Universiteit Leiden

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The critique of inequality

Political philosopher Nicholas Vrousalis (Leiden University) has been awarded a Vidi grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Vrousalis will develop a normative toolkit for the critique of economic inequality.

Economical inequality and personal autonomy

Vrousalis’ research project, titled Inequality against Freedom: Economic Power, Markets, and the Workplace, addresses how inequality in income and wealth impact freedom. Some economic inequality, even when mutually consensual and mutually beneficial, can hinder personal autonomy, by making it costly for people to do what they are rationally required to do, independently of the power of others.

Domination as heteronomy

Vrousalis will develop a theory of domination as hindrance to personal autonomy. Conventional wisdom in philosophy and economics holds that mutually consensual and beneficial transactions promote freedom and autonomy. Vrousalis challenges this view, advocating an alternative perspective on freedom.

Suppose your boss offers you a raise in return for cleaning his boots, or that a millionaire offers you thousands of euros in return for a sexual favour, or that a fellow train commuter offers you the only available seat for fifty euros. Vrousalis argues that option-improving proposals, such as these, are bad when and because they make it costly for you to do the right thing for the right reasons. The boss, millionaire, and commuter do not help you respond to the right reasons; instead, they deliberately steer you towards giving a best response to their use of power over you. When might makes right, might corrupts right.

By drawing upon recent philosophical debates on freedom and the morality of markets, Vrousalis will study the problem of mutually beneficial mutual subjection, with an eye towards autonomy-enhancing alternatives.

Nicholas Vrousalis

Innovational Research Incentive Scheme

The Vidi is a research subsidy from the NWO’s Innovational Research Incentive Scheme, under which researchers with several years of research experience are awarded a subsidy of a maximum of 800,000 euros to set up or expand an innovative line of research. They can also use the funds to appoint other researchers. The NWO selects researchers based on the quality of the researcher, the innovative character of the proposed research, the expected scientific impact of the proposal and opportunities for knowledge utilisation.

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