Rice Unconventional Wisdom

Philosophpy DepartmentHumanities Building photos
George Sher (new)   George Sher

Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Philosophy

Department of Philosophy
Rice University
6100 South Main Street, - MS 14
Houston, Texas 77005-1892
(713) 348-2723


    In recent years, my research has centered on two main topics: responsibility and distributive justice.  I've written about responsibility in two related books: In Praise of Blame (Oxford University Press, 2005) and Who Knew? Responsibility Without Awareness (Oxford 2009).  The first book deals with the questions of what blame is, what role it plays in our moral lives, and how, if at all, it can be justified, while the second examines the role of knowledge in determining when agents are responsible for what they do.  Taken together, the two books add up to a unified account of how we're related to our acts and omissions  A noteworthy implication of that account is that blame and responsibility are less closely linked to control than many imagine.

    The theme of control also figures prominently in my most recent book, Equality for Inegalitarians (Cambridge University Press, 2014). The question I ask there is what role our choices should play in determining our shares of such goods as wealth, opportunity, and subjective welfare.  To answer that question, I discuss such issues as the moral equality of persons, the role of contingency in our lives, and the nature of our fundamental interests,  The view that emerges is complicated: it calls for equality in the distribution of the abstract good of being able to live one's life effectively, but asserts that people can only have that good when they are allowed to live with the good or bad consequences of their choices.  In general, concerning the distribution of economic goods, the view asserts that what matters is not how much anyone has compared to others, but only that each person have enough.

     Since these books have appeared, I've continued to think about the issues they address.  During the past year, I've written papers on unintentional omissions, moral ignorance, and the relation between desert and justice, and I'm currently writing about the political significance of domination.  It's possible that some of this material will knit together into a sequel, probably to the equality book, but it's also possible that my next major project will be on something else entirely.



B.A., Brandeis University, 1964
Ph.D., Columbia University, 1972 


Podcast interview with George Sher

Video interview with George Sher