Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Liberal Democrats and higher education: more bad news?

Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg, claimed "no more broken promises" during their 2010 general election campaign. They argued that the problem with politics was that politicians said one thing on the campaign trail, but did something very different once in office. The lesson: be careful what you wish for.

Many critics argued that the Lib Dem ideal of no fees was nonsense: it was a campaign promise the party could never make good on if in government because it was not affordable. Liberal Democrats were playing the politics of perpetual opposition, biting at the heels of others to win votes without any genuine prospects of ever having to make good on any promise they offered.

This changes in 2010 where the Liberal Democrats entered into a coalition government with the Conservative Party. The coalition agreement between them committed neither side to oppose fees (nor much higher fees). The result is well known: fees for UK students will treble from about £3,000 per year to £9,000 for most courses at most universities. So much then for "no more broken promises"...

Today, there is news that a Liberal Democrat-friendly think tank, CentreForum, is recommending that the party complete the Thatcher-led overhaul of higher education. It argues that better value for money is found in the private, not public, sector. If the government wants better equipped (and resourced) labs, etc., then there is a clear answer: open higher education to more (and not less) privatisation. Research Fortnightly has the story here.

This is yet further evidence that the Liberal Democrats have abandoned many of their supporters amongst students and higher education professionals. It is also further evidence that we're watching a march to the right as Lib Dem policies, values, and strategies more closely align with the Tories. Bad news for the country generally, but very bad news for many Liberal Democrat supporters.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Conference: On Fabre's Cosmopolitan War

17 May, 2012 Arthur Lewis Building
University of Manchester

The Manchester Centre for Political Theory (MANCEPT) is delighted to host a conference on Professor Cécile Fabre’s forthcoming book, Cosmopolitan War (Oxford University Press). The book provides a series of incisive and challenging arguments regarding cosmopolitan principles for just war. Fabre argues for unconventional views regarding wars of national self-defence, humanitarian interventions, subsistence wars, civil wars, mercenaries, the use of human shields in wartime, and other important issues in the ethics of war and warfare.

The participants are:

Cécile Fabre (University of Oxford)
David Rodin (University of Oxford)
Daniel Statman (University of Haifa)
Anna Stilz (Princeton University)
Victor Tadros (University of Warwick)

Registration for the conference is now open and places are limited so please book early. For details regarding registration please visit us at:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Michael Gove: the grinch who stole your pension?

The BBC reports the following concern Michael Gove (Con), the Education Secretary:

"[. . .] In a speech at think tank Policy Exchange, Mr Gove warned that 90% of England's schools would be closed by striking teachers and appealed for them to think again. He said union militants wanted families to be inconvenienced.

But the PCS union said the public supported the strikes. It said: "A BBC poll released today shows overwhelming support for the strike and overwhelmingly people feel that Gove's government is mishandling the economy. Gove's speech smacks more of desperation than opinion and will fall on deaf ears." The strike over pension changes in the public sector could involve up to two million people.

Mr Gove said of union leaders: "They want mothers to give up a day's work, or pay for expensive childcare, because schools will be closed. They want teachers and other public sector workers to lose a day's pay in the run-up to Christmas. [. . .]"

So there we have it. Michael Gove believes that union leaders are wrong because they ask mothers, teachers, and "other public sector workers" to "lose a day's pay".

However, Gove wants mothers, teachers, and public sector workers to lose their current pensions in favour of a much less generous deal: people will pay and work much more...and receive much less. The figures dwarf one day's pay on all counts.

If Gove is so concerned about one day's pay for hard working families, then perhaps he should spare a thought for the pensions for these same families. (Hint: one is worth much more than the other, B > A.) The public gets it - and more than 60% support the strike. The only person who doesn't get it is Gove.

Michael Gove. Or the grinch who stole your pension in the run up to Christmas?

The public supports the strike

Over 60% of the public supports industrial action set for this Wednesday across the UK. Will it make a difference in the government's position on public sector pensions? We will wait and see.

Journal of Moral Philosophy 8(4) (2011)

Special Issue on Just War Theory

Stephen R. Shalom, "Killing in War and Moral Equality"

Saba Bazargan, "The Permissibility of Aiding and Abetting Unjust Wars"

Helen Frowe, "Self-Defence and the Principle of Non-Combatant Immunity"

Gerhard Overland, "Dividing Harm"


Daniel M. Hausman and Matt Sensat Waldren, "Egalitarianism Reconsidered"

Edmund Wall, "The Real Direction of Dancy's Moral Particularlism"


Brandon Warmke, "Is Forgiveness the Deliberate Refusal to Punish?"

Review Article

Lorraine Besser-Jones, "Drawn to the Good? Brewer on Dialectical Activity"

Book Reviews

R. Zachary Manis on M. Jamie Ferreira, Kierkegaard

Ignasi Llobera on Nancy Snow, Virtue as Social Intelligence: An Empirically Grounded Theory

Jennifer Szende on Charles R. Beitz, The Idea of Human Rights

Jon Garthoff on Alex Voorhoeve, Conversations on Ethics

Anabella Zagura on Bennett W. Helm, Love, Friendship & the Self: Intimacy, Identification & the Social Nature of Persons

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Talks? What talks?

The government has claimed that it is still in negotiations with the unions in an effort to avoid major strikes across the UK this Wednesday. However, it has now been revealed that government leaders haven't met with union leaders since beginning of the month. You can fool some people some time . . .

Saturday, November 26, 2011

There is "no pot of gold" for teachers, but there are free Bibles for schools and an extra £1 billion "found"

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has said that teachers should not go on strike for two reasons:

1. Talks are still continuing. It is irresponsible to strike while negotiations are still ongoing.
2. There is "no pot of gold" and so no better deal on offer.

(In other words, we're still talking, but have nothing more to give so please don't strike.)

Schools may not get a better financial deal for teacher pensions, but Gove has decided to send each teacher -- not a better pension deal, but rather -- a new King James version of the Bible including a brief preface written by Gove to be funded by tax payers instead. The government -- now claiming there is "no pot of gold" -- did find an extra £1 billion to spend earlier this week (although we still await any details of how this was found or how it will be paid for).

This is what I will call "spray paint politics" (feel free to use it):

1. It is the politics of splattering the public with as many policy ideas as come to mind without genuine concern about consistency or coherence.

2. It is the politics of veneer: the wood may be the same, but perhaps a new shiny polish might make people believe something else. If money is so tight, then why produce new Bibles to be sent to all schools? If money is so tight, then how to explain the just found extra £1 billion (and is there more)?

Thom Brooks - "Capabilities"

. . . is now here on SSRN - and free to download. The essay is forthcoming in the International Encyclopedia of Ethics. An abstract:

Capabilities concern freedom and human dignity. A capability marks out an ability to do or be. If I possess a capability, then I have the ability to do an action (obtain food, speak freely, etc.) or to become a certain kind of person (self-directing, etc.). A capability is different from actual functioning because I may not choose to perform these actions or become these kinds of people. This approach offers a distinctive view about justice. Part of its focus is on freedom which takes the form of securing opportunities for persons to freely choose to satisfy capabilities. Another focus pertains to human dignity in that securing opportunities for capability satisfaction is thought to also best secure human dignity.

Thom Brooks - "Citizenship"

. . . is available on SSRN here (free to download) and forthcoming in the International Encyclopedia of Ethics. An abstract:

A citizen is a member of a political community, who normally enjoys the rights and often assumes the duties of citizenship. The problem is identifying what, if anything, is required to be a citizen. This entry will explain the ways in which citizenship has been understood and the normative questions arising from considering the moral and political relevance of different features for membership. There will also be attention given to leading debates on citizenship including whether the idea of citizenship has much currency.

Friday, November 25, 2011

MAs in Political Philosophy at the University of York

The Department of Politics at the University of York is now accepting applications to its long-established MA programmes in Political Philosophy and Political Philosophy (The Idea of Toleration). We typically welcome 20+ postgraduate students each year to read for these two interlinked programmes.

Our postgraduate students come from all over the world, as well as from a variety of institutions in the U.K. The size of our MA programme means that we always have a lively community of graduate students in political philosophy, with events such as the biweekly Morrell Political Theory Workshop providing a focus for staff and students working in the area.

We are a distinctively pluralistic department, which means that students on our MA degrees in Political Philosophy and Political Philosophy (The Idea of Toleration) have the opportunity to pursue a broad range of interests, from the history of early modern political thought, to contemporary liberal egalitarianism and philosophy of law, international political theory, recent European political thought, and democratic theory.

Students accepted to study for the MA in Political Philosophy (The Idea of Toleration) are eligible to apply for one of up to eight studentships generously funded by the C and JB Morrell Trust, which cover fees at the Home/EU rate, plus a £2000 contribution to living expenses.

Each year the Geoffrey Heselton Prize (worth £500) is awarded to the best dissertation written by a student on either of the programmes. There is a further prize for the student who produces the best work over the whole degree.

Previous graduates include many who have gone on to successful careers in academia, as well as high flyers in the world of business, the civil service, the media, NGOs, and a range of other careers.

Further details about these programmes, including profiles of previous students and information on the research interests of staff, is available here.

Studies in Global Justice and Human Rights book series

My new Studies in Global Justice and Human Rights book series with Edinburgh University Press is ready to launch with three forthcoming volumes and new website here (or Prospective authors are encouraged to contact me about their proposals.

A government with no money left miraculously finds an extra £1 billion

Details here. The British government has not yet confirmed how this extra £1 billion will be financed. This is the politics of bad timing: while meant to generate positive news headlines, there are national strikes taking place on Wednesday in reaction to the government's insistence that public sector pensions must be slashed because there's no money left. Some will argue that, if the government could so quickly find £1 billion announced today, this is evidence that public finances are not nearly as bad as the government claims and pension reform should not proceed in its current form.

New books in November

New books received this month include the following:

Richard, Avramenko, Courage: The Politics of Life and Limb. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011.

David William Bates, States of War: Enlightenment Origins of the Political. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.

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

Stephen Darwall, The Second-Person Standpoint: Morality, Respect and Accountability. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Ann Florini (ed.), The Right to Know: Transparency for an Open World. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Archon Fung, Mary Graham, and David Weil, Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promise of Transparency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Gina Gustavsson, Treacherous Liberties: Isaiah Berlin's Theory of Positive and Negative Freedom in Contemporary Political Culture. Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2011.

Tim Jackson, Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet. London: Earthscan, 2009.

E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. London: Vintage, [1973] 2011.

Friday humor

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"This [insert] is irresponsible and wrong"

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, has said these words inserting "strike" (as in "This strike is irresponsible and wrong"). Why? Because closed schools will lead to more parents taking the day off work and more people taking time off work will lead to less -- and I quote -- "output". So the problem with strikes at schools is effect on immediate economic figures (or so it seems) that have been a major problem for the government: the growing evidence is that their austerity measures have been a failure, and perhaps may lead to longterm economic damage. (If only their main worry about closed schools was related to education.)

At the same time, unions have argued that the government's pension reforms are "irresponsible and wrong". The government says that major costs will be incurred by tax payers as the government will have to bring in new staff resources to keep services open during the strike.

Of course, if the government is really worried about costs, then a clear solution is available: rethink their plans for public sector pension reforms. It is wrong to try to force through economic policies with long-term impact to address a short-term problem. The country seems ready to come to a halt next Wednesday. But will the voice of the people trump the government's embrace of an impractical and out-dated ideology? We will soo find out.

Net migration to the UK reaches record high

. . . under a Tory government despite their pledge to reduce immigration from the hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. Details here. One helpful way forward is to acknowledge the near impossibility of reaching their campaign target on immigration...and why this is no bad thing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing everyone a very Happy Turkey Day! If only it were easier to find pumpkin pie in the UK.....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

St Andrews Conservative Association members burn effigy of Barack Obama

The BBC has the story here.

Many thanks to Uppsala

My many thanks to Jörgen Ödalen and the University of Uppsala's Department of Government for hosting my recent visit. I had a wonderful and highly productive time!

Monday, November 21, 2011

CFP: Yale/UConn Graduate Philosophy Conference 2012

Yale/UConn Graduate Philosophy Conference 2012
April 27th-28th, Yale University

Keynote Speakers:
Robert Stalnaker (MIT)
Stephen Darwall (Yale)

Call for Papers

We invite graduate students to submit papers in any area of philosophy, including the history of philosophy, to the Yale/UConn Graduate Philosophy Conference 2012. The conference will be held on April 27th-28th at Yale University.

Papers should be no longer than 4,000 words, and should be suitable for a 30 minute presentation. They should be prepared for blind review and formatted as either .doc or .pdf files. A separate cover letter should contain author details (name, institutional affiliation, contact details), the paper title, a word count, and a brief abstract (no more than 300 words).

The submission deadline is February 1. Notification of decisions will be sent by March 1. Please send questions and submissions to  You can download our CFP here.

The Organizing Committee:
Alex Worsnip (Yale)
Jeremy Wyatt (UConn)
Jessie Munton (Yale)
Jonathan Phillips (Yale)

CFP: Princeton Graduate Conference in Political Theory

Graduate Conference in Political Theory

Princeton University

April 6-7, 2012

Call for Papers (deadline January 16, 2012)

The Committee for the Graduate Conference in Political Theory at Princeton University welcomes papers concerning any topic in political theory, political philosophy, or the history of political thought. Papers should be submitted via the conference website by January 16, 2012. Approximately eight papers will be accepted.

The Graduate Conference in Political Theory at Princeton University will be held from April 6-7, 2012. This year, we are excited to include Professor Elisabeth Ellis, Texas A&M University, as keynote speaker and conference participant.

The conference offers graduate students from across institutions a unique opportunity to present and critique new work. Each session, led by a discussant from Princeton, will focus exclusively on one paper and will feature an extensive question and answer period with Princeton faculty and graduate students. Papers will be pre-circulated among conference participants.

Submission Information:
· Due date January 16, 2012
· Submissions must be made in PDF format via the conference website:
· Papers should be no more than 7500 words.
· Format for blind review; include title but exclude all personal and institutional information.
· Submissions by email or postal mail will not be accepted.

Papers will be refereed on a blind basis by political theory graduate students in the Department of Politics at Princeton. Acceptance notices will be sent in February.

Assistance for invited participants' transportation, lodging and meal expenses is available from the committee, which acknowledges the generous support of University Center for Human Values and the Department of Politics at Princeton University.

Questions and comments can be directed to:

For more information, please visit the conference website at

If a picture says a thousand words....

Sunday, November 20, 2011

American exceptionalism

So do you think state violence against non-violent resistance was a thing of the past?

Read this - with video - about the recent police action at the University of California, Davis. I would expect much more to come in the aftermath. I will keep readers posted.

UPDATE: For those wondering if this gone "international," the answer is clearly "yes": see here for the BBC.

UPDATE 2: So anyone surprised that Tea Party protests met with no batons or pepper-spray, but that Wall Street Occupiers and sympathizers are met with violence?

Do say: "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Don't say: "Culture war, part II."

Bernard Williams, Republicanism, and the Liberalism of Fear

. . . is the title of my recent essay in the new journal Theoretical and Applied Ethics (in a special issue on the moral philosophy of Bernard Williams).

The paper can be downloaded here -- and it is free to download. Plus, there is a reply by Robert Talisse in the same issue and a piece by Jonathan Dancy.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Which way?

Signs found on building wall in Uppsala, Sweden (outside the Cathedral) . . .

Rethinking Remedial Responsibilities

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.

Direct link is here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Paul Benneworth on Dutch lessons for the UK's impact agenda

. . . found in the Times Higher here. Brilliant analysis and highly recommended.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thanks to Groningen

My sincere thanks to colleagues in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Groningen for hosting my visit over the past few days. I received excellent feedback and enjoyed rich discussions of new papers on the subjects of ethics and climate change, as well as on the capabilities approach and political liberalism. A terrific group of philosophers in a wonderful city.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Will of the Markets, Not the People

The BBC reports today that there are NO politicians named in Italy's cabinet: it is a government of "technocrats" (details found here). The reason? The need to give "the markets" greater "confidence" that Italy will tackle its debt problems. Many argue that bankers got us into a mess. Now we shall see if they can get Italy out of it.

University of Oslo - new posts available

I have had the great pleasure of visiting the University of Oslo (and its Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature) on several occasions over the past few years. It is an excellent university with a terrific group of philosophers and political theorists in one of my favourite cities. I cannot recommend highly enough the currently advertised posts at Oslo:


Application Deadline: 10 January, 2012

More information at:

4 posts of Doctoral Research Fellowships (SKO 1017) are vacant at the Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature (CSMN) at the University of Oslo (UiO). The research activities at CSMN are organized in three branches: Linguistic Agency, Moral Agency and Rational Agency. CSMN is looking for ph.d. fellows to work within the research profile of the centre. More information about CSMN is available at .

Succesful candidates must participate in the Faculty of Humanities' researcher education program (cf. regulations and supplementary provisions for the faculty’s researcher education) and must also engage in the designated research activities on a 100 percent basis.

The person who is appointed will be enrolled in the Faculty’s organised researcher training. The academic study will terminate in a doctoral thesis which will be defended at the Faculty, leading to a PhD-degree.

The candidates will be expected to have their residence and work place in Oslo, to participate in the various workshops and conferences organized by CSMN, and to be active members of the CSMN team in Oslo.

There is an agreement between the University of St. Andrews and the University of Oslo for a “joint ph.d. degree” (double BADGED), and successful candidates can apply for this.

The posts are available for a period of three years starting 1st of August 2012, or as soon as possible thereafter. (Currently, ph.d. fellows who successfully submit their thesis within the three years period, are granted an additional fellowship year with some teaching duties).

• A Master degree in Philosophy or in a discipline related to CSMN's work (at the date of employment), and a project for doctoral dissertation in a specific area of CSMN's research.
• Good English language skills are required.

Qualifications and Personal Skills
• In assessing the applications, special emphasis will be placed on the quality of the project description and on the academic and personal ability on the part of the candidates to complete the dissertation within the given time frame.
• The candidate must demonstrate good cooperative skills, and the ability to successfully join in academic partnerships across disciplines.

We offer
salary level 48 - 52 (NOK 391 300 - 418 300, = c. USD 68 000 to 72 500 on current exchange rate, depending on level of expertise)• academically stimulating working environment
• attractive welfare arrangements

Applicants must submit the following attachments with the electronic application, preferably in pdf format:
• letter of application describing qualifications (maximum 2 pages)
• project description, including a detailed progress plan for the project (maximum 1000 words)
• Writing example (maximum 4000 words)
• Curriculum Vitae including grades and a list of publications
• names and contact details of two references (name, relation to candidate, e-mail and telephone)

Please note that all documents should be in English.

Educational certificates, master theses and the like are not to be submitted with the application, but applicants may be asked to submit such information or works later.

The short-listed candidates will be called for an interview at the University of Oslo or we will arrange for an interview on Skype.

The University of Oslo aims to achieve a balanced gender composition in the workforce and to recruit people with ethnic minority backgrounds.

For more details, contact info and link to electronic application system, go to:

Application Deadline: 10 January, 2012
More information at:

3-5 posts of Post-Doctoral Research Fellowships (SKO 1352) are vacant at the Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature (CSMN) at the University of Oslo (UiO).

The research activities at CSMN are organized in three branches: Linguistic Agency, Moral Agency and Rational Agency. CSMN is looking for post-doctoral fellows to work within the research profile of the centre. More information about CSMN is available at .

The candidates will be expected to have their residence and work place in Oslo, to participate in the various workshops and conferences organized by CSMN, and to be active members of the CSMN team in Oslo.

The posts are available for a period of three years starting 1st of August 2012, or as soon as possible thereafter. There is a 10% duty component devoted to teaching. Funding for an additional Post-Doctoral fellowship for a two years duration may be available.

The main purpose of post-doctoral research fellowships is to qualify researchers for work in higher academic positions within their disciplines.


- A Ph.d. in philosophy or another relevant background (dissertation should be successfully defended by the start of contract).
- Good English language skills are required.

Qualifications and Personal skills

We are looking for strongly motivated, competent and internationally oriented candidates, with high academic qualifications in the relevant area of research. In assessing the applications, special emphasis will be placed on the quality of the project description, the candidates’ international experience and network, and on the assumed academic and personal ability on the part of the candidates to complete the project within the given time frame. Personal suitability and co-operation skills will receive special attention in the selection process.

We offer

- salary level 57 - 64 (NOK 455 900 - 518 800, = c. USD 79 500 to 90 000, depending on level of expertise)- a challenging and stimulating working environment
- attractive welfare arrangements


Applicants must submit the following attachments with the electronic application, preferably in pdf format:

- letter of application with an expression of interest and specification of the branch(es) of CSMN to which the project applies
- project description (maximum 1 500 words) (the project description must clarify how the applicant will approach the post-doctoral project theme theoretically and methodically, and render evidence that the project will be completed within the given time frame)
- Writing example (around 7000 words)
- Curriculum Vitae including list of publications
- two letters of reference should be sent separately to Gyda Dobloug,
University of Oslo, HF, Postboks 1020 Blindern, 0315 OSLO, Norway, within the closing day for applications.

Please note that all documents should be in English.

Short-listed applicants will be invited for an interview at the University of Oslo.

The University of Oslo aims to achieve a balanced gender composition in the workforce and to recruit people with ethnic minority backgrounds.

For more details, contact info and link to electronic application system, go to:

Ban smoking in cars

. . . is the latest recommendation from the British Medical Association (more details here). The proposal is justified on similar grounds to the ban on smoking in public (e.g., the potential harm to the health of other non-smokers). On the one hand, toxins related to smoking may be many times higher than a smoke-filled bar. On the other hand, there appears little consideration of the question of whether non-smoking passengers might consent to others smoking.

Whatever the general merits of the proposal, I suspect this recommendation will receive attention but not become law.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Travel news

A brief note to say that I expect to blog less than normal over the next week. My schedule is fairly hectic: Newcastle to Amsterdam to Groningen to Utrecht to Leiden to Amsterdam to Stockholm to Uppsala to Stockholm to Duesseldorf to Newcastle (and then rest) for what will be a busy tour with philosophy talks and meetings. I will post where I can (and not least to thank the generous hospitality of my hosts) with new papers to follow.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Another amazing resource on philosophy events found here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thom Brooks - "Mention of the Big Society is a Big Worry"

. . . first published in The Journal (Newcastle) in June. Full link here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] News spread fast in academic circles. I launched a campaign to have the Big Society removed from the AHRC delivery plan with immediate effect. The campaign has been supported by 4,000 academics including Fellows of the British Academy The British Academy is the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and the social sciences. It was established by Royal Charter in 1902, and is a fellowship of more than 800 scholars. The Academy is self-governing and independent. and Royal Society. It has received further support from over 30 learned societies and the University and College Union. Even the Universities Minister, the Rt Hon David Willetts, recently spoke of the "hazard" of including political campaign slogans in delivery plans.

The story has received national and international support as well as media coverage. Still the AHRC has refused to make any concessions to the widespread cross-disciplinary support for change that transcends political divisions. This issue is highly important and it is a position of principle, not politics: political campaign slogans have no place in determining strategic research funding priorities. This is as true for the arts and humanities as it is for any other area of research.

I remain hopeful that continued public support for this principle will lead to the AHRC making the right decision and removing the Big Society from its delivery plan without further delay. [. . .]"

The Purple Book arrives in Newcastle

British readers may know about the "Red Toryism" of Phillip Blond, the "Blue Labour" of Maurice Glasman, but there is also The Purple Book, a collection of essays on the future of New Labour post-Brown, an initiative of Progress. Authors include Danny Alexander MP, Liam Byrne MP, Jenny Chapman MP, (Lord) Peter Mandelson, Rachel Reeves MP, Tristram Hunt MP, and many others.

Progress has led a book tour and open debate on the policy recommendations in The Purple Book. Tonight the tour comes to Newcastle upon Tyne and I'm looking forward to it. Speakers include Jenny Chapman MP, Julie Elliott MP, Cllr Patrick Diamond, and Cllr Michael Johnson.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

House of Commons Committee believes UK higher education reforms should be delayed

Details here. Doubtful whether BIS will amend its proposals in response.

Why America needs its Department of Education

Perhaps Rick Perry would remember his central policies much better if he took education more seriously...

Ralph Wedgwood on the Doctrine of Double Effect

. . .  can be found here in Ratio (subscribers-only). An excerpt:

"This essay defends a version of the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) – the doctrine that there is normally a stronger reason against an act that has a bad state of affairs as one of its intended effects than against an otherwise similar act that has that bad state of affairs as an unintended effect. First, a precise account of this version of the DDE is given. Secondly, some suggestions are made about why we should believe the DDE, and about why it is true. Finally, a solution is developed to the so-called ‘closeness problem’ that any version of the DDE must face."

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Politicisation of Higher Education - Question Time

"The Politicisation of Higher Education" -- The House of Commons, Westminster
5 December 2011 -- 1-5pm

What’s the future for the finest collection of universities in the world? How did we get to a stage where so many of them are now unsure of even their short-term future? Is higher education in England and Wales heading for meltdown? Or is there a more positive alternative to the government’s policies? There will be two 90 minute ‘Question Time’ sessions:

Session 1 -- ‘The Changing Nature of Higher Education’
Session 2 -- ‘Is There Really No Alternative?’

Our specially invited panellists, including leading politicians, journalists and academics, will speak briefly before questions from the floor. The event is hosted by the Media and Politics Group, a Political Studies Association-funded group.

Speakers include:

Adrian Bailey MP
Laurie Penny, New Statesman
Thom Brooks, Newcastle University
Natalie Fenton, HE White Paper Critic; Open Democracy
Des Freedman, Manifesto For Resistance
Maeve McKeown, UCL occupation student
Richard Scullion, author: Marketisation of Higher Education
John Holmwood, Campaign for Public University

Attendance is free but registration is needed. Please register at

The Top 20 departments in political philosophy`

. . .  with a great result for Arizona. The list can be found on the Leiter Reports.

Group 1 (1): rounded mean of 4.5 (median, mode)

University of Arizona (4.5, 4.5)

Group 2 (2-9): rounded mean of 4.0 (median, mode)

Brown University (4, 4)
Duke University (4, 4)
Harvard University (4.25, 5)
New York University (4.5, 4.5)
Oxford University (4, 5)
Princeton University (4, 4)
Stanford University (4, 4)
Yale University (4, 4)

Group 3 (10-20): rounded mean of 3.5 (median, mode)

Australian National University (3.5, 4)
Queen’s University (Canada) (3.5, 4)
Rutgers University, New Brunswick (3.5, 3.75)
University College London (3.5, 3.5)
University of California, San Diego (4, 4)
University of Chicago (3.5, 3.5)
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (4, 4)
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (4, 4)
University of Pennsylvania (3.5, 3.5)
University of Toronto (3.5, 4)
University of Virginia (4, 4)

Evaluators: Marcia Baron, Christopher Bertram, Cristina Bicchieri, Brian Bix, Chris Bobonich, James Bohman, Samantha Brennan, David Brink, Allen Buchanan, Roger Crisp, John Deigh, Julia Driver, Gerald Dworkin, William Edmundson, David Enoch, David Estlund, Gordon Finlayson, Marilyn Friedman, John, Gardner, Gerald Gaus, Michael Giudice, Leslie J. Green, Brad Hooker, Shelly Kagan, Matthew Kramer, Jefferson McMahan, Lionel McPherson, Christopher Morris, Alastair Norcross, Calvin Normore, Brian O'Connor, Mathias Risse, Michael Rosen, G. Sayre-McCord, David Schmidtz, Stefan Sciaraffa, Tommie Shelby, John Simmons, Wayne Sumner, Robert Talisse, John Tasioulas, Larry Temkin, Peter Vallentyne, Wil Waluchow, Georgia Warnke, Paul Weithman, Jonathan Wolff

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Ideas on the 3rd Floor: Punishment - Should we lock ‘em up?

The general announcement is:

Tuesday 29 November 2011, 5.30pm - 7pm
IPPR North offices, 3rd Floor
20 Collingwood Street
Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 1JF

Thom Brooks will explore questions such as: how do we decide what should be crimes? How do we decide when someone is responsible for a crime? What should we do with criminals? Rick Muir will respond to Thom's argument and will explore how ‘justice reinvestment’ could more effectively rehabilitate offenders.

This event is part of the Ideas on the 3rd Floor programme, which is a series of in-house events on a wide range of topics within politics, culture and society designed to bring the freshest ideas and the most interesting thinkers to Newcastle for intelligent debate of some of today’s most pressing social challenges.

To book a place at this event, please email

Monday, November 07, 2011

More concerns raised on UK higher education policy

Details here. Further evidence that reforms for next year were rushed too quickly. It is striking that not only are future reforms not part of either coalition partner's election manifesto, but that these reforms are also counter to the Browne Report on higher education.

The big worry is that the new reforms represent a fundamental change in how higher education will be funded in future. This potentially permanent change is premised on the need to make short term cuts -- and it is an open question whether short term pressures should lead to permanent reforms like these.

Association for Political Thought (UK & Ireland) elections

The Association for Political Thought (UK & Ireland) has three (of six) elected positions open with Thom Brooks (Secretary), Duncan Kelly, and Aletta Norval stepping down. Remaining members include:

* Richard Bellamy (Chair)
* Elizabeth Frazer (Treasurer)
* Jeremy Jennings, plus ex officio members:

* a representative of the Ireland Association for Political Thought (currently Iseult Honohan)
* the convenor of the Oxford Conference (Iain Hampshire-Monk)
* a representative of the Manchester Political Theory Workshops (now run by MANCEPT).

We can also co-opt up to two members, and the Committee wish to co-opt Aletta Norval, who provides support for the e mail list via Essex and also represents the growing number of graduate political theory conferences, of which Essex is perhaps the longest running. We are also proposing to amend the constitution to allow us to also have as ex-officio members Tim Hayward as the convenor of PTEL and the convenor of the PSA Political thought Standing Group (currently Evangelia Sembou).

Please send all nominations - proposed and seconded by at least two members of BI APT - to the outgoing Secretary Thom Brooks , who will be acting as returning officer. The elections, if necessary, as well as the proposals for an amendment to the Constitution, will take place at the Oxford Political Thought Conference 4-4.30 Friday 6 January. Members of the Association unable to attend will be able to vote electronically. We will notify members of suitable arrangements should they be necessary.

Nominations should be sent to me by 21st December.

Henry Richardson on the recent literature on John Rawls's philosophy

. . . can be found in a wonderful review article here in the Journal of Ethics (subscribers-only). An abstract:

"This review essay on three recent books on John Rawls’s theory of justice, by Catherine Audard, Samuel Freeman, and Thomas Pogge, describes the great boon they offer serious students of Rawls. They form a united front in firmly and definitively rebuffing Robert Nozick’s libertarian critique, Michael Sandel’s communitarian critique, and more generally critiques of “neutralist liberalism,” as well as in affirming the basic unity of Rawls’s position. At a deeper level, however, they diverge, and in ways that, this essay suggests, go astray on subtle questions of interpretation: Freeman overemphasizes reciprocity, Pogge miscasts Rawls as a consequentialist, and Audard exaggerates the Kantian aspect of Rawls’s core, continuing commitment to “doctrinal autonomy.”"

Friday, November 04, 2011

Thom Brooks (ed.), Ethics and Moral Philosophy

I have just received my copy of the following:

Thom Brooks (ed.), Ethics and Moral Philosophy. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011. The publisher's website is here and it's now on and (go on and ask a journal to review it for a free copy...). 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.

Rethinking the balance between research and teaching

. . . is the topic of today's discussion later today via The Guardian. I will be on the panel and looking forward to the debate.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The moral philosophy conference of the year award

. . . goes to the following:

The NYU Center for Bioethics, Duke Kenan Institute for Ethics, Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies present a two-part conference on the Moral Brain.

Date: Friday, March 30th – Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Location: New York University, WSQ Campus, Room TBA

RSVP Required:

Part I: “The Significance of Neuroscience for Morality: Lessons from a Decade of Research”Organized by the NYU Center for Bioethics in collaboration with the Duke Kenan Institute for Ethics

It has been a decade since the first brain imaging studies of moral judgments by Joshua Greene, Jorge Moll and their colleagues were reported. During this time, there have been rich philosophical and scientific discussions regarding a) whether brain imaging data can tell us anything about moral judgments, and b) what they do tell us if they can tell us something about moral judgments. In this workshop, we aim to bring leading philosophers, neuroscientists, and psychologists in this area together to examine these issues and to explore the future directions of this research.

Opening Remarks:
Thomas Carew, Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science, New York University

James Blair, Chief of the Unit on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience at NIMH
Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology, Yale University
Molly Crockett, Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow, Laboratory of Social & Nueral Systems Research, Department of Economics, University of Zurich
Tamar Gendler, Professor of Philosophy, Yale University
Joshua Greene, John & Ruth Hazel Associate Professor of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology, Harvard University
Jonathan Haidt, Professor in the Social Psychology, University of Virginia
Guy Kahane, Deputy Director & Research Fellow, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford
S. Matthew Liao, Associate Director & Associate Professor, Center for Bioethics; Affiliated Professor of Philosophy, New York University
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Chauncey Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics, Department of Philosophy & Kenan Institute for Ethics, Duke University
James Woodward, Distinguished Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh
Liane Young, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Boston College

Part II: "Can Moral Behavior be Improved or Enhanced?"
Organized by the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics and the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies. Hosted by the NYU Center for Bioethics.
Should the research on moral psychology be interpreted as suggesting new approaches for improving, or perhaps enhancing, moral intuitions, attitudes, judgments, and behavior or for reforming social institutions? Can we create more effective educational tools for improving moral development? For the last century psychiatry has attempted to medicalize moral failings - lack of self-control, addiction, anger, impatience, fear. But what of engineering ourselves to higher states of virtue? If the enhancement of morality is possible, which virtues or cognitive capabilities will it be safe to enhance and how? What might be the unanticipated side effects of attempts to enhance moral behavior?

Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology, Yale University
William Casebeer, Intelligence Officer & Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Airforce, Former Associate Professor of Philosophy at U.S. Air Force Academy
Molly Crockett, Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow, Laboratory of Social & Nueral Systems Research, Department of Economics, University of Zurich
James Giordano, Director of the Center for Neurotechnology Studies & Vice President for Academic Programs at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies
Joshua Greene, John & Ruth Hazel Associate Professor of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology, Harvard University
James Hughes, Executive Director, Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies; Director, Institutional Research & Planning, Trinity College
Fabrice Jotterand, Assistant Professor, Clinical Sciences & Psychiatry, Southwestern Medical Center, University of Texas
William Kabasenche, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Washington State University
Joshua Knobe, Associate Professor, Program in Cognitive Science & Department of Philosophy, Yale University
Andrea Kuszewski, Affiliate Scholar of the IEET; Researcher, METODO Social Sciences Institute
S. Matthew Liao, Associate Director & Associate Professor, Center for Bioethics; Affiliated Professor of Philosophy, New York University
Maxwell Mehlman, Professor of Bioethics & Law, Case Western Reserve University
Geoffrey Miller, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of New Mexico
Anna Pacholczyk
Ingmar Persson, Professor of Practical Philosophy, University of Gothenburg; Research Fellow, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford
Erik Parens, Senior Research Scholar, The Hasting Center
Martine Rothblatt, charter member of IEET Board of Trustees
Jonathan Shook
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Chauncey Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics, Department of Philosophy & Kenan Institute for Ethics, Duke University
Wendell Wallach, Scholar & Lecturer, Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, Yale University

For more information:
Contact the NYU Center for Bioethics at or visit
Please check back at a later date for more details.

Sector says "no" to compulsory lecturing training proposed by HEA

Details here from the Times Higher Education. Unsurprising news for active university academics.

Inequality and Democratic Responsiveness

. . . is the title of an excellent article by Martin Gilens in Public Opinion Quarterly (subscribers-only) found here. The abstract:

"By allowing voters to choose among candidates with competing policy orientations and by providing incentives for incumbents to shape policy in the direction the public desires, elections are thought to provide the foundation that links government policy to the preferences of the governed. In this article I examine the extent to which the preference/policy link is biased toward the preferences of high-income Americans. Using an original data set of almost two thousand survey questions on proposed policy changes between 1981 and 2002, I find a moderately strong relationship between what the public wants and what the government does, albeit with a strong bias toward the status quo. But I also find that when Americans with different income levels differ in their policy preferences, actual policy outcomes strongly reflect the preferences of the most affluent but bear virtually no relationship to the preferences of poor or middle-income Americans. The vast discrepancy I find in government responsiveness to citizens with different incomes stands in stark contrast to the ideal of political equality that Americans hold dear. Although perfect political equality is an unrealistic goal, representational biases of this magnitude call into question the very democratic character of our society."

Expertise and the Ideological Consequences of the Authoritarian Predisposition

. . . is the title of a recommended new essay by Christopher Federico, Emily Fisher, and Grace Deason in Public Opinion Quarterly (subscribers-only) found here. The abstract:

"Research on the basis of political ideology indicates that psychological variables influence ideological positions. In particular, the role of authoritarianism is of long-standing interest to political scholars. This article looks at how political expertise conditions the ideological implications of the authoritarian predisposition. Although theories of authoritarianism imply that it is a constraint mechanism for the uninformed, research on the role of expertise in the formation of ideology suggests otherwise. In line with this, examination of the 2000 and 2004 American National Election Studies revealed that the relation between the authoritarian predisposition and conservatism was stronger among experts; that relations between the authoritarian predisposition and two components of conservatism—opposition to equality and support for traditionalism—were also stronger among experts; and that the tendency for the authoritarian predisposition to be more strongly related to traditionalism than opposition to equality was stronger among experts as well. These findings suggest that the linkage between authoritarianism and ideology is contingent on one’s understanding of politics and indicate the need for a more nuanced understanding of what expertise contributes to democratic citizenship."

Is he a professor - or is he a hobo?

The new quiz that everyone is talking about. Take it here.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Journal of Moral Philosophy 8(3) (2011)

The Journal of Moral Philosophy
volume 8, number 3 (2011)

Publisher's Note

Notes on Contributors


Paula Casal, "Global Taxes on Natural Resources"

Hillel Steiner, "The Global Fund: A Reply to Casal"

Thomas Pogge, "Allowing the Poor to Share the Earth"

Paula Casal, "Rejoinder to Pogge and Steiner"

Kevin Vallier, "Against Public Reason Liberalism's Accessibility Requirement"

Dominic Wilkinson, "Should We Replace Disabed Newborn Infants?"

Mikhail Valdman, "Autonomy, History, and the Origins of Our Desires"

Daniel Statman, "Can Wars Be Fought Justly? The Necessity Condition Put to the Test"


Christopher Toner, "The Virtues (and a Few Vices) of Daniel Russell's Practical Intelligence and the Virtues"


T. M. Wilkinson on Shlomi Segall, Health, Luck, and Justice

Ben Saunders on Fabienne Peter, Democratic Legitimacy

John Hare on Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Morality Without God?

Henry R. West on Wendy Donner and Richard Fumerton, Mill

Full contents of the above articles can be found on IngentaConnect or Swestwise.

Rethinking the balance between teaching and research

I am really looking forward to taking part in this debate hosted by The Guardian on Friday. Interested readers should check in between 12 noon until 2 pm.

CFP: Alcohol, Public Policy, and Social Science


Special Issue of Contemporary Social Science

Alcohol, Public Policy, and Social Science

Alcohol has been a part of most human societies since civilization began. Yet, their relation has been far from unproblematic with several attempts at regulation and even prohibition.

This special issue will highlight the rich interdisciplinary social science research on alcohol and public policy. We welcome original articles from a range of different perspectives exploring all relevant areas of alcohol, public policy, and social science including case studies and critical reviews on topics such as alcoholism; the economics of alcohol (including marketing and taxation); feminist approaches to alcohol; homelessness and alcohol; public disorder, public drunkenness, and violence; and youth and alcohol.

Manuscripts should follow the usual instructions for electronic submission of papers to Contemporary Social Science. Authors should indicate that they wish the manuscript to be reviewed for inclusion in the special issue. The Editors of this issue would be happy to review plans for papers in advance of their receipt. All papers will be peer reviewed. The closing date for submitting papers is 30th April 2012. The corresponding Special Editor for this issue is:

Dr Thom Brooks
Department of Politics
Newcastle University
Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU
United Kingdom

Corresponding Email:

NOTE: The journal Contemporary Social Science is published by the Academy of Social Sciences and Routledge now in its sixth volume.

Why "academies" are a bad idea

In the UK, there has been increasing pressure on head teachers in primary and secondary schools to turn their schools into "academies". The idea is that schools are currently bound by too many regulations and red tape, lacking the competitive independence that they need to bring out the best in their students. Education for students would be improved if schools had more resources to improve local conditions where seen fit.

There are incentives to join in. For one, there is strong ministerial backing very keen to make education reform a big success of the coalition government. For another, schools have access to better funding with fewer strings attached: schools can use this to improve local pay or make upgrades.

But all things come at a cost. Where is the money coming from? Well, the money is meant to replace money that would otherwise go to local councils to provide x number of services for schools. Instead of funding a council so it could provide a set number of services to its local schools, this funding is being cut from councils and redirected to schools. Some critics have said it is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. So there is no new funding, but redirecting funding from one body to the other.

The attractions are several. It is supported by the coalition government, but an idea originally introduced by Labour - so there has been cross-party support. Plus, everyone likes slogans such as "more responsibility to schools" and "greater autonomy" etc.

There are several problems - and I believe these problems outweigh the initial attractions. Academies are bad economics. Consider the fact a school will require insurance, legal advice, etc. These services have a cost - call it x. A school would receive services up to cost x from a council. A school that turns into an academy receives the same amount - x - to pay for the same services. The first impression is that academy funding is a sleight of hand: the school receives x to cover services whether or not it is an academy.

The argument for becoming an academy is a combination of greater control and greater resources. The school still receives x, but not the school receives this funding directly. (Previously, the cost of services was paid directly to a local council so a school received this funding indirectly.) So a school may think it is earning more because last year it received y but post-academy status it receives y + x -- however, the direct payment of x merely covers the cost of support formerly paid to its council for the same support. Whether or not a particular school spending x (rather than the council spending x) will get services for less than before is the big claim of the government. But it's difficult to see how this would work.

If we each individually purchase some service it will cost more than if we were to join forces and combine resources and/or buy in bulk. Coming together can lead to greater efficiencies in the distribution of labour and improved services. Academies turn this on its head. Each school no longer benefits from a council's shared support team, but now must pay for services individually perhaps through the private sector. Working individually, academies are more likely to have to pay more for the same services than before.

There are further issues. An academy lacks the full cover of resources and support a council might offer. What if there is a legal or insurance-related problem at school? What if schools go into debt? Previously, a council could offer support and assistance, but not anymore. Not only might academy status lead to schools paying more for the services they currently enjoy, but academy status may even then make it more likely we will see schools close. Progress? Hardly.

So why would government push for these reforms? One idea is that they want to break the unions. Academies will be able to offer local pay conditions and so erode national bargaining. Teachers will find it more difficult to go on strike. Paradoxically, the government's argument for academies (e.g., greater responsibility) includes the fact that academics may be more easily controlled.

The push for academies is driven by ideology, not economics. It is about creating an ideological vision about education that runs counter to the goals of self-sufficiency, competition, and good economics. Time will tell.

UPDATE: I'm delighted to see that this post has been picked up by The Guardian's cribsheet.

"Greece offers to repay bailout with giant horse"

See here for details!

Retributivist Arguments against Capital Punishment

Retributivism has been a tough nut to crack for those interested in promoting the need to end capital punishment. Other theories of punishment are more straightforward: you need only convince deterrence-proponents that the death penalty does not deter or convince others it does not helpfully rehabilitate or provide for 'restoration', etc. But what to do if you accept the general premises of retributivism? If a person has desert in relation to his (moral) responsibility for murder, then how might you convince a retributivist that s/he should oppose capital punishment even if you held further that death could be 'in proportion'?

There have been past attempts at this issue and the general strategy -- used by Daniel McDermott and Stephen Nathanson -- is to argue that to deserve punishment is to be subject to a just distribution. Thus, if there is disparities in the just distribution of capital punishment, then it should be abolished. My counter objection is that this is not a retributivist argument, but an argument about distribution (and not desert). Retributivists could counter that perhaps there is racial disparity in distribution, but then we need to end the disparity: one way might be to end capital punishment, but another might be to use it more consistently (and perhaps more often). If you believed death was a proportionate punishment, then you might argue we should work more to ensure fair distribution to all deserving.

I have tried to argue for a new view in my published work, such as "Retributivist Arguments against Capital Punishment" (in Journal of Social Philosophy) and "Retributivism and Capital Punishment" (in Retributivism (OUP, 2011)). My argument centres on desert-based reasons for why a retributivist should oppose the death penalty.

I note the background because I've become alerted to a few excellent blog posts examining my positions on capital punishment that can be found here and here that I recommend for readers with interests in this subject area. I welcome all comments on the matter -- and hope that readers will be convinced by my arguments, but I'm very open to refining my position further!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Philosophers' Carnival

. . . is here.

The latest on immigration policy and the UK

Matt Cavanaugh has written a well argued report on the government's problematic immigration policy. (The report is also discussed by The Guardian here.) The report is summarised in Matt's essay at the New Statesman.

The government is committed to a big reduction (ca. 100,000) in net migration by the next general election. One key plank has been a major reduction in student visas for non-EU students. This is a lucrative market with major benefits - both economic, cultural, and intellectual - for the higher education sector. Most non-EU students were found to return to their home countries after completing their studies as well. But reducing student visas is easy. The government may not be able to control how many from the EU enter the UK, but they can control these numbers on students and they have. The political decision was made: it was better to suffer the negative economic effects and damage to the higher education sector than to see "not enough" (to who?) done on immigration - and so non-EU student visas got the chop to the tune of about 75,000 (in figures I've seen).

A second key plank is reforming the terms by which temporary non-EU workers in the UK may apply to become permanent residents and even citizens. The big idea is that five year temporary work visas for non-EU workers will remain available, but workers will be expected to leave when this period is over. The present situation is that non-EU workers can either (a) apply to renew their temporary visa for a further period of time or (b) apply for a permanent work visa (or "Indefinite Leave to Remain"). (You may apply for citizenship one year after gaining ILR.)

Matt Cavanaugh's critique is excellent and thorough - and I highly recommend readers read the above noted report. He raises several important points - not least that the majority of economic migrants return to their home countries anyway. Some may worry that increasing net migration will lead to the UK becoming "overpopulated" in decades to come, but this worry is ill founded when you look at the long term facts, namely, most will return home. In raising barriers, the UK becomes nothing more than a less desirable place for ambitious, highly skilled migrant workers to come for work and they will choose to bring their skills and international contacts elsewhere. This will not benefit the UK's relative competitive advantage, but instead put the UK at a possible disadvantage. This cannot be a good long term strategy and so the policy should be redrawn.

There is more that can be said. Few acknowledge the further facts that the fees for non-EU immigrants are not inexpensive. It may surprise readers to know the fees -- once often free or virtually free -- have risen to hundreds of pounds and more. For example, the Indefinite Leave to Remain visa application costs over £1,100 . . . after you have already paid for a temporary visa and proven you have lived in the country without taking benefits for a period of not less than five years. The citizenship application + processing fees come to just under another £900. These fees do not include the original visa fees nor the fee to sit the citizenship test (which many fail and must retake).

It may be further surprising for readers to know that I became a UK citizen as fast as I could . . . and I only became a UK citizen last month. I originally came to the UK (after two years in Ireland) in 2001. So 10+ years. I had to prove I was never on public benefits, never bankrupt, no (spent or unspent) criminal convictions - I even had to prove I had no points on my driver's licence. Oh, and that I passed the citizenship test. Plus, about £2,000+ in fees and paying tax (without any recourse to benefits) all this time. (Don't say: no taxation without representation.)

If I knew the hurdles I would have faced, then I'm unsure whether I would have moved in the first place. I know this is a view shared by many other colleagues. My worry is that the government - in enacting a policy designed to reduce 40,000 to about 1,000 - will do far more damage than good.

So what do we need? We need a commission to investigate the full picture and examine both the public anxiety, the economic and social benefit case, and provide some objective steer to politicians - on a difficult political issue - with clear, broad recommendations that will command broad support. The time is now.

UPDATE: I also recommend this excellent thread at Crooked Timber on this issue.

"Caesarians for all!"

The Tory-led government is proposing the idea that Caesarians become a right. In other words, women will have a choice on whether or not to undergo a Caesarian.

Readers may wonder what has led the government to take this shift in policy: is their new evidence at hand or petitions demanding reform?

While it has been argued that the procedure has become more safe in recent years, I would guess that the true reason for the shift in policy is an attempt to attract more support amongst women. Support amongst women for the Conservative Party has been reaching new lows and there had been much talk about more "women-friendly" policies to improve support. The big idea coming out of these meetings seems to be Caesarians for all! We've seen worse ideas before, but probably not the one big idea I would have advised in similar circumstances . . . not that I oppose this plan (which is why I say we've seem worse ideas before).

The challenge for the Tories is (a) to see whether this improves support amongst women and (b) to see whether they have any other ideas One idea does not forever improve party fortunes: there is a need for a platform supported by ideas. We have yet to see what this platform looks like.

The UK summer riots and criminality

The UK's summer riots this past August which started in London has attracted much comment and analysis. A common remark is that previously convicted criminals were largely to blame.

This is a convenient political cover for at least two reasons:

1. It is easier to get data to support the analysis.
The police have access to technologies that assist in facial recognition of persons in crowds. Of course, - in order to be recognised - you must be somewhere on the system first. Non-criminals without any past record would be less likely to identified either through the use of technology or by police looking over scanned images. In fact, it would probably be surprising - given the numbers of people involved in the riots - if the great majority arrested and convicted lacked convictions. This is because those with previous convictions are easy to pick out and not because they were a majority.

2. It is easier to shift the blame.
If the problem is general criminality (and inherited criminality), then the government can try to claim they were not at fault.


3. The data is incomplete.
There have been several figures offered on how many took part in the riots. According to most figures I have seen, the great majority of those involved in the riots have not been arrested nor convicted. If the great majority involved are persons generally unknown, then we only know something about that smaller set of persons who have been arrested and convicted: our judgements based on such information are liable to offer a misleading picture as a result. Perhaps most convicted had previous convictions, but why think that this must also be true of most others (others who are "unknown")? It makes far more sense to take the view that the reason why the majority convicted have been found to have previous convictions because those with previous convictions are already known and easier to identify. When the government claims that most involved in the riots had past convictions, they really mean that persons with past convictions were easier to find, but we don't know the full picture until far more involved are identified.

4. Will it matter?
I doubt many will pay much attention to this except for police officers, criminologists and anyone with a serious interest in this issue at the Home Office. Politicians should always know that there is (a) what you say to communicate your message and (b) what you do to better prepare for future events. We have had (a), but now time to turn to (b). One worry is that the government will believe its own message and think that it has "dealt" with the problem, but I suspect it is long from over both in terms of identifying others involved and also addressing the original situation - and context - that have rise to the riots in the first place.

Problems seek solutions, and few come quickly.

What a difference a day makes: the problems affecting children born in August

. . . are detailed here and worrying. An excerpt:

"[. . .] Researchers say that August-born seven-year-olds are between 2.5 and 3.5 times "more likely to be regarded as below average by their teachers in reading, writing and maths". They are also 2.5 times more likely to be unhappy at school at the age of seven and at an increased risk of being bullied. This reflects that these August children can be almost a year younger than their September-born classmates.

This age gap has not been closed by the time youngsters are ready to leave secondary schools - with August-born teenagers 20% more likely to be in vocational rather than academic study after school. They are also 20% less likely to be at a leading Russell Group university compared with a September-born teenager. These August children are likely to have lower confidence and less likely to feel they "control their own destiny".

This accident of birth can have far-reaching economic significance, says the IFS, as underachievement in qualifications at school will be likely to reduce employment opportunities in adulthood. "This suggests that August-born children may end up doing worse than September-born children throughout their working lives, simply because of the month in which they were born," says IFS programme director Claire Crawford. [. . .]"

Any famous contemporary scholars with birthdays in August?