Academic Philosophy

Intervention and Revolution

I’ve been writing lately about war. Bas van der Vossen and I have a volume upcoming at Oxford University Press entitled Debating Humanitarian Intervention. Today I published a post over at the Stockholm Center for the Ethics of War and Peace summarizing my views on the relationship between intervention and revolution, presented in Chapter 3 of the book. Here’s the link. An excerpt:

It is widely held that violent revolution can be justified to end tyranny. It is equally widely held that foreign intervention is not justified to end tyranny. Intervention is justified, if at all, in a much narrower range of cases – perhaps to halt massacre or genocide, but not to end ‘ordinary’ oppression. On this view, state oppression may be sufficient to furnish internal revolutionaries with a just cause for violence, but simultaneously insufficient to generate a just cause for outside parties to do the same. Can this difference be justified? … I answer in the negative: the just cause for humanitarian intervention is exactly the same as the just cause for revolution, and both are subject to the same principles of proportionality (call this the equivalence thesis.) On my view, there may be cases in which intervention is impermissible while revolution is permissible, but this is simply because, for contingent reasons, the intervention will be disproportionate while the revolution will not. Their differential moral status does not depend on a difference between their respective just causes.



A last reminder: GSU Philosophy MA Program Scholarship

Georgia State University’s highly ranked terminal MA program in Philosophy offers a graduate “Scholarship in Liberalism.”  This is a competitively awarded scholarship for an outstanding student with a demonstrated interest in the arguments of historical or contemporary philosophical liberals (in the tradition of figures such as Locke, Smith, Hume, and Mill) about issues such as freedom, justice, political authority, social order, toleration and related themes.  The 2017-2018 academic year will be the third year we offer this scholarship; it provides a $15,000 stipend for each year in the two-year program plus a full tuition waiver (the second year, of course, is contingent on satisfactory performance the first year).  Our Department has several funding packages available.) Some further details about funding are located here.  See our excellent faculty here.  Our Department has long had a strength in Social and Political Philosophy and Philosophy of Law and we place many of our graduates into excellent PhD programs.  Our website has fairly comprehensive information about the program. We also have a flyer available here.  Also see our Ethics Center website!

The most important deadline is February 1, which ensures that students will be considered in the initial round of consideration and must be met for a candidate to be considered for the scholarship (though we also have rolling admissions for applicants between February 1 and our final deadline of April 15).  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me or our Director of Graduate Studies, Tim O’Keefe (

I would love some applications from some BHLs!


Rules, Norms, and Practices in Football

There are three factors governing the level of injuries we see in American football.  There are formal rules, the “code” of individual conduct, and the way that equipment interacts with the basic techniques of tackling and blocking.  Given the current conception of “the code,” having helmets actually makes concussions MORE likely.  Which might seem surprising.  Formal rule changes alone won’t solve the problem.

Or, so say I in this article in the New York Times…


Liberty and Immigration Symposium

The Molinari Society will be holding its annual Symposium in conjunction with the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, 202 East Pratt Street, in Baltimore, January 4-7, 2017. Here’s the current schedule info:

Molinari Society symposium: Libertarianism and Refugees
GFC. Thursday, 5 January 2017, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 noon.

James P. Sterba (University of Notre Dame), “Libertarianism and the Rights of Refugees
Jan Narveson (University of Waterloo, Ontario), “Accommodating Refugees and Respecting Liberty

Charles W. Johnson (Molinari Institute)
Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to participate in person, but my comments will be read out in absentia.

Current Events


The Republican Party is considering trying to pass the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) once Trump takes office. This Act, if passed as worded, will have some interesting and unintended consequences for Catholics–who, with the Act’s obvious target of gay people, could become legitimate targets of discrimination.


The FADA “prohibits the federal government from taking discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

In Catholic canon law consecrated virgins and religious women (i.e., members of Catholic religious communities) are considered to be legally married to Jesus. (See Canons 604 and 607 in The Code of Canon Law.) The Catholic Church thus does not believe that  “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman” since it recognizes the polygamous union of Jesus with multiple consecrated virgins and religious women. Of course, since the law is written as a disjunct Catholic organizations who wish to discriminate against gay people (or single mothers) could always fall back on (2) “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage”. They could argue that Jesus and his consecrated virgins and religious women don’t have the sort of icky sex that’s proper to those marriages that involve physical interactions. That sort of sex is reserved to the other sort of marriage.

So, Catholic organizations would get to discriminate against gay people and single mothers. But all is not rosy for conservative Catholics who might welcome this. This is because the FADA would prohibit the federal government from taking action against people or organizations that discriminated against Catholics. Imagine you’re a Protestant bakery (for example), and believe that marriage should just be between one man and one woman. Knowledgeable of Catholic canon law, you refuse to serve Catholics on the grounds that their religion allows polygamy. (Jesus with his harem of consecrated virgins and religious women.) Since your discrimination against Catholics is based on your religious belief that “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman” the FADA would prohibit the Federal government from taking action against you.

Of course, the persecution of Catholics in America is not new. So, maybe this will make the FADA even more appealing to some traditionalists. Just not traditional Catholics!

(With thanks to the law firm CLAMS: Canon Law Advocacy and Mediation Services, LLC for legal advice on canon law and its applicability to the FADA.)