Research

Email me with comments, or for drafts or further information, at nikhil.venkatesh.16@ucl.ac.uk.

Dissertation

‘Utilitarianism and the Social Nature of Persons’. Utilitarianism faces objections from integrity, rights and egalitarianism. These objections characterise the somewhat elusive charge that utilitarianism neglects ‘the separateness of persons’. The guiding thought of my responses is that recognising the ways in which we are social beings – using insights from the socialist tradition – helps utilitarianism to overcome these objections. Supervised by Prof. Véronique Munoz-Dardé, Dr. Joe Horton, Dr. Han van Wietmarschen and Prof. Ulrike Heuer.

Peer-reviewed papers (single-authored)

‘Is act-consequentialism self-effacing?’, Analysis, forthcoming. I investigate whether consequentialism directs individuals not to accept consequentialism, separating this from the question of whether it would make things go better if we, collectively, did not accept it.

‘Surveillance Capitalism: a Marx-inspired account’, 2021, Philosophy, First View, pp. 1-27. Drawing on, but going beyond, the work of Shoshana Zuboff, I suggest that Karl Marx’s analysis of the relations between industrial capitalists and workers is closely analogous to the relations between surveillance capitalists (Google, Facebook, and so on) and users. Winner of the Royal Institute of Philosophy Essay Prize. Draft version here.

‘Repugnance and Perfection’, 2020, Philosophy & Public Affairs, 48(3), pp. 262-284. Derek Parfit’s ‘repugnant conclusion’ holds that for any possible population of ten billion lives lived at a very high level of welfare, there is some much larger possible population whose existence, if other things are equal, would be better even though its members have lives that are barely worth living.’ This conclusion, though counterintuitive, is difficult for theories in population ethics to resist. ‘Perfectionism’ – a special concern with the best things in life – is often said to be incompatible with the repugnant conclusion. I show that perfectionism is in fact compatible with it, though not with a subtly different claim. I then evaluate Parfit’s last two papers on the subject, which appeal to perfectionism in order to avoid the repugnant conclusion, in light of this.

Peer-reviewed papers (co-authored)

‘What Should We Agree on about the Repugnant Conclusion?’, 2021, Utilitas, First View, p. 1-5. Twenty-nine authors – including me – state our agreement that the fact that a theory implies Derek Parfit’s ‘repugnant conclusion’ is not an adequate reason to reject it.

Other publications

‘Empathy, Sympathy and Solidarity’, What To Do About Now, 23 October 2020. An argument (using Hume) against the idea that we should expect world leaders’ personal experiences of coronavirus to care more about their populations, and for the value of solidarity, as opposed to empathy, in politics.

‘Resisting Surveillance Capitalism’, New Socialist, 25 August 2020. A critical review, from a Marxist perspective, of Shoshana Zuboff’s book ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’.

‘Statues, Philosophy, and Charitable Intepretation’, What To Do About Now, 12 June 2020. A response to CM Lim’s article ‘Vandalizing Tainted Commemorations’, involving some thoughts on how the use of the principle of charity can help and hinder philosophical engagement with real world politics.

‘Is it wrong to be a lockdown hypocrite?’, What To Do About Now, 6 May 2020. A defence of the position that it is sometimes permissible for individuals to breach lockdown regulations, and for those same individuals to blame politicians and officials who do so.

‘Should governments prioritise lives, or the economy?’, What To Do About Now, 18 April 2020. An investigation into the choice that the Covid-19 pandemic is often said to pose, involving some thoughts on what ‘the economy’ is.

Talks

‘Capitalism and the Very Long Term’, Understanding Value X, University of Sheffield, 14/07/2021. I argue that capitalism has a tendency to undervalue the very far future, and therefore that those effective altruists who are attracted to ‘longtermism’ should consider embracing anticapitalism.

‘Is consequentialism self-effacing, or merely collectively self-defeating?’, London Graduate Philosophy Conference, 4 June 2020. I argue that even if our accepting consequentialism would preclude us from having meaningful lives, consequentialism may still not be self-effacing – though it would be collectively self-defeating.

‘Surveillance Capitalism: a Marx-inspired account’, Amsterdam Graduate Conference in Political Theory, 29 May 2020. I argue that surveillance capitalist firms – such as Facebook and Google – interact with users in a way analagous to the interaction between industrial capitalists and workers described by Karl Marx.

Work in Progress

  • ‘Utilitarianism is a Form of Egalitarianism’. I argue that utilitarianism shares the concerns of egalitarians for equal distributions of wealth and an end to hierarchical social relations, and further that there is no good reason not to consider it a form of egalitarianism.
  • ‘Against Commitment’. I defend utilitarianism against Bernard Williams’s charge that it is incompatible with commitment, by arguing that commitment, as he conceives it, is an unattractive trait for socially connected beings.

My Masters dissertation, on Williams’s ‘integrity objection’ to utilitarianism, is available here.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close