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Patrick Joseph Cockburn

Patrick Joseph Cockburn
  • Department of Philosophy


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 recent work focusses on the institutions that structure relationships of economic dependence amongst people in society. Such institutions include property, markets, money, and the family. In the period 2013 - 2016 I contributed to collaborative research supported by the Danish Council for Independent Research and the Carlsberg Foundation that studied social conflicts over real property in land and buildings. The work produced an anthology on Contested Property Claims (Oxon: Routledge, 2018) and a number of articles and conferences. More recently I have published a monograph on The Politics of Dependence (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). Here is an endorsement of the book:

All of us are dependent on others in various ways, but while some forms of dependence - like that of children on their parents - seem easily justifiable, others - like that of usurers on debtors - do not. Patrick Cockburn has provided a valuable service in examining and assessing the many forms of dependence that structure economic life and their justifications.

Andrew Sayer, Professor of Social Theory and Political Economy, Lancaster University, and author of Why We Can’t Afford the Rich


Social and political philosophy

The political philosophy of markets

Laws, rights, and morals

Economic sociology

Philosophy and social analysis

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