The most important defense of the idea that IP protections respect pre-existing moral rights is Robert Merges’ 2011 book Justifying Intellectual Property. Merges doesn’t argue that moral rights are foundational to IP law, but he does argue that what he calls the “dignity principle” is one part of the foundation of IP law. Here’s how he describes it:

[the dignity principle] says the creator of a work should be respected and recognized in ways that extend beyond the traditional package of rights associated with property: the right to exclude, to alienate (sell or license), to use as one wishes, and…


Vaccine development has been one of the few bright spots in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it also brings renewed attention to the political economy and justification of intellectual property (IP). Some companies like Moderna and Gilead have publicly committed not to enforce or license patents on their pharmaceuticals during the pandemic. This is an admirable choice and we should celebrate the work these companies have done.

There is nonetheless an important distortion in discourse around IP that the pandemic makes apparent. In response to a proposal by India and South Africa to waive features of the TRIPS…


The expression, “I just care about consistency,” sometimes comes up in political arguments. It is interesting because it suggests a potential warrant for arguments that would otherwise be simple cases of “whataboutism.” “Whataboutism” or “whataboutery” (which sounds much more fun) is a mainly conceptualized as a case of the ad hominem tu quoque fallacy, in which A’s assertion that p and A’s previous assertions that not-p or actions suggesting not-p supposedly entail the conclusion that p is false.

Whataboutery, however, can be something other than a mistaken attempt at a deductively valid argument. For example, it might be analyzed as…


Photo by Marco Oriolesi on Unsplash

In this post I want to explore a dimension of politics that seems to have been wrongly marginalized in discussions of political conflict and polarization. This is the seemingly simple, innocent idea of cooperation for mutual advantage. No plausible moral or political theory rejects the idea of mutual advantage entirely, but a dominant theme in recent political thought emphasizes the limits of mutual advantage rather than its extent. What needs greater emphasis at the present moment in my view is the cooperative rather than conflictual dimension of political choice.

The most influential conception of mutual advantage is arguably the Pareto…


One consequence of social polarization in American politics has been an increase in public accusations of “coups” and “treason.” This trend is not exclusive to the Right .“Social polarization” a concept coined by the political scientist Lilliana Mason, involves increasing animosity toward the opposing party and its supporters as well as increasing social distance from those identified with the other party. A paradigm example of social polarization is the declining fraction of people who would be comfortable with their son or daughter marrying someone in different political party. …


Netflix has a new four-part documentary out called Challenger: The Final Flight on the January 1986 space shuttle disaster. As other reviewers have written, the documentary does an excellent job telling the stories of the ordinary people, engineers, NASA employees, journalists, astronauts, and families affected by the explosion. The use of archival video footage is excellent and the historical re-enactments are tasteful. Even folks highly knowledgeable about the episode will learn something new. …


One problems with the debate over renaming institutions and removing statues is the absence of a coherent set of principles for deciding these cases. Fortunately, there have been some efforts in this direction, and in this post I will discuss and offer some criticisms of one well-developed proposal.

Several years ago, Yale University convened a Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming. The context for the commission’s report involved a long-running debate over the name of Calhoun College, one of Yale’s residential colleges, and Calhoun’s legacy as a defender of Southern interests and slavery. …


There is a familiar dialectic in debates over “individual responsibility” in politics, and which has become salient in the recent debate about racial inequality in America. This dialectic goes something like this. Someone asserts that members of some social group should take responsibility for their situation. In response, someone objects that this amounts to “blaming the victims” of injustice and ignores the responsibility of institutions, rules, or policies that caused the situation. Then, the first person says that shifting the focus to institutions, rules, or policies “undermines the agency” of individuals in the social group.

The idea behind this last…


A natural response among police officers to the apparent murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin is defensiveness and to distance themselves from Chauvin’s actions. A friend shared this Facebook post from Yolanda Lewis, a police officer in Opelousas, LA:

Yes I am a Police Officer. But i need you all to stop putting me in the same boat as those other Police Officers. We are not all the same so stop comparing us all to those monsters. Trust and beleive there are Officers who lay down their life for others. I stand behind my badge and other…

Nick Geiser

Political theory PhD. I write about politics and (social) science.

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