Category Archives: Uncategorized

Free Money for All: Karl Widerquist’s Argument for Basic Income


In what ways do theories of property and the social contract affect an individual’s freedom? Are members of a reasonably just society morally obliged to contribute to its economic system even in ways they might not want to, and within structures they might not agree with?

These are the questions that stand at the centre of  Karl Widerquist’s exploration of freedom in capitalist societies, laid out in his book Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income – A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No. Continue reading

Chandran Kukathas – The Tory Consequences of Whig Foundations: Hume’s Critique of the Social Contract, or Why Hume has no theory of the state

Statue of Hume on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh (Photo: Yukinori Iwaki)

This week’s PTRG session discussed ‘The Tory Consequences of Whig Foundations’ by Chandran Kukathas. In this paper, Chandran defends David Hume’s critique of social contract theory and demonstrates the broader implications this has for certain strands of liberalism today. He begins with a historical account of the emergence of the modern nation state before discussing attempts at its justification by social contract theorists. What unites the disparate theories provided by thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant is the idea that the legitimacy of the state comes from its embodying the abstract, collective will of the citizens who comprise it. Chandran contrasts this with the approach taken by Hume who rejects the idea of such a will and bases the endurance of the state on its ability to satisfy particular interests. This latter perspective is beneficial in outlining a more realist account of politics which acknowledges the sectional nature of society as a contest between competing interests. In attempting to justify the state in terms of the collective will of the governed, social contract theory can serve to obscure the particular interests which underpin the governance and institutions of the state. Continue reading

Anca Gheaus – The Best Available Parent

Source: Vinoth Chandar (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This week the PTRG welcomed Anca Gheaus from Universitat Pompeu Fabra. In her paper, ‘The Best Available Parent’, Anca argues against the widely-held assumption that children’s biological parents have an automatic moral right to

exercise exclusive parental control over their children. Her argument rests on the liberal assumption that it is only justifiable to exert control over another individual when that individual has given their consent or, if consent cannot be given, when it is in the controlled individual’s best interests. Given that children fall into the latter category it is necessary that any controlling action is conducted in their best interests, which entails giving parental control to the best available parents.

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Film Series Complicity

Film Series


How are we to judge actions, inactions and rationalisations of people who find themselves in a murky grey zone of complicity with violence? What does ethics demand of us in dreadful, even impossible, situations? The film series explores cinematic depictions that bring the thorny issue of complicity to the fore, focusing on Nazi-occupied France, apartheid South Africa, Argentina’s Dirty War and Communist Romania. In selecting these four critically acclaimed films, we aim to provoke reflection on ambiguous aspects of violence and human rights abuses. A guiding premise of the event is that reckoning with such experiences is essential to learning from past atrocities and preventing future catastrophes.

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Cian O’Driscoll – Keeping Tradition Alive: Just War and Historical Imagination

A bas-relief of Persian soldiers, c.515 BC. Source: Aneta Ribarska

Last week we had the pleasure of hosting Cian O’Driscoll from the University of Glasgow, presenting a draft of his latest intervention in just war theory. Below, I recollect the basic moves of his paper.

Cian O’Driscoll sets out to redress one of the dangers of locating oneself within the tradition of just war theory: of lapsing into a kind of traditionalism that contrives a fixed canon around which all debate must orbit. This is not only an artificial self-limitation, but one which can lead to a kind of intellectual conservatism. How do we preserve the wisdom congealed within the recognised tradition of just war theory, but avoid the pitfalls of traditionalism? O’Driscoll offers a simple solution: we must extend its ambit to include previously neglected thinkers. In this paper, he looks to the figure of Xenophon, with two key provisos. First, Xenophon did not write in the first-person. His writings offer a rich collection of observations of ancient Greek thought and practice. Second, clearly Xenophon antedates the actual ‘just war tradition’ – however fragile a historical basis that tradition has – and cannot be directly read through its categories. O’Driscoll reveals that Xenophon’s observations do, however, have a startling affinity with just war thinking. The one complements the other. We find in Xenophon a highly agonal conception of war that, in contrast to modern incarnations of just war theory, places especial weight on the restraint of force – not simply the enactment of justice.

Written by Louis Fletcher.

Report from Edinburgh-St Andrews PhD Political Theory Workshop


On the 13th of January 2017, doctoral students from Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities met in Edinburgh University’s School of Social and Political Science for the day-long collaborative PhD Political Theory Workshop.  We covered a wide range of issues in political theory including genealogy, intellectual history, gender and moral agency, methodology of political theory, global justice and responsibility, caring cosmopolitanism and narratives, issues in liberalism, and rights theory. Continue reading

Nicola Perugini – The Apparatus of Distinction and the Ethics of Violence: On the Construction of Liminal Subjects and Spaces

PTRG seminar series: 14 Dec 2016

Photo: Moyan Brenn

The last Political Theory Research Group seminar of 2016 brings Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon’s interesting paper The Apparatus of Distinction and the Ethics of Violence into discussion. At the very beginning of the paper, the authors quote that “Enemy Leaders look like everyone else. Enemy combatants look like everyone else” and it is this new reality of modern wars that challenges the notion that we are able to make distinctions between combatant and non-combatant, and military and civilian sites. In this paper, they argue that, due to the introduction of the new technology, a status of liminal subjects and spaces is created to legitimize the violence in war. Continue reading

PTRG Programme Term II 2017

PTRG Programme Term II 2017


18 January, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Chiming Zhong (PIR), On the Methodology of Rights Theory


25 January, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Cian O’Driscoll (Glasgow), Victory in the Just War Tradition


1 February, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Masa Mrovlje (PIR), Judging Violent Resistances


8 February, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Anca Gheaus (Pompeu Fabra), The Best Available Parent


15 February, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Kerri Woods (Leeds), TBA


1 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Chandran Kukathas (LSE), TBA


8 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Hugh McDonnell (PIR), TBA


15 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Thomas Fossen (Leiden), Legitimacy, Judgment, and Utopia 


22 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Lorna Finlayson (Essex), False Consciousness and the Politics of Austerity


29 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Joe Carens (Toronto), TBA


5 April, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Matthew Festenstein (York), TBA


26 April, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Raúl Madrid, (Pontifical Catholic University, Chile), Is academic freedom a relative notion? 


3 May, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Matthew Chrisman (Philosophy), The Speech Act of Protest


10 May, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Tim Hayward (PIR), TBA


17 May,3 pm, CMB 2.15

Cormac Mac Amhlaigh, (Law), (Suprastate) Constitutionalism as Ideal Theory


22 May, time and location TBC

Amy Allen (Penn State), Joint lecture PTRG and GENDERPOL


24 May, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Cat Wayland (PIR), TBA


31 May, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Philip Cook (PIR), TBA


7th of June, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Jill Poeggel, TBA


14 June, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Monica Brito Vieira (York), TBA 


21st of June, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Kieran Oberman (PIR) TBA


5th of July, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Alia Al-Saji (McGill University) Glued to the Image: A phenomenology of racialization through works of art (Joint event PTRG, Philosophy, Centre for Cultural Relations)


Ethics Forum: Should universities restrict civil disobedience and student activism?

On 18 November 2016, the Just World Institute (with the support of Edinburgh University’s Social Responsibility and Sustainability) organised an Ethics Forum with the title ‘Should universities restrict civil disobedience and student activism?’.  

Read our report below.


Universities are often a central place for student activism. In recent years, the University of Edinburgh has seen occupations, campaigns, and actions that have put students in confrontation with University management. Across the UK, there have been cases of students being arrested, prosecuted, and suspended for disobedience and activism on their campuses. How tolerant should universities be towards student activism and disobedience? What role does protest serve in higher education institutions? Continue reading