Philosophy and Public Policy

Sen's Capability Approach

  • Monday, 4 October 5:00-6:30 pm 
  • Sabina Alkire
  • Harvard

Sabina Alkire 

Sabina Alkire shows how Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen's capability approach can be coherently--and practically--put to work in poverty reduction activities. Sen argues that economic development should expand 'valuable' freedoms. Alkire probes how we identify what is valuable. Foundational issues are addressed critically--dimensions of development, practical reason, culture, basic needs--drawing on Thomist authors who give central place to authentic participation. A participatory procedure for identifying capability change is then developed.

Sabina Alkire is an economist interested in the ongoing development of the capability approach initiated by Amartya Sen. Her publications include Valuing Freedoms: Sen's Capability Approach and Poverty Reduction, as well as articles in philosophy and economics. Research interests include value judgements in economic decision-making, the conceptualization and measurement of individual agency freedoms (empowerment) particularly in South Asia, and further development of the capability approach by the academic, policy, and activist communities. Previously she has worked for the Commission on Human Security, coordinated the culture-poverty learning and research initiative at the World Bank, and developed participatory impact assessment methodologies with Oxfam and the Asia Foundation in Pakistan. She has a DPhil in Economics, an MSc in Economics for Development and an MPhil in Christian political ethics from Magdalen College, Oxford.

Law Enforcement Versus Just War

  • Wednesday, 20 October 7:00-8:30 pm
  • Mary Kaldor 
  • LSE

Mary Kaldor

Post-Conflict Peace Building

  • Monday, 1 November 5:00-6:30 pm
  • Joris Voorhoeve
  • Leiden
  • Venue: Graham Wallas Room, 5th floor, Main Building

Joris Voorhoeve 

An armed, humanitarian intervention in a country by others should lead to an enduring improvement of the situation for the population of that country. Otherwise, the sacrifice of lives and expenses may not be justified. Building up good government in a country which experienced prolonged suppression, genocide, a (civil) war, a serious and structural failure of its own government, or a very criminal government (including support of terrorism) is a daunting task. Peace building after a war takes many years and requires an intensive and expensive assistance programme, supported by many states and guided by competent international organisations. There a few examples of (partial, temporary or lasting) success, but many failures. What can be learned from peace-building efforts, especially since the 1960's, for today's tasks in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Mozambique, Haiti, and other or future cases? What do these lessons mean for a decision before one intervenes in a trouble spot?

Joris Voorhoeve is Professor of International Organisations at Leiden University. He is also a member of the Netherlands Council of State, former floor leader of the Liberal Party, former minister of Defence and of Netherlands Antillean and Aruban Affairs, and former policy analyst at the World Bank. He is the author of Peace, Profits and Principles (Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1979), Labiele Vrede (Unstable Peace) (Amsterdam, 1995) and a series of articles on development cooperation, peace policy and emergency assistance. He chairs the Netherlands Society of International Affairs and the World Population Foundation.

Experimenting with Deliberative Democracy: Effects on Policy Preferences and Social Choice

  • Monday, 15 November 5:00-6:30 pm
  • Christian List
  • LSE
Christian List 

Using data from the first fully randomized field experiment within a Deliberative Poll, we examine the effects of the Deliberative Poll's formal on-site deliberations on both policy preferences and "preference structuration" or single-peakedness (operationally, the proportion of individuals whose preferences are aligned along the same shared dimension). The issues were airport expansion and revenue sharing in New Haven, Connecticut and its surrounding towns. Half the participants deliberated revenue sharing, then the airport, the other half the reverse. This split-half design enables us to distinguish the effect of deliberation from those of other aspects of larger Deliberative Polling treatment. We find that deliberation significantly altered aggregate policy preferences and increased the degree of single-peakedness on revenue sharing, though not airport expansion. These results both confirm the promise of civic deliberation as a means of transforming citizen preferences and raise the question of how deliberation's effects may depend on the kind of issue being deliberated.

Chriatian List is a lecturer in Political Science in the Department of Government at LSE. He previously held research positions at the Australian National University and Oxford.ation.

Liberalism and Multiculturalism

  • Monday, 29 November 5:00-6:30 pm
  • Matt Cavanaugh
  • Home Office 
Matt Cavanaugh 
Home Office 

How should liberal societies respond to cultural diversity? Can they build a shared civic identity which (as Rawls put it in Political Liberalism) is more than just a 'mere modus vivendi', but which is loose enough for different groups to sign up to for different reasons? I will argue that part of the answer is a kind of nationalism - a kind which is inclusive, without pretending to be neutral. Nationalism is often assumed to be inherently illiberal; but as a counterweight to certain other social trends, which tend towards atomistic individualism, it might actually offer a way of shoring up some vulnerable parts of the liberal project. But this must be combined with a kind of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism has had a rough ride of late, ridiculed by conservatives, blamed by neo-conservatives for society's problems, and suspected by liberals of selling out on fundamental liberal values like sexual equality. But we have to salvage the truth in it - that culture matters to people, and matters to them in ways that traditional forms of liberalism found it hard to accommodate. I will illustrate these arguments by drawing on policy questions facing liberal societies including Britain, France and the US.

Matt Cavanagh was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied PPE and the B.Phil. and D.Phil. in philosophy. He was Lecturer in Philosophy at St Catherine's College from 1996 to 2000, teaching political philosophy and ethics. From September 2000 to September 2003 he worked for the Boston Consulting Group. Since September 2003 he has been a special adviser to the Home Secretary David Blunkett. His book Against Equality of Opportunity was published by Oxford University Press in 2002.

The Natural Right to Punish

  • Monday, 10 January 5:00-6:30 pm
  • Michael Otsuka 
  • UCL 
Michael Otsuka

Offers a Lockean account of a natural right to punish which is grounded in a natural right of self-protection. Endorses Warren Quinn's derivation of the right to punish from a right of self-protection, but argues, against Quinn, that his account will succeed only if one is allowed, when justifying punishment, to appeal to the fact that the punishment of the guilty will deter others. Also argues that Quinn's account will succeed only if the right to engage in lethal measures to protect the lives of individuals against innocent aggressors is highly circumscribed.

Michael Otsuka is a reader in philosophy at University College London. The focus of his current research is (1) the morality of harming and saving from harm, (2) prerogatives to depart from equality, and (3) left-libertarianism. He has published a book on the latter topic entitled Libertarianism without Inequality (Oxford University Press, 2003).

Of Knights and Knaves, Pawns and Queens

  • Monday, 24 January 5:00-6:30 pm
  • Julian Le Grand
  • LSE

Julian Le Grand

When we fall ill should we place ourselves completely in the hands of the doctor, or insist on our rights as patients? Should we leave the education of our children to the professionals on the grounds that teacher knows best? Should we have the right to choose the hospital where our illness is to be treated, or to choose the school where our children are educated? Or would such choice lead to destructive competition between schools and hospitals, competition that would damage not only the people making the choices but also those who work within those institutions, and indeed the wider social interest? Does the public service ethos exist, and, if so, what form does it take? And would greater patient or parental power undermine it? This seminar addresses these issues.

Julian LeGrand is Co-Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) and Richard Titmuss Professor of Social Policy at the LSE. His latest book is Motivation, Agency and Public Policy: Of Knights and Knaves,Pawns and Queens (Oxford University Press, 2003).

Poverty as a Form of Oppression

  • Monday, 7 February 5:00-6:30 pm
  • Marc Fleurbaey
  • Pau/Oxford
  • (CARR Seminar Room, H615, 6th floor Connaught House)

Marc Fleurbaey 

The paper first critically examines the libertarian focus on negative freedom, the egalitarian focus on positive freedom, and Rawls' middle-way position. It shows that there is a tension but also a complementarity between negative rights and positive rights, inducing a high correlation between poverty and violations of human integrity. In a second part, the paper reexamines the notion of coercion and the discussions about the concept of coercive offers, and defends the thesis that, in ordinary conditions of market economies, poverty is intimately linked to a kind of economic coercion which is very similar in content and consequences to more obvious kinds of physical threat and pressure. In poverty conditions, people are indced to accept things (amount of work, humiliation, risk, health hazards, low-quality consumptions, etc.) that they would refuse in normal circumstances. Conceptually, this situation can be shown to be one of coercion. In this sense, the difference between poverty and more ordinary violations of human rights is quite thin. Finally, the paper proposes a principle of fair conditions of exchange, which, if implemented, would eliminate coercive offers from the market place.

Marc Fleurbaey is professor of economics at the University of Pau (France) and is visiting the university of Oxford (Nuffield College) in 2004-2005. His publications and interests have to do mostly with normative economics, social choice, fairness, distributive justice. Web page:|.

Should we Tolerate Holocaust Denial?

  • Monday, 21 February 5:00-6:30 pm
  • Catriona McKinnon 
  • Reading 

Catriona McKinnon 

Holocaust denial (HD) is the activity of denying the occurrence of key events and processes which constitute the Holocaust. HD brings into particularly sharp focus many difficult questions faced by defenders of toleration insofar as it is predictably motivated and accompanied by anti-semitism, causes profound offence and upset to Jews (and, indeed,
ought to cause such offence to all of us), and yet (in its most pernicious forms) imitates legitimate academic history. This paper addresses two questions: (a) should HD be tolerated in law?; and (b) should HD be tolerated in the Academy?

Catriona McKinnon studied philosophy at University College London from 1989-1999, when she was awarded her PhD. She then taught at Exeter and York before joining Reading. She teaches and researches in the subject area Political Philosophy. Her recent research includes a monograph Liberalism and the Defence of Political Constructivism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) which defends a form of political liberalism using self-respect based arguments and Toleration, Neutrality, and Democracy (Kluwer 2003). Her general research interests are in the theory and practice of liberal toleration, equality and distributive justice, cosmopolitanism, and neo-Kantian political philosophy. She edits the journal 'Imprints: A Journal of Analytical Socialism'.

An Ethical Market for Transplant Organs

  • Monday, 7 March 5:00-6:30 pm
  • John Harris
  • Manchester
  • (Graham Wallas Room, 5th floor, Main Building)

John Harris

While people's lives continue to be put at risk by the dearth of organs available for transplantation, we must give urgent consideration to any option that may make up the shortfall. A market in organs from living donors is one such option. The market should be ethically supportable, and have built into it, for example, safeguards against wrongful exploitation. This can be accomplished by establishing a single purchaser system within a confined marketplace.

John Harris, Sir David Alliance Professor of Bioethics is a member of The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission and of the Ethics Committee of the British Medical Association. He was one of the Founder Directors of the International Association of Bioethics and a founder member of the Board of the Journal Bioethics and a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Medical Ethics and many other journals. He has acted as Ethical Consultant to national and international bodies and corporations. He is the Series Editor of "Social Ethics and Policy" published by Routledge and is the founder and a General Editor of a major new series of books for Oxford University Press entitled Issues in Biomedical Ethics. His books include Violence & Responsibility (Routledge, 1980) and The Value Of Life (Routledge, 1985).


  • Monday, 2 May 5:00-6:30 pm
  • Frances Kamm
  • Harvard

Frances Kamm

Frances M. Kamm is Littauer Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy. She is the author of Creation and Abortion (1992); Morality, Mortality, Vol. 1: Death and Whom to Save From It (1993); and Morality, Mortality Vol.2: Rights, Duties, and Status (1996), all from Oxford University Press. Kamm also has published many articles on normative ethical theory and practical ethics. She has held ACLS, AAUW, NEH, and Guggenheim fellowships and has been a Fellow of the Program in Ethics and the Professions at the Kennedy School, the Center for Human Values at Princeton, and the Center for Advanced Study at Stanford. She is a member of the editorial boards of Philosophy & Public Affairs, Legal Theory, Bioethics, and Utilitas and was a consultant on ethics to the World Health Organization.