Thursday, April 28, 2011

Journal of Moral Philosophy 8(2) (2011)

Journal of Moral Philosophy
Volume 8, number 2 (2011)


Dale Dorsey, "The Hedonist's Dilemma," pp. 173-96

Lisa Rivera, "Harmful Beneficence," pp. 197-222

Fabrice Teroni and Otto Bruun, "Shame, Guilt, and Morality," pp. 223-45

Andrew F. March, "Is There a Right to Polygamy? Marriage, Equality and Subsidizing Families in Liberal Public Justification," pp. 246-72

Review article

Remy Debes, "Emotion, Value, and the Ambiguous Honor of a Handbook," pp. 273-85

Book reviews

Mark E. Button, Contract, Culture, and Citizenship: Transformative Liberalism from Hobbes to Rawls (Brian O'Connor)

Terence Irwin, The Development of Ethics: A Historical and Critical Study. Volume III: From Kant to Rawls (Robert Stern)

Fred Neuhouser, Rousseau's Theodicy of Self-Love: Evil, Rationality, and the Drive for Recognition (Stefan Bird-Pollan)

Craig Paterson, Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: A Natural Law Ethics Approach (Rafael Ramis-Barcelo)

Ronna Burger, Aristotle's Dialogue with Socrates: On the Nichomachean Ethics (David McNeill)

Tristram Hunt MP weighs in on the AHRC, the Big Society, and the poor higher education policy defended by the government

Details here (scroll down).

On "birthers" and racism

Well, we have yet more evidence that Barack Obama was born in the United States. It is striking that a small minority has made so much about this issue and received much press coverage. Normally, issues with substance enjoy such publicity. However, there is something different about Obama which may fuel issues like this. It is not the fact that he lived elsewhere earlier in his life. Indeed, there have been many US Presidents (and serious presidential candidates) who have travelled abroad. Nor is it the fact that he would never have been able to run in the first place if he did not meet the relevant criteria. Nor is it the fact that we have learned nothing new at all from this: there has always been clear evidence that Obama is a US citizen since birth.

The one thing different about Obama is his race. Is it not particularly striking that no other US President has come under such scrutiny? The birther challenge is not merely that he should not hold office (despite winning the popular vote and electoral college), but that he has no right even to citizenship -- he is not "one of us".

This is dangerous political rhetoric. I expect it may only get worse.

Additional April books

Today, I have received the following (excellent) books:

Ayelet Banai, Miriam Ronzoni, and Christian Schemmel (eds), Social Justice, Global Dynamics: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives. London: Routledge, 2011.

Karen Bogenschneider and Thomas J. Corbett, Evidence-Based Policymaking: Insights from Policy-Minded Researchers and Research-Minded Policymakers. London: Routledge, 2010.

Robert Geyer and Samir Rihani, Complexity and Public Policy: A New Approach to 21st Century Politics, Policy and Society. London: Routledge, 2010.

Michael Howlett, Designing Public Policies: Principles and Instruments. London: Routledge, 2011.

Peter John, Making Policy Work. London: Routledge, 2011.

Jo Wolff on the AHRC, the Big Society, and the petition

Details here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

CFP: Liberalism and the Family

MANCEPT Workshops in Political Theory, 8th Annual Conference

Manchester, 31 August - 2 September 2011

Call for papers: Liberalism and the Family

The particular difficulty that liberals have in dealing with the internal affairs of families is now well established and remains a contentious and vibrant area of debate. This broad-based workshop is designed to bring together those who are working on any question related to how liberalism ought to view, and deal with, relationships within the family. We invite any papers, or suggestions for roundtable discussions, related to liberalism and the family. Here are some suggested questions, although we will consider any proposals and papers related to the broader theme.

With respect to children:

To what extent should liberals allow children to be enrolled into comprehensive doctrines?

Must liberals ensure children be brought up to be autonomous?

Should parents provide public reasons for their treatment of their children?

What is the legitimate extent of parental partiality?

For what reasons should the state intervene in a child’s upbringing?

Is there a specifically liberal approach to thinking about reproductive ethics?

With respect to gender roles:

Should liberals abolish the family? Should liberals endorse marriage?

What is a just division of labour within the family?

How far should liberals be concerned with justice between partners?

With respect to the family within liberal theories of justice:

Is the family part of the ‘basic structure of society’? If so, in what way?

Can Rawls’s ‘Justice as Fairness’ deal with justice in the family?

How can liberal theories of justice adequately represent children in their procedures of construction?

Should we be perfectionist in bringing up children?

Please send proposals, abstracts, and any further inquiries to by 31 May 2011.

New books

New books received in April include:

Sudhir Anand, Paul Segal, and Joseph E. Stiglitz (eds), Debates on the Measurement of Global Poverty. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Joseph Keim Campbell, Free Will. Cambridge: Polity, 2011.

Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck. London: Random House, 2007.

Paul W. Kahn, Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

JOB: Lecturer in Moral and Political Philosophy (Essex)

Details here.

Experimental philosophy has a new home!

. . . and it can be found here. Absolutely wonderful stuff and highly recommended. I will view the site regularly.

Synthese controversy

Readers may be aware of a petition that can be found here regarding a controversy with the philosophy journal Synthese. This is an excellent journal and I have great respect for the work that the Editors-in-Chief have done. Perhaps there is a very simple explanation for why the situation arose and was dealt with in the way it did. It would be helpful to learn more about this issue given the importance this journal has in the wider profession.

The shocking truth at "Gitmo": a prison for the innocent and non-dangerous?

The latest Wikileaks has revealed further potentially damaging details for the United States. Many prisoners at "Gitmo" in Guantanamo Bay are described as "innocent" and "non-dangerous" raising new questions about precisely how dangerous these persons genuinely are. Perhaps we might believe suspension of various rights acceptable for so-called "emergency" exceptions. It is becoming increasingly clear that these exceptions may not have held true for many, and perhaps even most, of those detained. This is perhaps one of the greater recent civil rights scandals in any Western government that should shame political leaders to action. It is becoming increasingly clear that defences such as "We didn't know that..." and "No one knew that..." are fast losing credibility. Details here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

30+ learned societies call on the AHRC to remove political slogans from their delivery plan

Details here as pressure increases. Expect a major announcement next week....

The AHRC, the Big Society, and the Brooks Blog make the news

. . . in The Guardian here. Mandatory reading!

Why Labour should not become "Blue Labour"

Lord Glasman argues in today's Guardian that the Labour Party should become "Blue Labour" (and not "New Labour") to win the next general election. Details here and excerpts:

"[. . .] Labour is a unique and paradoxical tradition that strengthens liberty and democracy, that combines faith and citizenship, patriotism and internationalism and is, at its best, radical and conservative. [. . .]

The resources for Labour's renewal lie within the practices and history of the Labour movement. Blue Labour reminds the party that only democratic association can resist the power of capital and that the distinctive practices of the Labour movement are built upon reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity.

This is not a politics of nostalgia, as has been claimed over the past few weeks by some critics inside and outside Labour. It is a claim that practices and values crucial to what Labour is and stands for have either been forgotten, lost or wrongly downgraded in the party's list of priorities. Nor is it a defence of a vanished working class; it is a claim that the ethical vision of a humane society which led working men and women to found the party in 1900 is still relevant and vital today. It's good that the media is increasingly talking about Blue Labour, but "blue" should not be understood to denote insularity, fear of change and a rearguard action in defence of the white working class. [. . .]

The lessons of New Labour are not to have a contemptuous attitude to the lived experiences of people but work within them to craft a common story of what went wrong and how things can be better. To bring together previously separated political matter in the pursuit of the common good.

In his Fabian speech in January, Ed Miliband set out the direction of travel. He stated his opposition to the domination of capital and an exclusive reliance on the state for redress. He expressed a desire to "change the common sense of the age" through renewing democracy in politics and the economy and opening the space for people to build a better life together. The price of victory is a constructive alternative and it will be crafted by all elements of the tradition. [. . .]"

So we appeal to a contradictory set of values at the core of Labour? It sounds more like an appeal to all (and to none) at once. A constructive alternative that is for democracy and common sense. If this sounds bland, it may be because it is -- and it's unclear why precisely a "Big Society" Tory supporter could not argue for the same. Note also the absence of specific policies.

Labour has much to be proud of as a progressive force for good in British politics. But the answer is not to triangulate the Tories by becoming more "blue" than they are. Instead, the battle ahead will concern values and how new policies will speak to these values. These values are the values of the Labour Party. The trick is not to "reclaim" them, but to better communicate with the public to ensure a progressive future.


The strange and curious world of Philosophybro -- highly recommended!

"Vote yes to AV to keep out Tories"

. . . is the message being sent by Liberal Democrat (and government minister) Vince Cable as reported here. With friends like these....

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The AHRC and the "Big Society" in the news

Pressure continues to intensify. The pettition calling for the removal of the "Big Society" from the AHRC delivery plan has attracted more than 3,200 signatures. Now several leading learned societies have agreed this signed letter:

"The reaction of the Arts and Humanities Research Council to widespread concern within the academy at the role that the "Big Society" plays in its "Delivery Plan" causes us grave concern. The AHRC has responded as if the objections arose solely because of the claim (which we are assured is false) that it had been ordered to put its money into programmes that contributed to the government's agenda. Rather, we are deeply disturbed by the voluntary alignment of research programmes to political slogans. The independence of the research councils must be paramount, and their priorities must be determined by academic judgement.
We call on the AHRC and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to eschew party political slogans or brands in academic research plans, and demand their immediate removal. Their presence undermines academic independence and damages our international reputation for academic integrity and quality.
The AHRC has established a precedent that political slogans can be publicised by research council documents and that research will be focused on them. Unless this is undone, any future administration can legitimately expect its campaign slogans to appear in research council documents and plans. In this case the phrase is "Big Society", but we would be no less opposed were it the term "Third Way"."

The societies include:

Architectural Humanities Research Group

Association of University Departments of Theology and Religious Studies

Association of University Professors and Heads of French

Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy

British Philosophical Association

British Association for American Studies

British Association for Jewish Studies

British Association of Slavonic and East European Studies

British Association for Study of Religions

British Society for 18th-Century Studies

British Society for the History of Science

British Society of Aesthetics

British Sociological Association

Council of University Classics Departments

English Goethe Society

Modern Humanities Research Association

National Association for Music in Higher Education

National Association of Writers in Education

Economic History Society

Political Studies Association Media and Politics Specialist group

Royal Musical Association

The British Society for Ethical Theory

The Council of the British Association for Korean Studies

The Philological Society

The Society for French Studies

The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies

UK Sartre Society

This is surely unprecedented support. Often learned societies are conservative institutions and such widespread support across the arts and humanities is a clear sign of strong disatisfaction. Let us hope that together we can make a difference...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What's worse than a major oil spill?

Global warming, of course. Details here from the NY Times.

How many Lords are too many?

Some argue that the number be frozen. Details here. It may surprise some to note that the UK's House of Lords does not have any set number of seats. Yes, that's right. The number of Lords is not fixed. This matters because new governments often agree to a majority of new Lords from their party. The House of Lords must normally agree legislation with the House of Commons for it to become law.

So why is this is the case? As I've learned about many things British, you shouldn't ask "why?" but "for how long?"

A Connecticut curiosity

British friends always have difficulty correctly pronouncing the name of my native state, Connecticut. They often pronounce it as it is written, noting the "t" in the middle. Here's a Connecticut curiosity: the "ct" should be replaced by a "d" when pronouncing it - say "Connedicut" instead.

Strange? Definitely.

Many thanks to Yale Moral Philosophy Workshop

. . . for hosting my talk "Why Save the Planet?" this afternoon. Terrific discussion and I enjoyed the session very much. Many thanks!

How much will English universities charge?

Details here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thom Brooks on "'Observergate' and Academic Freedom"

. . . can be found here online (and free) at The New Statesman. Highly recommended!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Split in coalition on immigration

As the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, labels PM David Cameron's recent comments on immigration "unwise" (details here and about time).

Newcastle looks likely to charge £9,000 per year from 2012

. . . according to this recent press release.

Readers may be aware that there has been a cap on fees in the UK currently set at about £3,200 per year. The current government decided to treble the cap to £9,000 in the hopes of opening a new competitive market for university degrees. In order to avoid charges that this move would greatly reduce student numbers from less affluent backgrounds, the government decided to only charge students after they graduated: they have nothing to pay up front and only pay post-graduation once they earn above £21,000.

As students don't have to pay up front and have a long time period to pay the fees back, many universities seem to have gone for charging the full amount. This is unsurprising. If income streams could be raised to cover costs and perhaps also permit some expansion, then why not? But so much for the government's insistence that fees well above £7,500 would be very rare: £9,000 seems to be the norm.

It will be interesting to see what the government does. Will student numbers be cut further? Already there is the problem that the higher fees largely plug holes in the 80% cut to the teaching grant yet students may rightly expect more in light of paying three times as much as the current cohort. We clearly need better policy making in higher education and fast.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The AHRC "has no intention" to remove "Big Society" from its delivery plans

Details here from (requires log-in).

This is further disappointing news on this important issue and all the more reason why continued support is required. Please sign the petition and write to Professor Rylance to demand change. Links to the petition and to Prof Rylance (the AHRC Chief Executive) can be found below.

More on research councils and delivery plans

. . . and so a few met to offer presentations concerning their delivery plans recently, according to the AHRC website here. Interestingly, the one presentation missing from this website is the AHRC presentation itself. It would be illuminating to see precisely what it said not least in light of the current controversy concerning its decision to include a political party's campaign slogan -- the Conservative Party slogan "the Big Society" -- in its delivery plan which has led to over 3,000 academics signing a petition to see it removed immediately.

How to get a job

. . . for non-academics. Details here and sensible advice.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

AHRC petition has more than 3000 signatures

. . .  and counting! I encourage readers and their colleagues to sign the petition if they have not already done so.

Nick Clegg - the same old speech?

Nick Clegg meets Gillian Duffy in a surprise encounter. Details here.

Roundtable on publishing academic philosophy

An interesting piece bringing together the editors of several noteworthy philosophy journal editors can be found here in Theoria (subscription-only). A terrific insight into the profession and mandatory reading for those interested in entering the profession.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thom Brooks on "Hegel and the Unified Theory of Punishment"

. . . can be found here. The essay is forthcoming in my edited Hegel's Philosophy of Right: Essays on Ethics, Politics, and Law (Oxford: Blackwell, 2011) with comments most welcome. The abstract is:

"Hegel's theory of punishment has too often been understood as a retributivist position. This error is largely based upon a consideration of some comments in one section ("Abstract Right") in his Philosophy of Right. Instead, Hegel's theory is more innovative and compelling: he is perhaps the first to offer a "unified theory" of punishment bringing together elements of retribution, deterrence, and rehabilitation in a single, coherent theory. Such a view best accords not only with his full comments on punishment in the Philosophy of Right, but also his comments on punishment elsewhere in his system and even earlier work. Moreover, a unified theory of punishment is defended also by his earliest Anglophone defenders, the British Idealists. This essay defends this interpretation of Hegel's theory of punishment and why we should find it compelling. "

Brian Leiter

I strongly recommend readers visit the new website for Brian Leiter. An excellent site I hope to emulate shortly....

The AHRC and "Big Society": Phase three

The UK-based Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) recently published its delivery plan. The plan spells out how it will deliver on its strategic research funding priorities. The plan states that the priorities will "contribute" to "the Big Society". The "Big Society" is a political campaign slogan of the Conservative Party. "The Big Society" appears five times in this brief delivery plan.

Controversy arose with publication in The Observer of allegations that the AHRC was under political pressure to include "the Big Society" in its delivery plan. These allegations were swiftly denied. Thus, the AHRC claimed that it had freely chosen to include "the Big Society" of its own accord. The reasons given include a need to speak the language of politicians in trying to secure better funding settlements. Many academics were not satisfied by this denial.

Phase one began as an online petition (available here). The petition calls for the immediate removal of "the Big Society" from the AHRC's delivery plan. The petition states that political campaign slogans should have no place in research council delivery plans spelling out strategic funding priorities. The petition has secured nearly 3,000 signatures. This received a generic response from the AHRC which denied there was a problem to solve. It claimed that the Observer allegations were unfounded, that the research priorities long in place, and the relevant funding rather small. This defence struck many colleagues as unsatisfactory yet again. The petition does not accept what the AHRC denies: it does not claim any political interference. Moreover, the petition does not deny that the AHRC decided upon a "Connected Communities" research theme after the last general election, but the petition does take issue with what cannot be denied: the oft mentioned political party campaign slogan of "the Big Society" in the delivery plan. Finally, the funding may be a smaller slice but hundred of thousands of pounds will go to this scheme over the next several years. Besides, the amount of funding is not the issue: the issue is the decision to include a political campaign slogan in the delivery plans.

Phase two was launched shortly afterwards. This consisted of an email and letter campaign to the AHRC Chief Executive where colleagues reiterated their continued insistence that the "Big Society" should be removed from the AHRC delivery plans. This was also met with a generic statement that restated much in the previous statement, and continuing to over look the main issue. Interestingly, there was also a statement on how the AHRC values the professionalism and good advice of its expert Peer Review College: of course, it was its own members of the AHRC Peer Review College who have led the petition and email/letter campaign.

No action has been taken to remove "the Big Society" and resolve the concerns of thousands of colleagues who are members of the AHRC Peer Review College, AHRC grant holders past and present, and those with an interest in the AHRC. With great reluctance after now several attempts to persuade the AHRC having failed, we now enter phase three.

Phase three has two parts. The first part is a common statement declaring concern about the inclusion of "the Big Society" and calling for its removal from the delivery plan to be signed by national and international learned societies across all areas of the arts and humanities. Please contact any such societies and associations you may have contact with and urge them to contact Professor James Ladyman. This statement will be submitted to the AHRC to show the strong support by learned societies for a change.

Phase three, part two is the threat of en masse resignations of members of the AHRC Peer Review College if there is no agreement to remove the "Big Society" from the delivery plan by the end of this month. Anyone who is a member of the AHRC Peer Review College is urged to contact me. I am a member of this College and I will resign if no action is taken. You can find a full list of AHRC Peer Review College members here. Please contact members you know and ask them to contact me urgently about this matter.

Our hope is that this last phase should convince the AHRC of the need for change making resignations unnecessary. Please join us in helping the AHRC see sense. Sign the petition and write to the AHRC Chief Executive. This is a position of principle, not politics. If we do not act now, then political campaign slogans may be the stuff of our strategic research funding priorities in years to come.

Brooks Blog added to

Details here. Kind words and the blog is rated 7 out of 10.

Friday, April 08, 2011

At least more than half English universities will charge maximum fees permitted

According to recently published information from the BBC available here. The government sold its plans to raise tuition fees up to £9,000 with the promise (written into their budget) that most universities will not charge the full amount. Clearly, they have got this guess wrong. This is not surprising, but now it is confirmed.

Michael Sandel on fairness and the "Big Society"

Details here.

Krugman on the "Ludicrous and Cruel" Republican budget

Details here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] the G.O.P. plan turns out not to be serious at all. Instead, it’s simultaneously ridiculous and heartless.

How ridiculous is it? Let me count the ways — or rather a few of the ways, because there are more howlers in the plan than I can cover in one column.

First, Republicans have once again gone all in for voodoo economics — the claim, refuted by experience, that tax cuts pay for themselves.

Specifically, the Ryan proposal trumpets the results of an economic projection from the Heritage Foundation, which claims that the plan’s tax cuts would set off a gigantic boom. Indeed, the foundation initially predicted that the G.O.P. plan would bring the unemployment rate down to 2.8 percent — a number we haven’t achieved since the Korean War. After widespread jeering, the unemployment projection vanished from the Heritage Foundation’s Web site, but voodoo still permeates the rest of the analysis.

In particular, the original voodoo proposition — the claim that lower taxes mean higher revenue — is still very much there. The Heritage Foundation projection has large tax cuts actually increasing revenue by almost $600 billion over the next 10 years.

A more sober assessment from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office tells a different story. It finds that a large part of the supposed savings from spending cuts would go, not to reduce the deficit, but to pay for tax cuts. In fact, the budget office finds that over the next decade the plan would lead to bigger deficits and more debt than current law. [. . .]"

UPDATE: See also Richard Posner's critique of the budget plans here.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The petition and email campaign to remove "The Big Society" from the AHRC's delivery plan gathers pace

The Times Higher has made this one of their top news stories of the week -- and rightly so. The story may be found here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] Academics have begun a mass email campaign to try to persuade the Arts and Humanities Research Council to remove references to the Conservative Party's "Big Society" agenda from its delivery plan.

[. . .] "Research councils should not direct funding to strategic areas which overlap with any political party's slogans," the petition says. Its originator, Thom Brooks, reader in political and legal philosophy at Newcastle University, is now urging signatories to email Rick Rylance, chief executive of the AHRC, directly.

He said further action would also be considered if Professor Rylance did not remove all references to the Big Society from the funding council's documents. He said it would be "worrying" if the AHRC had chosen to mention the Big Society in the hope of securing a better funding settlement. "It would mean that the government would not need to exert any pressure...because the AHRC would choose to steer in its direction anyway," he said. He also doubted that politicians were "so shallow that the mention of this phrase will make them more likely to fund the arts and humanities in this age of austerity".

In a letter to The Observer this week, a group of 188 academics said they were "appalled" that the AHRC "intends to promote" research on the Big Society: "That the AHRC has (apparently) volunteered to do this is all the more craven." [. . .]"

The petition -- found here -- has now attracted 2,800 signatures. Countless emails and letters have now been sent to the AHRC Chief Executive as well (see here for more).

I strongly encourage readers to sign the petition and to contact the AHRC Chief Executive about this issue. It is extremely important that this point of principle, not politics, wins the day: there is no place for political campaign slogans in the delivery plans for strategic research funding priorities.

I remain hopeful we will see positive changes soon although the AHRC has remained virtually silent and refuses to see that there is a problem. If changes do not come soon, then I will call upon my fellow members of the AHRC Peer Review College to join me in resigning en masse in a clear show of solidarity in favour of this important matter of principle. Let us hope it does not come to this, but it is important we take a clear stand.

UPDATE: The AHRC has published this response. I urge readers to visit the link for a careful look. An excerpt:

"[. . .] As previously stated, we reject the allegations, reported in The Observer of 27 March, that government ministers influenced the research funded by the AHRC with respect to the current administration’s policy on ‘big society’, and the further allegation that our funding settlement was conditional on this. These allegations have not been supported by any evidence. One person quoted has said subsequently, in a public blog, that the allegations he made did not refer to the AHRC.

We also reject allegations made in a letter to The Observer on 3 April that the AHRC is intending to ‘promote research on “the big society”.’ The AHRC does not have a dedicated budget to promote ‘big society’ research.

[. . .] We unconditionally support the Haldane principle. Expert peer review underpins funding decisions at the AHRC, and decisions are made on the basis of competitive excellence and not specific policy agendas. More than this, the academic community is represented at every level of our decision-making and governance structures and we consult very widely on the development of all of our strategic research priorities.

We recognise and celebrate the immense value brought to research by our Peer Review College members and the professionalism and judgement they bring to ensure the integrity of decision-making. We are committed to peer review unconditionally, not least to sustain the Haldane principle.

The false allegations made in The Observer, and events subsequent to their publication, are of major concern to us. In developing our Delivery Plan, and since its publication, we have engaged in extensive dialogue, for example through our meetings with Subject Associations and visits to HEIs. We plan to continue these activities as scheduled and to initiate further opportunities to debate the issues involved."

This response fails to address the primary worry of petition signatories: the inclusion of "The Big Society" in the current AHRC delivery plan. The petition calls for the immediate removal of "The Big Society" and it is signed by members of the AHRC Peer Review College, amongst other learned societies.

The AHRC appears to continue the response that there is no problem. The related research theme existed before the current government. There was no political pressure to include "The Big Society" in its delivery plans. No money is targetted at funding "the Big Society" in its plans. Those who criticise the AHRC base their criticisms on "false allegations".

The AHRC fails to understand that the petition nowhere claims what the AHRC rejects. The petition does not claim the "Connected Communities" research theme appeared after the current government. The petition does not claim there was any political pressure on the AHRC in drawing up its delivery plan. The petition does not even state that the AHRC directs funding to any slogan.

The petition objects to what is not denied: the "Big Society" is noted several times in the AHRC delivery plan for strategic research funding priorities. The petition calls for the immediate removal of "The Big Society" without further delay. This is a point of principle, not politics: political campaign slogans have no place in research council delivery plans.

UK higher education policy: damned if you do, damned if you don't

Vince Cable has now weighed in once more on higher education. Details here in what can be called the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" higher education policy of his government.

The UK government has raised the cap on tuition fees to £9,000. Many universities have declared they will charge fees of £9,000 and this is not what the government claims to have expected.

Universities are damned if they do: if they charge £9,000 and can't fill all places on their degree programmes, then Cable has said that future places may be permanently cut. Plus, if too many universitities charge £9,000, then this will put too much pressure on a squeezed education budget and they can expect cuts elsewhere.

Universities are also damned if they don't: if further cuts come into place because too many universities have charged £9,000, then universities that will earn less by charging less....may earn even less with the cuts elsewhere. There is also the reputational risks associated with charging lower fees.

Easily one of the worst higher education policies I know.

Why not charge £9,000?

There are many arguments against raising the cap on British university fees to £9,000. I would like to focus briefly on one of them. The argument is that £9,000 is beyond the cost to the university for educating an individual student. The argument goes that because the fee is higher than what is needed to educate an individual student the fee should not be charged.

To be charitable, lets accept the hypothetical figure of £7,500 as the cost of educating a student on average. Thus, a charge of £9,000 would represent additional income.

There remain several reasons why this argument does not work:

1. Even if £7,500 were the cost of educating an individual student on average, this remains an average figure and it may remain the case that educating some students may cost much higher. Students sitting degrees in subject x may cost less to teach than students sitting degrees in subject y. One group may effectively subsidize the other. One response is that the injustice to students in subject x becomes greater with higher fees: they were already subsidizing other students already and now they subsidize them even more. Why shouldn't others pay the full costs for their degrees? I think this challenge is strong with the best retort perhaps this: other more expensive (and often science-based) subjects also contribute to the institution's overall reputation. All students have an interest in secure and full funding for subjects at their institution. Thus, students in subject x have reason to subsidize students in subject y. Of course, much hinges on how much subsidy is at play.

A better argument pertaining to averages is that the fee of £7,500 may be the average of what it costs to educate individual students, but more should be charged to those who are best placed to afford it in order to best secure funding for those who are worse off. Thus, fees of £9,000 may grab headlines, but the extra income would subsidize -- not necessarily students in more expensive degree programmes, but -- students from less affluent backgrounds. I believe this is a more persuasive response. Indeed, the government is already demanding that universities have real commitments to provide relief to students who are worse off with funds raised from any higher fees. So that's one reason why the above argument doesn't work.

2. A second argument is fairly straightforward. Why should all universities remain standing still? Or better: why should all universities remain standing still in response to the government's desire to see a market in higher education? Higher income will mean greater resources to improve the student experience from improved and enhanced campus buildings and infrastructure, improved library resources, and more (and perhaps better rewarded) staff.

It might be said: we are in a global market. No one is forcing young people to do anything: it is a choice, not a demand, that they seek to attend universities. Universities compete internationally. If they are able to secure appropriate funding even where austerity measures are being enacted, then they should be able to secure these funds to remain competitive (and especially where there are greater efforts made to accommodate the worse off so that an excellent education, if freely chosen, is not denied because of costs).

3. A final reason why universities should be able to charge £9,000 is because the government has permitted this change in fees. Now the fact that an act is not illegal does not entail doing so is desirable or good. A white lie may bring no criminal charges, but it doesn't mean we should offer it. Nevertheless, it is curious for the government to be making such efforts at ensuring that as few as possible universities charge within the range of fees that they, the government, only recently agreed to permit. It's akin to saying that everyone can have an extra few widgets and then complaining that several seem interested. Surely, the most ill-thought higher education policy I know. Expect it to get worse before it gets better....

The above two reasons are not meant to be decisively in favour of higher fees. To be clear, I oppose fees and favour a system of free higher education. But recent claims that no university should charge £9,000 fall flat. There are better reasons in favour of no fees (in my view). However, now that the cap is raised, I suspect the balance of arguments may work against the government's latest musings. Universities have many reasons to charge as much as they can get. By all appearances, they will. Perhaps things would be much different if we saw the market in higher education that Lord Browne's proposals were meant to kick start in the first place?

UPDATE: You saw it here first: there will be a further review of higher education by 2015. It's a prediction, but -- in my view -- highly likely.

Peter Mandler speaks out on the AHRC and "The Big Society"

. . . in a terrific op-ed in the Times Higher here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] I recently wrote a post for the blog "Humanities Matter" drawing attention to what I felt was a new level of government influence over the funding of humanities research, as evidenced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' research allocation for 2011-14. An article by Iain Pears in the London Review of Books came to very similar conclusions, and last week The Observer picked up the story.

[. . .] there is a rich and valuable tradition in this country of public funding for sensitive areas relating to news, the arts, education and the like - where free expression is at stake, and where public expenditure is meant to sustain a diversity of views - being held at arm's length from the state.

[. . .] Concern about the AHRC has focused on the fact that its delivery plan pledges several times to "contribute" to "the government's 'Big Society' agenda". To me, the question is not only why the AHRC has so explicitly embraced that particular party-political slogan - as Iain Pears notes, the Economic and Social Research Council, which is much closer to this agenda, has been far more reticent (while finding other ways to satisfy the government). It is also how far the government's "key national strategic priorities" have permeated and should permeate the research programmes of humanities researchers, whose primary responsibility must be to the free and critical exploration of the world's cultures."

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Government policy on NHS reform

You know when there is a problem when the Prime Minister feels the need to assure the public no problem exists. Today, David Cameron has stressed that his government will not "take risks" with the NHS. The government has been considering a range of reforms aimed at reducing bureaucracy and attempting to encourage competition.

Thus far, the reforms have ben met by a wide coalition across political divides against the plans. The real fear for the Tories is that this is perhaps their best chance to reassure the public that they could be (or "are") the party best placed to protect the NHS --- and this opportunity may be lost. Enter the scramble to both publicly support the relevant government minister while calling a halt -- I meant, "pause" -- to the implementation of reforms.

I oppose gambling, but a good bet is that is that Andrew Lansley will be moved from the department after the May elections in a reshuffle. I'd also expect Vince Cable to receive a new portfolio.

Bob Brecher on the AHRC and "The Big Society"

Details here. Professor Brecher has resigned as a member of the AHRC Peer Review College. I have little doubt that he will be followed by many other members -- including me (I'm a member of the AHRC Peer Review College) -- if "The Big Society" is not removed immediately from the AHRC's delivery plan spelling out its strategic research funding priorities. Nearly, 2800 colleagues have signed our petition here and I recommend others sign as well.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The latest on the AHRC, "The Big Society", and the Government

First, we have this written exchange between Tristram Hunt MP (Labour) and the BIS Minister David Willetts (Con):

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central, Labour): "To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in respect of which Arts and Humanities Research Council projects his Department has allocated funding since May 2010."

David Willetts (Minister of State (Universities and Science), Business, Innovation and Skills; Havant, Conservative): "The Department provides funding to the research councils. It is for the research councils, rather than Government, to allocate funds to individual projects."

Secondly, we have this second exchange between them:

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central, Labour): "To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills what his Department's strategic research priorities are in respect of the Arts and Humanities Research Council."

David Willetts (Minister of State (Universities and Science), Business, Innovation and Skills; Havant, Conservative): "The Department does not have any strategic research priorities in respect of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The AHRC's delivery plan, published in December 2010, was agreed in discussion with the Department. This sets out their strategic research priority areas. A copy of the delivery plan is available on the AHRC website at: "

What have we learned?

We have further confirmation from the government that it has not put the AHRC under any pressure to include "The Big Society" in its delivery plans. The AHRC has included "The Big Society" -- a Conservative Party political campaign slogan -- in its delivery plan (link provided by the government minister) out of its own free choice. This is also consistent with the claims from the AHRC that they alone made decisions on how best to spell out its delivery plan and they were not put under pressure to include "The Big Society".

We do know that since the publication of the delivery plan that the AHRC suggested the inclusion of "The Big Society" was helpful to the cause in making a case for funding to the government. We have further confirmation now that the government has not earmarked any specific "Big Society" proposals, although a quick search on the AHRC website reveals that there have been several successful funding applications relating to "The Big Society". The objection of our petition was not that we should oppose such applications, but rather the inclusion of a political campaign slogan in a research council's delivery plan for making good on strategic research funding priorities. The latter must be opposed and it is a position of principle, not politics.

There is tremendous support for a change in the AHRC research delivery plan. Over 2,700 colleagues have signed our petition and countless emails/letters are being sent to the AHRC Chief Executive to confirm genuinely held opposition to inclusion of a political campaign slogan in its plans. I believe that Dr Hunt should be congratulated for helping probe this issue further as this issue receives increasing attention.

One written answer request that it would be helpful to see is the following: "To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills whether he believes it is advisable for research councils to include general election campaign themes from any political party in its delivery plan in order to improve their chances of receiving a more favourable funding settlement."

Why? I would expect that David Willetts will quite rightly respond that, no, it is not advisable for any research council to adopt this strategy: the government will agree funding settlements with research councils in a transparent manner in balance with competing requests. No favouritism will be granted to a council because it includes phrases such as "The Big Society" in its delivery plans.

Such a response is not merely expected, but welcome. This would undermine the claim -- already on offer -- that the AHRC has used language, such as "The Big Society", precisely to best sell themselves to government. This is wrong as a point of principle and this case has been made by myself and others on several occasions. But this is also wrong as a strategy for more successfully achieving a better funding settlement from any decent government. Let us hope that such a question is put to Willetts so we can confirm our expectation. This will only help further strengthen the call -- endorsed by colleagues from across political and disciplinary divides -- to remove "The Big Society" from the AHRC's delivery plan for strategic research funding priorities. It has no place in these plans and should be removed with immediate effect.

The AHRC petition makes the news at the #loveHE Daily (with The Guardian)

Details here.

"Durham's dollars"

Details here.

Philosophers make for better managers

It's true! Details here. From The Atlantic:

"[. . .] Most of management theory is inane, writes our correspondent, the founder of a consulting firm. If you want to succeed in business, don’t get an M.B.A. Study philosophy instead [. . .]"

The humble origins of academic journals

There is an interesting essay here on the origins of the journal Metaphilosophy. I suspect that many other journals have had similar humble beginnings. Something similar may also be said of our beloved Journal of Moral Philosophy.

The bizarre world of Tory politics

Details here, well worth looking at.

CFP: Brave New World conference

FINAL CALL FOR PAPERS - Deadline for submission of abstract: 11th April 2011
Brave New World 2011, the Fifteenth Annual Postgraduate Conference organised under the auspices of the Manchester Centre for Political Theory (MANCEPT), will take place on Monday 27th and Tuesday 28th June 2011 at the University of Manchester.

We are pleased to announce that our guest speakers this year are:
Joseph Raz (Columbia University)
Andrea Sangiovanni (King’s College London)

The Brave New World conference series is now established as a leading international forum dedicated exclusively to the discussion of postgraduate research in political theory. The conference offers a great opportunity for postgraduates from many different countries and universities to share experiences, concerns and research interests, to exchange stimulating ideas and to make new friends - all in a financially accessible and highly informal setting. Participants will also have the chance to meet and talk about their work with eminent academics, including members of faculty from the University of Manchester and guest speakers, who will deliver keynote addresses at the event. Guest speakers in previous years have included Brian Barry, Simon Caney, G.A. Cohen, Roger Crisp, Cecile Fabre, Jerry Gaus, Peter Jones, Chandran Kukathas, Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, Susan Mendus, David Miller, Onora O'Neill, Michael Otsuka, Bhikhu Parekh, Carole Pateman, Anne Phillips, Thomas Pogge, Quentin Skinner, Adam Swift, Philippe Van Parijs, Leif Wenar, Andrew Williams, and Jonathan Wolff.

Papers focusing on any area of political theory or political philosophy are welcome. If you would like to present a paper, please send a 300-word, anonymised abstract, including the title of the paper, to, no later than 11th April 2011. Please also include in your email your name and institutional affiliation. Please note that the conference is self-financed and participants are responsible for seeking their own funding. For further details please contact Dean Redfearn at, or visit the conference website at

Monday, April 04, 2011

The AHRC and "The Big Society" - Part II

The Conservative Party campaigned for "The Big Society" during the 2010 general election campaign, spelling out their political vision of society under a Conservative government. They became the majority party in a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. Now consider the UK-based Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). A search for "The Big Society" on the AHRC website yields 15 hits. These include the following: links:

"Connected Communities or 'Building the Big Society'"

"Beauty and the Big Society"

The AHRC have issued a strong denial about allegations about political pressure to incorporate "The Big Society" in their funding objectives. I accept the AHRC's denial, but do not believe this addresses all matters pertaining to this issue. The concern here is not about the Big Society nor whether research on the Big Society should receive research funding. Again, the petition only takes issue with what is not denied by the AHRC, namely, that the "Big Society" does appear (and five times) in its current delivery plans.

Instead, the concern is only about whether a research council should include mention of a political campaign slogan in its delivery plan for funding strategic research priorities. Please consider signing this petition and writing to the AHRC Chief Executive to support the view that political campaign slogans should not appear in research council delivery plans on research funding.

AHRC petition letter

Readers are encouraged to contact the AHRC Chief Executive, Professor Rick Rylance (, and recommend the immediate removal of "The Big Society" from the current AHRC delivery plan. Please feel free to copy, paste and send the following:
Dear Professor Rylance,

I write in support of the petition to remove all references to "The Big Society" in the current AHRC delivery plan for strategic research funding priorities. This petition was signed by nearly 2,500 colleagues in less than a week. It can be found here:  

This is a position about principle, not politics. I would have equally opposed mention of "The Third Way" after the 1997 general election. Political campaign slogans should not appear in research council delivery plans. I call upon the AHRC to remove "The Big Society" from its delivery plan and all other documentation with immediate effect.

Sincerely yours,

The more widespread the support, the better!

UPDATE: Many thanks to Brian Leiter for the terrific support for this campaign on his blog here!

The AHRC and "The Big Society"

Readers may be aware of this petition signed by 2,500 colleagues across political and disciplinary divides. The petition calls for the removal of political party campaign slogans from the current Arts and Humanities Research Council's delivery plan for strategic research funding priorities. This is phase one.

Phase two in the campaign for change is a letter and email campaign to the AHRC CHief Executive.

I have been alerted to a further document, The Allocation of Science and Research Funding: Investing in World-Class Science and Research, published in December 2010 by the UK Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. (My many thanks to Seiriol Morgan for the link.) Page 22 states:

"A major thread of activity will be focused on communities, including leading the cross-Council ‘Connected Communities’ programme. AHRC will systematically address issues relating to social cohesion, community engagement and cultural renewal contributing to the ‘Big Society’ initiative."

The language seems clear: "AHRC will systematically address issues ... contributing to the 'Big Society' initiative" in its 'Connected Communities' research programme.

If you oppose the inclusion of political party campaign slogans in research council strategic research funding priority plans, then please sign the petition and write to the AHRC Chief Executive.

I will include further updates as they arise.

UPDATE: In The Spectator, we find this.

"Ministers admit plans for tuition fees are in disarray"

. . . from The Guardian here.

The Philosophers' Carnival

. . . is here (with mention of our petition).

Petition to remove "The Big Society" from the AHRC research funding delivery plan in the news

. . . in this weekend's The Observer here. There is also a letter on the issue published in the same issue that can be found here (scroll down).

Readers may have already seen this petition which has now reached nearly 2,500 signatures in less than one week. It has attracted support from members of the AHRC Peer Review College, Fellows of various learned societies (British Academy, Royal Society, Royal Historical Society, etc.), and other academic societies. The AHRC position appears to remain the view that this widespread disagreement with them from persons across political and disciplinary divides is not a major concern with no plans to reverse course.

Please encourage colleagues to sign the petition: we must send a clear message to research councils that they should not incorporate political campaign slogans from political parties within their delivery plans for strategic research funding priority. This is a matter of principle, not politics. If this is left unchecked and unchanged, then we may well come to expect more in future.

I will shortly publish a letter to the AHRC that I hope will attract similar support. It is important that the AHRC understands the deep and widespread support there is for the removal of a political campaign slogan from its research funding delivery plan.

UPDATE: With further analysis from Stefan Collini in The Guardian here.

Friday, April 01, 2011

More on the AHRC and the petition (part II)

Readers will be aware of my petition calling upon the AHRC to remove references to "The Big Society" (a political campaign slogan of the Conservative Party during the last general election) from its current delivery plan setting out the strategic research funding priorities in the arts and humanities. The petition can be found here.

The latest news is here and the AHRC's first move is to do nothing and deny there is a problem. This is highly discouraging. The petition does not claim political interference. It does not claim that the "Connected Communities" research theme was decided after the last election. The petition does not reject the theme nor does it even reject the idea of a "Big Society" (even if many signatories would take issue with many of these related points). The petition takes a position on principle, not politics: political campaign slogans have no place in the delivery plans published by research councils pertaining to strategic research funding priorities. It is not the slogan we criticize, but the mere fact that it is incorporated at all (and it is mentioned five times in the brief plan).

The AHRC could resolve this swiftly by removing the language and building upon the good will of its community. Clearly, the support for the petition demonstrates that a great many of us from across political and disciplinary divides care about the AHRC and research councils more generally. However, if the AHRC fails to accept this point of principle, then I cannot see how I and other members of its Peer Review College can remain in post and widespread resignations may follow. This would be a highly unnecessary and unwelcome outcome that can easily be avoided. Let us hope the AHRC does the right thing in the best interests for arts and humanities research.

UPDATE: We have now heard word from matters arising from the government minister, David Willetts. His statement can be found here. It notes that the AHRC was not pressured by his government, but that the AHRC's research priorities do connect with the government's "Big Society" campaign slogan. Thus, this is further evidence of why colleagues should join the 2,200 of us who signed the petition linked above to remove political campaign slogans of all parties from the delivery plans for strategic funding priority.