Author Archives: Jurgen De Wispelaere

C4P: Summer School in Political Philosophy & Public Policy on “Philosophical Ideas for a Brave New World of Work” on 13-15 July 2016 at University of Minho (Portugal)

Summer-School in Political Philosophy & Public Policy
“Philosophical Ideas for a Brave New World of Work”

13-15 July, University of Minho, Braga (Portugal)

Info @

Invited Professors:
Ruth Yeoman (Oxford University)
Lucas Stanczyk (Brown University/Harvard University)

Organizers: Jurgen De Wispelaere (University of Tampere), James Hickson (York University) and Roberto Merrill (University of Minho) on behalf of the Political Theory Group of CEHUM, University of Minho (Braga)

Course Description: In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in issues at the intersection of political philosophy and public policy. In particular, attention has increasingly turned to the question of what kind of institutions and policies would be needed in order to create a significantly more just society. Following past summer-schools on topics such as a justice between generations (2010), democratic virtues (2011), radical democracy (2012), basic income (2013), predistribution and property-owning democracy (2014), the ethics of banking (2015), the commons (2016), our next summer-school will be devoted to the future of work and a society in which the nature, meaning and distribution of work is expected to change considerably. The future of work is a topic of growing interest within academia, where it features prominently in recent debates in philosophy, history, law, political science, and economics. It is also features prominently in debates outside academia amongst social activists and policy-makers. In this summer school we will discuss insights emerging from philosophical reflection on the changing nature of work and think about normative principles guiding the future organisation and allocation of work and its benefits and burdens. read more...

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C4P: “Incentives in Health Promotion: The Ethics and Politics of Healthy Choices”

A MANCEPT Workshop in Political Theory, convened by Richard Ashcroft (Queen Mary, University of London) and Jurgen De Wispelaere (McGill University)

4-6 September 2013, University of Manchester

Behaviour shaping through incentives plays a major role in health and health promotion, and governments are increasingly interested in incentive technologies to counter what they perceive as poor health outcomes. On the one hand, poor health often results directly from people making “unhealthy choices” (smoking, no exercise, poor diet), and incentives to promote healthy choices are typically regarded as justified by their effect on health outcomes. On the other hand, we also know that many external interventions impact on individual or population health, and here too aligning the incentives of the relevant individual (e.g., organ donors) or corporate (e.g., tobacco firms or food and drinks industry) actors with the goal of health promotion appears justified. read more...

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Special Issue Ethics and Social Welfare 6(2) on “Family Values”

The journal Ethics and Social Welfare features a special issue on “Family Values: Ethical Perspectives on Contemporary Living Arrangements and Parenthood” (edited by Gideon Calder and Jurgen De Wispelaere) that will be of interest to political philosophers working on the family and parenting.

Content Editorial Gideon Calder & Jurgen De Wispelaere Is the Family Uniquely Valuable? Anca Gheaus The Future of the Family David Archard Kantian Voices in the Family Values Debate Brenda Almond The Family and Neoliberalism: Time to Revive a Critique Bob Brecher On the Duties of Shared Parenting Philip Cook

The Social Politics of Breastfeeding: Norms, Situations and Policy Implications read more...

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Sen, ‘The Idea of Justice’, Chapter 14, ‘Equality and Liberty’

Let me first start by apologizing for the late delivery of this comment, which unfortunately messed up Blain Neufeld’s carefully drafted schedule. Apologies to Blain and readers for this.

In Chapter 14, Sen elaborates on the relationship between equality and liberty (or freedom) in relation to the capability approach. A number of issues covered in this chapter have become classics in the literature, and will likely be familiar to readers. But Sen also spends some time discussing the distinction between his approach and that of Philip Pettit – an issue that raises some interesting questions I would like to reflect on in this comment. But let me first briefly review the main points covered in this chapter of The Idea of Justice.

Sen begins the discussion in this chapter by rehearsing the idea (famously expressed in his Tanner Lectures) that all plausible theories of justice have some place for equality, reflecting the fundamental insight that, at some basic level, people must be seen (and treated) as equals. The real question to be answered, Sen concludes, is that of the precise metric of equality underlying competing theories. Sen’s own answer to the “equality of what” debate, as readers know, is to advance capability as the appropriate metric of advantage. However, Sen also insists that an egalitarian perspective informed by the capability approach is not committed to strict equality of capability. He gives us several reasons to resist this strong form of capability egalitarianism, affirming the “multiple dimensions in which equality matters” (p. 297). One important point is that capability only affects what Sen calls the opportunity aspect of freedom and is incapable (pun unintended) to fully capture its process aspect. For Sen capability-based considerations are a crucial but not comprehensive part of a general theory of justice.

In the remainder of the chapter Sen shifts his attention to liberty or freedom, in which he wants to bring home the point that freedom too should be considered a complex and multi-dimensional (or plural) value. Sen suggests personal liberty should be given a good deal of priority, because “it touches our lives at a very basic level” (p. 299), but equally cautions against the extreme view of giving freedom absolute priority (such that it would trump any other concern, no matter how important or urgent). But now the question arises how we should conceive of this freedom that takes priority among the long list of factors that affect how well our lives go. Here Sen makes three distinct points, each of which are controversial and allow for considerable disagreement:

  1. When freedom is viewed as “effective preference” we should appreciate the importance of the distinction between direct control, indirect control and luck, for the simple reason that there are many ways in which I may get what I want without having a direct say in how I get it. For Sen the mere fact that I have a preference satisfied implies a type of freedom that matters to how well my life is going (“a freedom of some importance”, p. 304).

  2. Relatedly, the plural conception of freedom admits of several ways in which freedom is threatened or impeded: through a lack of capability, through genuine interventions, or through a lack of independence (making one’s preference satisfaction “favor-dependent” in one formulation). Sen spends a whole section arguing about the precise relationship between Pettit’s republicanism and his own capability approach, a point to which I return below.

  3. Finally, the proper understanding of freedom (individual or collective) must take account of the outcomes of actions in addition to whether they are properly deemed to be free. This insight relates to Sen’s “impossibility of the Paretian liberal”, a theorem that has spawned a cottage industry of technical literature – a topic I’m happy to leave to more qualified readers.

In the remainder of my comment I want to say a few words on what I personally believe is the more interesting contribution of this chapter, the discussion between Sen and Pettit.

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Priority in Practice conference: 19-20 June 2009, Trinity College Dublin


Friday 19 & Saturday 20 June 2009
Trinity College Dublin, IIIS seminar room (Arts Building)

Further information:

Registration is now open for the 2009 Priority in Practice conference, held at Trinity College Dublin. The conference is free and everyone is welcome to attend, but you have to register as numbers are limited. To register simply send an email with your name and affiliation to

Featured speakers include: John Baker (Dublin), Maren Behrensen (Boston), Kimberley Brownlee (Manchester), David Estlund (Brown), Eli Feiring (Oslo), Axel Gosseries (Louvain-la-Neuve), Anca Gheaus (Rotterdam), David Hunter (Keele), Bruce Landesman (Utah), Adina Preda (Dublin), Kristin Voight (Harvard), and Daniel Weinstock (Montreal). The full program is up at read more...

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Cfp: “Priority in Practice” Conference, Dublin, 19-20 June 2009

Trinity College Dublin: 19-20 June 2009 | CFP: 2 March 2009


Further information:

The conference will employ the informal format familiar from the London PiP conferences with consecutive papers and ample room for discussion. We are looking for papers in the broad field of political and social philosophy discussing various philosophical or normative aspects of public policy issues, and will consider any topic or approach that fits these broad parameters. Please note that we are restricted in terms of how many papers we can schedule, and that priority will be given to papers that genuinely merge theory and practice. read more...

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