Jason Brennan's research while affiliated with Georgetown University and other places

Publications (88)

Article
Full-text available
Many business ethicists, activists, analysts, and corporate leaders claim that businesses are obligated to promote diversity for the sake of justice. Many also say—good news!—that diversity promotes the bottom line. We do need not choose between social justice and profits. This paper splashes some cold water on the attempt to mate these two claims....
Article
Recent debates over ideal theory have reinvigorated interest in the question of anarchy. Would a perfectly just society need—or even permit—a state? Ideal anarchists such as Jason Brennan, G.A. Cohen, Christopher Freiman, and Jacob Levy argue that strict compliance with justice obviates the need for a state. Ideal statists such as David Estlund, Gr...
Article
Full-text available
Recent findings from psychology and behavioral economics suggest that we are “predictably irrational” in the pursuit of our interests. Paternalists from both the social sciences and philosophy use these findings to defend interfering with people's consumption choices for their own good. We should tax soda, ban cigarettes, and mandate retirement sav...
Article
Full-text available
G.A. Cohen famously claims that egalitarians shouldn’t be so rich. If you possess excess income and there is little chance that the state will redistribute it to the poor, you are obligated to donate it yourself. We argue that this conclusion is correct, but that the case against the rich egalitarian is significantly stronger than the one Cohen off...
Chapter
This book’s central question concerns whether socialism and liberalism can be reconciled. We are worried the answer is no. We will not quite prove that in this paper, but we will raise a number of substantive worries, which perhaps some socialist theorist will be able to resolve
Chapter
There is a division of labor in modern democratic societies. The main way businesses serve society is by producing products and services people want at prices they can afford to pay. A good business exercises corporate social responsibility simply by delivering its core service. There is a role for charitable giving and other causes, but having a w...
Chapter
Every business faces internal conflicts of interest. They must determine how to motivate employees to cooperate in a productive manner, while also limiting the temptation to exploit the business for private gain. Designing good incentives is essential. If inputs are easy to measure, employees can be compensated based on how much work they do, but i...
Chapter
Moral psychology indicates that we have a range of quirks which lead otherwise well-meaning people to act badly. These quirks include conformity effects, by which we tend to copy what others do regardless of whether it is good or bad and tend to defer to those we see as authoritative. Framing effects—how a problem is presented—can cause us to chang...
Chapter
People are predominantly but not entirely selfish. However, they do generally have strong degrees of altruistic motivation in certain situations. Good management strategies must be careful not to crowd out intrinsic motivation—in which people do what things for their own sake—for extrinsic motivation—in which people are motivated primarily by rewar...
Chapter
Sometimes voluntary agreements that are beneficial to all parties can still be unethical. This occurs when the benefits of the agreement are unfairly divided among the parties. The benefits of a mutually beneficial transaction might be exploitative, meaning that one party unconscionably takes advantage of the vulnerability of another party. World p...
Chapter
It is useful to model the temptation to act wrongly using the prisoner’s dilemma, one of the most important games in game theory. The prisoner’s dilemma appears to show that the pursuit of self-interest can paradoxically lead to situations in which everyone makes choices they know will undermine their self-interest. However, introducing the possibi...
Book
Business Ethics for Better Behavior concisely answers the three most pressing ethical questions business professionals face: 1. What makes business practices right or wrong? 2. Why do normal, decent businesspeople of goodwill sometimes do the wrong thing? 3. How can we use the answer to these questions to get ourselves, our coworkers, our bosses, a...
Chapter
SMART objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. DUMB values are Disconnected, Unincentivized, Measureless, and Boilerplate. Effective ethical and strategic management techniques promote SMART objectives and avoid DUMB values. However, business leaders often fall into the trap of pursuing DUMB values in part because...
Chapter
People are evolved to be ethical animals, but also evolved not to be perfectly moral. We suffer from predictable moral failings. Managing for better behaviors requires us to diagnose why good people act badly so that we can form proper strategies for overcoming their foibles. Further, some might be skeptical that there can be a universal ethics and...
Chapter
Business ethics primarily concerns how businesses conduct themselves and how they make their money. Sometimes businesspeople act badly because they suffer from moral confusion—that is, they are genuinely unsure what moral principles apply to their situation or how to apply them correctly. There are at least five major principles of business ethics...
Chapter
Moral confusion in business ethics and corporate social responsibility often stems from treating ethics and law as if they were the same. Ethics and the law often overlap and sometimes conflict. They are distinct categories. Laws may enforce people’s ethical obligations. But they may also contravene them and require unethical action. Because the la...
Chapter
People are complicated. Morality is part of what makes us human. We are not just social animals, but animals evolved to have some innate moral concerns. Why, then, do ordinary people sometimes act badly? The answer is: it’s complicated. It’s not as simple as “People are selfish.” Instead, it’s a mix of problems. Sometimes we face bad incentives and...
Chapter
One way to illustrate how to manage a business or oneself for ethical performance is to teach the lesson in a negative form. How would one run a business if one wanted to induce others and oneself to act worse? One would want to create structures that impose perverse incentives, encourage moral blindness, promote moral confusion, create stress and...
Chapter
Diffusion of responsibility refers to the problem that when something is everyone’s job, it in effect ends up being nobody’s job. This explains why many collective problems arise. People face perverse incentives to free ride on others’ actions and not to do their part. As a result, agents often think in short-term rather than long-term ways. Proble...
Chapter
Even if cooperating will make everyone better off, cooperation won’t happen if people lack certain kinds of knowledge and motivation. In group settings, individuals will often have incentives to promote their own interest at the expense of the group, either by exploiting others or by failing to contribute to public goods. There are two ways to over...
Article
The ‘particularity problem’ is one of the most important objections to the putative duty to vote. The problem holds that the reasons usually given on behalf of a duty to vote fail to show there is a duty specifically to vote, but only at best show that voting is one of the many eligible ways to discharge some underlying duty, such as to exercise ci...
Article
Markets without Limits defends the claim that there are no inherent limits to markets, in the sense that if something may permissibly be given away or exchanged outside of market or for free, then there is some realistic and plausible way of structuring a market that makes it morally permissible to exchange it for money. This paper reviews the basi...
Article
Commonsense moral thinking holds that people have doxastic, contemplative, and expressive duties, that is, duties to or not to believe, seriously consider, and express certain ideas. This paper argues that moral and political philosophers face a high risk of violating any such duties, both because of the sensitivity and difficult of the subject mat...
Article
In Rawlsian political philosophy, “basic liberties” are rights subject to a high degree of protection, such that they cannot easily be overridden for concerns of stability, efficiency, or social justice. For Rawls, something qualifies as a basic liberty if and only if bears the right relationship to our “two moral powers”: a capacity to form a sens...
Article
Thanks to Inquiry for hosting this symposium, and thanks to Ilya Somin, Robert Talisse, Gordon Allen, and Enzo Rossi for participating it. It’s an honor. I’m especially grateful for their contributions because the five of us come from similar enough starting points that our debates can be productive. None of us have any patience for romantic, pie-i...
Book
Ideally, universities are centers of learning, in which great researchers dispassionately search for truth, no matter how unpopular those truths must be. The marketplace of ideas assures that truth wins out against bias and prejudice. Yet many people worry that there's rot in the heart of the higher education business. This book reveals the problem...
Chapter
This chapter considers academics’ use of moral language to cover their self-interest. For instance, when a college professor receives tenure, she enjoys tremendous job security. She can then only be fired “for cause” or in case of severe financial emergency. She can hang on to her job for years beyond what should have marked her retirement. At most...
Chapter
This chapter assesses how professors grade students. It argues that the practice of grading is replete with problems. Grades are a kind of language. They are meant to be a form of communication. They are sometimes meant to communicate to students how well they’ve mastered a set of material. Most colleges calculate grade point averages (GPAs) and co...
Chapter
This chapter considers the current glut of underemployed PhDs, especially in fields like English or modern languages. It asks: Why do so many programs continue to pump out new PhDs despite bad employment prospects? It suggests the reason for a humanities PhD glut is not that jobs are going away. Rather, jobs are mostly remaining stable or growing r...
Chapter
In the United States, most universities and colleges ask students to complete course evaluations at the end of each semester. They ask students how much they’ve learned, how much they studied, whether the instructor seemed well-prepared, and how valuable the class was overall. This chapter examines how colleges routinely make faculty hiring, retent...
Chapter
This chapter considers the many perks enjoyed by colleges at the expense of taxpayers. American colleges and universities spend about half a trillion dollars a year on direct operations. Federal, state, and local governments cover a large portion of these expenses. Overall, colleges get about 37 percent of their revenue from the government. This nu...
Chapter
This chapter discusses the issue of student cheating. Student cheating is widespread—most cheat a little, and some cheat a lot. Thanks to social desirability bias, surveys give a lower bound on how many and how often students cheat, so the truth is that more students cheat and more often than the surveys indicate. When cheating is this widespread,...
Chapter
The past nine chapters examined all sorts of bad behavior from faculty, administrators, and students. Much of this bad behavior can be attributed to the perverse incentives individuals face because of the way universities are structured. Nevertheless, many commentators seem to believe that three powerful forces haunt academia. They are, supposedly:...
Chapter
This chapter criticizes how universities and colleges market themselves to potential students. In particular, it examines how they promise (or at least strongly insinuate) that they will transform students, teach them to think, and turn them into leaders. The problem is that very little evidence exists that universities succeed in doing any of thes...
Chapter
This chapter first discusses the serious moral flaws in higher education. Universities’ problems are deep and fundamental: Most academic marketing is semi-fraudulent, grading is largely nonsense, students do not study or learn much, students cheat frequently, professors and administrators waste students’ money and time to line their own pockets, pr...
Chapter
This chapter considers the question of why universities require general education or gen ed. If you ask them, they’ll offer a host of nice, public-spirited reasons. The purpose of gen eds is to ensure that students are well rounded, develop a wide breadth of knowledge and skills, and are exposed to multiple fields so they can make an informed decis...
Chapter
This chapter discusses the basic incentives that faculty, students, and administrators face, especially at so-called R1 (doctoral-granting with the highest research activity) universities. Different people have somewhat different motivations. Some are more driven by fame and prestige, some by money, some by intellectual curiosity, some by love, and...
Article
Full-text available
This paper critiques many of the leading popular and philosophical arguments purporting to show employers have a duty to pay a living wage. Some of these arguments fail on their own terms. Some are not really about a living wage. The best of them fail to show employers per se owe a living wage; at best, they should that governments should supplemen...
Article
Carol Gould argues that democratic institutions can serve as mechanisms of informed consent or could at least facilitate creating regulations and other structures which facilitate informed consent in bioethics, medicine, and elsewhere. I am sceptical. I argue that democracies cannot serve as vehicles of consent, let alone informed consent. Further,...
Article
The question of democracy—for or against? Is less a dichotomous choice than a matter of sliding scales. All agree that the people ought to have some involvement and virtually nobody believes that all must govern all the time. This Introduction presents a tour d’horizon of the historical debate and presents a brief summary of the different arguments...
Article
Full-text available
Private Governance shows that philosophers, political and legal theorists, and social scientists mistakenly believe in legal centralism, the view that order in the world depends upon and is made possible by state law. In fact, most governance not only happens to be private, but must be private. This paper extends Edward Stringham’s argument by clai...
Article
Full-text available
American universities rely upon a large workforce of adjunct faculty—contract workers who receive low pay, no benefits, and no job security. Many news sources, magazines, and activists claim that adjuncts are exploited and should receive better pay and treatment. This paper never affirms nor denies that adjuncts are exploited. Instead, we show that...
Article
Full-text available
The above-mentioned article was published online with an incorrect title. The correct title reads “Does the Demographic Objection to Epistocracy Succeed?” © 2017 Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature
Article
Full-text available
In most, if not all, forms of epistocracy, we can expect (at least in the near future) that the more advantaged demographic groups would have higher rates of representation than less advantaged groups. The Demographic Objection to Epistocracy holds that this means epistocracy is unjust. One version of the Demographic Objection holds that the unequa...
Article
Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia made libertarianism a major theory in political philosophy. However, the book is often misread as making impractical, question‐begging arguments on the basis of a libertarian self‐ownership principle. This essay explains how academic philosophical libertarianism since Robert Nozick has returned to its huma...
Article
Full-text available
Alon Harel wants to show that punishment is a kind of symbolic expression that, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, can only be performed by governmental agents. Contrary to Harel, I argue private agents can in fact realize those features he argues only public agents can realize. I also argue that, even if he were right that only public guards a...
Article
Jason Stanley’s How Propaganda Works intends to offer a novel account of what propaganda is, how it works, and what damage it does inside a democratic culture. The book succeeds in showing that, contrary to the stereotype, propaganda need not be false or misleading. However, Stanley offers contradictory definitions of propaganda, and his theory, wh...
Article
Stephen Hood asks a number of interesting questions about which moral norms government competition.
Article
This paper argues that mandatory, government-enforced vaccination can be justified even within a libertarian political framework. If so, this implies that the case for mandatory vaccination is very strong indeed as it can be justified even within a framework that, at first glance, loads the philosophical dice against that conclusion. I argue that p...
Article
May you sell your vote? May you sell your kidney? May gay men pay surrogates to bear them children? May spouses pay each other to watch the kids, do the dishes, or have sex? Should we allow the rich to genetically engineer gifted, beautiful children? Should we allow betting markets on terrorist attacks and natural disasters? Most people shudder at...
Article
Semiotic objections to commodification hold that buying and selling certain goods and services is wrong because of what market exchange communicates or because it violates the meaning of certain goods, services, and relationships. We argue that such objections fail. The meaning of markets and of money is a contingent, socially constructed fact. Cul...
Article
We aim to show anti-commodification theorists that their complaints about the scope of the market are exaggerated. There are we agree things that should not be bought and sold but that’s only because they are things people shouldn’t have or do or exchange in the first place. Beyond that we argue there are legitimate moral worries about how we buy t...

Citations

... The capacity of economic engineers to design marketplaces to achieve specific objectives, in particular, raises the question, which did not arise under the spontaneous-order view, of how these marketplaces ought, or ought not to be designed (cf. Brennan & Jaworski, 2016;Jaworski & Brennan, 2015). 5 Shengwu Li has recently proposed a division of labor between market designers and moral philosophers (2017), which may be usefully applied to answer this question. ...
... 10 That they want something stronger has become clearer from subsequent work. Brennan & Jaworski (2021) paraphrases their thesis in such a way that when considering goods it is permissible to have, markets structured in the right way are said to be 'realistic and plausible'. This is stronger than mere possibility, and it is suggests that they are likely to accept feasibility as a limit on permissible markets but deny the second premise in the argument against the thesis below. ...
... Maybe in ideal conditions the state would effectively tax billionaires and transfer the revenue to the poor; however, in nonideal conditions, perhaps billionaires have a duty of justice to give the money to those who need it more. For more on this idea, see Brennan and Freiman 2021. Thanks to an anonymous referee for encouraging us to address this. ...
... It is one thing to explain them in a fluent manner to others so they can reconstruct the underlying claims and overarching theory, but it is likely that a liberal explainer will be closed-minded as to their underlying validity. This point about closed-mindedness to morally noxious beliefs is discussed further below in Section 3.6 (also see: Brennan and Freiman 2020). 54 Cf. ...
... I apply the Test of Moral Powers to freedom of social association in examining the status of a basic liberty through its contribution to the two moral powers and their corresponding fundamental interests (Rawls, 2005a;Brennan, 2019). Rawls thought of the choice of the principle of justice within a system of representation that set conditions for reasonableness and rationality. ...
... The first is from an analysis of empirical research in social psychology -specifically the directionally motivated reasoning (DMR) research programme. In this it joins a recent literature critical of the empirical assumptions which underpin democratic theory (Caplan 2007;Gunn 2014;Bell 2015;Brennan 2016;Somin 2016;Brennan 2022). The challenge posed to deliberative democracy by DMR in particular has been noted in the literature (Richey 2012;Moscrop 2017). ...
... This is partly due to a lack of awareness within HEIs of the role that lifelong learning can play in enabling them to better meet the current and future challenges of students training. Furthermore, many institutions continue focussing on academic excellence in teaching and research, rightly or wrongly seen as the "ivory tower of the university", and pay less attention to widening access and providing lifelong learning opportunities for all (Brennan & Magness, 2019). This should be the "third mission" recognised for academic institutions in addition to the usual teaching and research objectives namely, to contribute to the economic, social and cultural life of the communities they serve (Fongwa et al., 2014). ...
... For instance, the wealth of scholarly critique of epistocracy is proof that politically competent citizens may reject forms of decision-making that give greater weight to the voices of the politically knowledgeable. Yet, it is even more difficult to understand why lay citizens, who, as Brennan (2016Brennan ( , 2019 himself notes, tend to view with concern and suspicion alternative, more enlightened, opinions, will be willing to support a society in which they are systematically excluded from meaningful decision-making. ...
... This is the demographic objection which argues, firstly, that such a form of representation is unjust and unfair. Secondly, it holds that some people will have more power than others, since epistocracies have the tendency to help the advantaged and harm the disadvantaged (Brennan, 2018). Based on this notion, epistocracies could suffer from several problems: lack of popular acceptance and actual, or perceived, illegitimacy, which may lead to instability and resistance, since citizens will likely be sceptical of any form of selection criteria or competence that determine political participation (Brennan, 2019). ...
... In their capacity as democratic participants, lay citizens tend to be short-sighted, stubborn, incompetent, and gullible to the point that they vote in an entirely expressive manner (Brennan 2018, 64). The long list of cognitive failures and epistemic vices is also described as causing disagreements that would not exist otherwise, as exacerbating the divide among citizens or as making voters vote against their interest (Brennan 2018). Voters, he says, are not necessarily bad at producing the profile of a good candidate. ...