Topic: Democracy as Political Inquiry (full project description)
Starting date: Spring 2016
Funding institution: Swiss National Science Foundation

What if anything does recent interest in Peircean Pragmatism add to our understanding of the epistemic properties of democracy? This question is of practical, as well as philosophic, interest, because citizens care about the substantive properties of collective decisions – their truth, their reasonableness, their morality, their efficacy – and not just the procedural correctness and legitimacy of the ways in which they were made. There has long been an interest in Deweyan pragmatism and its implications for democracy – particularly in the area of democratic education and in philosophical debates about the best way to justify democracy or to think about political justification. However, the work of Robert Talisse and Cheryl Misak has drawn attention to the significance of Peircean epistemology for democratic political philosophy and, in particular, to the possibility that democratic commitments to freedom of expression, association and political choice might give us epistemic reasons to support democracy even when we are unsure about the morality of the policies or decisions which it generates. In short, Peircean pragmatism, at least as developed by Talisse and Misak, claims to illuminate the epistemic dimensions of democratic government in ways that shore up its legitimacy, and improve political practice. This project seeks to determine whether or not Peircean pragmatism can provide the promised philosophical illumination and political guidance.

Topic: A Democratic Conception of Ethics (full project description)
Starting date: April 2015
Funding institution: Swiss National Science Foundation

The aim of this project is to see how a commitment to democratic government, suitably understood, can help us to think intelligently about political ethics – its methodology as well as its substance. Democracy provides an intermediate point between the most abstract questions of ethics and the most practical, in so far as both the ideal and practice of democratic government is different from near alternatives such as liberal constitutionalism, or republicanism. We cannot identify a democratic procedure, institution or choice independent of the conceptions of equality, freedom, solidarity and rationality that it seeks to instantiate, because not all elections held by universal suffrage are democratic - as Pinochet's plebiscites remind us. So, determining what counts as a democratic choice can help us to think about the differences between those accounts of moral values, rights and duties which are consistent with democratic government, and those which are not. And because democratic choices mean that some people, parties, policies and institutions gain a legitimacy that they would otherwise lack- although the alternatives may have been equally consistent with democratic principles- a commitment to democratic government can help us to think about the relationship between the morally optional, the obligatory and the forbidden.

Topic: Appearance Discrimination
Type: Academic Purposes Fund Awards
Starting date: October 2008
Funding institution: The Society of Legal Scholars

Should a person’s appearance affect their chances of employment, salary and promotion? Should discrimination on the basis of appearance be illegal? In the wake of the furore created by the ‘Sarkozettes’ in France and of Carla Bruni’s trip to Britain, such questions are timely.  They are especially pressing once we consider that controversy over ‘appearance discrimination’, as Americans call it,  is not limited to the consequences of being beautiful or ugly, but concerns our assumptions about what it is to look professional, intellectual, artistic and entrepreneurial as well. As religious and political ideals have implications for the way people dress and groom themselves, as can ethnic and racial ties, it looks as though appearance discrimination – or discrimination based on a person’s physique, grooming and dress - can reflect, and even reinforce, more familiar forms of discrimination. It seems natural, therefore, to suppose that some forms of appearance discrimination should be illegal. But, according to Professor Post, recent efforts to render appearance discrimination illegal are the reductio ad absurdum of American antidiscrimination law and illuminate its deficiencies.  This project critically examines Post’s arguments, using internal critique as well as a comparison of American and European law. It shows that privacy is essential to protect workers from appearance discrimination, as well as from other forms of subordination and inequality; and argues that Americans have much to learn from European perspectives on privacy and equality in the workplace. Finally, it considers what role appearance discrimination legislation might play in the legal resolution of disputes over religious symbols in dress and grooming.


Conference: Conference on Philosophy and Intellectual Property
Type: Conference Grant
Sponsor: The Aristotelian Society
Date: October 2008

Conference: Conference on Philosophy and Intellectual Property
Type: Conference Grant
Sponsor: The Society for Applied Philosophy
Date: September 2008

Conference: Conference on Philosophy and Intellectual Property
Type: Major Conference Grant
Sponsor: The Mind Association
Date: July 2008