Richard W. Miller
Wyn and William Y. Hutchinson Professor in Ethics and Public Life,
Department of Philosophy, Cornell University
Richard W. Miller is Wyn and William Y. Hutchinson Professor in Ethics and Public Life in the Department of Philosophy at Cornell University, where he is Director of the Program on Ethics and Public Life. He received his B.A., with a major in Philosophy, from Amherst College in 1965, and received his Ph. D. in 1975 from the Philosophy Department at Harvard University, where his teachers included John Rawls, Hilary Putnam and Rogers Albritton. He has taught at Cornell since 1973.
Throughout his career, Professor Miller has written on leading topics in social and political philosophy. His first book, Analyzing Marx (1984; Chinese edition, 2009) defended innovative accounts of Marx’s views on morality, power and social change. His most recent book, Globalizing Justice (2010) describes how transnational responsibilities derive from transnational relationships of power. Topics of his many recent articles in social and political philosophy have included the scope and limits of duties of concern, the moral significance of economic inequality, the assessment of John Rawls’ legacy in political philosophy, duties to help the global poor, the moral status of patriotism and of special duties toward compatriots, moral problems of globalization and global climate change, the ethics of war, and the moral implications of American power. His other interests have extended to the philosophy of science, ethics, epistemology and aesthetics, producing work including Fact and Method: Explanation, Confirmation and Reality in the Natural and the Social Sciences (1987) and Moral Differences: Truth, Justice and Conscience in a World of Conflict (1992).
As the 20th incumbent of the Tang Chun-I Visiting Professorship, Professor Miller will offer a public lecture on “Economic Inequality and the Ethics of Concern,” constructing new moral foundations for current political efforts to reduce economic inequality. Additionally, he will offer a four-week seminar on democracy, exploring leading debates about when and why political institutions should be democratic, what form political democracy should take, and what the case for political democracy implies for economic relations. Finally, he will offer a departmental seminar on the question, “How Does Political Equality Matter?”, an inquiry into the inherent value of political equality and its implications for both economic and political justice.
Economic Inequality and the Ethics of Concern
Many people throughout the world seek the substantial reduction, by political means, of the inequalities that free enterprise creates. They believe that fellow-members of their societies have a political duty to support measures taxing the best-off to help those who are worse-off, including people who are not poor. What is the moral basis of this duty? Anglo-American political philosophers typically share the political goal of greater equality, and base it on a requirement of fairness, due to John Rawls. But this foundation is vulnerable to powerful criticisms that it does not sustain such an extensive duty to give up benefits of successful enterprise to help others. A firmer foundation extends beyond the duty of political impartiality that Rawls emphasizes. It includes a personal duty of concern, a duty to be sufficiently responsive to others’ needs that more responsiveness would worsen one’s life. While this duty lends powerful support to egalitarian political programs, further support may be required from another imperative, as well, a duty to give up benefits of exploitation to help meet needs.
Democracy: Its Values, Prospects and Problems
How Does Political Equality Matter
In virtually all countries, many people are concerned with the extent to which political influence is unequal, for example, the extent to which rich citizens have greater influence. But is approximate equality of political influence morally important as such, not just insofar as it promotes further outcomes, for example, economic justice? The major philosophers investigating political equality have generally said, “No.” In contrast, the seminar presentation will base the intrinsic importance of equal political influence on the demands of interpersonal respect and the need to nurture a democratic way of life. This moral foundation turns out to have far-reaching implications, requiring less subordination in economic life, entailing major political reforms in modern democracies, and providing a framework for assessing options for political change in China.