PPE Distinguished Public Lecture: Amartya Sen

Professor Amartya Sen (Harvard University) will deliver the 2018 PPE Distinguished Public Lecture.

Professor Sen is Thomas W. Lamont University Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Senior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and was Professor of Economics at Jadavpur University Calcutta, the Delhi School of Economics, and the London School of Economics, and Drummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford University.

In 1998, Professor Sen was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory. In 1999, he was awarded India’s Bharat Ratna, which is the highest civilian award of India, and, in 2017, the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science for his work on democracy and its potential power to redress and relieve human deprivation.

At Virginia Tech, Professor Sen will speak about “Democracy and Elections.” The lecture will take place in Haymarket Theatre on April 18, 2018, from 5-7pm. No tickets are required for the lecture. The lecture will be followed by a public reception. You are cordially invited to attend.

Please see here for the VT News story about the event.


PPE Research: Michael Moehler publishes on the Rawls-Harsanyi dispute

Michael Moehler’s (Director of the PPE Program) article on the Rawls-Harsanyi dispute has appeared in the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly. Here is an abstract of the article:

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.

PPE Speaker Series: Fabian Wendt

Fabian Wendt from Chapman University will give a talk on the topic “Defending Unfair Compromises” at Virginia Tech. The talk takes place on February 21, 2018, from 4-6 PM in 135 Goodwin Hall. The talk is tailored to appeal to both students and faculty, with plenty of time for discussion and interaction with the guest speaker. You are cordially invited to attend.

Here is the abstract of the talk: It seems natural to think that compromises ought to be fair. But it is false. In this paper, I argue that it is never a moral desideratum to have fair compromises and that we are sometimes even morally obliged to try to establish unfair compromises. The most plausible conception of the fairness of compromises is David Gauthier’s principle of minimax relative concession. According to that principle, a compromise is fair when all parties make equal concessions relative to how much they can gain from an agreement and relative to how much they would lose without an agreement. To find out whether fair compromises sometimes are a moral desideratum, I discuss several paradigmatic cases in friendships, economics and politics, and I try to show that even when the parties have principled moral reasons to refrain from trying to maximize utility in the negotiations, they do not have moral reasons to aim at a fair compromise. My second claim is that we are sometimes even morally obliged to try to establish unfair compromises, in particular when we are dealing with parties that try to establish morally very bad political arrangements. In such cases, we should try to concede as little as possible to achieve an outcome that is morally acceptable. Fair compromises, in other words, are morally much more dubious than is usually appreciated.

New Major in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics

The PPE Program, in collaboration with the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Political Science, and the Department of Economics, launched a new Major in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.

The PPE Major allows students to study systematically some of the most important social, ethical, economic, and political problems that our contemporary societies face. It offers a highly interdisciplinary curriculum with distinct learning outcomes centered on an undergraduate research project. For more information, please see here. Enroll now!

On February 15, 2018, the PPE Program will hold for students and faculty a PPE Major Launch Information session. The event takes place in the Major Williams Atrium from 11:30am-1:30pm. Please join. Free pizza and soft drinks!