Understanding Society

Tilburg University has been a reliable provider of high-quality education and research for more than eighty years. We specialize in the social sciences and humanities and we seek to make a structural contribution to society.

Research Seminar in Ethics

The Research Seminar in Ethics is a forum for all those who have research interests in ethics and social philosophy. The seminars can be taken for credit by research master students.

Upcoming seminars

Wednesday, 13 December 2017, 11:45-13:00

(was Thursday, 14 December 2017, 12:45-14:00)

Room: D 119

Speaker: Annemarie Kalis (Utrecht University)

Title and abstract: tba

Recent seminars

Wednesday, 20 September 2017, 12:45-14:00

Room: D 125

Speaker: Thomas Wells (TiLPS)

Title: How to tell if a society is flourishing: a purpose-driven account

Abstract: There are all sorts of reasons for wanting to know how well a society is doing, from government accountability to voters to governments' selection of policies (such as which variety of capitalism to foster). Many international indexes are published that purport to meet this need. Unfortunately most suffer from significant methodological problems, such as arbitrary selection or aggregation of data; ideological circularity; or excessive dependence on available data. This early stage paper is part of a Templeton funded project investigating whether 'good markets' make for 'good societies'. Its contribution will be to the philosophy (concepts, values) and methodology of the evaluation of flourishing. It takes a multi-dimensional, purpose-driven approach inspired by Amartya Sen's work on the evaluation of social well-being (for example in his capability approach).

Thursday, 5 October 2017, 12:45-14:00

Room: D 119

Speaker: Tomasz Żuradzki (Krákow, Poland)

Title: The normative significance of identifiability

Abstract: According to psychological research, people are more eager to help identifiable individuals than unidentifiable ones. This preference significantly influences many important decisions, both individual and public, regarding for example vaccinations or the distribution of health care resources. This paper aims at presenting a critical analysis of main philosophical arguments regarding the normative significance of this preference, which refer to: 1) ex ante contractualism (Frick 2015); 2) fair distribution of chances and risks (Daniels 2012), and 3) anti-aggregationist principles that recommend the distribution of bad effects and the concentration of good ones (Hare 2012). I will show that those arguments, although connected with interesting philosophical problems regarding e.g. aggregation and probability, are unconvincing.

Thursday, 19 October 2017, 12:45-14:00

Room: D 119

Speaker: Huub Brouwer (TiLPS)

Title: The Neutrality Dilemma for Luck Egalitarianism (joint work with Julien Kloeg, Erasmus University College)

Abstract: Should society provide for those who can work and have the opportunity to do so, but choose not to? A common objection to Rawls’s Theory of Justice (1971) is that it requires transfers to the undeserving—to those who are needy because of their indolence and the laziness. Luck egalitarianism, which was first proposed by Ronald Dworkin (1981a, 1981b), accommodates the concern about transfers to the undeserving through responsibility-sensitivity. The theory only requires transfers to the badly off if they are not responsible for their plight. G.A. Cohen would later remark on this that 'Dworkin has, in effect, performed for egalitarianism the considerable service of incorporating within it the most powerful idea in the arsenal of the anti-egalitarian right: the idea of choice and responsibility' (1989, p. 933). A common critique of luck egalitarianism is that, in fact, the theory takes too much from the anti-egalitarian right. It is too harsh on those who are responsible for being badly off (cf. Anderson 1999, Scheffler 2003, Wolff 1997). Luck egalitarians have responded by arguing that critics of the theory wrongfully assume that they subscribe to a harsh, contextualist principle of stakes to identify the consequences of peoples' voluntary choices (Olsaretti 2009, Stemplowska 2009). There are, however, other principles of stakes (such as desert-based or consequentialist ones) that could avoid the harshness charge. We argue that principles of stakes that prevent worries about harshness are not neutral — that is, they rely on theories of value that conflict with the liberal-egalitarian commitment to not privileging certain conceptions of the good. This poses a neutrality dilemma to luck egalitarians: either they remain neutral towards conceptions of the good and have to bite the bullet on the harshness charge, or they avoid the harshness charge and are no longer neutral towards conceptions of the good.

Thursday, 2 November 2017, 12:45-14:00

Room: D 119

Speaker: Tim Klaassen (TiLPS)

Title: The (Nonideal) Constitution of Society: A Korsgaardian Approach

Abstract: Rawlsian-inspired political philosophy has been accused of being out of touch with sociopolitical reality (e.g., Geuss 2008). One reason for this is its general focus on ‘Ideal Theory’ (Simmons 2010, Valentini 2017). An ‘Ideal Theory’ is typically a normative theory that articulates an abstract model of an ideal (just) society – sub specie aeternitatis. One limitation of ‘Ideal Theory’, therefore, is that it abstracts from the practical reality that exists, as it were, in between the ‘is’ of a pre-given social ontology and the ‘ought’ of a normative ‘ideal theory’; i.e., the reality of finite and historically situated human beings that find themselves confronted with the problem of social living right here and now. Moreover, it remains silent about what it means for finite and practically situated human beings to bring about and realize this ideal conception. For that, one would need to have a ‘Nonideal Theory’; a theory that ‘…fills the gap […] between the theoretical ideal and political reality’ (Stemplowska and Swift 2012, p. 381). The aim of this talk will be to sketch the possible contours of (part of) such a theory. A guiding principle here is that a ‘Nonideal Theory’ should not only specify which normative ideals apply under various nonideal conditions; it should tell us something about their relation to processes of collective action and the ontology of a society at large. For this purpose I take Korsgaard’s Theory of Self-Constitution (2009) as a promising starting point. Hers is a theory in which normativity, action, and the ontology of persons turn out to be constitutively interrelated to one another. A similar ‘Theory of the Constitution of Society’ might be obtained by extending her arguments to the sociopolitical domain. The result would be a theory that is ‘nonideal’, or at least decisively sensitive to our nonideal reality.

Thursday, 30 November 2017, 12:45-14:00

Room: D 119

Speaker: Wim Dubbink (Tilburg University)