2012 in the UK. These universities include Cambridge, Oxford, Durham, and many others. Now we have news this is likely also for Surrey University. Details here.

My prediction? All universities will charge the full amount.

Why? Well, why not? Major cuts are announced to the higher education sector, but the sector reassured that fee income may rise significantly to cover the costs of cuts. And so universities want to cover their costs, and perhaps earn additional income to assist in growing their institutions. The problem is certainly not willing numbers of students -- I am fairly certain that student numbers will remain fairly constant -- but a willing government (where one half of the coalition actively campaigned for no fees at all -- only to be the party that proposed raising the cap on fees three-fold).

Why action in Libya is needed

The United Nations' Security Council has come together and passed a resolution supporting a no-fly zone over Libya. (Details here.) This is welcome news.

Many accept John Stuart Mill's views on intervention: unless a conflict were to potentially spread beyond a state's borders, any civil conflict is a matter for that political body alone to deal with and others should not interfere. There are many reasons why this doctrine of non-intervention is popular.

One reason is the need for the people to lead and take responsibility for their own struggle. Such actions may help contribute to a greater sense of purpose and solidarity among the citizenry, something that may be lost when others fight these battles for them.

A second reason is the continuing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq: who wants to engage in another conflict?

I believe we should support the idea of a no-fly zone. First, the fact that troops may be stretched because of other conflicts is not a green light to other regimes that anything goes. At last, Western coutries are doing what they should have done all along and sought the full agreement of Middle Eastern leaders for action. A world in which we all act together is a world where each need not contribute as much as costs are shared.

Secondly, the no-fly zone still allows the Libyan resistance to fight for themselves and engage in their struggle. The difference is not that the Western allies (perhaps with the help of Egypt) will "win" any conflict for the resistance, but that the resistance can be fought without a more real threat of massacre. The state will normally have many advantages both in trained personnel and military technology against an active citizenry: I am with those who believe that the best way to support resistance is not to use violent means (fighting such a game against a better armed state is troublesome), but peaceful means -- these are resources the people will have in greater supply. In any event, armed attack from fighter aircraft against largely unarmed citizenry is an aggression too far. It is one thing that a people have a right to protest, even perhaps to revolution: it is another thing to say that it is permissible for any state to adopt whatever means it would like to crush popular movements.

This is not to say that Libya's resistance movement will win -- it may not, even if we hope that it does. What it does mean is that state's must accept certain constraints relating to human rights, such as a right against genocide. If a state can only maintain power by fighting to "the last bullet" moving "house to house" than it is a state that has lost all genuine sovereignty. It is time this truth reached Libya.

While any military conflict is always an occasion to regret, let us allow the Libyans to determine their future for themselves -- but without the threat of air attacks.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What is a university graduate?

The government proposes that only graduating students must pay back the cost of their fees in their plans to raise the cap on fees up to £9,000. Much may turn on what a "graduate" is. (The following explanation may amuse American and Canadian readers.) In North America, you either earn your bachelor degree or you do not: there are no alternative awards (am I wrong?). Thus, if you study for a B.A. in Philosophy or Political Science, then you either have earned this or you have not.

This is not true at many British universities. Students who might fail to earn sufficient credits for their "B.A. (Honours)" undergraduate degree may still qualify for other qualifications, including a "Pass Degree" or "Certificate of Higher Education" or even "Diploma of Attendance" depending upon how many credits have been passed. Thus, the idea of "the graduate" is perhaps more troublesome than one might think because if a "graduate" is someone who has earned a qualification then far more students may be affected: one need not complete all undergraduate credits to be considered a graduate.

However, if a "graduate" is only those who have earned a degree (and not merely a non-degree university qualification), then an interesting loophole arises. The loophole is this: students might fail to sit exams in their final year. Why? They would earn a qualification (perhaps "Certificate of Higher Education") without winning a degree - and, thus, they'd have a university qualification for free.

If the government wants to close this gap, then it probably should change the terms of agreement to say that students should pay back what the state has paid on their behalf. This would not permit students to get out of paying their debts by refusing to sit final exams, leaving university debt free and with a qualification (even if it is worth less than a full degree).

This is not to say that I endorse student fees: I do not. Nevertheless, this is yet another example of where this government appears to have ill thought its policies on higher education.

Thought of the day: national debt, student debt

Today, we have the news that student debt figures relating to the proposed rise in tuition fees may be much higher than feared. (Details here.) This brings us to my thought of the day:

If the country should engage in austerity measures because we should all work hard together to ensure we are debt free, then why does the country insist in growing the number of citizens in future generations who have ever larger debts to pay for the education the government pushes them to acquire?

Graduate debt may be much worse than feared: new findings on UK proposal

The current Conservative - Liberal Democrat governing coalition in the UK has proposed raising the cap on tuition fees to £9,000. The argument is that this deal may actually be more fair than the existing approx. £3,200 per year fees cap because students would no longer have to pay up front. At present, students pay their fees up front. Under the current proposals, no student will pay up front: students will only pay post-graduation and only if they earn more than £21,000* (and no earlier than six months post-graduation). This is thought to be more fair because students of any background may be able to afford university study: they need not have the cash (or loans) up front. The government will pay all student fees and all graduating students will then have to pay back the government at a cost.

The details are here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] Some graduates could end up paying back double their original student loans under the new fees system in England, figures calculated for the BBC suggest. The figures, by leading accountants, show that a student borrowing £39,000 for a three-year course could pay back up to £83,000 in total, in cash terms. Under the regime, due to begin in 2012, graduates will pay back 9% of earnings above £21,000 for up to 30 years.

The universities minister said the new system was fairer than the old one. He said it was "less burdensome" that monthly repayments were lower but spread out over a longer period.

From 2012, universities will be able to charge up to £9,000 per year, which will be paid upfront by the government but paid off once the student starts earning £21,000 or more. Students will also be able to take out maintenance loans ranging from £3,575 to £5,288, depending on their family's income. [. . .]"
I suspect this news will prove damaging to the Liberal Democrats in particular. They have tried very hard to argue that these new changes represent a new "fair" deal (despite the raising of the fee cap). If this deal means not only that students will pay much more for their education, but more than twice (or even three times) the government's own predictions (predictions that students will pay more under their scheme than at present) then this could be a real problem for Lib Dems in university seats.

* The £21,000 income level is £21,000 in 2015 £'s. At roughly the current level of inflation, this would be equivalent to £18,000 in today's £'s. Students currently pay back loans when earning £18,000 or more. While the government is quick to note how they have "raised" the amount students must earn before they must pay back their loans, there is a possible sleight-of-hand going on here with the argument as the "raised" figure is no more than the current figure adjusted for inflation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Thom Brooks on "The Respect for Nature: The Capabilities Approach"

. . . can be freely downloaded here. It is due to appear in Ethics, Policy and Environment. An abstract:

"In "Respect for Everything," David Schmidtz offers powerful arguments in favor of a respect for nature over species egalitarianism. While I accept much of his account, I argue that his understanding of respect may be too thin to perform its proper task. Instead, our use of respect should be grounded in the capabilities approach. This approach offers us a more substantive perspective through which we might best conceive respect. I will begin with an outline of the main argument in favour of respect for nature (and against species egalitarianism). The discussion will then close with how we might better understand respect."

UPDATE: Many thanks to Larry Solum for the kind mention here!

Motivation and global justice workshop

Motivation and Global Justice Workshop
22-23 June 2011
University of York

On 22-23 June, the Political Philosophy group at the University of York  will host a workshop on 'Motivation and Global Justice'.

The aim of the workshop is to consider the persistent gap between the demands generated by our best theoretical accounts of global justice and the action in support of global justice that real world agents are motivated to take; and to advance normative research on global justice that is sensitive to, and informed by, empirical questions.

Confirmed speakers:
Carol Gould (CUNY) 'Does Global Justice Presuppose Global Solidarity?'

Katrin Flikschuh (LSE) 'Domesticating Global Justice: An African Perspective'

Graham Long (Newcastle) 'Justifications for Sentimental Manipulation'

Lea Ypi (Oxford) 'Activist Political Theory and Avant-Garde Agency'

Simon Hope (Stirling) 'The Cosmopolitanism of Fear'

Kerri Woods (York) 'Moral Motivation and Distant Others'

Sue Mendus (York) Title tbc

The workshop will close with a roundtable discussion, with participation from Paul Gready, director of the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York.

Interested parties are warmly invited to attend, but as places are limited, please register in advance by contacting Kerri Woods ( A registration fee of £25/£15 will be payable to cover catering costs. The workshop will begin at lunchtime on 22nd June, and close at approximately 6.15pm on the 23rd.

Acknowledgements: Support from the Society for Applied Philosophy, the C and JB Morrell Trust, and the British Academy, is gratefully acknowledged.

Strikes to hit British universities

. . . . starting next week in a row over pensions. Details here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Famous philosophers?

Yes, quite a few - found here courtesy of The Leiter Reports.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bhikhu Parekh on immigration and academia

Delivered from the floor of the House of Lords. Full speech link here. Wise words:

"My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on introducing this debate and showing how our immigration system is largely seen as unwelcoming to outsiders. He concentrated on how this points-based system is likely to affect artists, musicians and others, and how right he was to do so. However, I want to concentrate on an area that requires even more attention-namely, the way that tier 1 and tier 2 affect academics and researchers. As I understand it, the Government want to restrict tier 1 immigration of non-EU staff to 1,000 and tier 2 to 20,700-a reduction of nearly 20 per cent. I am convinced that that will greatly damage our universities and research centres, and I want to spend the next few minutes showing why.

Our universities currently have a non-EU staff of 19,000. Last year, it was 18,400 and the year before it was 15,650. In other words, it has been going up every year, for obvious reasons-there is a demand for it. Universities increasingly recognise that they need to compete with other universities across the world and that they are going to require highly talented people from outside. If the total cap is set at 21,700, universities, which already employ 19,000-plus people, will have to bear more than their fair share of the burden.

Tier 1 is the key route to academic appointments, and it is absolutely vital for professorial appointments. The non-EU academic staff are concentrated in certain areas: clinical medicine, social studies, business and management studies, various types of engineering and computer science. Many of these areas are expanding and will continue to do so, and they will need world-class staff. New and unexpected areas continue to spring up, as we saw in the case of nanotechnology. I can point to instances in social sciences and the humanities, where totally unexpected areas of research spring up. If universities are to compete, they will recruit people, and as these are new and unexpected areas, the talented people needed to do the teaching can come only from outside this country.

The numbers of people needed in unexpected areas cannot be predicted, let alone arbitrarily capped. The non-EU staff have contributed greatly in a number of areas. A quarter of our Nobel prize winners come from non-EU academic staff and they make Britain proud. They train the next generation of scholars and keep up the lead that this country has globally. They also attract foreign students and, no less important, they help to shape the academic and moral culture of our society. Talented scientists and others should not be seen merely in terms of the courses that they offer or the discoveries that they make, but also in terms of the contribution they make to the moral and social life of this country.

In my view, the restrictions that the Government propose are extremely severe and more severe than those of the United States or even Australia, whose points-based system we claim to have borrowed, although we have dropped some of the good points that the system has and added a few others that we should not have. The talented staff from abroad will not come if we put too many restrictions on their dependants and the ability of those dependants to work here, which is what we are doing. We cannot have a points system on the basis of UK experience, which many of these people do not have; nor on the basis of previous earnings because that depends on a number of factors; nor on the basis of established reputation because that takes no account of the potential of a scholar. Reputation is established over a period of time and, as Oxford and Cambridge universities and my own institution, the LSE, will tell you, you very often pick people on the basis of their promise and their potential, and you nurture them rather than go for fully trained and fully established people of academic reputation.

Therefore, I strongly urge that we should trust universities and research institutions. So far, they have shown a great deal of responsibility, they are closer to the ground and they are fully aware of the new trends in sciences compared with the Government. A bureaucratic muddle could easily arise if the Government start to set targets. Even as far as tier 2 is concerned, they cannot say that skilled people can come in only if there are gaps or there are no British equivalents. The concept of a gap or a shortage is extremely ambiguous and very puzzling. Gaps cannot be identified in advance. Even when they are identified, it requires years to train home-grown people. Sticking to a British-only policy, or looking elsewhere if no British applicants are available, will not work. If there is a gap and no locals are available, let us bring in outsiders.

Let us consider the concept of shortage. Shortage implies that there is a demand but no supply. That presupposes that demand is static and does not take account of the fact that demands are created. A creative mind, a creative scientist, can come along, open up new areas of inquiry and suddenly there is a global demand for a particular course or research and many people from all over the world begin to enrol for that or take interest in that research, and the country which started that research first has a global advantage. That is what entrepreneurs do in business. They do not try to cater to existing demands but they anticipate what people might like to have and create a demand. Indian restaurants did not open because there was a demand, but they created the demand. In exactly the same way, in academia and in research centres, talented minds come along, open up new areas of research, new interdisciplinary ways of looking at things, and lo and behold, a demand is created. Suddenly there is a gap where there was none before because something new has come into being.

The Immigration Minister, Mr Damian Green, says that we should attract the brightest and the best to fill job gaps. I say: attract the brightest and the best, then leave them alone and you will be surprised by what new gaps they can create. The points-based system is heavily biased in favour of high salaried jobs-above £40,000. That can happen in engineering or some areas of science, business studies and management. It works against social sciences. I do not need to point out to this House how many of those of us in social sciences, philosophy or international relations do not earn the £40,000 that is demanded for tier 2.

I end by making two simple points. Of course we have a right to control immigration; of course we must do everything to stop bogus students or those who do not want to do high level courses coming in. We must test their language competence and inspect institutions which recruit them so freely, but we need to remember that we need their money, partly for our economy and partly for our universities. To reduce the number of 300,000 students coming in by 120,000 is a large reduction which I think neither the economy nor the universities can bear without taking the risk of what happened to the LSE recently. So my first point is about students.

Secondly, as for academics and researchers in tier 1 and tier 2, leave it to the good sense of the university. Of course the Government, who are in charge of this country's immigration policy, must keep an eye on it, but it would be totally wrong to be too prescriptive. That would stifle the potential of our universities."

Let us hope the government acts on Lord Parekh's sage advice!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thom Brooks joins editorial board of "Contemporary Social Science"

I am delighted to announce my joining the editorial board of Contemporary Social Science, published by Taylor & Francis on behalf of the Academy of Social Sciences. A highly recommended journal for anyone interested in how social science may usefully inform public policy.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Germany top for international students

Details here. Surprising?

Nevada proposes to close philosophy department

Details here. I urge all colleagues to contact the dean, as I have, to recommend a swift reconsideration. His address is:

Christopher C. Hudgins
Dean, College of Liberal Arts
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
4505 Maryland Parkway
LAs Vegas, NV 89154

Monday, March 07, 2011

Paul Krugman on "Degrees and Dollars"

Details here, and makes for sobering (and necessary) reading.

Reasonable Atheism

. . . the blog can be found here, in anticipation of the eagerly awaited book of the same name.

Warning over possible cut in student visas

Details from BBC here, and letter from 16 Vice-Chancellors (in The Guardian) found here. There seems a real battle is being waged between immigration (wanting to raise restrictions and cut numbers significantly) and higher education (wanting to make it no more difficult for students to come to the UK) on this issue. There seems a much stronger case economically and otherwise in favour of higher education. Let's hope that side wins...

Friday, March 04, 2011

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The University of Exeter to charge £9,000 fees

Details here. Expect many other universities to follow suit -- and watch as the coalition government scrambles to find a way to deal with the political fall-out over a very poorly planned policy.