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Jason Brennan

Jason Brennan

Jason Brennan (Ph.D., 2007, University of Arizona) is Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Chair and Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business, and by courtesy, Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Georgetown University, and formerly Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Research, at Brown University. He specializes in political philosophy and applied ethics.

Articles by Jason Brennan

On the Latest Brouhaha in Academic Philosophy

August 8, 2019

Daily Nous posted this badly written letter yesterday:http://dailynous.com/2019/08/06/recognizing-gender-critical-feminism-anti-trans-activism-guest-post/It claims that Gender Critical Feminists aren’t engaging in scholarship when they…get this…publish papers or conduct interviews where they argue for GCF. Rather, they are really doing activism (which, presumably, means they are less protected by norms of academic freedom). But the authors don’t argue for this position, really. Rather, the “evidence” they provide (that’s it’s activism rather than scholarship) is simply to state the things GCFs believe. Note that I am not a GCF.Certain philosophers think that GCFs are not merely mistaken in their views, but that they should be ostracized, forbidden from publishing, and subject to

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Does Small-r Republicanism Rest on a Mistake?

June 7, 2019

The Niskanen Center has spun its weekly wheel of ideology, and this week landed on small-r, Pettit-style republicanism. There’s a great deal wrong with this theory. Here I’ll focus on one issue.One of the big motivations behind republicanism was the idea that traditional liberal conceptions of freedom were subject to a counterexample. The republican conception of freedom was supposed to fix the mistake. But, as the dialogue below illustrates, something goes wrong when republicans offer to fix liberalism. Civic Republican: Hey, Isaiah Berlin, how do you liberals define “freedom”?Berlin: We conceive of freedom as the absence of certain impediments. A person is free just in case he is not interfered with in various ways. Different liberals spell that out slightly differently. But

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English vs Economics: Two Graphs

May 27, 2019

Full-time US faculty at four-year colleges, in two disciplines, vs. majors in those disciplines over time.

Published on: May 27, 2019May 27, 2019Author: Jason Brennan

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On Reading Entrails and Student Evaluations

May 17, 2019

In Cracks in the Ivory Tower, we note that empirical work overwhelmingly shows that students evaluations are reliable but invalid measures of teaching effectiveness. Some early results were positive, but as sophistication in using statistic techniques and controlling for confounding variables increased, the published results became ever more negative. So, why do universities insist on using them? Some hypotheses:

The SET is relatively cheap and easy to implement.Valid measures of faculty effectiveness are expensive and difficult to implement.As a corollary of 1 and 2: Since nearly every American university and college already uses SET scores, the architecture for collecting these scores is already in place. But replacing the SET requires finding and implementing a new

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Paul Gunn’s Forthcoming Hatchet Job in Critical Review

May 15, 2019

Paul Gunn has a “critique” of Against Democracy forthcoming in Critical Review (the Jeff Friedman journal, not the of International… one.) The positions and arguments Gunn attributes to me are unrecognizable, neither directly stated in the texts nor implied by them. Gunn’s main methodology in the paper is to take a clear quotation of mine, state it, interpret it in some way that makes me sound stupid, and finally argue against that stupid view. So, in this post, I’ll refer to the book Gunn critiques as Straw Against Democracy.Some examples: On page 12, he quotes me from chapter 2, where I give a rather stock illustration of the concept of rational ignorance. I say that if a billionaire offered you a deal, that if you ace AP US history, civics, micro, and macro, plus get a 95% of

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Most Academic Advertising Is Immoral Bullshit

May 8, 2019

Chapter 3 of Cracks in the Ivory Tower investigates how universities and individual academic departments market themselves. Our basic conclusion: Most academic advertising is immoral bullshit. Universities make big promises they don’t know if they can keep. They don’t test to see whether they deliver the goods they promise. Worst of all, there is strong independent evidence from educational psychology that they systematically fail to deliver the goods, in part because liberal arts education is grounded on a mistaken, falsified theory of learning.

Here’s an excerpt. In this excerpt, we set up the ethical problem. You can read the book for a review of empirical research showing that universities fail to deliver the goods they promise to students.:

Imagine if Pfizer placed

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The Purpose of Gen-Eds Is to Exploit Students for Tuition Money

May 6, 2019

In Cracks in the Ivory Tower, Phil and I argue that most of the dysfunction inside academia is explained by bad incentives. Academics are normal people. They are predominantly if not entirely selfish. Academic rules frequently allow them to pursue their self-interest and externalize the costs onto others. One nice example of this are university gen-ed requirements. Students are usually required to take a range of classes which supposedly teach them different skills and expose them to different ideas. Universities defend gen-eds with student-centered, paternalistic language. “Students need to know how to write, so we make them take composition courses.” “Students need to be well-rounded, so we require them to take a range of courses in many different fields.” “Students should be

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*Cracks in the Ivory Tower* Now Available

May 1, 2019

Order it here.

Description:

Academics extol high-minded ideals, such as serving the common good and promoting social justice. Universities aim to be centers of learning that find the best and brightest students, treat them fairly, and equip them with the knowledge they need to lead better lives. 

But as Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness show in Cracks in the Ivory Tower, American universities fall far short of this ideal. At almost every level, they find that students, professors, and administrators are guided by self-interest rather than ethical concerns. College bureaucratic structures also often incentivize and reward bad behavior, while disincentivizing and even punishing good behavior. Most students, faculty, and administrators are out to serve themselves and pass

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Pre-Order *Open Borders* today

April 8, 2019

Bryan Caplan and Zack Weinersmith’s Open Borders is available for pre-order today. It’s going to be excellent.

URL for pre-ordering the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1250316960/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1250316960&linkCode=as2&tag=bryacaplwebp-20&linkId=1ed2cdfe4a1c0cd2a62e942a39f87b9d

URL for an introductory post on the book: https://www.econlib.org/pre-order-open-borders-the-science-and-ethics-of-immigration/

Published on: April 8, 2019April 8, 2019Author: Jason Brennan

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David Schweickart, Hack or Liar?

April 4, 2019

Via Facebook, I learned that a philosopher at Loyola Chicago plans to give a talk about me on April 12. Here’s the description:

The Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies is pleased to welcome Professor David Schweickart (Loyola University Chicago) for a Spring Applied Philosophy Lyceum, “Against Democracy??: Libertarianism, Climate Change Denial, Democracy (In Chains).”

In 2016, Jason Brennen [sic], a prominent libertarian philosopher, published a provocative book entitled Against Democracy. Schweickart will engage with Brennen [sic], arguing that there is a crucial connection between libertarianism and climate-change denialism which has serious political implications for the future of our species.

Huh.And here’s my 2018 book with Oxford University Press, where I

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Why College Admissions Isn’t Only about Academic Talent

March 17, 2019

My employer, Georgetown University, is one of the universities involved in /victimized by the recent admissions scandals. In 2017, we fired tennis coach Gordie Ernst for “admissions irregularities”; he is alleged to have accepted $2.7 million in bribes to help around 12 students get an edge in admissions.

Phil Magness and I have a book coming out next month called Cracks in the Ivory Tower, which argues that universities are fundamentally corrupt in the way they advertise, allocate gen ed requirements, and more. We don’t discuss admissions much in the book because everyone is already aware of the problems; we go after the less obvious but more fundamental stuff.Nevertheless, there’s plenty to say about what this episode reveals about college admissions. Phil and I have a

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Jan Ting on Immigration

February 20, 2019

St. Olaf College hosted a forum on immigration and national sovereignty last night, with Jan Ting, Natalie Molina, and me.

You can watch the video of it here: https://www.stolaf.edu/multimedia/play/?e=2425A quick summary of some of the things Ting either said, argued, or insinuated, and what was wrong with them.1. He repeated insinuated that of course rich people and capital owners love open borders, because they just want to get cheap labor into the US so they can workers pay less. (No evidence given for that claim, of course.)Problems: First, I’d already discussed the empirical evidence on how immigration affects wages, and that evidence overwhelmingly shows that most domestic workers would see their wages go up, not down, due to complementarity effects. Even Borjas, the

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The Stupid House = Nation Analogy Is Back

January 10, 2019

The argument seems to be this: “Your house has walls, doesn’t it? Well, then, you must on pain of consistency hold that it’s right to put a wall around the country. If you really believed in open borders, you’d have an open door policy and let anyone come into your house whenever they want.”Even self-described libertarian websites make arguments like this.Once again, a nation is not like a house.Let’s imagine it were. The analogy would prove too much. In my house, I’m free to do all of the following: Forbid almost all people from praying to Jesus. Forbid people from associating with each other, from holding religious services, starting a business, reading LibertyHangout.com, reading the New York Times, starting a club, attending a university, marrying their life-long loves,

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Podcasts on *When All Else Fails*

January 5, 2019

Here are two podcasts with me on *When All Else Fails: The Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice*,  which is one of Stephen Carter’s favorite fifteen non-fiction books of 2018 in Bloomberg.

Free Thoughts at Libertarianism.org with Trevor Burrus and Aaron Powell.

Lions of Liberty.

Published on: January 5, 2019January 5, 2019Author: Jason Brennan

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So dangerous!

December 13, 2018

[embedded content]
The commonsense theory of self-defense that everyone understands and accepts: “You may use proportional force if it is necessary to stop an attacker from severely harming your or violating your rights.”
Everyone: “That sounds legit.”
Me: “Add this clause: Even if the attacker is a government agent.”

Lots of people: “Whoa! Hold on, cowboy! You mean to say you can use violence whenever you feel like it? That anyone can just decide at will that something is unjust and then start shooting?! OMG, chaos!”
Me: “Wait, you understood that the commonsense theory of self-defense doesn’t say that. Why does this suddenly become a problem when you add ‘even if the attacker is a government agent’.”
Others: “Uh, because motivated reasoning, bro.”

Published on: December

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So dangerous!

December 13, 2018

[embedded content]
The commonsense theory of self-defense that everyone understands and accepts: “You may use proportional force if it is necessary to stop an attacker from severely harming your or violating your rights.”
Everyone: “That sounds legit.”
Me: “Add this clause: Even if the attacker is a government agent.”

Lots of people: “Whoa! Hold on, cowboy! You mean to say you can use violence whenever you feel like it? That anyone can just decide at will that something is unjust and then start shooting?! OMG, chaos!”
Me: “Wait, you understood that the commonsense theory of self-defense doesn’t say that. Why does this suddenly become a problem when you add ‘even if the attacker is a government agent’.”
Others: “Uh, because motivated reasoning, bro.”

Published on: December

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Ari Armstrong’s *What’s Wrong with Objectivist Ethics*

December 11, 2018

It usually begins with Ayn Rand, the proverb goes. If so, let’s hope it doesn’t end there.
Ari Armstrong recently released What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics.
It’s an engaging discussion and critique of Rand’s metaethics and ethics. Armstrong is a sympathetic critic, and takes great care to present Rand’s arguments and views correctly. Nevertheless, he finds her theory is full of big holes each step of the way.
For instance, Rand’s metaethical position is supposedly based on induction: She notes that only living things seem to pursue value, and concludes from this that the ultimate aim of every living thing is to preserve its own life. But, Armstrong notes, as an empirical observation, this is easily falsified–in fact, animals and other living things regularly

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Ari Armstrong’s *What’s Wrong with Objectivist Ethics*

December 11, 2018

It usually begins with Ayn Rand, the proverb goes. If so, let’s hope it doesn’t end there.
Ari Armstrong recently released What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics.
It’s an engaging discussion and critique of Rand’s metaethics and ethics. Armstrong is a sympathetic critic, and takes great care to present Rand’s arguments and views correctly. Nevertheless, he finds her theory is full of big holes each step of the way.
For instance, Rand’s metaethical position is supposedly based on induction: She notes that only living things seem to pursue value, and concludes from this that the ultimate aim of every living thing is to preserve its own life. But, Armstrong notes, as an empirical observation, this is easily falsified–in fact, animals and other living things regularly

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*When All Else Fails* Is Out!

December 11, 2018

I’m pleased to report my ninth book, When All Else Fails: The Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice is now out with Princeton University Press. Read chapter one here.
Kit Wellman’s review:

“A superb book. Brennan clearly and convincingly defends the radical idea that ordinary citizens may use force against injustice perpetrated by government officials, just as they would against fellow citizens.”―Christopher Heath Wellman, Washington University in St. Louis

Blurb:
Why you have the right to resist unjust government
The economist Albert O. Hirschman famously argued that citizens of democracies have only three possible responses to injustice or wrongdoing by their governments: we may leave, complain, or comply. But in When All Else Fails, Jason Brennan argues that there is

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*When All Else Fails* Is Out!

December 11, 2018

I’m pleased to report my ninth book, When All Else Fails: The Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice is now out with Princeton University Press. Read chapter one here.
Kit Wellman’s review:

“A superb book. Brennan clearly and convincingly defends the radical idea that ordinary citizens may use force against injustice perpetrated by government officials, just as they would against fellow citizens.”―Christopher Heath Wellman, Washington University in St. Louis

Blurb:
Why you have the right to resist unjust government
The economist Albert O. Hirschman famously argued that citizens of democracies have only three possible responses to injustice or wrongdoing by their governments: we may leave, complain, or comply. But in When All Else Fails, Jason Brennan argues that there is

Read More »

The Purpose of Political Philosophy Is to Rationalize Evil

December 9, 2018

I deleted this section from an earlier draft of When All Else Fails.  But this still seems like an apt theory to me: the de re if not de dicto goal of political philosophy is to produce theories which justify holding government and its agents to low moral standards. (See, e.g., Henry, Chris, or John at Crooked Timber.)

The Vulcans appreciated the nice things I said about them in my previous books.[i]To express gratitude, they invited me to visit planet Vulcan to lecture on the history of Earthling political philosophy. The Vulcans sat in grave silence as I covered Rawls’s theory of justice and the myriad responses to it, theories of state legitimacy and authority, democratic theory, just war theory, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and the like.
At the end, one Vulcan—I believe her name

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The Purpose of Political Philosophy Is to Rationalize Evil

December 9, 2018

I deleted this section from an earlier draft of When All Else Fails.  But this still seems like an apt theory to me: the de re if not de dicto goal of political philosophy is to produce theories which justify holding government and its agents to low moral standards. (See, e.g., Henry, Chris, or John at Crooked Timber.)

The Vulcans appreciated the nice things I said about them in my previous books.[i]To express gratitude, they invited me to visit planet Vulcan to lecture on the history of Earthling political philosophy. The Vulcans sat in grave silence as I covered Rawls’s theory of justice and the myriad responses to it, theories of state legitimacy and authority, democratic theory, just war theory, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and the like.
At the end, one Vulcan—I believe her name

Read More »

When Non-Violence Isn’t Enough at Reason

December 7, 2018

Today at Reason, I have a longer write-up summarizing some of the main moves I make in When All Else Fails: The Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice. Read it here.
If you see, e.g., cops using excessive force, or arresting someone for something that shouldn’t be a crime, may you resist? I argue yes–you may treat them the way you would treat private civilians doing the same thing. Of course, that’s dangerous:
Shooting the cops in this case is dangerous—they may send a SWAT team to kill you—and in many places it’s illegal. But it is nevertheless morally permissible, indeed heroic and admirable. You have the right to defend yourself and others from state injustice, even when government agents act ex officio and follow the law.

An excerpt:
Most people seem to subscribe to what I

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When Non-Violence Isn’t Enough at Reason

December 7, 2018

Today at Reason, I have a longer write-up summarizing some of the main moves I make in When All Else Fails: The Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice. Read it here.
If you see, e.g., cops using excessive force, or arresting someone for something that shouldn’t be a crime, may you resist? I argue yes–you may treat them the way you would treat private civilians doing the same thing. Of course, that’s dangerous:
Shooting the cops in this case is dangerous—they may send a SWAT team to kill you—and in many places it’s illegal. But it is nevertheless morally permissible, indeed heroic and admirable. You have the right to defend yourself and others from state injustice, even when government agents act ex officio and follow the law.

An excerpt:
Most people seem to subscribe to what I

Read More »

Javier Hidalgo’s Unjust Borders: How to Respond to Wrongful Border Policy

December 5, 2018

As Bryan Caplan says, a policy of open borders–or something close to it–is the liberal, libertarian, utilitarian, egalitarian, humane, economically sound way to double world product. Unlike many pie in the sky proposals, open borders are feasible in the sense that they do not create or contain incentive problems which undermine the policy. But they are unrealistic in the sense that there is little willpower to implement them, because democracy makes voters ignorant and misinformed. By many orders of magnitude, voters overestimate the dangers of open borders and underestimate the benefits.
So, what should individuals do in the real world? How should or may we respond to government injustice regarding border policy?
Javier Hidalgo’s new book Unjust Borders: Individuals and the

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Javier Hidalgo’s Unjust Borders: How to Respond to Wrongful Border Policy

December 5, 2018

As Bryan Caplan says, a policy of open borders–or something close to it–is the liberal, libertarian, utilitarian, egalitarian, humane, economically sound way to double world product. Unlike many pie in the sky proposals, open borders are feasible in the sense that they do not create or contain incentive problems which undermine the policy. But they are unrealistic in the sense that there is little willpower to implement them, because democracy makes voters ignorant and misinformed. By many orders of magnitude, voters overestimate the dangers of open borders and underestimate the benefits.
So, what should individuals do in the real world? How should or may we respond to government injustice regarding border policy?
Javier Hidalgo’s new book Unjust Borders: Individuals and the

Read More »

Some Links

December 4, 2018

I’m interviewed about In Defense of Openness at the Libertarian Christian Podcast.
“When the State Is Unjust, Citizens May Use Justifiable Violence“: An introduction to my forthcoming book When All Else Fails at Aeon Ideas.  Excerpt:
Here’s a philosophical exercise. Imagine a situation in which a civilian commits an injustice, the kind against which you believe it is permissible to use deception, subterfuge or violence to defend yourself or others. For instance, imagine your friend makes an improper stop at a red light, and his dad, in anger, yanks him out of the car, beats the hell out of him, and continues to strike the back of his skull even after your friend lies subdued and prostrate. May you use violence, if it’s necessary to stop the father? Now imagine the same scene,

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Would More Representative Voting Favor the Democrats? Not Quite

November 26, 2018

Before, during, and after the election, many of the Democrats in my Facebook feed keep complaining that the current districting system is unfair and leads to gerrymandering and overrepresentation of Republicans in Congress. They also complain that, even independently of that, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the general population isn’t reflected in the ratio of Democrats to Republican in Congress.
Response: Well, sort of… I mean, gerrymandering is morally suspicious and no doubt affects representation in unfair or self-interested ways.
But here’s the deeper problem. The political science literature is rather clear that first-past-the-post voting is not a good system if you care about having real representation in the legislature.
If you really care about proportional

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Bad Arguments for Democracy #2: No External Standards

November 20, 2018

People disagree about the facts, about principles of justice, about the principles of political economy, and so on.
Therefore, it is illegitimate to make reference to an external, objective standard by which to judge political outcomes.
Therefore, in order to resolve this disagreements in a fair way, we must have democracy.
As written, this isn’t valid. 2 doesn’t follow from 1 and 3 doesn’t follow from 2 and 1. If you read various democratic theory books, especially as written by political theorists rather than philosophers, you’ll nevertheless see this invalid argument made many times. Theorists don’t usually this argument by providing additional premises; rather, they just repeat 1, 2, and 3 in long-winded, obscure ways.
3 says we need democracy to resolve disagreements in a

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Bad Arguments for Democracy #1: Local Knowledge/Misusing Hayek

November 15, 2018

Let’s begin a short series on some of the bad arguments democratic theorists commonly make.
Today’s bad argument: The local knowledge argument.
Democratic theorists know that libertarians tend to be meh democracy but hooray Hayek. So, they hope to throw Hayek back at us–“Gotcha!”. But the democratic theorist misunderstand what Hayek is saying, and so the gotcha! doesn’t get us.
Hayek’s smart idea: Hayek argues that good decisions require good information. Decision-makers need to know more than general facts or principles. They must know relevant information about the local conditions, trade-offs, opportunities, problems, abilities, utility functions, and risks throughout the economy and among all the various people involved. Every viable economy needs some way to transmit this

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