Talking with High School Students About Open Borders

New at, I discuss my conversations with high school students about the moral legitimacy of border restrictions: We started our discussion with a little bit of improv theatre. I played a foreigner trying to get into the United States without documentation. Students volunteered to play a border guard trying to keep me out. Between … Continue reading Talking with High School Students About Open Borders

Can Acting on Moral Falsehood Ever Be Warranted?

I was never persuaded by Aristotle's argument that happiness is the highest good (because it is the only thing that humans seek for its own sake rather than for any other end). The reason I never accepted it is that it is either circular (happiness gets defined as whatever it is you seek for its … Continue reading Can Acting on Moral Falsehood Ever Be Warranted?

Sen, Nozick, and “Breaking Bad”

A moral dilemma from the popular TV show "Breaking Bad" illustrates a critique Amartya Sen made of Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia and the reason why the refutation fails. In On Ethics and Economics, Sen makes the following critique of Nozick's libertarian philosophy (heavily paraphrased because the book has yet to be unpacked, and … Continue reading Sen, Nozick, and “Breaking Bad”

*The Righteous Mind* by Jonathan Haidt

Jonathan Haidt is everywhere these days, giving interviews and TED talks, promoting his working papers in the media, writing for the websites and, and publishing The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York: Pantheon Books, 2012). A moral psychologist by training, Haidt has successfully cleared the jump … Continue reading *The Righteous Mind* by Jonathan Haidt

Interpersonal Comparisons of Dignity and Eleemosynary Duties

"Imagine that a Wall Street billionaire is passing a bag lady on the street. She begs for a dollar. Should the billionaire give it to her? It's just plain obvious that the bag lady would benefit more from the dollar than the billionaire. The donation would detract from his happiness less than it would add … Continue reading Interpersonal Comparisons of Dignity and Eleemosynary Duties

My Introduction to Political Philosophy Final Exam

Here are the essay questions from the final exam I gave in "Introduction to Political Philosophy" last semester. How would you answer these questions? 3.1 Rights to Property Answer one of these questions. 1. What is John Rawls’ “difference principle,” and how does he defend it? What are its implications for the welfare state? Is … Continue reading My Introduction to Political Philosophy Final Exam

Moral Philosophy & Dogmatism

Political libertarians are a motley lot in terms of their moral philosophies. There are three dominant strands - utilitarians like Milton Friedman, deontologists like Robert Nozick, and teleologists like Ayn Rand - but I've also met egoists, postmodernists, and Rawls-style egalitarian consequentialists. In debates over moral foundations, Randians often ally themselves with the deontologists in … Continue reading Moral Philosophy & Dogmatism

Most Underrated Works of Political Philosophy?

This semester I will be teaching a political philosophy course for the first time since graduate school, and have just finalized my syllabus. For all the ethicists and political philosophers out there - what do you consider to be the most underrated works of political philosophy for each period (ancient, modern, contemporary)? To elaborate, I'm … Continue reading Most Underrated Works of Political Philosophy?

On Rawls

My colleague and friend Ralph Hancock has sparked an interesting exchange on his blog,  Postmodern Conservative (a  First Things blog). The discussion is on Rawls.  The foundation of Ralph's critique is [Rawls] affirms the absolute priority of the Right to the Good: it must be possible to frame an ethical theory for the public/political realm … Continue reading On Rawls

So what is second order?

It has been widely reported that in 2003, Elena Kagan wrote that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding gays in the military was "a moral injustice of the first order." The first order?  Really?  Surely there are some implicit qualifiers in there.  When you consider genocide, mass rape, sex trafficking, murder, slavery, Jim Crow, … Continue reading So what is second order?

The Arizona Conundrum

I’m interested in people’s opinions on the new Arizona anti-immigration law.  I have a hard time coming to a consensus in my own mind about the immigration issue and laws like the one Arizona passed. My civil libertarian mind hates the police state and harassment of anyone—citizen or otherwise. My rule-of-law mind hates that we … Continue reading The Arizona Conundrum

I Want it All, Baby!

As an economist, I’m trained to apply positive models and empirical methods to (hopefully) illuminate important phenomena in the real world.  That is what I want to do in this blog, preferably in an engaging and helpful fashion. But what really interests me is the moral groundwork of public policy analysis.   Unfortunately, my fellow Pileus … Continue reading I Want it All, Baby!