Universiteit Leiden

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Do Numbers Matter? Public Policy and the Problem of Dirty Hands

Tuesday 25 September 2018
Public Ethics Talks
Turfmarkt 99
2511 DP The Hague
Spanish Steps


The so-called problem of dirty hands is often understood as a moral dilemma that presents the decision- maker – be it a politician or a civil servant – with a choice between protecting the well-being of a large number of individuals versus one individual. This talk explores whether this way of thinking about the dirty hands phenomenon really captures the moral problem that lies at its basis. Based on a detailed philosophical analysis informed by practical examples, Paul Nieuwenburg will argue that numbers do not always necessarily matter when we want to understand the dirty hands phenomenon. In short, “numbers matter and they don’t” for making sense of and dealing with the problem of dirty hands.

Paul Nieuwenburg

Paul Nieuwenburg is Professor in Political Science and Political Philosophy at the Institute of Political Science of Leiden University and Co-Director of the University’s Centre of Political Philosophy. He has held positions in departments of philosophy, public administration, and legal philosophy. His research focuses on issues in moral psychology, public ethics and constitutional theory. He is interested in both historical and systematic aspects of political philosophy, and tries to combine these interests where possible.

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