I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Virginia Tech. I received my Ph.D. in Philosophy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. My main research interests lie in moral and political philosophy, with a focus on some of the key figures of both disciplines, such as Hobbes, Hume, Kant, and Rawls. I am also interested in contemporary issues in moral and political philosophy, such as the integration of rational and evolutionary moral approaches, moral pluralism, and the topic of global justice.
I am Director of the Program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Virginia Tech. The PPE Program offers an interdisciplinary minor that allows students to develop a unique set of skills that arises from actively engaging in the social sciences combined with philosophical reflection. The PPE Minor trains students to make decisions that are not only economically sound but also socially, ethically, and politically informed.
In addition to my appointment in the Department of Philosophy, I am a Core Faculty Member of the ASPECT Program at Virginia Tech. The ASPECT Program is an interdisciplinary doctoral pogram that brings together theoretical concepts and empirical findings at the intersection of social and political theory, political economy, ethics, history, culture, government, and international affairs. I teach and supervise regularly doctoral students in the ASPECT Program.
During my academic career, I have held Visiting Professorships in the Department of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and its joint Program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics with Duke University, as well as in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Graz. In addition, I was awarded a research Faculty Fellowship at the Center for Ethics and Public Affairs at the Murphy Institute at Tulane University and I served as John Stuart Mill Visiting Chair of Social Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Hamburg.
In addition to my academic career, I worked in Germany for three years as a professional furniture maker (Rosenheim), one year in Management and Political Consulting (Duesseldorf and Berlin), one year in a Nature Friends House (Kiel), two years (part-time) in a One World Shop (Bremen), and for a short period as a research assistant at the Ifo Institute for Economic Research in Munich.
Abstract. Central to the Rawls–Harsanyi dispute is the question of whether the core modeling device of Rawls’ theory of justice, the original position, justifies Rawls’ principles of justice, as Rawls suggests, or whether it justifies the average utility principle, as Harsanyi suggests. Many commentators agree with Harsanyi and consider this dispute to be primarily about the correct application of normative decision theory to Rawls’ original position. I argue that, if adequately conceived, the Rawls–Harsanyi dispute is not primarily a dispute about the correct application of normative decision theory to Rawls’ original position. Instead, Rawls and Harsanyi aim to model different moral ideals, and this difference in their moral assumptions leads them to significantly different conclusions about justice. There is no winner in the Rawls–Harsanyi dispute. Instead, the dispute merely clarifies the moral ideals and their formal representations that need to be assumed in order to justify either Rawls’ contractualist principles of justice or the average utility principle. Thus understood, the Rawls–Harsanyi dispute offers a promising starting point for future research that can deepen and enrich our understanding of the demands of justice.
Abstract. In a recent article, Gauthier (2013) rejects orthodox rational choice contractarianism in favor of a revisionist approach to the social contract that, according to him, justifies his principle of maximin proportionate gain (formerly the principle of minimax relative concession or maximin relative benefit) as a principle of distributive justice. I agree with Gauthier that his principle of maximin proportionate gain cannot be justified by orthodox rational choice contractarianism. I argue, however, that orthodox rational choice contractarianism, before and after Gauthier, is still a viable approach to the social contract, although the scope of this approach is limited. Orthodox rational choice contractarianism can be applied fruitfully to moral philosophy only in situations of deep moral pluralism in which moral reasoning is reduced to instrumental reasoning, because the members of society do not share, as assumed by traditional moral theories, a consensus on moral ideals as traditionally conceived as a starting point for the derivation of moral rules, but only an overarching end that they aim to reach. If orthodox rational choice contractarianism is applied adequately, then it offers a viable approach to the social contract that, in contrast to Gauthier’s theory, justifies a rival principle for distributive conflicts that is valid for deeply morally pluralistic societies.
Abstract. In a recent article, McClennen (2012) defends an alternative bargaining theory in response to his criticisms of the standard Nash bargaining solution as a principle of distributive justice in the context of the social contract. McClennen rejects the orthodox concept of expected individual utility maximizing behavior that underlies the Nash bargaining model in favor of what he calls full rationality, and McClennen’s full cooperation bargaining theory demands that agents select the most egalitarian strictly Pareto-optimal distributional outcome that is strictly Pareto-superior to the state of nature. I argue that McClennen’s full cooperators are best described as reasonable agents whose rationality is constrained by moral considerations and that McClennen’s bargaining theory is moralized in this regard. If, by contrast, the orthodox concept of rationality is assumed and plausible assumptions are made about human nature and social cooperation, then a modified version of the standard Nash bargaining solution, which I call the stabilized Nash bargaining solution (Moehler 2010), is justified. From the perspective of rational agents, the stabilized Nash bargaining solution can accommodate McClennen’s criticisms of the standard Nash bargaining solution in the context of the social contract and, for such agents, it can serve as a principle of distributive justice in deeply morally pluralistic societies.
Abstract. In The Order of Public Reason (2011a), Gerald Gaus rejects the instrumental approach to morality as a viable account of social morality. Gaus' rejection of the instrumental approach to morality, and his own moral theory, raise important foundational questions concerning the adequate scope of instrumental morality. In this article, I address some of these questions and I argue that Gaus' rejection of the instrumental approach to morality stems primarily from a common but inadequate application of this approach. The scope of instrumental morality, and especially the scope of pure moral instrumentalism, is limited. The purely instrumental approach to morality can be applied fruitfully to moral philosophy only in situations of extreme pluralism in which moral reasoning is reduced to instrumental reasoning, because the members of a society do not share, as assumed by traditional moral theories, a consensus on moral ideals as a basis for the derivation of social moral rules, but only an end that they aim to reach. Based on this understanding, I develop a comprehensive two-level contractarian theory that integrates traditional morality with instrumental morality. I argue that this theory, if implemented, is most promising for securing mutually beneficial peaceful long-term cooperation in deeply pluralistic societies, as compared to cooperation in a non-moralized state of nature.
Abstract. Harsanyi defends utilitarianism by means of an axiomatic proof and by what he calls the 'equiprobability model'. Both justifications of utilitarianism aim to show that utilitarian ethics can be derived from Bayesian rationality and some weak moral constraints on the reasoning of rational agents. I argue that, from the perspective of Bayesian agents, one of these constraints, the impersonality constraint, is not weak at all if its meaning is made precise, and that generally, it even contradicts individual rational agency. Without the impersonality constraint, Harsanyi's two justifications of utilitarianism on the grounds of Bayesian rationality fail. As an alternative, I develop a contractarian framework that is compatible with individual rational agency and Harsanyi's central assumptions, and that allows the derivation of moral conclusions on the grounds of Bayesian rationality. The developed framework offers a novel justification of contractarian ethics and may best be described as a combined version of Harsanyi's equiprobability model and Rawls's original position.
Abstract. In this article, I derive a weak version of Kant's categorical imperative within an informal game-theoretic framework. More specifically, I argue that Hobbesian agents would choose what I call the weak principle of universalization, if they had to decide on a rule of conflict resolution in an idealized but empirically defensible hypothetical decision situation. The discussion clarifies (i) the rationality requirements imposed on agents, (ii) the empirical conditions assumed to warrant the conclusion, and (iii) the political institutions that are necessary to implement the derived principle. The analysis demonstrates the moral significance of the weak principle of universalization and its epistemic advantage over the categorical imperative.
Abstract. It is argued that the Nash bargaining solution cannot serve as a principle of distributive justice because (i) it cannot secure stable cooperation in repeated interactions and (ii) it cannot capture our moral intuitions concerning distributive questions. In this article, I propose a solution to the first problem by amending the Nash bargaining solution so that it can maintain stable cooperation among rational bargainers. I call the resulting principle the stabilized Nash bargaining solution. The principle defends justice in the form, 'each according to her basic needs and above this level according to her relative bargaining power.' In response to the second problem, I argue that the stabilized Nash bargaining solution can serve as a principle of distributive justice in certain situations where moral reasoning is reduced to instrumental reasoning. In particular, I argue that rational individuals would choose the stabilized Nash bargaining solution in Rawls' original position.
Abstract. Justice is important, but so is peaceful cooperation. In this article, I argue that if one takes seriously the autonomy of individuals and groups and the fact of moral pluralism, a just system of cooperation cannot guarantee peaceful cooperation in a pluralistic world. As a response to this consideration, I lay out a contractarian theory that can secure peace in a pluralistic world of autonomous agents, assuming that the agents who exist in this world expect that peaceful cooperation is the most beneficial form of interaction for them in the long run. The theory specifies the restrictions on the behavior of autonomous individual and collective agents that are indispensable for peaceful cooperation in a pluralistic world. In particular, I argue for the need of (i) a globally valid rule of conflict resolution to settle all intra- and inter-group conflicts that cannot be resolved locally, (ii) a world court to apply this rule in cases where local group authorities are inadequate to do so, and to serve as a final court of appeal, and (iii) a world police to enforce the rule.
Abstract. In this article, I argue that if one closely follows Hobbes' line of reasoning in Leviathan, in particular his distinction between the second and the third law of nature, and the logic of his contractarian theory, then Hobbes' state of nature is best translated into the language of game theory by an assurance game, and not by a one-shot or iterated prisoner's dilemma game, nor by an assurance dilemma game. Further, I support Hobbes' conclusion that the sovereign must always punish the Foole, and even exclude her from the cooperative framework or take her life, if she defects once society is established, which is best expressed in the language of game theory by a grim strategy. That is, compared to existing game-theoretic interpretations of Hobbes, I argue that the sovereign plays a grim strategy with the citizens once society is established, and not the individuals with one another in the state of nature.
Abstract. The term neoclassical economics delineates a distinct and relatively homogenous school of thought in economic theory that became prominent in the late nineteenth century and that now dominates mainstream economics. The term was originally introduced by Thorstein Veblen to describe developments in the discipline (of which Veblen did not entirely approve) associated with the work of such figures as William Jevons, Carl Menger, and Leon Walras. The ambition of these figures, the first neoclassicists, was to formalize and mathematize the subject in the aftermath of the so-called marginalist revolution. Economics is, according to one definition, the science that studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means that have alternative uses. Neoclassical economics pursues this study by means of supply and demand models that determine prices based on the subjective preferences of producers and consumers. Neoclassical economics relies on subjective preferences for determining prices in order to escape from the so-called objective value theory of classical economics, according to which the value of goods could be established by reference to some basic commodity (usually corn) or the labor input required to produce a good. Neoclassicists hoped that by jettisoning objective value, economics could be placed on a more scientific basis as an essentially descriptive and predictive theory of human behavior. Political theory, by contrast, involves both positive and normative elements. It is a positive science to the extent to which it aims to describe and predict political behavior. It is a normative science to the extent to which it prescribes how agents should behave in the political arena and what the best political institutions are. Neoclassical economics is relevant to both of these elements.
Invited talks (selected)
Peter Loescher Chair of Business Ethics, Technical University Munich, Germany, July 2015
Department of Philosophy, University of Hamburg, Germany, July 2015
Department of Philosophy, University of Groningen, Netherlands, June 2015
Department of Philosophy, University of Graz, Austria, June 2015
Alexis de Tocqueville Project in Law, Liberty, and Morality, University of New Orleans, USA, April 2015
Department of Philosophy and Department of Economics, University of Hamburg, Germany, July 2014
Department of Philosophy and Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, University of Arizona, USA, April 2014
PPE Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA, November 2013
Department of Philosophy, University of York, UK, July 2013
Institute of Political Science, TU Darmstadt, Germany, January 2013
Institute of Philosophy, University of Regensburg, Germany, July 2012
Department of Philosophy, University of Cape Town, South Africa, August 2011
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey, March 2011
Institute of Philosophy, University of Bayreuth, Germany, January 2011
Department of Philosophy, Seoul National University, South Korea, October 2010
Department of Philosophy, University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA, January 2010
Murphy Institute at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA, September 2009
Conference presentations (selected)
2014 APA Central Division Meeting, Colloquium paper, Chicago, USA, February 2014
2013 APA Central Division Meeting, Symposium paper, New Orleans, USA, February 2013
ISUS 2012 Conference, Stern School of Business, New York University, USA, August 2012
Eleventh Conference of the International Society for Utilitarian Studies, University of Pisa, Italy, June 2011
Conference on Contractarian Moral Theory, York University, Toronto, Canada, May 2011
Fifth Triennial Congress of the Society for Analytic Philosophy (SOPHA), University of Geneva, Switzerland, September 2009
GAP 7, Institute of Philosophy, University of Bremen, Germany, September 2009
ISUS 2008 Conference, University of California, Berkeley, USA, September 2008
First Annual Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress, University of Colorado at Boulder, USA, August 2008
Masterclass in Normative Moral Theory, University of Reading, UK, April 2007
Fourth Conference in Political Philosophy, Centre for Social Philosophy, University of Pavia, Italy, September 2006
Brave New World Conference, MANCEPT, University of Manchester, UK, July 2006
ENFA-3, Faculty of Letters, University of Lisbon, Portugal, June 2006
First Annual Postgraduate Conference in Philosophy, University College Cork, Ireland, May 2006
Eighth Annual Graduate Conference in Political Theory, University of Warwick, UK, February 2006
Graduate supervision and seminars
Ph.D. Dissertation Supervision (Moral and Political Philosophy)
M.A. Thesis Supervision (Moral and Political Philosophy)
The Welfare State (600 level, Ph.D. seminar, co-taught)
Distributive Justice (600 level, Ph.D. and M.A. seminar)
Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (600 level, Ph.D. and M.A. seminar)
Morality: Reason and Evolution (500 level, M.A. seminar)
Independent Research Study (400 and 500 levels)
Advanced Topics in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (400 level)
Contemporary Theories of Justice (400 level)
Modern Political Philosophy (300 level)
Introduction to Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (200 level)
Global Justice (200 level)
Morality and Justice (100 level)
Introduction to Philosophy (100 level)
Department of Philosophy (MC: 0126)
229 Major Williams Hall
220 Stanger Street
Blacksburg, VA 24061