Friday, September 30, 2011

The problem of political utopias

'Political utopias are a form of nostalgia for an imagined past projected on to the future as a wish . . . No matter that Greek democracy was built upon the institution of slavery; no matter that the Italian city-states were feuding and unequal oligarchies. Utopias never have to make their excuses to history; like all dreams they have a timeless immunity to disappointment in real life'.

Michael Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers. London: Chatto & Windus, 1984): 107.

Should the UK raise its speed limit?

Philip Hammond, the Conservative Party MP and Transport Secretary, is to launch a move to raise the speed limit on British motorways (translation: highways) from a maximum of 70 miles per hour to 80 mph. This move is supported by three main facts (details here):

First, many drivers flout the current speed limit. One estimate claims 49% of motorists drive faster than 70 mph on British motorways.

Secondly, new technologies have helped save lives. There has been a drop of 75% in the numbers killed on British roads so a faster limit need not lead to more deaths.

Thirdly, Hammond believes that our roads "should be the arteries of a healthy economy".

Let's rebut each in turn:

1. If many drivers are breaking the law, then perhaps the law should be more strictly enforced. Combine this with the third claim above: if the worry is that we must boost the economy, then it seems there is a ready income stream: more speeding fines. Moreover, if so many motorists are driving above speed limits, then another possible consequence might be raising all speed limits. So why only motorways? Or is there something different (and unmentioned) about them?

2. While I have not seen the figures, it is difficult to accept that fewer people die on the roads now than in 1965 given that far more use the roads today. I suspect the idea is that fewer may die as a proportion of the population. If this is meant, then a big contributing factor has been the Labour government's investment in buses and trains. Fewer people (as a proportion of the population) are dying on our roads because fewer people (as a proportion) are in cars. So perhaps the answer is not faster limits for cars, but more special lanes for buses and more high speed rail. Nevertheless, the fact that fewer might die today than 50 years ago is not an argument for redressing the balance in favour of permitting faster driving that will contribute to higher death rates.

3. Perhaps sound road policy will boost the economy. The problem is that any review will cost us money now -- money that might be spent improving roads, not considering whether we should drive faster on them -- and any change in speed limits will not come into effect for another two years (in 2013). Thus, this is a plan to help the economy long after any recovery might have taken place at the cost of more road deaths. Oh, and more greenhouse gas emissions.

So why argue for a policy that is damaged goods? The reason is simple. While such reviews will cost money upfront (that I believe will be poorly spent), it is an effort to drive (pardon the pun) transport policy on the cheap. No bold vision. No new roads. No new rail transport. No new airport. Not even new signs! (Translation: in the UK, motorways have a symbol meaning "national speed limit applies" rather than a number. You must love common law in theory and in practice . . . )

Yet another ill-thought plan by a government that should know much better. Disappointing. Again.

Bin Localism, or Eric Pickles and bin collections

The Conservative Party MP, Eric Pickles, has been arguing for a long time for "localism": this is the idea that local communities should be free to make their own decisions about council services in how they are provided and paid for. Pickles should have anticipated better the simply counterargument: so what if city councils don't do what the government wants them to do?

A problem has been that many councils have decided to scrap weekly bin collections (translation: garbage collections) in favour of fortnightly (translation: y'know, every other week) collections. This move has saved councils money and they have had to do this thanks to Pickles's government slashing funding to councils. Councils receiving much less funding had to make cuts and many councils took the decision to cut bin collections to direct limited funding for local services elsewhere. Perhaps we would have made such a decision in the same situation, but this seems a natural -- and entirely predictable -- move for any council to make following this model of endorsing so-called localism. To be clear: the problem is that this move has been deeply unpopular with local residents. The response from councils is often (to paraphrase) "don't blame us: blame the government for cutting our funding!"

The problem with localism is that it sounds good on the election trail (and perhaps the lecture theatre), but it can make for political headaches once in government.

What to do? Well, Pickles is now offering this sweet deal to councils. They cannot fund weekly bin collections at present. So he's set up a pot of money -- for which councils may bid for funding -- and this money will (allegedly) fund weekly bin collections. The problem is that there is a catch. The funding (allegedly) is enough to cover two years, but councils will only receive funding if they promise to keep weekly bin collections for five years. That's right: if I pay you for two years of a service, then I'll expect you to offer three additional years in return.

One problem with this policy is that it is an admission of at least partial defeat of this brand of localism. Of course, no one would argue that local conditions should not matter and that local councils should be able to exercise discretion within boundaries. But this is now evidence that boundaries are no bad thing -- or at least regarding the safety of government opinion poll numbers.

A second problem with this policy is that it may mean that some councils will receive more money than others for providing this service. Thus, the council that chose to retain weekly bin collections (but cut other services) receives no extra financial assistance. However, the council that chose to use their cash different (but cut weekly bin collections) gets to have their cake and eat it, too.

Sound unfair? It is.

If councils should provide a weekly bin collection service, then the government should ensure there is satisfactory funding for all councils. This may roll back this programme of "localism" -- a programme that is noted alongside the "Big Society" in the Arts and Humanities Research Council's delivery plan for strategic research funding priorities -- but poor ideas are only a problem for the politicians who espouse them and they should be jettisoned where shown not to work.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Journal Rankings for Philosophy

I've received many requests for some kind of journal rankings list from readers of my essay on publishing advice.

Readers will be aware of several different rankings of philosophy journals. These include the Australian Research Council's (ARC) now disused ERA rankings and European Science Foundation's (ESF) European Research Index for the Humanities (ERIH).  Plus, there have been different polls by Brian Leiter and the Brooks Blog (and this more comprehensive poll of 140+ journals). Other blogs discussing journal rankings include Certain DoubtsLemmings, Thoughts, Arguments, and Rants, and this.

Each metric has its limitations and such a discussion would merit a long blogpost of its own. Let me be clear from the beginning that I believe that journal rankings are the crudest of indicators. If you want to assess the quality of something, then read it.

What I propose here is a ranking of rankings. Journals will be grouped in tiers based upon various metrics. There is broad agreement between different lists and I don't believe this list will prove controversial. The journals that score best are those journals that have consistently ranked highly across the major studies both European (ERIH), International (ARC ERA), and major opinion polls of thousands of philosophers (Brooks Blog, Leiter Reports). We find wide consistency across most indicators, but taken together we can find a strong "core" that come out top again and again. Those that perform less well is often a result of inclusion on some indicators, but not others. Comments are most welcome and the list (with information on how data was collected) is below. Enjoy!

The official Brooks Blog Journal Rankings for Philosophy *

Rated 'A*' (maximum 25 points):
Journal of Philosophy
Philosophical Review
Philosophical Quarterly
Philosophical Studies
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

Rated 'A' (20-24 points):

Analysis (24)
Australasian Journal of Philosophy (24)
Philosophy and Public Affairs (24)
Canadian Journal of Philosophy (23)
American Philosophical Quarterly (22)
Monist (22)

Rated 'B' (15-19):

European Journal of Philosophy (19)
Synthese (19)
Journal of the History of Philosophy (18)
Philosophers' Imprint (18)
Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (18)
Ratio (18)
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (17)
Journal of Political Philosophy (17)
Midwest Studies in Philosophy (17)
Philosophy of Science (17)
Journal of Ethics (16)
Journal of Moral Philosophy (16)
Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (16)
Philosophical Topics (16)
Utilitas (16)
Journal of Philosophical Logic (15)

Rated 'C' (10-14 points):

British Journal for the History of Philosophy (14)
Erkenntnis (14)
Mind and Language (14)

Kant-Studien (13)
Philosophy (13)
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (12)
Philosophical Papers (12)
Phronesis (12)
Southern Journal of Philosophy (12)
Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy (11)
Review of Metaphysics (11)
Hume Studies (10)
Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy (10)
Journal of Philosophical Research (10)

N/a ranked (9 or less points):

Metaphilosophy (9)
Philosophical Investigations (9)
History of Philosophy Quarterly (8)
International Journal of Philosophical Studies (8)
Philosophy Compass (7)
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (5)
Philosophia (4)

* Note on rankings:

I have weighted the journals in the following way:

ARC ERA list:
Journals are ranked A*, A, B, C. Points awarded: A* = 5, A = 4, B = 3, C = 2.

Brooks Blog list (1):
Journals ranked 1-50. Points awarded: #1-10 = 5, #11-20 = 4, #21-30 = 3, #31-40 = 2, #41-50 = 1.

List (2) ranks journals 1-50. Points awarded: #1-10 = 5, #11-20 = 4, #21-30 = 3, #31-40 = 2, #41-50 = 1, #51-143 = 0.

ERIH list:
Journals are (now) ranked Int1, Int2, Nat. Points awarded: Int1 = 5, Int2 = 4, Nat = 3.

Leiter Reports list:
General philosophy journals ranked only in top 20. Points awarded: #1-10 = 5, #11-20 = 4. Leiter has an additional list in ethics which raises complications. Journals are not double-counted and keep score if on general list. Points awarded: #1-10 = 5, #11-20 = 4, #21-30 = 3 where journals not on list 1. While this will cover general journals and journals that publish in ethics, there is need for a list in other areas especially mind/language and philosophy of science.

Notes: There are two lists for the Brooks Blog. List 2 is original list and surveys top 143 journals from a broad range. The top 50 in this poll were polled a second time in List 1.

QUERY FOR READERS: Do the weightings seem appropriate? What would you change? What journal rankings would you add?

UPDATE: Do readers believe the rankings are an accurate reflection of the field? Any surprises?

If a picture says a thousand words...

'Nuff said!

Has anyone famous studied philosophy?

Details here and a terrific resource with links.

University bursaries: which institutions are best?

The BBC reports that new university bursary offers in the UK may not be attracting additional students from poorer backgrounds. Details here. It is reported that bursaries for the very poorest often come to about £935.

This figure strikes me as particular low compared with US universities both in real terms and as a percentage of total tuition bills. Would anyone know of any data to confirm this suspicion?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

US Debt: Which President Did Best?

Now discuss . . .

Michael Sandel's lectures on justice

. . . can be found here. These are mandatory viewing for anyone interested in the topic. Sandel has long been known as an original and insightful philosopher, but his lectures are genuinely world class (and so a great model for those preparing their first lectures on any topic).

Of course, Michael Sandel is a founding editorial board member of the Journal of Moral Philosophy, everyone's favourite journal of moral, political, and legal philosophy . . . .

Hair loss

. . .  a topic I know something about. Details here from BBC Health.

Princeton to go "open access"

. . . almost. Details here. Encouraging first steps that I expect will soon take root at many other universities.

UPDATE: A question for readers who may know more about the above policy than I do. Does this mean that reprint, etc. fees that might have otherwise gone to a different copyright owner -- whether the publisher or author -- would now go to the university instead? If this were true, then what would seem a victory for Open Access would come at a (financial) cost to many authors.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Journal Rankings for Philosophy

I've received many requests for some kind of journal rankings list from readers of my essay on publishing advice.

Readers will be aware of several different rankings of philosophy journals. These include the Australian Research Council's (ARC) now disused ERA rankings and European Science Foundation's (ESF) European Research Index for the Humanities (ERIH).

Plus, there have been different polls by Brian Leiter and the Brooks Blog (and this more comprehensive poll of 140+ journals). Other blogs discussing journal rankings include Certain DoubtsLemmings, Thoughts, Arguments, and Rants, and this.

Each metric has its limitations and such a discussion would merit a long blogpost of its own. Let me be clear from the beginning that I believe that journal rankings are the crudest of indicators. If you want to assess the quality of something, then read it.

What I propose here is a ranking of rankings. Journals will be grouped in tiers based upon various metrics. There is broad agreement between different lists and I don't believe this list will prove controversial.

The official Brooks Blog Journal Rankings for Philosophy *

[The full rankings can be found here]!]

* Note on rankings:

I have weighted the journals in the following way:

ARC ERA list:
Journals are ranked A*, A, B, C. Points awarded: A* = 5, A = 4, B = 3, C = 2.

Brooks Blog list (1):
Journals ranked 1-50. Points awarded: #1-10 = 5, #11-20 = 4, #21-30 = 3, #31-40 = 2, #41-50 = 1.

List (2) ranks journals 1-50. Points awarded: #1-10 = 5, #11-20 = 4, #21-30 = 3, #31-40 = 2, #41-50 = 1, #51-143 = 0.

ERIH list:
Journals are (now) ranked Int1, Int2, Nat. Points awarded: Int1 = 5, Int2 = 4, Nat = 3.

Leiter Reports list:
General philosophy journals ranked only in top 20. Points awarded: #1-10 = 5, #11-20 = 4. Leiter has an additional list in ethics which raises complications. Journals are not double-counted and keep score if on general list. Points awarded: #1-10 = 5, #11-20 = 4, #21-30 = 3 where journals not on list 1. While this will cover general journals and journals that publish in ethics, there is need for a list in other areas especially mind/language and philosophy of science.

Notes: There are two lists for the Brooks Blog. List 2 is original list and surveys top 143 journals from a broad range. The top 50 in this poll were polled a second time in List 1.

QUERY FOR READERS: Do the weightings seem appropriate? What would you change? What journal rankings would you add?

The AHRC and Big Society in the news again

. . .  this time in the letters pages of The Guardian (found here):

Willetts says it is a "misconception" that the government's policies do not value arts and humanities. However, the Arts and Humanities Research Council has found it necessary to include the government's failed "big society" programme in its delivery plan for strategic research funding priorities. What kind of model is this for other countries to emulate? Note: I led a petition to remove the "big society" from the Arts and Humanities Research Council's delivery plan.

Dr Thom Brooks
Newcastle University

Coffee and depression: welcome news for fellow coffee drinkers

Details here.

The Research Council Satisfaction Survey: an idea whose time has come?

In the UK, there is the National Student Survey (or NSS). The NSS is a questionnaire that all undergraduates take during their final year. They are asked a wide range of set questions and invariably these are used to compile various league tables (often based around the scores given for "overall satisfaction").

There has been several controversies surrounding the relationship between research councils and the wider acacdemic community. Perhaps now is the time to introduce a similar survey that measures the satisfaction of academics regarding the research councils.

Oh, but wait (I can almost hear you say). Won't this give a platform for colleagues to vent anger over unsuccessful funding bids? Our reply: yes, but no more than the NSS gives a similar platform for students to vent over their marks and overall experience. If the NSS can still be an important tool in one area, then why shouldn't a similar survey of academics about research councils be important as well?

The NSS has led to some problems, but it has also done much good. I similarly believe that a survey of academic satisfaction with research councils -- that is anonymous and annual -- would do much similar good. The positive possibilities are obvious. Besides, we keep hearing about how we should justify public expenditures, etc. and extending democracy. This move would make good sense.

So why don't we have such a survey then? It's time to start.

"The collapse is coming . . . and Goldman Sachs rules the world"

If you teach political economy, then you must use this in your lectures!

The AHRC does X-Factor

Details here. If true, then this is yet more disappointment from the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lord Glasman: time to close half of UK universities?

Well, he's done it again.

The BBC carries the full story here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] Closing half of Britain's universities is among the radical ideas being considered by Labour leader Ed Miliband, his policy adviser says.

Lord Glasman - self-styled creator of the "Blue Labour" philosophy - made the claim at a fringe meeting at the Labour conference in Liverpool. He believes the UK no longer "honours" skilled work, and wants to cut the number of academic institutions. They could be replaced by vocational colleges, suggested the Labour peer.

He initially insisted the idea had been rejected by Mr Miliband but later suggested it was "part of an ongoing conversation", though not one he expected an announcement on soon. [. . .]"

After some controversial remarks on immigration, Lord Glasman is back . . . and the comments reported by the BBC above are bound to prove highly controversial as well. This appears highly disappointing not least because (a) it will give new ammunition to David Willetts and the Conservatives that they - and not Labour - are the party to be trusted on higher education and (b) it will even give the Liberal Democrats hope - they may have gone for trebling fees, but they have been firm supporters of the higher education sector without any plans for cutting institutions.

The political damage is all the greater as Labour has been accused of making a u-turn today: Ed Miliband has confirmed the party would seek to cap fees at £6,000 if in power. (Previously, the party opposed any steep rise.)

I hope we hear from the Labour frontbenches denying any substance to the above claims. So-called "Blue Labour" is damaging enough. Comments on immigration were even more damaging. Now this. What next?

UPDATE:To be clear, the idea is that about half of institutions would be closed as universities and re-opened as vocational institutions. Or so I understand. What do readers think?

EPSRC and the Haldane Principle

. . . relating to concerns that the Haldane principle may have been breached discussed here in the Times Higher Education. A growing problem with research councils...?

How to be an air traffic controller

An interesting short clip here (from BBC).

The Labour reshuffle

I am sure we will see one soon, altogether perhaps not as soon as former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott might like (see here). Shadow Cabinet members will be -- to different degrees -- fighting to retain their positions. It is uncontroversial that Labour has not capitalised much at all from a flurry of increasingly bad news from the government. I expect various ideas will be sounded out at the party conference meeting now in Liverpool with a reshuffle announced sometime over the next 2-3 weeks.

UPDATE: I was correct! Reshuffle announced here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Good news from Saudi Arabia

. . . as women gain the right to vote and contest elections. Details here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Publishing Philosophy

I'm on my way to Reading for the annual British Postgraduate Philosophy Association. Fellow speakers include Dave Archard, Emma Borg, Jonathan Dancy, Derek Parfit, Jenny Saul, and Crispin Wright amongst many others. I will be speaking on publishing philosophy and equality (and its lack) in the profession. I understand there will be audio on the BPPA website post-conference. In the meantime, those interested in my views on publishing should see this paper. [Link to]
I will try posting from the conference and I expect to have a substantial post on journal rankings shortly. Watch this space . . . .

Troy Davis and the problems with the death penalty

Troy Davis has now been executed, an event that has brought much criticism of America's continued use of capital punishment.

Those looking for new reasons to oppose the death penalty should consider looking at my “Retributivist Arguments against Capital Punishment,” Journal of Social Philosophy 35 (2004): 188-97 and my “Retribution and Capital Punishment,” in Mark D. White (ed.), Retributivism: Essays on Theory and Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 232-45.

Back in the Times Higher again

In a story "Sage Fright" about the mixed feelings some colleagues may have at the start of term. I'm quoted here:

"Thom Brooks, reader in political and legal philosophy at Newcastle University, wonders if 2011-12 will be the end of an era given the changes facing universities in England. "My hope is that the academic experience for all continues to improve, but my worry is that too much of our time will be spent preparing ourselves for 2012-13," he says."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Terminally ill warned of possible benefit cuts

This case is all the more alarming because Parliament has yet to approve the cuts! Either an attempt to unnecessarily frighten the terminally ill or rush through a bill that will surely court controversy. Details here. Let's hope Parliament does the right thing and rejects these changes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

John Boehner is right

John Boehner is a Republican and Speaker of the US House of Representatives. When asked about President Barack Obama's plans to raise more tax only from those who are millionaires, Boehner is reported to have replied "[p]itting one group of Americans against another is not leadership".*

I agree. So it's a good thing that President Obama isn't doing this. When you have Warren Buffett reminding us it is only fair that the most wealthy pay their fair share (see here), then the case seems clear. After all, Buffett is hardly a commie pinko. If others understand capitalism better, then let us see if they can match his financial wizardry and oracle status.

They say we're all in it together. Well, it's about time.

* Dominic Rushe, 'Do the math: Obama's retort to tax increase critics', The Guardian (20 September 2011): 21.

Sarah Teather on how not to use humour in a speech

Examples on how to perfect your own sense of Teather humour can be found on Twitter (see #SarahTeatherJokes).

UPDATE: The Top 10 can be found here.

Climate change: a reading list

My reading list on climate change for Introduction to Political Thought is the following:

* Brooks, Thom (ed) (2008) The Global Justice Reader (Oxford: Blackwell).

Curry, Patrick (2011) Ecological Ethics: An Introduction, 2nd rev. ed. (Cambridge: Polity).

* Gardiner, Stephen (2006). ‘A Perfect Moral Storm: Climate Change, Intergenerational Ethics and the Problem of Moral Corruption’, Environmental Values 15: 397-413.

Garvey, James (2008) The Ethics of Climate Change: Right and Wrong in a Warming World (London: Continuum).

* Hardin,Garrett (1968) ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, Science 162: 1243-48.

Jamieson, Dale (2008) ‘Environment’, in C. McKinnon (ed.), Issues in Political Theory, ch.14.

Hayward, Tim (1995) Ecological Thought: An Introduction (Cambridge: Polity).

* Jamieson, Dale (2008) Ethics and the Environment: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

* Lomborg, Bjorn (2007) Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming (New York: Vintage).

* Singer, Peter (2002) One World: The Ethics of Globalization, 2nd ed (New Haven: Yale University Press).

More Detailed/Advanced

Brand, Stewart (2009) Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Genetically Modified Crops, Restored Wildlands, Radical Science and Geoengineering are Essential (London: Atlantic).

Broome, John (1992) Counting the Cost of Global Warming (Isle of Harris: Whitehorse).

Brown, Lester (2011) World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse (New York: W. W. Norton).

Byravan, Sujatha and Sudhir Chella Rajan (2010) ‘The Ethical Implications of Sea-Level Rise Due to Climate Change’, Ethics and International Affairs 24: 239-60.

* Caney, Simon (2005) ‘Cosmopolitan Justice, Responsibility, and Global Climate Change’, Leiden Journal of International Law 18: 747-75.

Caney, Simon (2009) ‘Climate Change and the Future: Discounting for Time, Wealth, and Risk’, Journal of Social Philosophy 40: 163-86.

Dobson, Andrew (2008) Justice and the Environment (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Dobson, Andrew (2010) ‘Democracy and Nature: Speaking and Listening’, Political Studies 58: 752-68.

Eckersley, Robin (2010) ‘The Politics of Carbon Leakage and the Fairness of Border Measures’, Ethics and International Affairs 24: 367-93.

* Gardiner, Stephen M. (2004) ‘Ethics and Global Climate Change’, Ethics 114: 555-600.

* Gardiner, Stephen M. (2011) A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

* Giddens, Anthony (2009) The Politics of Climate Change (Cambridge: Polity).

Hayward, Tim (2005) Constitutional Environmental Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Hayward, Tim (2006) ‘Global Justice and the Distribution of Natural Resources’, Political Studies 54: 349-69.

Hayward, Tim (2007) ‘Human Rights Versus Emissions Rights; Climate Justice and the Equitable Distribution of Ecological Space’, Ethics and International Affairs 21: 431-50.

Hulme, Mike (2009) Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

* Kahn, Matthew (2010) Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future (New York: Basic Books).

* Lomborg, Bjorn (2001) The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Meyer, Lukas and Dominic Roser (2010) ‘Climate Justice and Historical Emissions’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 13: 229-53.

Moellendorf, Darrel (2009) ‘Treaty Norms and Climate Change Mitigation’, Ethics and International Affairs 23: 247-65.

Page, Edward (2007) ‘Fairness on the Day after Tomorrow: Justice, Reciprocity and Global Climate Change’, Political Studies 55: 225-42.

Posner, Eric and Cass Sunstein (2008) ‘Climate Change Justice’, Georgetown Law Journal 96: 1565-1612.

* Posner, Eric and David Weisbach (2010), Climate Change Justice (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

Rees, William (1992) ‘Ecological Footprints and Appropriated Carrying Capacity: What Urban Economics Leaves Out’, Environment and Urbanization 4: 121-30.

Risse, Mathias (2009) ‘The Right to Relocation: Disappearing Island Nations and Common Ownership of the Earth’, Ethics and International Affairs 23: 281-99.

Schroeder, Doris and Thomas Pogge (2009) ‘Justice and the Convention on Biodiversity’, Ethics and International Affairs 23: 267-80.

Simms, Andrew (2009) Ecological Debt: Global Warming and the Wealth of Nations, 2nd ed (London: Pluto).

* Stern, Nicholas (2010) A Blueprint for a Safer Planet: How We Can Save the World and Create Prosperity (New York: Vintage).

Sunstein, Cass (2005) Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Vanderleiden, Steve (2008) ‘Two Conceptions of Sustainability’, Political Studies 56: 435-55.

Vanderleiden, Steve (2009) ‘Allocating Ecological Space’, Journal of Social Philosophy 40: 257-75.

Wackernagel, Mathis and William Rees (1996) Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth (Gabriola Island: New Society).

Wapner, Paul and John Willoughby (2005) ‘The Irony of Environmentalism: The Ecological Futility but Political Necessity of Lifestyle Change’, Ethics and International Affairs 19: 77-89.

Global Justice: a reading list

My reading list on global justice for Introduction to Political Thought:

Brighouse, Harry (2008) ‘Citizenship’, in C. McKinnon (ed.), Issues in Political Theory, ch.11.

* Brock, Gillian (2008) ‘Global Justice’, in C. McKinnon (ed.), Issues in Political Theory, ch.13.

* Brock, Gillian (2009) Global Justice: A Cosmopolitan Account (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

* Brooks, Thom (ed) (2008) The Global Justice Reader (Oxford: Blackwell).

Goodin, Robert (1988) ‘What is So Special about our Fellow Countrymen?’ Ethics 98: 663-86.

Nagel, Thomas (2005) ‘The Problem of Global Justice’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 33: 113-47.

Nussbaum, Martha C. (2002) ‘Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism’ in Joshua Cohen (ed), For Love of Country? Debating the Limits of Patriotism (Boston: Beacon Press), 2-17.

Singer, Peter (1972) ‘Famine, Affluence, and Morality’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 1: 229-43.

Swift (2006) Political Philosophy, ch.2.

Wolff (2006) An Introduction to Political Philosophy, ch.4.

More Detailed/Advanced

Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2006) Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (London: Penguin).

Banerjee, Abhijit W. and Esther Duflo (2011) Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (New York: Public Affairs).

Beitz, Charles R. (1999) Political Theory and International Relations, 2nd ed (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

Blake, Michael (2001) ‘Distributive Justice, State Coercion, and Autonomy’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 30: 257-96.

Bobbitt, Philip (2008) Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century (London: Penguin).

Chatterjee, Deen (ed.) (2004) The Ethics of Assistance: Morality and the Distant Needy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Dobson, Andrew (2006) ‘Thick Cosmopolitanism’, Political Studies 54: 165-84.

* Fabre, Cecile (2007) Justice in a Changing World (Cambridge: Polity).

Gould, Carol C. (2004) Globalizing Democracy and Human Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Held, David (2010) Cosmopolitanism: Ideals and Realities (Cambridge: Polity).

Hellsten, Sirku (2005) ‘Global Justice and the Demands for Global Responsibility’, Journal of Moral Philosophy 2: 371-79.

Kant, Immanuel, Perpetual Peace (any edition).

Fuller, Lisa (2005) ‘Poverty Relief, Global Institutions, and the Problem of Compliance’, Journal of Moral Philosophy 2: 285-97.

* Jaggar, Alison (2005) ‘“Saving Amina”: Global Justice for Women and Intercultural Dialogue’, Ethics and International Affairs 19: 55-75.

Jaggar, Alison (ed.) (2010) Thomas Pogge and His Critics (Cambridge: Polity).

Margalit, Avishai and Joseph Raz (1990) ‘National Self-Determination’, Journal of Philosophy 87: 439-61.

Mason, Andrew (1997) ‘Special Obligations to Compatriots’, Ethics 107: 427-47.

McMahan, Jeff (2009) Killing in War (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Miller, David (1995) On Nationality (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Miller, David (2000) Citizenship and National Identity (Cambridge: Polity).

* Miller, David (2001) ‘Distributing Responsibility’, Journal of Political Philosophy 9: 453-71.

* Miller, David (2007) National Responsibility and Global Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

* Nussbaum, Martha C. (2000) Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

* O’Neill, Onora (1974) ‘Lifeboat Earth’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 4: 273-92.

O’Neill, Onora (2001) ‘Agents of Justice’, Metaphilosophy 32: 180-95.

Pogge, Thomas W. (1992) ‘Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty’, Ethics 103: 48-75.

Pogge, Thomas W. (2001) ‘Eradicating Systemic Poverty: Brief for a Global Resources Dividend’, Journal of Human Development 2: 59-77.

* Pogge, Thomas W. (2002) World Poverty and Human Rights (Cambridge: Polity).

Pogge, Thomas W. (ed.) (2007) Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right: Who Owes What to the Very Poor? (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Rawls, John (1999) The Law of Peoples (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).

Sangiovanni, Andrea (2007) ‘Global Justice, Reciprocity, and the State’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 35: 3-39.

Satz, Debra (2005) ‘What Do We Owe the Global Poor?’ Ethics and International Affairs 19: 47-54.

Scheffler, Samuel (2001) Boundaries and Allegiances: Problems of Justice and Responsibility in Liberal Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Tan, Kok-Chor (2004) Justice Without Borders: Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism and Patriotism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Wenar, Leif (2003) ‘What We Owe to Distant Others’, Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 2: 283-304.

Wenar, Leif (2008) ‘Property Rights and the Resource Curse’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 36: 2-32.

Justice: a reading list

My reading list on justice for Introduction to Political Thought:

Campbell, Tom (2010) Justice, 3rd ed (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).

Casal, Paula and Andrew Williams (2008) ‘Equality’, in C. McKinnon (ed.), Issues in Political Theory, ch.7.

Chambers, Clare (2008) ‘Gender’, in C. McKinnon (ed.), Issues in Political Theory, ch.12.

Clayton, Matthew and Andrew Williams (eds) (2004) Social Justice (Oxford: Blackwell).

Heyward (2004) Political Theory: An Introduction, chs.6,10.

Knowles (2001) Political Philosophy, ch.5.

Kymlicka, Will (2002) Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed (Oxford: Oxford University Press), ch.2-4, 9.

* Mill, John Stuart, Utilitarianism (any edition).

Mulgan, Tim (2007) Understanding Utilitarianism (Stocksfield: Acumen).

* Rawls, John (2001) Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).

* Sandel, Michael (2009) Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? (London: Penguin).

Scheffler, Samuel (ed) (1988) Consequentialism and Its Critics (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

* Sen, Amartya (1999) Development as Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Swift (2006) Political Philosophy, ch.1, 3.

* Thaler, Richard and Cass Sunstein (2008) Nudge (London: Penguin).

* White, Stuart (2007) Equality (Cambridge: Polity).

* Wolff (2006) An Introduction to Political Philosophy, ch.5-6.

* Wolff, Jonathan (2008) ‘Social Justice’, in C. McKinnon (ed.), Issues in Political Theory, ch.8.

More Detailed/Advanced

* Anderson, Elizabeth (1999) ‘What is the Point of Equality?’ Ethics 109: 287-337.

Barry, Brian (2005) Why Social Justice Matters (Cambridge: Polity).

Bosanquet, Bernard, The Philosophical Theory of the State (any edition).

Brighouse, Harry and Ingrid Robeyns (eds) (2010) Measuring Justice: Primary Goods and Capabilities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Brooks, Thom (2006) ‘Knowledge and Power in Plato’s Political Thought’, International Journal of Philosophical Studies 14: 51-77.

Cohen, G. A. (1989) ‘On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice’, Ethics 99: 906-44.

Cohen, G. A. (2008) Rescuing Justice and Equality (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).

Cohen, G. A. (2011) On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice and Other Essays in Political Philosophy, ed. Michael Otsuka (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

Collingwood, R. G., The New Leviathan (any edition).

Devlin, Patrick (1965) The Enforcement of Morals (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Dewey, John (1927) The Public and Its Problems (Athens: Ohio State University Press).

Freeman, Samuel (ed.) (2003) The Cambridge Companion to Rawls (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Freeman, Samuel (2007) Justice and the Social Contract: Essays on Rawlsian Political Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Freeman, Samuel (2007) Rawls (London: Routledge).

* Hume, David, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book III (any edition).

Ignatieff, Michael (1984) The Needs of Strangers (London: Chatto & Windus).

Mandel, Jon (2009) Rawls’s A Theory of Justice: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

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

Miller, David (1976) Social Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Newey, Glen (2001) After Politics: The Rejection of Politics in Contemporary Liberal Philosophy (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).

Nozick, Robert (1974) Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books).

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

* Nussbaum, Martha C. (2003) ‘Capabilities as Fundamental Entitlements: Sen and Social Justice’, Feminist Economics 9: 33-59.

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

Parekh, Bhikhu (2000) Rethinking Multiculturalism (London: Palgrave Macmillan).

* Rawls, John (1971) A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).

* Rawls, John (1996) Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press).

Sandel, Michael J. (1998) Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Stone, Alison (2007) An Introduction to Feminist Philosophy (Cambridge: Polity).

* Wilkinson, Richard and Kate Pickett (2009) The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone (London: Penguin).

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

Freedom: a reading list

Readers have asked for my reading lists. I'll be giving lectures on various topics (freedom, justice, global justice, climate change) in our Introduction to Political Theory course. My reading list on freedom is the following:


Carter, Ian, Matthew H. Kramer, and Hillel Steiner (eds) (2007) Freedom: A Philosophical Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell).

Flikschuh, Katrin (2007) Freedom (Cambridge: Polity).

Gray, Tim (1990) Freedom (London: Macmillan).

Heywood (2004) Political Theory: An Introduction, ch.9.

Knowles (2001) Political Theory, ch.3.

Miller, David (ed) (1991) Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Riley, Jonathan (2008) ‘Liberty’, in McKinnon (ed), Issues in Political Theory, ch.5.

Swift, Adam (2006) Political Philosophy: A Beginners’ Guide for Students and Politicians (Cambridge: Polity), ch.2.

* Wolff (2006) An Introduction to Political Philosophy, ch.4.

More Detailed/Advanced

Ariely, Dan (2008) Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (London: HarperCollins).

Bennett, Christopher (2010) What is This Thing Called Ethics? (London: Routledge).

* Berlin, Isaiah (1991) ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, in Miller (ed) Liberty, ch.2.

Brooks, Thom (ed.) (2011), Ethics and Moral Philosophy (Leiden: Brill).

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

De Marneffe, Peter (2006) ‘Avoiding Paternalism’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 34: 68-94.
* Green, T. H. (1991) ‘Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract’, in Miller (ed) Liberty, ch.1.

Feinberg, Joel (1973) Social Philosophy (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall).

Feinberg, Joel (1984-88) The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law, 3 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

* Frankfurt, Harry (1971) ‘Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person’, Journal of Philosophy 68: 5-20.

Hayek, F. A. (1944) The Road to Serfdom (London: Routled), chs.8-9.

Husak, Douglas (1981) ‘Paternalism and Autonomy’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 10: 27-46.

Husak, Douglas (1989) ‘Recreational Drugs and Paternalism’, Law and Philosophy 8: 353-81.

* Levitt, Steven and Stephen Dubner (2005) Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (London: Penguin).

MacCallum, Jr., Gerald C. (1991) ‘Negative and Positive Freedom’, in Miller (ed) Liberty, ch.5.

MacKinnon, Catharine (1994) Only Words (London: HarperCollins).

Nagel, Thomas (1986) The View from Nowhere (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Pettit, Philip and Michael Smith (1996) ‘Freedom in Belief and Desire’, Journal of Philosophy 93: 429-49.

Pettit, Philip (2001) A Theory of Freedom: From the Psychology to the Politics of Agency (Cambridge: Polity).

Raz, Joseph (1986) The Morality of Freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press).

* Ripstein, Arthur (2006) ‘Beyond the Harm Principle’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 34: 215-45.

Scanlon, T. M. (1972) ‘A Theory of Freedom of Expression’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 1: 204-26.

Taylor, Charles (1991) ‘What’s Wrong with Negative Liberty’, in Miller (ed.) Liberty, ch.7.

Waldron, Jeremy (1993) Liberal Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Williams, Bernard (1985) Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).

Monday, September 19, 2011

How many Americans pay federal income taxes?

Our fact of the day: 47% of Americans do not pay any federal income taxes either because of low income or they qualify for sufficient tax breaks to eliminate their liability. So only 53% of Americans pay federal income taxes.

The Brooks Blog in top 100 Labour blogs

I am delighted to learn that the Brooks Blog has been ranked 65th amongst the top 100 Labour Party blogs (see here).

Rational Choice and Nudge Theory: A Reading List

Readers have asked me to post my reading lists for classes taught in 2011-12. My teaching load is fairly light and I've normally had a 0-1 load because of my administrative duties, but this year I'll be co-teaching on Introduction to Political Thought (UG) and "module leader" on a course on political justice and public policy (Justice, Morality, and the State) (PG).

I have been asked to give a lecture and seminar on the topic of Rational Choice and Its Critics with a focus on understanding political behaviour in political science for a co-taught course on research methods. My required readings are:

Andrew Hindmoor, Rational Choice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness. London: Penguin, 2008.

Recommended background reading:

Michael Allingham, Choice Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. London: HarperCollins, 2008.

Tim Harford, The Logic of Life: Uncovering the New Economics of Everything. London: Little, Brown, 2008.

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. London: Penguin, 2005.

Recommended reading:

Samuel Abrams, Torben Iversen, and David Soskice, ‘Informal Social Networks and Rational Voting’, British Journal of Political Science 41 (2010): 229-57.

On Amir and Orly Lobel, ‘Stumble, Predict, Nudge: How Behavioral Economics Informs Law and Policy’, Columbia Law Review 108 (2008): 2098-138.

Kenneth J. Arrow, Social Choice and Individual Values. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951.

Gary S. Becker, The Economic Approach to Human Behavior. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.

-----------, A Treatise on the Family. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Matthew Crenson, ‘The Private Stake in Public Goods: Overcoming the Illogic of Collective Action’, Policy Sciences 20 (1987): 221-29.

Anthony Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper & Row, 1957.

Jon Elster (ed.), Rational Choice. Oxford: Blackwell, 1987.

Michael Ferejohn and Morris P. Fiorina, ‘The Paradox of Not Voting: A Decision Theoretic Analysis’, American Political Science Review 68 (1974): 525-36.

Donald P. Green and Ian Shapiro, Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory: A Critique of Applications in Political Science. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Iain Hampsher-Monk and Andrew Hindmoor, ‘Rational Choice and Interpretive Evidence: Caught between a Rock and a Hard Place?’ Political Studies 58 (2010): 47-65.

Garrett Hardin, ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, Science 162 (1968): 1243-48.

Daniel M. Hausman and Brynn Welch, ‘Nudge or Not to Nudge’, Journal of Political Philosophy 18 (2010): 123-36.

Andrew Hindmoor, ‘Policy Innovation and the Dynamics of Party Competition: A Schumpeterian Account of British Electoral Politics, 1950-2005’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations 10 (2008): 492-508.

----------, ‘“Major Combat Operations Have Ended”? Arguing about Rational Choice’, British Journal of Political Science 41 (2010): 191-210.

Peter John, Graham Smith, and Gerry Stoker, ‘Nudge Nudge, Think Think: Two Strategies for Changing Civic Behaviour’, Political Quarterly 80 (2009): 361-70.

Michael Laver, The Politics of Private Desires: The Guide to the Politics of Rational Choice. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981.

Iain McLean, Rational Choice and British Politics: An Analysis of Rhetoric and Manipulation from Peel to Blair. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Rebecca S. Morrison and Peter C. Ordeshook, ‘Rational Choice, Light Guessing and the Gambler’s Fallacy’, Public Choice 22 (1975): 79-89.

Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957.

Amartya Sen, ‘Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 (1977): 317-44.

Online sources:

Behavioural Insight Team, Cabinet Office, HM Government (HERE).

Chris Bonell, Martin McKee, Adam Fletcher, Paul Wilkinson, and Andy Haines, ‘Editorial: One Nudge Forward, Two Steps Back’, British Medical Journal 342 (2011): 401 (HERE).

Daniel Hausman, ‘Rational Choice Theory’ in ‘Philosophy of Economics’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (HERE).

The Nudge Blog (HERE).

I would be extremely interested in reader recommendations for alternative and/or additional readings. Anything important missing?

Liberal Democrats and the Price of Power

. . . an excellent op-ed by Jackie Ashley can be found here.

Thom Brooks on "Rethinking Remedial Responsibilities"

. . . can be found in Ethics & Global Politics 4 (2011), pp. 195-202. It can be freely downloaded here. The abstract:

"How should we determine which nations have a responsibility to remedy suffering elsewhere? The problem is pressing because, following David Miller, ‘[it] is morally intolerable if (remediable) suffering and deprivation are allowed to continue . . . where they exist we are morally bound to hold somebody (some person or collective agent) responsible for relieving them’. Miller offers a connection theory of remedial responsibilities in response to this problem, a theory he has been developing over the last decade. This theory is meant to serve as a guide on how we can best determine which nations are remedially responsible for alleviating suffering and deprivation elsewhere. Miller’s theory entails our following a procedure in order to determine remedial responsibility for nations. The problem is that there is an important flaw in this procedure, a flaw that previous critiques have overlooked. This essay will explain this flaw and how Miller’s theory might be reformulated into a two-tiered procedure that would take better account of this problem."

Thom Brooks on "The Problem with Polygamy"

. . . originally appeared in Philosophical Topics 37 (2009), pp. 109-22 (forthcoming in Thom Brooks (ed.), Justice and the Capabilities Approach (2012)) and found here. The paper's abstract:

"Polygamy is a hotly contested practice and open to widespread misunderstandings. This practice is defined as a relationship between either one husband and multiple wives or one wife and multiple husbands. Today, ‘polygamy’ almost exclusively takes the form of one husband with multiple wives. In this article, my focus will centre on limited defences of polygamy offered recently by Chesire Calhoun and Martha Nussbaum. I will argue that these defences are unconvincing. The problem with polygamy is primarily that it is a structurally inegalitarian practice in both theory and fact. Polygamy should be opposed for this reason."

Get your politics out of our research: the latest news on the AHRC and Big Society

. . . can be read in my recent essay in Our Kingdom's "openDemocracy" here.

Danny Alexander and his annual Liberal Democrat conference pledges

A broken record? Details here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The UK citizenship test: is it fit for purpose?


While there is much comment on how immigration might be controlled, there is too little discussion of detailed policy. Readers may know that I recently acquired British citizenship. There are many recommendations I would offer on how immigration might be improved, but first there is an urgent need to revisit the citizenship test.


The citizenship test asks questions related to a textbook entitled Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship (hereafter "Life in the United Kingdom"). This text was published on 26th March 2007 and it is a second edition. The preface still bears the face of the then Home Secretary, John Reid (Lab), who was to announce his leaving Tony Blair's cabinet only a few months later. Applicants need not guess at what the questions might look like: there is also a separate Official Citizenship Test Study Guide with 200 practice questions. Both are easily found in local bookshops.

Each test is different with randomly selected questions from the Official Citizenship Test Study Guide that test knowledge gained from reading the Life in the United Kingdom text book. Anyone that wishes to apply for a permanent work visa (or "Indefinite Leave to Remain") and/or citizenship must pass this test or register on a several month ESOL course (which teaches English and citizenship with continuous assessment). The test takes 45 minutes and there are 24 questions. An applicant must be correct on at least 18 questions to pass the test. The fee - just over a year ago - was £32.28 (and paid in cash only), but has now risen to £50.

The questions are all multiple choice. Some questions have two choices (e.g., A or B), some questions have four choices with one correct answer (e.g., A, B, C or D), and other questions have four choices with two correct answers - and you must get both correct answers to get the question "correct" overall. Confused yet?

Citizenship test subjects

Life in the United Kingdom has nine chapters:

1. The making of the United Kingdom [e.g., UK history]
2. A changing society [e.g., migration, children]
3. UK today: a profile [e.g., population, religion, customs]
4. How the United Kingdom is governed [e.g., UK and EU politics]
5. Everyday needs [e.g., housing, health, education]
6. Employment [e.g., how to find work, childcare]
7. Knowing the law [e.g., rights and duties, human rights]
8. Sources of help and information
9. Building better communities

Test questions only come from chapters 2-6. All other chapters are excluded (1, 7-8). On the exclusions, Life in the United Kingdom states: ‘You do not have to study the other chapters in order to be able to pass the test, but we hope and believe that they will be of interest and practical value to many readers’ (page 4).

It is most curious that chapter 1 – on rudimentary British history – is entirely excluded. Life in the United Kingdom states: ‘To understand a country it is important to know something about its history….Any account of history, however, is only one interpretation. Historians often disagree about what to include and what to exclude’ – and so the test has excluded all discussion of history (7). The test book also states: ‘[Oliver Cromwell] also finally put down the Irish rebellion which had begun in 1641, using so much violence that even today the memory of Cromwell is still hated by some Irish Catholics’ (15).

It is also curious that chapter 7 – on rudimentary legal knowledge – is excluded as well. This chapter covers the following topics:

• Reporting a crime
• Racially and religiously motivated crime
• Police duties and making complaints about the police
• Search and arrest procedures
• The UK’s court system and legal advice
• The Human Rights Act and equal opportunities
• Marriage and divorce
• Child protection
• Consumer protection

Test questions

The test booklet contains a few sample test questions. These are samples of the kinds of questions that you might get on the test. One easy example:

Where is the Prime Minister’s official home in London?
A. Downing Street
B. Parliament Square
C. Richmond Terrace
D. Whitehall Place

Of course, the answer is A.

But now see the last sample question, a question on the test (and on my actual test):

Which TWO places can you go to if you need a National Insurance number?
A. Department for Education and Skills
B. Home Office
C. Jobcentre Plus
D. Social security office

The answers are C, D. There are several problems with this SAMPLE question ON ACTUAL TESTS FOR CITIZENSHIP, namely, A and D do not exist! Furthermore, I phoned the Home Office – who arranged my interview at the Department of Work & Pensions – to get my National Insurance card. And it gets worse…as the test uses old census data (from 2001), etc.

By what percentage is the average hourly pay of women lower than men’s?
A. 5%
B. 10%
C. 15%
D. 20%

The correct answer is D, but should be C. Consider further questions:

In 2001 the population of the UK was nearly (p. 38):
A. 56 million
B. 58 million
C. 60 million
D. 62 million

The correct answer is C -- there were about 60,000,000 in the UK ten years ago -- although the present population is over 62 million. There are also out of date questions about demographics by religion and ethnicity, but also on basic matters of British politics (you’d think British politicians endorsing this test would be aware of):

How many parliamentary constituencies are there? (p. 54)
A. 464
B. 564
C. 646
D. 664

The test's answer code states that the correct answer is C. However, this is false: there are actually 650 parliamentary constituencies with new proposals to reduce this much further still. Now let's look at EU politics:

How many seats does the UK hold in the European Parliament? Page 56
A. 58
B. 68
C. 78
D. 88

The test claims that the correct answer is C (e.g., the UK holds 78 seats), but the correct answer is 72 and closer to B. Nor do the mistakes end with politics. For example, consider the following:

Young people from families with low income can get financial help with their studies when they leave school at 16. This help is called: (page 72)
A. Education Support Grant
B. Further Learning and Training Support Allowance
C. Education Maintenance Allowance
D. Post-16 Education Allowance

The "correct" answer for the test is C. However, the current government has scrapped EMA - so no such support exists in fact.

Curiosities on the test

There are also further questions that merit special mention. Perhaps all of the below should be on the test. I raise them because they are perhaps either especially tricky, baffling or perhaps even bizarre.

Women in Britain first got the vote in:
A. 1882
B. 1918
C. 1928
D. 1945

This is a tricky one. The answer is B, but note that it was not until 1928 that women could vote at same age as men. Now try this:

Which of the following countries is NOT a member of the Commonwealth? (page 53)
A. Mozambique
B. Seychelles
C. Singapore
D. Indonesia

The correct answer is D. But does this knowledge speak to one's merits for British citizenship?
– correct is D. But on a UK citizenship test?

A quango is (page 54)
A. A government department
B. A non-departmental public body
C. An arm of the judiciary
D. An educational establishment

The correct answer is B. Quangos? On a UK citizenship test?


There is much more we could say about the test. There are quite a few questions regarding demographics. These are all based on 2001 census data now out of date. It is worth noting that there are now several questions noting non-existent government departments, etc.: passing the test involves knowing facts about life in the UK in March 2007 and disregarding how the country has changed since (two governments later).

Perhaps all new citizens should take a test. I think it is a concern that this test would have such factual inaccuracies plus lack engagement with knowledge we might expect such a test to cover, such as British history and basic elements of British law, such as human rights.

I raise these points in this post because I imagine the situation unknown to many in the general public. It is high time the test was redesigned at the very least.

And, yes, I'd be happy to provide concrete suggestions to government for how it could be much improved if contacted.

Raymond Plant on the current financial crisis

Words of wisdom once again from Lord Plant of Highfield from a recent speech in the House of Lords. The speech can be found here and he aptly notes:

"[. . .] We should be very wary of blaming the banking crisis on a failure of regulation. The bankers caused that mess and it is the bankers' responsibility, by and large. To say otherwise is like blaming the police for criminal behaviour. Obviously regulation has to be improved and the Financial Services Authority did not cover itself in glory, but then neither did the Bank of England. We would be extremely naive to think that a new regulatory system is going to cure all the problems. It has to be a new regulatory system, plus separation of the investment banking sector."

Teach philosophy in our schools!

Philosophers and friends unite in a plea to MPs. Details here. Let's hope the government is listening.

Why Plato is right, part #453,721

. . . as nearly half of British parents favour the reintroduction of caning in the school system (most of whom were not subjected to caning themselves). Details here. Doom.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thom Brooks and Mary Midgley in Conversation

. . . this Thursday evening on the topic of humanity before a production of "Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions" at the Northern Stage in Newcastle. Details here.

Constituency changes 2011: the changing British electoral map

The Conservative Party has been committed to decreasing the number of MPs and we have now seen the recommendations on the changes to constituency boundaries (with loss of several Parliamentary seats). The full set of reports can be found here (at Guido Fawkes's Blog).

Unsurprisingly, Labour seats seem to be the biggest losers followed by the Liberal Democrats. If these changes had been in place before the previous general election, then it is likely the Conservatives would have won a majority.

UPDATE: Richard Moss has the latest analysis on changes for the North East here. Items to note is that Hexham will become the largest constituency in England -- and Sedgefield and Whitley Bay will become easier targets for the Conservatives. Sedgefield's most famous MP was Tony Blair, so perhaps the end of a longstanding safe Labour seat in the heart of Co. Durham?

UPDATE 2: The BBC notes here the MPs that may be most affected by these changes, including Hilary Benn (Lab), Vince Cable (LD), Ken Clarke (Con), Chris Huhne (LD), Tessa Jowell (Lab), Caroline Lucas (Green), Chuka Umunna (Lab), and - interestingly enough - George Osborne (Con).

UPDATE 3: Now we learn that many senior politicians from all three major parties - including Vince Cable (Lib Dem) - have voiced opposition to these proposed changes. Details here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Studies in Moral Philosophy

I am delighted to announce that my new book series, Studies in Moral Philosophy, will launch next month with the publications of two volumes: Ethics and Moral Philosophy and Global Justice and International Affairs. The book series is affialiated with the Journal of Moral Philosophy.

Series editor: Thom Brooks (Newcastle)

Board members: Chrisoula Andreou (Utah), Mark Bevir (Berkeley), Clare Chambers (Cambridge), Fabian Freyenhagen (Essex), Tim Mulgan (St Andrews), and Ian Shapiro (Yale).

Interested authors and editors should contact me about submitting book proposals.

Thom Brooks (ed.), Global Justice and International Affairs


Section I: Sovereignty and Self-Determination

1. Joseph Carens, "The Integration of Immigrants"
2. Nicolaus Tideman, "Secession as a Human Right"

Section II: Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism

3. Michael Green, "Social Justice, Voluntarism, and Liberal Nationalism"
4. Burke Hendrix, "Authenticity and Cultural Rights"
5. Patti Tamara Lenard, "Motivating Cosmopolitanism? A Skeptical View"
6. Igor Primoratz, "Patriotism and Morality: Mapping the Terrain"

Section III: Global Poverty and International Distributive Justice

7. Gillian Brock, "The Difference Principle, Equality of Opportunity, and Cosmopolitan Justice"
8. Lisa Fuller, "Poverty Relief, Global Institutions, and the Problem of Compliance"
9. Tim Hayward, "Thomas Pogge's Global Resources Dividend: A Critique and an Alternative"
10. Gerhard Overland, "Poverty and the Moral Significance of Contribution"
11. Jonathan Seglow, "Associative Duties and Global Justice"

Section IV: War and Terrorism

12. David Lefkowitz, "Partiality and Weighing Harm to Non-Combatants"
13. Gerhard Overland, "Conditional Threats"
14. Eric Reitan, "Defining Terrorism for Public Policy Purposes: The Group-Target Definition"



This is the second title in the new Studies in Moral Philosophy book series.

Thom Brooks (ed.), Ethics and Moral Philosophy

Thom Brooks (ed.), Ethics and Moral Philosophy. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011. The publisher's website is here and it's now on Amazon. The table of contents:


Section I: Practical Reason

1. Chrisoula Andreou, "Standards, Advice, and Practical Reasoning"
2. John Broome, "Does Rationality Consist in Responding Correctly to Reasons?"
3. Alison Hills, "Practical Reason, Value and Action"
4. Onora O'Neill, "Normativity and Practical Judgement"

Section II: Particularism

5. Roger Crisp, "Ethics Without Reasons?"
6. Jonathan Dancy, "Defending the Right"

Section III: Moral Realism

7. Russ Shafer-Landau, "Moral and Theological Realism: The Explanatory Argument"
8. Michael Ridge, "Anti-Reductivism and Supervenience"

Section IV: Virtue Ethics

9. Eric Hutton, "Han Feizi's Criticism of Confucianism and Its Implications for Virtue Ethics"
10. Maria W. Merritt, "Aristotelian Virtue and the Interpersonal Aspect of Ethical Character"
11. Jonathan Webber, "Virtue, Character and Situation"

Section V: Ethics and Moral Philosophy

12. Timothy Hall, "Doing Harm, Allowing Harm, and Denying Resources"
13. S. Matthew Liao, "Time-Relative Interests and Abortion"
14. S. Matthew Liao, "The Basis of Human Moral Status"
15. Martin Peterson, "The Mixed Solution to the Number Problem"
16. William Sin, "Trivial Sacrifices, Great Demands"
17. Alison Stone, "Essentialism and Anti-Essentialism in Feminist Philosophy"
18. Jens Timmermann, "Good but Not Required? -- Assessing the Demands of Kantian Ethics"



This is the first volume in the new Studies in Moral Philosophy book series.

Banks face new regulations: a lost opportunity?

The UK's Independent Commission on Banking has recently announced its proposed regulations for British banks. Details here. The main proposals include:

* Ring fence retail from investment banking

* Keep 17-20% of certain assets as "loss-absorbers"
* Lloyds branch sale to be opportunity to bring in competitor
* New system to help customers switch current account
* Reforms to be implemented by 2019 at the latest
* Cost to banks of between £4bn-7bn

There are other proposals floating around as well, such as Ed Miliband's idea that bankers could be "struck off" in certain circumstances. (Details of this proposal can be found here.)
It seems obvious some new regulations will become necessary if only to better guarantee greater protection for the taxpayer. The public bailout of banks was a tragedy, but the major bonuses paid out at public-owned banks a public relations catastrophe for governments of the day.
I fear this may be an opportunity lost. Why? The Independent Commission recommends some good reforms, such as ring fencing different areas of business, but the time for implementation is far too long. While there is surely an interest at not rushing major structural reforms, there is also a major public interest at stake in ensuring reforms are sufficiently timely. 2019 is not timely - and by then many may forget why such reforms are needed in the first place (running the risk that full implementation would never occur in future).
Perhaps the biggest question is why is it that no minister or public representative is making an impact on boardroom decisions? While there is certainly the worry about politicians "interfering" in financial institutions that might damage the business, it is also the case that these financial institutions only exist because of the actions of politicians. If the public is majority shareholder, then there is an argument that more pressure should be done to change the way loan applications are scored to make it easier for first-time buyers and start-up businesses to launch, for example. There should be greater pressure against rewarding a culture of failure and entitlement. Instead, the coalition government seems more concerned about letting bankers off the hook rather than working in the public interest.
The public will not reward a government that has failed basic tests of fairness. There is a wide consensus that the banking crises has favoured a small minority over others left to clean up the mess. The government must act to correct this problem. Or risk a major electoral defeat - and a lost opportunity to do an immense amount of public good in reforming the banking sector now.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Predict revolution

New reports out today here about how supercomputers might be able to predict revolutions.

Tony Blair on the War on Terror

Unsurprisingly, the former Prime Minister denied that military action had radicalised anyone nor does he think the world is less safe. Details here.
The BBC reports:

"[. . .]  the former prime minister said: "The reason why these people are radicalised is not because of something we're doing to them. They believe in their philosophy . . . Understand one thing - they believe in what they believe in because they believe their religion compels them to believe in it."

So he denies responsibility. Others become radicalised because of false beliefs about what their religion "compels" them to accept and not because of invading Iraq, etc. What then is the alternative causal explanation for increasing security threats? People feel compelled out of the blue?

The more time has passed since the invasion of Iraq the more we have seen the true poverty of the support for this shameful war. I suspect things will only become worse the more we learn about the decision to go to war and the planning behind operations.