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Centre for Political Philosophy

Key Publications

Here’s a selection of key publications by members of the CPP:

'Toleration in Political Conflict,' Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013

Political disputes over toleration are endemic, while toleration as a political value seems opposed to those of civic equality, neutrality and sometimes democracy. 'Toleration in Political Conflict' sets out to understand toleration as both politically awkward and indispensable. The book exposes the incoherence of Rawlsian reasonable pluralist justifications of toleration, and shows that toleration cannot be fully reconciled with liberal political values. While raison d'état concerns very often overshadow debates over toleration, these debates - for example about terrorism - need not be framed as a conflict between toleration and security. Framing them in this way tends to obscure objectionable behaviour by tolerators themselves, and their reliance on asymmetric power. Glen Newey concludes by sketching a picture of politics as dependent on free speech which, he argues, is entailed by the demands of free association. That in turn suggests that questions of toleration are inescapable within the conditions of politics itself.

'Nietzsche, Power and Politics, Rethinking Nietzsche's Legacy for Political Thought,' Berlin: De Gruyter 2018

Nietzsche’s legacy for political thought is a highly contested area of research today. With papers representing a broad range of positions, this collection takes stock of the central controversies (Nietzsche as political / anti-political thinker? Nietzsche and / contra democracy? Arendt and / contra Nietzsche?), as well as new research on key concepts (power, the agon, aristocracy, friendship i.a.), on historical, contemporary and futural aspects of Nietzsche’s political thought. International contributors include well-known names (Conway, Ansell-Pearson, Hatab, Taureck, Patton, Connolly,Villa, van Tongeren) and young emerging scholars from various disciplines.

You did not build that road! -- reciprocity, benefits, opportunities, and taxing the extremely rich,’ in H.P. Gaisbauer, G. Schweiger, C. Sedmak (eds.), Philosophical explorations of justice and taxation: national and global issues, Ius gentium: comparative perspectives on law and justice no. 40 (Heidelberg: Springer, 2015), pp. 67-81. link

Recently, many states in the Western world, confronted with a fall in revenues and rising debts on the one hand and growing economic inequality on the other, have taken a critical look at the tax rates for the extremely rich. In various places, policies have been proposed to the effect that the 1% of the highest income earners should pay (much) more in taxes than they currently do.

A typical argumentative strategy that is used to argue for increases in the marginal tax burden for the extremely rich is to argue that the extreme rich amassed their wealth by taking advantage of economic opportunities that they did not create themselves. Other members of society created those opportunities and reciprocity therefore demands that the extremely rich ‘pay’ for these opportunities they enjoyed.

In this paper I argue, first, that arguments like these fail: they do not justify a marginally higher tax burden on the extremely rich. Secondly, I argue that this type of argument appeals to a principle according to which taxation is the price a citizen pays for the enjoyment of the benefits the state provides. Third, I will show that such a principle not only undercuts the argument, but also that it mandates a flat tax rate if not a lump-sum tax.

In the final part of the paper, I discuss an argument for taxing the extremely rich that does not appeal to a benefit principle. This argument proceeds from the idea that justice demands that taxation is levied according to the ability to pay. Social-democrats and left liberals who are concerned about the extremely high incomes on the top end of the income distribution are better advised to adopt such a strategy.

'The normativity of intentions,’ Topoi : An International Review of Philosophy 33 (2014): 87-101. link

Suppose you intend now to φ at some future time t. However, when t has come you do not φ. Something has gone wrong. This failing is not just a causal but also a normative failing. This raises the question how to characterize this failing. I discuss three alternative views. On the first view, the fact that you do not execute your intention to φ is blameworthy only if the balance of reasons pointed to φ-ing. The fact that you intended to φ does not add to the reasons for φ-ing at t. On the second view, the fact that you do not execute your intention to φ is blameworthy because you violate a requirement of rationality. Both these views have in common that they deny that intending to φ at t creates a reason to φ at t. The third alternative, the one I defend, claims that you often create reasons to φ by intending to φ.

 ‘The Authority of Norms,’ American Philosophical Quarterly 44 (2007): 245-258. link

People often act in accordance with existing social, legal and moral norms. Sometimes they just conform; sometimes they comply with these norms. Conformity should be distinguished from compliance. There can be all sorts of reasons as to why an agent conforms to existing norms, ranging from habit to fear of formal and informal sanctions. However, an agent complies with a norm if and only if her reason for acting as the norm prescribes is the very fact that the norm prescribes it. The central question of this paper is this: Why should a rational agent comply with a norm? We can reformulate the question in the form of a dilemma. Suppose that a norm N requires from an agent A an action j in circumstances C. When C is the case, there either is a better option than j available or there is not. Suppose there is a better alternative to j. Then it would be irrational to comply with N. Suppose on the other hand that there is no better option than j, even apart from its being the norm. Then j-ing is supported by the balance of reasons and A is justified in j-ing but not because j-ing is required by N but because rational agents should always choose options which have to better alternatives. N is irrelevant for the deliberations of A. Therefore, compliance is never rational.

In this paper, I argue that we can escape this dilemma once we recognize that the reasons for action that norms give to the rational agent are interdependent reasons. Some reasons for action apply to rational agents independently of the compliance with these reasons of others. However, a norm generates reasons for action only as far as other agents hold these reasons as well. I illustrate this argument with the theory of convention as developed in evolutionary game theory. I conclude the paper answering some objections to the argument.

The Grammar of Political Obligation,’ Politics, Philosophy & Economics 13 (2014): 215–36. link

This essay presents a new way of conceptualizing the problem of political obligation. On the traditional ‘normativist’ framing of the issue, the primary task for theory is to secure the content and justification of political obligations, providing practically applicable moral knowledge. This paper develops an alternative, ‘pragmatist’ framing of the issue, by rehabilitating a frequently misunderstood essay by Hanna Pitkin and by recasting her argument in terms of the ‘pragmatic turn’ in recent philosophy, as articulated by Robert Brandom. From this perspective, the content and justification of political obligations cannot be determined in a way that is in principle separable from their application. This casts ‘political obligation’ not as a problem to be philosophically resolved, but as a political predicament that calls for a kind of practical engagement. The merit of this perspective is to draw our attention toward the conditions under which the problem appears as a lived predicament. 

Fossen, Thomas, and Joel Anderson, What’s the Point of Voting Advice Applications? Competing Perspectives on Democracy and Citizenship, Electoral Studies 36 (2014): 244–51. link

Voting advice applications (VAAs) are interactive online tools designed to assist voters by improving the basis on which they decide how to vote. Current VAAs typically aim to do so by matching users' policy-preferences with the positions of parties or candidates. But this ‘matching model’ depends crucially on implicit, contestable presuppositions about the proper functioning of the electoral process and about the forms of competence required for good citizenship—presuppositions associated with the social choice conception of democracy. This paper aims to make those presuppositions explicit and to contrast them with two possible alternative perspectives on VAAs, associated with deliberative and agonistic conceptions of democracy and citizenship.

Exploitation as Domination: A response to Arneson,’ Southern Journal of Philosophy 54 (2016): 527-38. link

In a recent paper in this journal, Richard Arneson criticizes the domination account of exploitation and attributes it to me and Allen Wood. In this paper, I defend the domination account against Arneson's criticisms. I begin by showing that the domination view is distinct from the vulnerability-based view defended by Wood. I also show that Alan Wertheimer's influential account of exploitation is congenial to the domination view. I then argue that Arneson's own fairness-based view of exploitation generates false negatives and trivializes the concept of exploitation, rendering it entirely parasitic on the notion of unfairness.

The Political Philosophy of G.A. Cohen: Back to Socialist Basics (London: Bloomsbury, 2015). link

Gerald Allan Cohen was Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at All Souls College, Oxford for 23 years and is considered one of the most influential political philosophers of the past quarter-century. He died in 2009. The Political Philosophy of G. A. Cohen is the first full-length study on the unity of Cohen's political thought. It proceeds thematically, studying a range of fundamental concepts such as materialism, freedom, equality, fraternity and the market, all the while revisiting Cohen's seminal treatment of Marx, Nozick, Dworkin, Rawls and Sen. Nicholas Vrousalis brings together the diverse strands of argument in Cohen's thought and critically reconstructs them in the context of contemporary debates in social and political theory. This reconstruction highlights common threads running through Cohen's numerous contributions to contemporary philosophy, without underrating the inevitable tensions between them.

Exploitation, Vulnerability, and Social Domination’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 41 (2013): 131-157. link

This essay attempts to revive a research programme by criticizing it. Its object of criticism is the powerful research agenda of analytical Marxism. I shall attempt this revival by criticizing the views of two of the most influential members of that research programme, G. A. Cohen and John Roemer. I will argue that they are mistaken in their identification of exploitation with exchange against the background of injustice in the distribution of assets. Exploitation should be conceived, instead, as a form of domination, that is, domination for self-enrichment. The latter conception, I shall argue, captures intuitions surplus to the analytical Marxist view, accords better with Marx’s own critique of capitalism, provides a richer, and more plausible, understanding of socialist goals, is more amenable to integration into a rigorous Marxist social science, and brings Marxism closer to radical democracy. If I am right, then the idea of exploitation will have received a new lease of life, and the Marxist armoury will have been enriched by renewed focus on vulnerability and domination.

Rethinking Political Obligation: Moral Principles, Communal Ties, Citizenship (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). link

What are the grounds for and limits to obedience to the state? This book offers a fresh analysis of the debate concerning the moral obligation to obey the state, develops a novel account of political obligation and provides the first detailed argument of how a theory of political obligation can apply to subjects of an unjust state.

‘Communal Ties and Political Obligation,’ Ratio Juris 26 (2013): 187-214. link

The associative argument for political obligation has taken an important place in the debate on political obligation. Proponents of this view argue that an obligation to obey the government arises out of ties of affiliation among individuals who share the same citizenship. According to them, relationships between compatriots constitute basic reasons for action in the same way in which relationships between family members or friends do. As critics point out, this account of the normative force of relationships has counterintuitive implications: if relationships between people sharing the same citizenship make up basic reasons for action, then relationships between people sharing other attributes, for example, relationships between racists or sexists form basic reasons for action too. In this essay, I pursue a modified version of the associative approach that is not vulnerable to this objection.

How Much Privacy for Public Officials?,’ in Beate Roessler & Dorota Mokrosinska (eds.), Social Dimensions of Privacy: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 181-201. link

Written by a select international group of leading privacy scholars, Social Dimensions of Privacy endorses and develops an innovative approach to privacy. By debating topical privacy cases in their specific research areas, the contributors explore the new privacy-sensitive areas: legal scholars and political theorists discuss the European and American approaches to privacy regulation; sociologists explore new forms of surveillance and privacy on social network sites; and philosophers revisit feminist critiques of privacy, discuss markets in personal data, issues of privacy in health care and democratic politics. The broad interdisciplinary character of the volume will be of interest to readers from a variety of scientific disciplines who are concerned with privacy and data protection issues

Trials as Messages of Justice: What Should Be Expected of International Criminal Courts?,’ Ethics and International Affairs 30 (2016): 429-447. link

This article addresses the question what—if anything—we can and should expect from the practice of international criminal justice. It argues that neither retributive nor purely consequentialist, deterrence-based justifications give sufficient guidance as to what international criminal courts should aim to achieve. Instead, the legal theory of expressivism provides a more viable (but not unproblematic) guide. Contrary to other expressivist views, this article argues for the importance of the trial, not just the punishment, as a form of expressivist messaging. Specifically, we emphasize the communicative aspect of the judicial process. The final section, acknowledging the limited success of international criminal justice so far in terms of fulfilling its expressivist potential, diagnoses the main obstacles to, and opportunities for, expressivist messaging in the contemporary practice of international criminal justice.

Citizens in appropriate numbers: evaluating five claims about justice and population size,’ Canadian Journal of Philosophy (2017): 1-23. link 

While different worries about population size are present in public debates, political philosophers often take population size as given. This paper is an attempt to formulate a Rawlsian liberal egalitarian approach to population size: does it make sense to speak of ‘too few’ or ‘too many’ people from the point of view of justice? It argues that, drawing on key features of liberal egalitarian theory, several clear constraints on demographic developments – to the extent that they are under our control – can be formulated. Based on these claims, we can clarify both the grounds and content of our obligations to future generations.

Classified Public Whistleblowing: How to Justify a pro tanto Wrong, Social Theory and Practice 43 (2017): 541–67. link

Though whistleblowing is quickly becoming an accepted means of addressing wrongdoing, whistleblower protection laws and the relevant case law are either awkwardly silent, unclear or mutually inconsistent concerning public disclosures of classi ed government information. I remedy this problem by rst arguing that such disclosures constitute a pro tanto wrong as they violate (1) promissory obligations, (2) role obligations and (3) the obligation to respect the democratic allocation of power. However, they may be justi ed if (1) the information disclosed concerns grave government wrongdoing, (2) alternative channels of disclosure are rst exhausted and (3) steps are taken to minimize harm. 

Article: ‘Staying in or Moving Out? Justice and the Abolition of the Dark Ghetto,’ European Journal of Political Theory, online first (open access). link

Tommie Shelby articulates a nonideal theory of black US ghettos that casts them as consequences of an intolerably unjust institutional structure. I argue that, despite some of its significant merits, Shelby’s theory is weakened by his rejection of integration as a principle for reforming disadvantaged ghettos and correcting structural injustices in the US. In particular, I argue that Shelby unwarrantedly downplays the socio-economic efficiency of integrationist policies and fails to consider some of the ways in which integration might count as a duty of (corrective) justice.

Book Chapter: ‘A Distinction with a Difference: Aristotle’s Division of Particular Justice and its Practical Significance’, in Cohen De Lara, E., Brouwer, R. Aristotle’s Practical Philosophy. On the Relationship between His Ethics and Politics, Springer 2017. link

The Politics of Borders: Sovereignty, Security, and the Citizen after 9/11, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. link

Borders sit at the center of global politics. Yet they are too often understood as thin lines, as they appear on maps, rather than as political institutions in their own right. This book takes a detailed look at the evolution of border security in the United States after 9/11. Far from the walls and fences that dominate the news, it reveals borders to be thick, multi-faceted and binational institutions that have evolved greatly in recent decades. The book contributes to debates within political science on sovereignty, citizenship, cosmopolitanism, human rights and global justice. In particular, the new politics of borders reveal a sovereignty that is not waning, but changing, expanding beyond the state carapace and engaging certain logics of empire.

‘The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus and the Received View of Spinoza on Democracy’ Res Publica 2014 20(3): 263-279 link

On many interpretations of Spinoza's political philosophy, democracy emerges as his ideal type of government. But a type of government can be ideal and yet it can be unwise to implement it if certain background conditions obtain. For example, a dominion's people can be too 'wretched by the conditions of slavery' to rule themselves. This begs the following question. Do Spinoza's arguments for democracy entail that all political bodies should be democracies at all times (the received view), or do they merely entail that we should only have a democracy when the right sort of background conditions are in place (the challenging view)? This paper argues that a new interpretation of one of the four versions of the rationality argument for democracy as it features in the Tractatus entails that the received view is correct. The paper also explains away part of the appeal of the challenging view by arguing that none of the other versions of the rationality argument supports the received view. It closes by arguing that a slightly modernised version of the rationality argument can be important for contemporary political philosophy.

Moral Error Theory, London: Palgrave Macmillan 2018 link

This book provides a novel formulation and defence of moral error theory. It also provides a novel solution to the so-called now what question; viz., the question what we should do with our moral thought and talk after moral error theory. The novel formulation of moral error theory uses pragmatic presupposition rather than conceptual entailment to argue that moral judgments carry a non-negotiable commitment to categorical moral reasons. The new answer to the now what question is pragmatic presupposition substitutionism: we should substitute our current moral judgments, which pragmatically presuppose the existence of categorical moral reasons with ‘schmoral’ judgments that pragmatically presuppose the existence of a specific class of prudential reasons. These are prudential reasons that, when we act on them, contribute to the satisfaction of what the author calls ‘the fundamental desire’; namely, the desire to live in a world with mutually beneficial cooperation.

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