Patrick Joseph Cockburn

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Patrick Joseph Cockburn


I work on the social and political philosophy of economy, critically examining the concepts that we use to describe economic life and the arguments that we use to evaluate it. More specifically, I aim to unpack the ways in which our descriptive starting points can structure and limit our normative reasoning about economic life. To give a simple example: a description of economic life that places wage-earners centre-stage may nudge us towards normative reasoning that primarily asks questions about justice in contractual exchange; on the other hand, a description of economic life that begins with the family unit may principally raise normative issues concerning economic dependence (for example of children on parents, or of women upon men in a patriarchal society). Thus, more generally, we can ask: how does the social ontology behind our accounts of economic practice link up with our normative reasoning about that practice?

Economic practices are embedded in ideological, practical, and institutional contexts. My current work focusses on property, which cuts across all three of these levels: property is a powerful idea, a deeply rooted set of everyday practices, and an institution maintained in law and structured in different ways in different times and places. Conflicts about property in everyday life, legal debate, and political protest are not only about whether, for example, private property is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but about what understanding of property should win out in a context. How should we first of all describe this idea, practice and institution, such that we can begin to reason normatively with and about it? I am currently pursuing this question as a member of the Contested Property Claims research project (2013 – 2016) where we focus on conflicts around real property (land and buildings) and the clash of normative ideas around practices like squatting. The project is funded by The Carlsberg Foundation and the Danish Council for Independent Research.



Social and political philosophy

The political philosophy of markets

Laws, rights, and morals

Economic sociology

Philosophy and social analysis

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