a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Author: Lisa Herzog Page 1 of 3

I work on various questions at the intersection of economics and philosophy, currently focussing on ethics and organizations and ethics in finance. Methodologically, I sit between many chairs and I have come to like the variety. I think of my work as critical, empirically informed social philosophy.

Markets and meaning – thinking about their relation

The category of „meaning“ is not one that analytically-minded folks working on public policy and PPE issues use very often. And yet, it is one that I could not stop thinking about for quite a while. I mean by it, very broadly, the kinds of projects that individuals pursue, in which certain values are realized – love, beauty, truth, or whatever, in whatever interpretation individuals chose. A quote from a text about professionalism, by historian Thomas L. Haskel, captures an unease that I had had about markets, and the economic way of thinking about them, for a long time: “Where would liberation stop if the entire social universe was given over to competing selves, none acknowledging any standard higher than his or her own desires?”[1]

What would it take to turn Facebook into a democracy?

by Severin Engelmann and Lisa Herzog*

When the relation between “Facebook” and “democracy” is discussed, the question usually is: what impact does Facebook – as it exists today – have on democratic processes? While this is an urgent and important question, one can also raise a different one: what would it mean to turn Facebook into a democracy, i.e. to govern it democratically? What challenges of institutional design would have to be met for developing meaningful democratic governance structures for Facebook?

Call for Papers: Stanford Junior Scholars Workshop

Here is a call for funded (!) workshop for junior scholars at Stanford’s Center for Ethics in Society:


An excerpt from the Call: “We are especially interested in scholarship in what might be called “interdisciplinary ethics.” Normative scholarship focused on issues like immigration, climate change, global poverty, and the governance of new technologies can benefit from engagement with the social sciences, law, engineering, and life sciences. We especially encourage submissions that bring relevant empirically-oriented scholarship to bear on normative questions and analysis.”

Very much in the spirit of this blog!

“Dumbed down for the masses”? Public philosophy in different keys, and why it matters for justice

When one makes one first steps into public philosophy, one quickly encounters a challenge: as academic philosophers, we are used to writing in a slow, careful, sort-of-boring-but-at-least-precise way: to hedge our claims, to qualify the scope of our theses, etc. For public philosophy, editors want the opposite: brief, succinct sentences, never mind a bit of exaggeration and a polemical tone. And often, they request more: “We really need a concrete example here.” “This is too abstract, we’ve taken the liberty of rewriting it a bit.”  “Can you please do a photo session, for a nice picture?” For many of us, these things feel a bit awkward. Different people draw the line in different places – but it seems unavoidable to play this game, at least up to a point, if you want to reach a broader audience. And as I will argue, there is a matter of justice at stake here.

Workplace Democracy – a proposal for saving democracy

This is an interview with Isabelle Ferreras, who has just published a book on workplace democracy – to my knowledge, it’s the most detailed argument and proposal for a specific form of workplace democracy that has been provided in recent years. To get a sense of what it is all about, check out the animated trailer at www.firmsaspoliticalentities.net. We asked Isabelle to tell us more about her book, and we are very happy that she immediately agreed to do so.

Q: How did you get interested in the topic of workplace democracy?

What, if anything, is wrong with private money in political philosophy?

Recently, there have been increasing worries about the role of private money that funds libertarian political philosophy (see e.g. here or here). The role of private money in academic research is not precisely a new problem; it has plagued other fields for decades (see e.g. here for a study of some of the more problematic forms). But it seems to be rather new for political philosophy, or at least it seems to have gone to levels it has not had in the recent past. But what exactly is wrong with it? Isn’t it simply an exercise of freedom of expression to use one’s money to sponsor scholarship one is interested in?

Durkheim on social justice (or: why political theorists should read sociology)

As part of my long-term project to convince political theorists that they can benefit from cooperating with empirical social scientists (see also here), I’ve recently written a paper on an intriguing argument about social justice that I found in the writings of Émile Durkheim, who is widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of sociology. I here present a short summary; the full paper can be found here.

Who can speak for/with/about whom? Two metaphors, and why they matter

The question of who can speak about what, about whom, with whom and for whom is at the heart of many recent controversies: Who has the right to speak on behalf of disadvantaged groups, e.g. sexual or racial minorities? Who should be invited to speak, e.g. on college campuses, who should be refused a stage? Have speakers with more extreme political positions, e.g. climate change deniers, a right to be listened to?

These issues are so difficult that I can hardly do justice to even just one aspect in this blogpost.[1] And yet, we cannot ignore them – arguably, they go to the heart of what political philosophy is all about. What I want to do is to reflect on two concepts, or metaphors, which have floated around in the debates: “identity politics” and “standpoint epistemology.” They point to deeper assumptions about who can speak for/with/about whom. Making these explicit might help us to move the discussion forward.

Interdisciplinary fellowship on global challenges

The Hochschule für Politik München (Bavarian School of Public Policy) advertises an interdisciplinary fellowship in “Global Transformations.” It is open to political theorists with an interdisciplinary bend. Details here:


If everything is measured, can we still see one another as equals?

Relational egalitarians hold what matters for justice is that all members of a society “stand in relations of equality to others.” The idea that all human beings are moral equals is widely shared: it underlies the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many national constitutions. How will this norm be affected by the arrival of “big data,” the collecting and analysing of huge amounts of data about individuals? Internet companies and government services collect data about individuals’ activities, including geographic locations, shopping behaviour and friendships. Many individuals voluntarily share such information on social media, some also track their physical activities in meticulous details. Experts expect that “people analytics” – big data applied to the measurement of work performance – will have a revolutionary impact on labour markets.

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