Category Archives: Working Papers

Nickel on Rawls, Human Rights and Toleration

I have a conference length paper on Jim Nickel’s criticisms (from the second edition of “Making Sense of Human Rights”) of Rawls’s “ultraminimalist” conception of human rights in LoP. I seek readers’ comments both because I’d like to get a sense of what objections and questions I’m likely to get when I present the paper, and because I’m hoping to expand the paper both to more fully explore Nickel’s take on Rawls and to couple that discussion with an assessment of Allen Buchanan’s closely related criticisms in “Justice, Legitimacy and Self-Determination.” Thanks in advance for any and all comments. The paper can be found at:


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The Capabilities Approach, Religious Practices, and the Importance of Recognition

I have been working on a paper entitled “The Capabilities Approach, Religious Practices, and the Importance of Recognition” that looks into cases where Nussbaum’s capabilities approach and religious practices seem to clash. The paper can be downloaded free here. The paper’s abstract is:

“When can ever be justified in banning a religious practice? This paper focusses on Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach. Certain religious practices create a clash between capabilities where the capability to religious belief and expression is in conflict with the capability of equal status and nondiscrimination. One example of such a clash is the case of polygamy. Nussbaum argues that there may be circumstances where polygamy may be acceptable. On the contrary, I argue that the capabilities approach cannot justify polygamy in any circumstance. Her approach rules out polygamy, but may not rule out all non-monogamous relationships, such as polyamory. Finally, I conclude that the capabilities approach would benefit from a more robust understanding of recognition.”


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Fairness, Democracy and Lotteries

Last night I gave a talk to the Moral Philosophy Seminar in Oxford, which received particularly good questions from Joseph Raz and John Broome (among others). As often, the paper has been posted for discussion on the blog Ethics-Etc (direct link to the paper here). Since it’s really political philosophy, I thought I’d draw attention to that here, for any interested readers.


This paper challenges the common assumption that democracy requires majority rule. I assume that we can adopt a contractualist approach to uncover the demands of political equality and argue that contractors would not necessarily accept majority rule to make decisions in their society. I first reject broadly consequentialist arguments, arguing that firstly no procedure guarantees ideally best outcomes, secondly that in cases of pluralism there is no need to suppose there is a uniquely best outcome, and thirdly that we need to be fair between different individuals. I develop this need for fairness into a case for weighted lotteries, drawing on the Taurek-Scanlon ‘saving the greater number’ debate. This leads to my conclusion that democratic ideals can be realized by selecting a random vote to determine the outcomes of decisions.


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Why Libertarians Should Be Welfare Liberals

I came across a nice paper by John Simmons a while back on why libertarians should be actual consent theorists and decided that I could combine his argument with something derived from an argument I’ve got coming out in the American Philosophical Quarterly to show that libertarians (who accept the following assumptions) should be welfare liberals. I’ve got the link to a draft of the paper on my website ( but thought I’d post the argument here, just to see if any one has any thoughts on it. The assumptions that follow block some obvious objections.


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Torture and the Ticking Time Bomb

I have just posted a version of my SPEP paper from last fall to SSRN, “One View of the Dungeon: The Ticking Time Bomb between Governmentality and Sovereignty” The paper is a critique of one of the standard justifications for torture: “what if there were a ticking time bomb about to blow up Manhattan, and you have the terrorist. Would you torture him to save the lives of millions?” Versions of this argument show up in most efforts to justify torture, and its soundness has been thoroughly criticized by writers such as Kim Scheppele and David Luban. My paper takes a different tack, and tries to understand how the TTB functions as a rhetorical device. The gist of my argument is that it sanitizes the torture question of any real world difficulties, thereby making it appear as an act of governmental efficiency. I frame the paper in terms of Judith Butler’s work on administration detention policies, and in particular her appropriation of Foucault in that essay.


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Autonomy, Respect, and Arrogance in the Danish Cartoon Controversy

Autonomy, Respect, and Arrogance in the Danish Cartoon Controversy

Hi everyone,

I have been working for a while on a paper, which was provoked by the cartoons of Muhammad that were published in Denmark in 2005 and created an international uproar. In the Danish public debate about the cartoons there were a number of dividing lines, but the one I find of particular interest from the perspective of political theory is one drawn between standing firm on Enlightenment values (freedom of expression and democracy) versus giving in to the demand for respect for religious feelings. In my paper I relate this contrast to Galston’s contrast between Enlightenment and Reformation Liberalism, autonomy and diversity. In short, I reject Galston’s dichotomy and argue that the Enlightenment value of autonomy is not the culprit; it is not this principle that is to blame for the lack of respect for Muslims in the Danish cartoon controversy. To make this argument I distinguish different ways in which “autonomy” may be used. In particular, I am concerned with how autonomy is used in justifications for freedom of expression and whether these uses are incompatible with respect for diversity. I argue that if we understand the autonomy that freedom of expression is justified with reference to not as a character ideal that has to be promoted but as a capacity we presuppose everyone has, then this principle rather than creating hierarchies among forms of life is an indispensable principle for grounding equal respect. Properly understood, a commitment to autonomy is not a threat to respect for difference but its precondition.


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