Carnegie Mellon University

Robert Cavalier

Robert Cavalier

Teaching Professor


Dr. Cavalier was Director of CMU's Center for the Advancement of Applied Ethics and Political Philosophy from 2005-2007 (currently the Center for Ethics and Policy). He is currently Director of the Department’s Program for Deliberative Democracy, which won a 2008 Good Government Award from the Pittsburgh League of Women Voters.

Co-Editor of Ethics in the History of Western Philosophy (St. Martin's/Macmillan, England, 1990), Editor of The Impact of the Internet on Our Moral Lives (SUNY, 2003) and other works in ethics as well as articles in educational computing, Dr. Cavalier is internationally recognized for his work in education and interactive multimedia. He was President of the "International Association for Computing and Philosophy" (2001 - 2004) and Chair of the APA Committee on Philosophy and Computers (2000-2003). Dr. Cavalier has given numerous addresses and keynote speeches here and abroad.

In 1996 Cavalier was designated "Syllabus Scholar" by Syllabus Magazine in recognition of his life long work with educational technologies. In 1999 he received an award for "Innovation Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Technology" at the 10th International Conference on College Teaching and Learning. In 2002 he was recipient of the H&SS Elliott Dunlap Smith Teaching Award and in 2006 he was awarded a Fulbright Senior Specialist Grant in Education. In 2010 he received the prestigious award in “Ethics” from the World Technology Network.

Today Dr. Cavalier’s interests focus on the field of deliberative democracy. He is a PI in projects involving deliberative polling and other forms of democratic dialogue at the local, regional and national level. His recent books are Democracy for Beginners (For Beginners LLC, 2009) and Approaching Deliberative Democracy: Theory and Practice (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2011).

In 2013 he co-authored, with David Miller from Pitt’s Center for Metropolitan Studies, the Pittsburgh Civic Health Index (National Conference on Citizenship, Washington DC). The report recommends that City government institutionalize the principles and practices of deliberative democracy in its citizen engagement efforts, and these recommendations are currently being implemented through the City’s Planning and Development process.


Duquesne University - Ph.D. (Philosophy) 1978, M.A. (Philosophy) 1973 (Honors)

New York University - B.A. (Philosophy) 1971 (Dean's List)


Books (since 2005)

  • Editor: Approaching Deliberative Democracy: Theory and Practice, Carnegie Mellon University Press (2011) (Introduction and chapter on “E-Deliberative Democracy”)
  • Democracy for Beginners. For Beginners LLC (2009)
  • Editor. The Impact of the Internet on Our Moral Lives. SUNY Press (2005)


With Development Team The Virtual Agora/ Project PICOLA (Public Informed Citizen Online Assembly) 2002-2005 (2.1 million dollar NSF grant)


  • “Managing Marcellus” (WQED, 2011)
  • Documentary Video on Campus Conversations (cmuTV, 2007)
  • OnQ Magazine: A Deliberative Poll on PA Healthcare Issues (WQED, 2005)

Articles, Notices, Reviews, Contributions (Selected, since 2007)

  • “How Voting Theory and Survey Design Relate to Deliberative Democracy” (English and Spanish), IDENTIDADES (Spring, 2016)
  • “Pittsburgh Goes to Cuba” Op Ed (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette December, 2014), reproduced in Spanish in IDENTIDADES (Spring 2015) and “From Constitutional Tables to a Constitutional Convention,” (English and Spanish) IDENTIDADES (Spring 2015)
  • “The Community Speaks: Understanding Ethical Values in Allocation of Scarce Lifesaving Resources during Disasters” Annals of the American Thoracic Society, (Volume 11, Issue 5 June, 2014)
  • With David Miller, “The Pittsburgh Civic Health Index” (2013)
  • With Miso Kim and Sam Zaiss: “Deliberative Democracy, Online Discussion, and Carnegie Mellon’s Project PICOLA (Public Informed Citizen Online Assembly)” in Online Deliberation: Design, Research, and Practice Ed. by Davis and Gangadharan (CSLI Publications/University of Chicago Press, 2009)
  • “Campus Conversations: Modeling a Diverse Democracy through Deliberative Polling” Diversity & Democracy (American Association of Colleges and Universities) January 2008
  • With Mike Bridges: “Polling for an Educated Citizenry” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January, 2007
  • “E-Democracy and the Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere “ in Proceedings of the Asia-Pacific Computing and Philosophy Conference, ed. Hongladarom (Cambridge Scholars Press) 2007

Educational and Research Projects

In the tradition of JS Mill’s Considerations on Representative Government, I explore the ways political institutions can have an effect on the quality of our public discourse and the cultivation of our civic virtues. I embed the discussions of, for example, the concepts of Liberal Equality, Libertarianism, and Communitarianism or topics such as euthanasia and abortion in deliberative forums, where frameworks and detailed examples can play off one another in public argument. This approach has been used at the campus level through a series of Campus Conversations and at the local and regional level through a series of Community Conversations. It is an approach that values the need for foundational thought and normative principles, but also appreciates the need for housing our disagreements over both fundamental matters and particular policy in concrete institutional settings. Congressman Mickey Edwards speaks about the importance of reorganizing the way our political parties approach each other and the country and Jonathan Haidt speaks about the need to change the settings in which our political frameworks work against one another. My teaching and research is in line with these recent efforts.

Selected Conference Presentations (since 2005)

  • 2015: “Deliberative Democracy in Cuba and Pittsburgh,” Florida International University; “De Foros Deliberativos a una Convención Constitucional,” Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico; “Deliberativa Democracia (en Cuba y Pittsburgh),” International Leaders Program, Global Pittsburgh.
  • 2014: “Approaching Economic Inequality through Deliberative Democracy” with William Muse (National Issues Forum), Will Friedman (Public Agenda) and Carolyne Abdulah; (Everyday Democracy) The National Academy of Public Administration's 13th Annual Social Equity Leadership Conference (University of Pittsburgh, May); “Deliberative Democracy in Cuba: A Citizens’ Initiative,” Platform of Cuban Integration & Citizens’ Committee for Racial Integration, September (CMU)
  • 2013: “Conversation on Deliberative Democracy & Civil Rights in Cuba” (with Cuban scholar-activists Juan Antonio Madrazo, Leonardo Calvo Cárdenas, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Rafel Campoamor and Dr. Juan Antonio Alvarado), Poster Session on Campus Conversations on Climate Change CMU’s Climate and Energy Decision-Making center’s Annual Meeting); “Forbidden Planet? The Internet and Our Monsters from the ID” (Digital Ethics Symposium, Loyola University)
  • 2011: “Climate Change and Public Policy” AASCU American Democracy Project conference; “Climate Change and Food Security” CMU-Educational City, Qatar
  • 2010: “Community Building Through Deliberative Practices” (AASCU American Democracy Project conference); summer workshop: Preparing Our Youth to Become Voters: Mock Elections and Deliberative Democracy
  • 2009: “Institutionalizing Deliberative Polling at the College Level” Deliberative Democracy Initiative, “No Better Time” Conference, University of New Hampshire
  • 2008: Deliberative Democracy and Climate Change (Focus the Nation, February); E-Deliberative Democracy (The Future of Interactive Technology for Peace Conference, ETC, April)
  • 2007: RAND: Institutionalizing Deliberative Democracy (February); Phi Beta Kappa Society, Bringing Deliberative Polling to the College Campus (Washington DC, March) 2006-2007: Humanities Lecture Series: Deliberative Democracy: Theory and Practice.
  • 2006: Fulbright Lectures: University of Madras; Stella Maris College; India Technical Institute of Chennai (all in Chennai, India, February); Keynote: CMU Phi Beta Kappa Initiation Ceremony (May)
  • 2005: “E- Democracy and the Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere,” Asia-Pacific CAP Conference (Bangkok, Thailand January); Invited Panelist for Plenary Session: Online Deliberation from Groups to Cities to Nations (Online Deliberation 2005 Stanford, May)

Presentation Abstracts

Toward a More Deliberative Democracy:

Liberal democracies of the kind we see forming around the world are only the beginning of what Benjamin Barber has called strong democracies. Thin, liberal democracies provide the constitutional essentials of universal suffrage, freedom of press and assembly, etc. but this in no way guarantees that the citizens of these societies will see themselves as any more than isolated individuals who periodically vote (if they choose to do so). Recent work in "Citizenship Theory" has made clear that "the health and stability of a modern democracy depends, not only on the justice of its basic institutions, but also on the qualities and attitudes of its citizens" (Kymlicka). These qualities and attitudes are often highlighted by proponents of Deliberative Democracy and emphasize the role of the citizen in becoming a truly informed and engaged individual, a person willing to listen to all sides and willing to let the force of the better argument (in all its richness) become a guide to opinion formation.

Climate Change and Public Opinion:

There is strong scientific consensus on the issue of climate change, both the fact that it is happening and the post-industrial causes for its happening in a particular way at a particular time. There are, to be sure, differences in opinions about the degree to which climate change is happening and the urgency with which we should address the fact of climate change. There are also principled policy differences over how we as a nation ought to address this and what roles the government and private sector should play in addressing this issue.

Discussions of climate change thus involve both scientific analysis and policy analysis. And in a democracy, these discussions must involve the people themselves, not only as voters, but as educated citizens. This leads to another kind of climate change – that seen in the civic life of our nation. Over the past 20 years, public discourse has grown more divisive, fed recently by the rhetoric of political television, year-round campaign ads and vitriolic blogs and websites. Hence, the task of discussing climate change and public policy is daunting, not only in regard to the challenges of translating technical information into a public language accessible to our citizenry but also in regard to kinds of forums in which such a discussion can take place.

Seen in this way, the challenge caused by these two types of climate change becomes the following: 1) how can we make scientific knowledge and complex policy choices accessible to the general public and 2) what mechanism is there for developing an informed public opinion that can serve as a useful feedback loop to policymakers?

In this talk, I will use the principles and practices of deliberative democracy address the issue of climate change. In the course of doing so, I will identify the causes of our current political climate and propose solutions to our current political situation regarding the discussion of climate change.

Selected Online Material

Examples of the projects that I direct can be found on the site for the Program for Deliberative Democracy.
  • Managing Marcellus: A Deliberative Theatre, Fall 2011 - An innovative approach to the challenges and opportunities of The Marcellus Shale, produced by WQED.
  • Local Government at the Crossroads, September 25, 2010 - A public discussion about municipal services in Allegheny County, supported by The Pittsburgh Foundation.
  • The Issue of Marriage In America, September 27, 2008 - The first ever statewide deliberative poll on same-sex marriage.
  • South Pittsburgh Initiative, Spring-Summer 2007 - A district-level deliberative poll on issues of relevance to City Council as well as local organizations and associations.

Grants and Awards (Selected, since 2006)

  • 2015: CMU Metro21 Grant
  • 2014: Steinbrenner Institute for Resilient Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh Foundation in support of the Selection Process for the Chief of Police
  • 2013: The Pittsburgh Foundation “Pittsburgh Civic Health Index” (The National Conference on Citizenship)
  • 2012: Judith Wright Alumni Gift (50K) and Steinbrenner Institute (15K): “Climate Change and the Campus” (a national campus deliberation effort)
  • 2011: Colcom Foundation/WQED: “Managing Marcellus” (a Deliberative Theatre); Interfraternity and Panhellenic Councils Role Model Award
  • 2010: The Pittsburgh Foundation: “Local Government at the Crossroads” (Deliberative Poll); World Technology Network Award in “Ethics”
  • 2008: Good Government Award (League of Women Voters); Grants from Gill Foundation and the Pittsburgh Foundation along with a Gift from Alumnus Frank Brunckhorst to host a State-wide deliberative poll on the Issue of Marriage in America
  • 2007: Birmingham Foundation (in support of a Pittsburgh neighborhood “community conversation”); Gill Foundation (in support of a campus deliberative poll on same-sex marriage); Teagle Grant/Phi Beta Kappa (in support of a Handbook for Campus Deliberative Polls)
  • 2006: Fulbright Senior Specialist Grant in Education.


1987 - Present: Carnegie Mellon University
  • Director, Program for Deliberative Democracy (2003 – present)
  • Teaching Professor, Department of Philosophy (2006 – present)
  • Director: Center for the Advancement of Applied Ethics and Political Philosophy (2005 – 2007)

Professional Offices (since 2000)

2015 – Advisory Board, Plataforma de Integración Cubana
2014 – Advisory Board, Fox Rothschild Center for Law and Society, Community College of Philadelphia
2013 – Mayor-Elect Bill Peduto’s Transition Team subcommittee: Economic Development (Planning and Development Process)
2005 – Present: Director, The Program for Deliberative Democracy
2003 – 2013: Editor, Digital Media Teaching Philosophy Journal
2003 – 2005: Advisory Board, Department of Philosophy, Rochester Institute for Technology
2001 – 2004: President, International Association for Computing and Philosophy
2000 – 2003: Chair, the APA Committee on Philosophy and Computers


  • Introduction to Ethics
  • Introduction to Political Philosophy
  • Deliberative Democracy
  • Ancient Philosophy
  • Modern Philosophy
  • Continental Philosophy


As Director of the Program for Deliberative Democracy, I have overseen numerous student and community deliberative events. These include a 2010 County-wide Deliberative Poll on “Local Government at the Crossroads: Critical Choices for Our Communities” and a 2008 State-wide Deliberative Poll on the “Issue of Marriage in America.”

Working with Grad Students Tim Dawson (English) and Shannon Deep (Heinz), we developed the concept of a ‘Deliberative Theatre” (where the ‘background’ materials are presented in a 30 minute play) and in 2011 we worked with the League of Women Voters to host a series of these kinds of events entitled “Managing Marcellus."

In conjunction with the Climate and Energy Decision Making Center (Inês Azevedo, Co-Director), developed materials for and implemented a 2012 nation-wide series of Campus Conversations on the “Climate Change and the Campus” (over 20 campuses participated).

In 2012 we worked with colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and Center for Biosecurity of UPMC, on a citizen discussion of the allocation of scarce resources (e.g. reparatory ventilators) entitled “Too Many Patients, Too Few Resources.”

In 2013 we assisted the League of Women Voters in a public conversation on “Gun Safety in a Free Society” and in 2014 worked with Jess Kline (Student Life) on a Campus Conversation on the “Issue of Abortion In America” as part of the 2014 MOSIAC Conference.