Carnegie Mellon University
Social and Political Philosophy

Social and Political Philosophy

At a very general level, all governments face two fundamental challenges, both of which are commonly lumped under the heading of legitimacy. The first relates to the justification of state action and policy, requiring it to be consistent with, if not affirmatively safeguarding and advancing, the basic rights and interests of persons.

The second challenge relates to the state's relationship to its citizens. It is commonly held, for example, that in democratic states, legitimacy in this sense requires both input from and responsiveness to the values and interests of citizens.

Several members of the department have interests in these areas. London is interested in how a social standpoint might be defined that could provide a perspective from which members of pluralistic, liberal democratic communities can recognize a common set of basic interests that all persons share. Respect for, and the advancement of, these interests can then be used as a litmus test for the justification of state action. London has explored this idea in the context of disaster preparedness and the response to public health emergencies. This standpoint also provides the basis for his non-paternalistic conception of research ethics and oversight.

In contrast, Cavalier is working at both a scholarly and a practical level on mechanisms to engage community members in a substantive process of democratic deliberation. Deliberative Democracy emphasizes 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.

Cavalier's work in this area represents a sustained application of deliberative democracy through deliberative polling and other forms of democratic dialogue. Through the Program on Deliberative Democracy, Cavalier has run deliberative polls and 'deliberative loops' involving, for example, the South Pittsburgh Initiative, Healthcare, and America's Role in the World. Through the Campus Conversations initiative he has organized student deliberations on Campus Diversity, Faculty Course Evaluations, Public Art and Campus Policy, The Issue of Marriage in America and Climate Change.