COVID-19 Rapid Response Seed Funds Provided By OVPRI

The Office of the President for Research and Innovation (OVPRI) at Virginia Tech provides internal seed funds for projects that address COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a paradigm of a collective action problem with significant social, ethical, political, and economic implications (among others).

The PPE Program is happy to collaborate with other researches on campus. Here is more information about the available rapid response seed funding.


PPE Research: Michael Moehler publishes on climate change

Michael Moehler, Director of the PPE Program, published a book chapter on contractarianism and climate change.

The chapter is part of an edited volume on Moral Theory and Climate Change: Ethical Perspectives on a Warming Planet, Ben Eggleston and Dale E. Miller (eds.), Routledge, 139-156.

Here is the abstract of the chapter: Contemporary moral contractarianism originates with Hobbes’s moral theory. When considering the structure of Hobbes’s moral theory, however, it is often argued that moral contractarianism does not justify any specific moral demands concerning questions of climate change because currently no global Leviathan in Hobbes’s sense exists that could enforce any such demands in our world. I do not dispute the fact that currently no global Leviathan in Hobbes’s sense exists in our world. Nevertheless, I argue that Hobbesian moral contractarianism offers an adequate moral framework to guide our considerations concerning questions of climate change. Methodologically, the approach is sufficiently pluralistic to consider ethical and economic considerations as well as political feasibility constraints. Conceptually, I argue that, despite the fact that currently no global Leviathan in Hobbes’s sense exists in our world, a Hobbesian-inspired modus vivendi is sufficient as a starting point to address some of the most pressing issues of climate change in our world. Specifically, I argue that the shift in climate change negotiations from the Kyoto Protocol to the Paris Agreement could be considered to be guided by reasoning that underlies Hobbesian moral contractarianism.

PPE Research: Gil Hersch

Gil Hersch (PPE Postdoctoral Fellow) published an article on “The Need for Governmental Inefficiency in Plato’s Republic,” in The Journal of the History of Economic Thought (forthcoming). Here is an abstract of the article:

In book II of Plato’s Republic, Socrates discusses the cities of necessity and luxury (372d-373a). Discussions of these cities have often focused on citizens desiring more than they need, which creates a demand for luxury. Yet the second part of the equation, which is not usually recognized, is that there must be sufficient supply to meet this demand. The focus of this article is on the importance of supply in the discussion of the first two cities in book II of the Republic. This article argues that the way Plato models the cities makes it the case that a surplus above levels of necessity will be generated from time to time. That the unwanted surplus cannot be spontaneously disposed of entails that the first two cities are institutionally incomplete. A government is needed in order to coordinate the disposal of the surplus supply the city will produce.

PPE Research: Book Symposium on Minimal Morality

The journal Analytic Philosophy featured a book symposium on Michael Moehler’s Minimal Morality: A Multilevel Social Contract Theory (Oxford University Press, 2018):

D’Agostino, Fred, “Pluralism, Prudence, and Political Theory: Comments on Minimal Morality by Michael MoehlerAnalytic Philosophy 61 (2020): 37-45

Thrasher, John, “On Minimal Morality,” Analytic Philosophy 61 (2020): 46-56

Morris, Christopher W., “Morality’s Many Parts: Symposium on Michael Moehler’s Minimal Morality,” Analytic Philosophy 61 (2020): 57-69

Vanderschraaf, Peter, “Stability Challenges for Moehler’s Second-Level Social Contract,” Analytic Philosophy 61 (2020): 70-86

Moehler, Michael, “Minimal Morality, Bargaining Power, and Moral Constraint: Replies to D’Agostino, Thrasher, Morris, and Vanderschraaf,” Analytic Philosophy 61 (2020): 87-100

PPE Research: Gil Hersch

Gil Hersch (PPE Postdoctoral Fellow) published an article on “No Theory-Free Lunches in Well-Being Policy,” in The Philosophical Quarterly 70 (2020): 43-64. Here is an abstract of the paper:

Generating an account that can sidestep the disagreement among substantive theories of well-being, while at the same time still providing useful guidance for well-being public policy, would be a significant achievement. Unfortunately, the various attempts to remain agnostic regarding what constitutes wellbeing fail to either (a) be an account of well-being, (b) provide useful guidance for well-being policy, or (c) avoid relying on a substantive well-being theory. There are no theory-free lunches in well-being policy. Instead, I propose an intermediate account, according to which well-being is constituted by endorsed veridical experiences. This account refers back to theories of well-being but does so as agnostically as possible. An intermediate account of well-being is meant as a policy guiding compromise between the different theories of well-being that make claims regarding what constitutes well-being. An intermediate account does as well as can be hoped for in providing a basis for well-being policy.

PPE Undergraduate Student Ambassadorships

Each academic year, the PPE Program selects several undergraduate students to serve as ambassadors for the program. The primary tasks of the ambassadors are to work closely with PPE faculty and staff on the development of the program and serve as a student contact for PPE events. For more information about PPE events and activities, please follow this link.

The application process for next year’s PPE Undergraduate Student Ambassadorships is now open. All students who are enrolled in a PPE degree (major or minor) and will not also be on the leadership team of the PPE Club next academic year are eligible to apply. Please submit a short personal statement that explains your interest in becoming a PPE Undergraduate Student Ambassador, whether you are a PPE major or minor, your anticipated graduation year, and your resume. The application materials must be submitted to Professor Moehler ( by April 9, 2020. We look forward to receiving your application.

PPE Discussion Colloquium: Economics and a Free People

On February 29, 2020, the Program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics will co-organize a daylong discussion colloquium for selected undergraduate students on the topic “Economics and a Free People.”

Professor Christopher Freiman (William & Mary) will serve as discussion leader to facilitate an in-depth exploration of the questions and challenges raised by a set of readings on the topic, in particular by Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Friedrich Hayek, and John Maynard Keynes.

PPE Club: Interest Meeting

The PPE Club at Virginia Tech will organize an Interest Meeting on February 4, 2020, from 6-7pm in the Architecture Annex, Room 109. The club is open to all majors. There will be free pizza and soft drinks!

For more information about the PPE Club, please see here.

PPE Research: Michael Moehler publishes book on Contractarianism

Michael Moehler, Director of the PPE Program at Virginia Tech, recently published a book on contractarianism that integrates methods in philosophy, politics, and economics.

The book provides a systematic defense of moral contractarianism as a distinct approach to the social contract. It elucidates, in comparison to moral conventionalism and moral contractualism, the distinct features of moral contractarianism, its scope, and conceptual and practical challenges that concern the relationship between morality and self-interest, the problems of assurance and compliance, rule-following, counterfactualism, and the nexus between morals and politics. It argues that, if appropriately conceived, moral contractarianism is conceptually coherent, empirically sound, and practically relevant, and has much to offer to contemporary moral philosophy.

Here is more information about the book.

PPE Speaker Series: Erik Kimbrough

Erik Kimbrough from Chapman University will give a talk on the topic “How Norms Shape Ideology.” The talk will take place on February 5, 2020, from 4-5:30pm in 223 Engel 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: Are Americans’ policy preferences constrained by ideological belief systems? If so, what does this imply? We bring clarity to these long-debated questions by addressing three vital concerns: First, constraint is typically operationalized based on researchers’ understanding of “what goes with what,” but how valid are these assumptions? Using an incentivized coordination game, we find substantial variability in ideological norm clarity across issues. Second, the extant literature equates lack of constraint with ignorance, but how many seemingly “ideologically innocent” voters simply choose to flout ideological norms? When we measure political beliefs and knowledge of ideological norms separately, it becomes clear that ignorance and pragmatism are typically conflated. Third, does constraint facilitate accountability, or does it indicate adherence to ideological norms? Using a survey experiment, we find that priming norms increases adherence. This suggests that the most ideologically constrained are the strongest norm followers and perhaps not best-suited to ensure democratic accountability.