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Current PhD students

Brian Carey

Supervisors: Jon Quong and Alan Hamlin


My thesis concerns a debate over the distinction between, and usefulness of, "ideal" and "non-ideal" approaches to issues in ethics and political philosophy. Ideal theory is characterized by its critics as being so insensitive to crucial facts about "the real world" that it becomes practically useless (or even counterproductive) when it comes to figuring out how we ought to behave here and now. In the first section of my thesis I aim to explore these criticisms and (hopefully) offer a defence of ideal theory's role in normative theorizing. I hope to establish that one of the most useful aspects of ideal theory is that it allows us to compare the ideal world to the world we live in, in order to illuminate the sorts of constraints which make the former difficult to achieve. From here, I aim to investigate the extent to which we may have moral obligations to uncover, minimize and/or eliminate these constraints, in the hope of articulating principles which can help to guide us in the transition from the non-ideal world we find ourselves in, to a world which more closely resembles the ideal.

John Derbyshire

Supervisors: Jon Quong and Tom Porter


My PhD is based around the work of John Taurek and his work on the number problem - whether the interests of the many should always prevail at the expense of the few in cases such as trolley problems. I argue that it is possible to conceive of a weighted or proportional lottery solution which treats the problem as a matter of procedural fairness when all other considerations are either perfectly or roughly in balance. If a choice between two individuals is best solved by tossing a fair coin (following Taurek), I contend that a fully ordered series of individual coin flips can explain the result of the weighted lottery in cases where the numbers do not balance. This explanation satisfies both the Taurekian requirement of non-aggregative individualism and the strictest possible interpretation of Scanlon's making a difference principle. My intention is to present a comprehensive theoretical defence of this position in the first half of my thesis before moving to address the challenging practical implications of the theory, particularly in matters of educational policy and bio-ethics.

Jack Holme

Supervisors:Tom Porter and John O'Neill


How are freedom, equality and private property rights related?

Liberal political philosophies commonly claim that negative freedom and equality of outcome are fundamentally irreconcilable. I hope to show that the liberal claim is based on a presupposition of extensive private property rights. My central claim is that freedom, equality and private property rights exist in a tripartite relationship such that they are all potentially consistent in some degree, but to the extent that any of them is realized the others will be restricted. Private property is a hidden variable in this relationship and inhibits the compatibility of freedom and equality. If this is correct then it may be possible to increase the extent to which freedom and equality can be realized in conjunction by restricting the extent of private property rights.

Stephen Hood

Supervisors Steve de Wijze and Andrew Russell


Citizen Expectations and Deliberative Democracy

Democratic political theory makes a number of assumptions with regard to the expected behaviour of its citizens; in particular it assumes that they will act rationally in pursuit of their own particular conception of the good. My thesis seeks to explore whether such assumptions can remain valid when set against a background context of a technologically advanced market economy, suggesting that this may lead citizens to have expectations of the democratic system that cannot be realised. As a result, there may be a blindspot in democratic theory in failing to adequately account for phenomena such as voter apathy or decreasing confidence in democratic institutions. However, I wish to argue that a deliberative conception of democracy may prove to be superior at dealing with increased demands from citizens, as the process of deliberation will encourage an outward orientation within citizens that provides them with a better understanding of the limits of collective action.

Joe Horton

Supervisors Jon Quong and Tom Porter


Rawlsians argue that when societies distribute their benefits and burdens in accordance with certain egalitarian rules their members are each advantaged relative to a reasonable baseline. I am going to argue that this is wrong. Rawlsians also claim that certain egalitarian rules are publicly justifiable to persons who disagree on wide-ranging religious and philosophical issues. I am going to argue that, whether or not these rules advantage these persons relative to a reasonable baseline, this is also wrong.

Sara Kallock

Supervisors: Angelia Wilson


Theoretically this thesis will apply Judith Butler's concept of ‘liveability’ to the area of sex work policy, asking whether or not this frame is enacted within current policy initiatives. To do this, my empirical research will explore the 'frames' enacted at the coalface of sex work policy. I plan to interview organizations working across the multi-agency forum in the North West, especially those who are administering health, well-being, and other practical services to the sex work community, in order to explore the dynamics of these complex framing processes.

Wen-Chin Lung

Supervisors Steve de Wijze and James Pattinson


Non-Consequentialist Approach to Solve The Humanitarian Dilemma

Read more about Wen-Chin's research 

Christopher Mills

Supervisors Jon Quong and Steve de Wijze


My thesis examines the debate on how a modern liberal democracy can justify its actions to its citizens. Studying the interplay between morality and democracy, I propose an answer to whether a balance between perfectionist enlightened rule and neutral political concern can be achieved in both a stable and coherent manner. Further I am looking at what implications such a position will hold for the modern liberal debates.

Nicola Mulkeen

Supervisors Jon Quong and James Pattison


My project aims to address the question of what it actually means for a person to be exploited. I am centrally concerned to ask what is responsible for the likely injustice faced by specific groups and what would bring about the opposite of this, procedures of justice that would allow for equal freedom and equal rights. I seek to draw from a coalition of the very important and enduring insights that both the Left libertarian and Rawlsian approaches have put on the table, a depiction of key elements from within a liberal egalitarian spectrum. By conjoining the two approaches, I wish to advance a new account of exploitation, one that draws on existing Rawlsian and Left libertarian ideas, but is original in the way that it fuses these ideas. Although this framework will be formulated at rather an abstract level, the underlying aim is to develop a global economic standard to ensure that when individuals engage in trade, it is done on terms that are free and fair.

Robert Munro

Supervisors Jon Quong and Tom Porter


Responsibility and Global Justice: Agency, Control, and International Distributive Justice.

Ideas about individual responsibility have been widely explored in political philosophy. My doctoral thesis will explore the role of the concept of collective responsibility in theorising about global justice. By invoking my ideas about responsibility in opposition to those who see no moral problem in treating illiberal regimes, which deny some citizens equal social and economic rights, as collectively responsible entities, I aim to construct a unified account of our duties to citizens and outsiders that moves beyond the Cosmopolitan and Statist approaches to global justice. Holding groups collectively responsible, where relationships of domination prevail, violates the liberal egalitarian ideal that we should only hold people responsible for their choices and not their circumstances. I intend to argue that interaction within groups in which membership is in a significant sense involuntary, such as the nation-state, requires particular inter-personal social freedoms that act as a substratum unifying individual wills in a manner that makes the practice of holding them collectively responsible morally defensible.

Dean Redfearn

Supervisors Jon Quong and Tom Porter


Justice For Children: The Role of Education and Upbringing in Liberal Political Thought

Liberalism has always had particular difficulties dealing with justice for children, difficulties which have not been surmounted and still provoke vast disagreement amongst liberal academics. It is my goal to provide a compelling answer to the question of what we should do for children, and also thereby strengthen the theory of liberal justification upon which I build my case. My thesis is based upon the simple premise that children should be considered as future adults. I argue that we can work out what we owe children (and what children owe adults) from understanding how liberals conceive of adults when justifying principles. The first part of my thesis will expound this thought and advance principles of upbringing alongside a particular understanding of neutral liberal justification. The second part of my thesis will look more closely at the relationship between the purpose of political philosophy, liberal justification and the 'real world'. I shall then be able to suggest the institutions and policies which liberal societies would do well to implement, given the principles outlined in the first part of my thesis.

Stephanie Rinaldi

Supervisors Jon Quong and Tom Porter


Does it Matter What the People Think?

In my thesis I ask whether normative theorists ought to take into account, during their deliberations over the political principles that should govern our lives, what the people to whom those principles will apply think about them. That is, should theorists require any knowledge of people’s judgements about justice? Or, does it matter what the people think? It’s unconventional for philosophers to begin their moral enquiries by seeking data on public opinion. However, within the political philosophy, general support for concepts such as autonomy and democracy—and disapproval of coercion and paternalism—suggest the existence of a widespread intuition on the part of political philosophers that, in some sense, people’s views are important. One explanation for this is the idea that it is valuable for people to exercise their capacity for a sense of right and wrong. If philosophers wish to respect this value whilst developing principles of justice, then it seems possible that they will need some knowledge of people’s judgements. It is unclear, however, what the role of their judgements should be in the development of principles of justice.

Garvan Walshe

Supervisors Steve de Wijze and Alan Hamlin


Freedom and Ecology

Environmentalists make moral claims that act as side-constraints. If I want to achieve X, and find environmentalist arguments convincing, I am restricted in the means I can employ to do so. They argue that at least some of these demands are so strong that people who do not themselves accept the moral force of these green moral claims should nevertheless be forced by the state to behave as if they did. I consider the effect that accepting such claims on theories of justice based on a hypothetical social contract, and argue that such theories must, if they are to accommodate environmental demands, sacrifice either their commitment to liberty or to equality. I then attempt to construct and defend a form of "green libertarianism" as an alternative that protects liberty while also being consistent with those forms of left-libertarianism that require significant redistribution on egalitarian grounds.

Past PhD students

Below is a list of recent past PhD and M Phil students with a brief description of their particular project.

Charlie Place

Supervisor: Hillel Steiner

Passed viva April 2013

Obligations to Share and Rights to Accumulate

Primitive people hold a strong ideological commitment to sharing resources within the group. This research project explores the possibility that the redistribution of wealth within the welfare state may be better understood as a reflection of this ancient human political virtue, rather than as a reciprocal arrangement arising out of rational self-interest.

Steve Cooke

Supervisors: Kimberley Brownlee and Steve de Wijze

Passed viva March 2012

In exploring the ethics of animal liberation I am looking at whether animals of worthy of moral consideration and, if so, whether it is justifiable to break the law in their defence. My thesis will examine, where animals are accorded rights, what kinds of illegal actions might be justifiable and how they might be justified. The subject of my enquiry will be carried out in the context of modern democratic states with particular reference to social contract theories. The research seeks to determine whether and how democratic societies should respond to the claims and actions of animal rights activists and to enrich the ongoing debate on animal research.

David Rhys Birks

Supervisors: Kimberley Brownlee and Hillel Steiner

Passed viva September 2011

My thesis addresses the question, when is it morally required to administer involuntary medical treatment? According to most contemporary liberal philosophers, if a person is fully informed and procedurally rational, it is always morally wrong to interfere with his self-regarding choices. Therefore, if a person chooses not to have medical treatment under these ideal conditions, it would always be wrong to administer treatment. This thesis refutes this view. It argues that there are a number of cases in which we are morally required to administer medical treatment, even if the person chooses, under these ideal conditions, not to have medical treatment. The thesis tackles this issue by analysing the nature of wellbeing and practical reason, the value of autonomy, and the wrongness of paternalism.

My wider research interests include issues in political philosophy, bioethics and normative ethics.

Dogancan Ozsel

Supervisors: Alan Hamlin and Hillel Steiner

Passed viva June 2011

Radicalism and Conservative Ideology.  

My thesis will endeavour to put forward a critical analysis of conservative ideology, via demonstrating the inseparable link between radical conservatism and ‘traditional’ forms of conservatism. In its broadest sense, the thesis will be an investigation of the interpretive possibilities inherent to conservative ideology. To carry out that investigation; I am planning to reconstruct conservatism as an ‘ideology’, illuminate its characteristic references, show the consistency of ‘radical’ policies with these characteristics; and lastly, reconsider possible conservative variations which should be deduced from that referential body.

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper

Supervisors: Steve de Wijze and Jon Quong

Passed viva December 2010

My doctoral thesis examines the role played by emotion and sentiment in public reason and the justification of political principles. Contemporary liberal theories of public justification typically fail to recognise the significance of emotions for securing citizens' assent to the validity of just principles. This thesis aims to rectify this neglect by examining the importance of emotions for public justification, and argues that all such deliberation will necessarily make use of feeling and emotion in addition to pure reason or cognition. Further, it aims to demonstrate that incorporating emotion into our accounts of public justification does not entail a rejection of impartiality. It argues that liberal political philosophers must recognise that affective states such as emotion and sentiment will always and necessarily be present in public reasoning, and so rather than regarding them as detrimental to public justification and seeking to excise them from the political domain, what is needed is a theoretical account of their legitimate and valuable uses, and of when their influence would be illegitimate.

Qin Cao

Supervisors: Jon Quong and Adrian Blau and Hillel Steiner

Passed Viva August 2010

My thesis is about the concept of freedom (liberty) in contemporary republicanism, and I will especially pay attention to the works of Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit. These writers challenge the traditional dichotomy of positive / negative freedom. Based on philosophical resources in past eras (like Renaissance, English Civil War and Enlightenment), they claim that there was a tradition of republican political philosophy, which had a different idea of freedom from the one associated with modern liberalism. They try to rediscover this tradition and the implications of the alternative concept of freedom (which Pettit calls "freedom as non-domination", in contrast with the liberal concept of "freedom as non-interference). The aim of my thesis is to evaluate their arguments, from both philosophical and historical perspectives, and to judge whether they provide a better theory of freedom and government than the liberal one. Qin

Richard Child

Supervisor: Jon Quong

Taking cosmopolitanism seriously: to what extent can national partialities and allegiances coexist with a global conception of individual equality?

Passed Viva September 2010

The ethical perspective known as ‘cosmopolitanism’ claims that all individuals in the world are moral equals and that nothing related to their ethnicity, cultural background or geographical location should influence their chances in life. In its strong normative form, cosmopolitanism sees national borders as morally arbitrary. The question my work seeks to answer is how far we can and should try to take this cosmopolitan view towards its logical conclusion. More specifically, I aim to determine the implications taking cosmopolitanism seriously has for the partiality many people feel towards their co-nationals. I intend to argue that, although nationhood has in many cases been hard won, the evolution of political society will not, and should not, stop there. Nation-states are simply unable to provide the moral and institutional preconditions for cosmopolitan justice and, therefore, should be replaced by forms of government more suited to this task.

Christopher Hughes

Supervisors: Alan Hamlin and Angelia Wilson

Does Liberal Democracy Represent the End of History?  An analysis of Fukuyama and Postmodern Challenges

Passed Viva May 2010

My thesis is a theoretical examination of the possibility of a challenge to liberal democracy and Fukuyama’s claim that it is the end of history.  My thesis questions whether it is possible to conceive of a future which is not a liberal democracy in the most “enlightened”, developed and post-industrial nations.  The thesis asks does liberal democracy represent the end of history, or is it possible to imagine a philosophical alternative to liberal democracy?  In particular, the thesis examines whether postmodernism represents a coherent challenge to liberal democracy by assessing the arguments from a range of postmodern critiques of liberal democracy, from various thinkers, including: Foucault, Derrida, Butler, Lyotard and Rorty.  The thesis primarily focuses on three questions and three problems which postmodern theory raises to the possibility of constructing a notion of a history which has end point.  The thesis poses the questions: can we talk about a universal and teleological history?  Can we talk about a universal human nature?  Can we talk about an autonomous individual?  Ultimately, the thesis aims to assess whether the political objectives of liberal modernists such as Fukuyama and their postmodern critics are as opposed as they appear.  The thesis attempts to establish a dialogue and conversations between the two positions, by highlighting points of convergence, and thus, at least partially, reconciling the two schools of thought.  The thesis concludes by offering a political vision based on the emancipation of individual difference which synthesises liberal democratic and poststructural thought.   

Tom Goodwin

Supervisors: Steve de Wijze and Kimberley Brownlee

Dirty Hands: Inescapable Wrongdoing in Public and Private Life?

Passed Viva October 2009

The aim of my thesis is to highlight the failure of traditional moral theory to capture a pervasive aspect of our moral reality, namely the problem of 'dirty hands' - a species of unavoidable moral wrongdoing. It will argued that the phenomenon of 'dirty hands' also has particular implications for the political sphere, especially when viewed through the lens of a democratic society.

Charlie Robinson

Supervisors Steve de Wijze and Thomas Uebel (Philosophy)

Deliberative Democracy and Social Justice

Passed Viva - October 2007

I propose to develop an account of deliberative democracy that draws on the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer. Habermasian versions of deliberative democracy ignore the fact that moral commitments are rooted in specific traditions and norms and thus cannot be the subject of practical or moral discourses aiming at consensus through rational argumentation. Gadamer points us in the right direction by showing that tradition and prejudice are ontologically fundamental and cannot be side- stepped. In fact, they are the very conditions of the possibility of knowledge. But this does not mean that we draw, as Walzer proposes, only on the resources embedded in the democratic political culture, even though hermeneutics seems to lead us to suppose the validity of such a project. In multicultural and pluralistic societies, we cannot hope to specify the content of tradition in a way acceptable to all, as different groups will interpret the same phenomenon differently, even if they are all reasonable (say, in the Rawlsian sense of the term). Thus, deliberative procedures, if they are sufficiently inclusive and open-ended (ie if we accept their limitations in line with hermeneutic insights), will enable citizens to test their different interpretations in a practical way. Hermeneutic discourses proceed in a way analogous to interpretation itself, as described by the hermeneutic circle. Our interpretations of aspects of a form of life are to be evaluated in terms of a background of intersubjectively valid norms and behavioural expectations. But by the same token, aspects of those background conditions are subject to revision in the light of our interpretations of individual traditions, practices, norms, and so on.

Mihaela Georgieva

Supervisors: Steve de Wijze and Hillel Steiner

Political Constructivism and the Liberal Project of Public Justification

Passed Viva - August 2007

The thesis examines one of the important challenges faced by contemporary projects of liberal theorising – the challenge of offering public justification for liberal principles of justice to an ethically diverse constituency of justification marked by reasonable disagreement. My aim is to consider the political liberal argument (as exemplified by the work of Rawls) for the 'methodological and logical independence' of political theory from moral philosophy and to assess its implications for the project of liberal justification of principles of justice. To do that, I, firstly, analyse how the 'argument for agnosticism' leads to the adoption of a specific approach to justice – political constructivism. Secondly, I try to show that there is a tension between the commitment to agnosticism and the commitment to provide a compelling justification. Finally, I consider some possible ways of resolving that tension and its implications for both the 'argument for agnosticism' and for the use of political constructivism as an approach to the question of justice.

Carl Knight

Supervisor: Hillel Steiner

Equality, Utility and Entitlement

(Completed 2006) Contemporary political theorists tend to treat one of these principles as fundamental, ignoring the considered judgments that support the other principles. This research examines the three principles and devises a pluralistic account of justice that accommodates the strengths, and sidelines the weaknesses, of each of them. 

Adina Preda

Supervisor: Hillel Steiner

The Justification of Humanitarian Intervention

(Completed 2006) This research aims to offer a moral justification for unilateral humanitarian intervention, defined as forcible intervention in a state/(political) community in order to stop or prevent human rights violations. Starting from a distinction between rights and reasons to intervene, it analyses the nature and justification of various collective rights, such as states' and group rights, and possible conflicts between these and individual human rights. It then moves on to examine possible reasons for prohibiting humanitarian intervention and, in particular, an argument which implies that, although exceptional instances of humanitarian intervention may be excused or mitigated, a more permissive general rule is not.

Andrew Shorten

Supervisor: Steve de Wijze

Treating Cultural Commitments Fairly: A Cosmopolitan Account of Multicultural Justice

Completed 2005

Winner of the Political Studies Association Sir Ernest Barker Prize for Best Political Theory Thesis 2005

This work explores the relationship between liberal philosophy and the politics of cultural diversity. It proposes a normative theory – the fair treatment of cultural commitments argument - regarding how liberalism should respond to the fact of multiculturalism, examining the conditions under which special forms of accommodation for minorities might be necessary, and evaluating which demands can (and cannot) be rightly made on behalf of holders of minority cultural commitments. The argument is grounded on a moderate cosmopolitan ontology, and this distinguishes the approach from a number of alternative approaches to similar issues. This ontology rejects the view that cultural communities are bearers of moral value, and instead holds that culture should affect our considerations of liberal justice at the level of individually held cultural commitments. Such commitments matter because they can be the objects of unfair treatment even in societies governed according to ostensibly neutral procedures, and because the unfair treatment of cultural commitments can constitute an injustice. The argument has three major aims. First, to demonstrate why and how matters of culture and identity should inform our moral, legal and political reasoning. Second, to demonstrate why and how the unfair treatment of cultural commitments can be unjust. Third, to explore the implications of this for our theories of justice more generally. This is achieved, in particular, by configuring a particular (moderate cosmopolitan) conception of citizenship that is compatible with group-differentiated rights, and through a related an examination of the demands of equality and toleration in conditions of cultural diversity.