Edmund Tweedy Flanigan

Ph.D. Candidate in Political Theory
Department of Government
Harvard University


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Curriculum Vitae (December 2020)
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About Me

I am a doctoral student in the Government Department at Harvard University studying issues at the intersection of moral and political philosophy. In 2019-2020, I was a Graduate Fellow at the EJ Safra Center for Ethics, and in 2019, I was an inaugural awardee of the Government Department's Sidney Verba Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

My research focuses on the moral foundations of the state-subject relationship and on the political ethics of the oppressed. As part of this project, I have written on the permissibility of violent protest, the standing of the state vis-à-vis the oppressed, the duty to obey the law, and the law's authority. I have also written on the topics of value comparability and climate ethics.

I have an A.B. in philosophy from Georgetown University and an M.Phil. in political theory from the University of Oxford, where I wrote a thesis on climate change and future generations.


2021. ‘From Self-Defense to Violent Protest,’ to appear in the Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy. Online first 5 Jan 2021. [Abstract]

It is an orthodoxy of modern political thought that violence is morally incompatible with politics, with the important exception of the permissible violence carried out by the state. The “commonsense argument” for permissible political violence denies this by extending the principles of defensive ethics to the context of state-subject interaction. This article has two aims: First, I critically investigate the commonsense argument and its limits. I argue that the scope of permissions it licenses is significantly more limited than its proponents allow. Second, I develop an alternative (and supplementary) framework for thinking about permissible political violence. I argue that under certain circumstances, subjects may violently protest their treatment, where protest is understood as an expression of rejection of those circumstances. On my view, protest, including violent protest, is permissible when it is the fitting response to those circumstances. This alternative framework accounts for an important class of cases of intuitively permissible political violence, including cases in which such violence does not serve strategic political ends or is even counterproductive towards those ends.


2020. ‘Do We Have Reasons to Obey the Law?,’ Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy, 17(2): 159-197. [Abstract]

Instead of the question, “Do we have an obligation to obey the law?,” we should first ask the easier question, “Do we have reasons to obey the law?” This paper offers a new account of the notion of what Hart called the content-independence of legal reasons in terms of the normative grounding relation. That account is then used to mount a defense of the claim that we do indeed have content-independent, genuinely normative reasons to obey the law (because it is the law), and that these reasons do sometimes amount to an obligation to so act.


2018. ‘The Small Improvement Argument, Epistemicism, and Incomparability,’ with John Halstead, Economics & Philosophy, 34(2): 199-219. [Abstract]

The Small Improvement Argument (SIA) is the leading argument for value incomparability. All vagueness-based accounts of the SIA have hitherto assumed the truth of supervaluationism, but supervaluationism has some well-known problems. This paper explores the implications of epistemicism, a leading rival theory. We argue that if epistemicism is true, then options are comparable in small improvement cases. Moreover, even if SIAs do not exploit vagueness, if epistemicism is true, then options cannot be on a par. The epistemicist account of the SIA has an advantage over leading existing rival accounts of the SIA because it accounts for higher-order hard cases.


Futile Resistance as Protest’ [Abstract]
Acts of futile resistance—harms against an aggressor which could not reasonably hope to avert the threat the aggressor poses—give rise to a puzzle: on the one hand, many such acts are intuitively permissible; yet on the other, these acts fail to meet the justificatory standards of defensive action. The most widely accepted solution to this puzzle is that victims in such cases permissibly defend against a secondary threat to their honor, dignity, or moral standing. I argue that this solution fails, because futile resistance is not plausibly regarded as defensive in the relevant sense. I propose instead that futile resistance is justified as a form of protest, where protest is analyzed as an expression of rejection of victims' wrongs. Such protest is justified, I argue, when and because it is the fitting response to the circumstances of futility.


2011. ‘On Discount Rates in the Cost-Benefit Analysis of Climate Change,’ MPhil Thesis Chapter, Department of Politics, University of Oxford.


Graduate Seminars

‘Ethical Foundations of Political Thought’
Fall 2018, co-taught with Michael Rosen

Undergraduate Seminars

‘EJ Safra Center for Ethics Undergraduate Fellows Research Seminar’
Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, co-taught with Danielle Allen

‘Topics and Resources in Political Theory’
Spring 2018, co-taught with Cheryl Welch

As Teaching Fellow

‘EJ Safra Center for Ethics Undergraduate Fellows Seminar’
Spring 2018, Spring 2019, for Arthur Applbaum

‘Dissent and Disobedience in Democracies’
Spring 2019, for Arthur Applbaum

‘Theory and Practice of Republican Government’
Fall 2017, for Daniel Carpenter

‘Foundations of Political Theory’
Spring 2017, for Eric Beerbohm

‘Ethics, Biotechnology, and the Future of Human Nature’
Fall 2016, for Michael Sandel and Douglas Melton

‘Money, Markets, and Morals’
Fall 2015, for Michael Sandel