Skip to content Skip to navigation

Political Theory: Even Better by the Beach

Retreat to Watsonville
May 23 2014
Lily Lamboy

Should healthcare systems protect people’s finances? Do parents have independent reasons, separate from the needs of the child, for claiming right to parent? What is the relationship between autonomous decision-making and distributive outcomes related to luck?

This is just a small sample of the questions tackled during presentations at The Dirty Leviathan’s recent workshop retreat in Watsonville, CA. The Dirty Leviathan is a group sponsored by the Center for Ethics in Society, and its mission is to support interdisciplinary research on questions related to ethics, justice, and political theory by bringing together graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from all corners of the university. Over the weekend of April 4-6 this year, 25 researchers from law, Ethics in Society, history, classics, political science, and philosophy came together to workshop their ideas and forge relationships across disciplines. Within minutes of arriving on Friday evening, participants were engaged in fascinating informal conversations, ranging in topics from the ethics of college athletic compensation to gender inequality.

Following a beautiful breakfast Saturday morning cooked by several food-savvy volunteers, a full day of presentations began. Ariel Mendez (Political Science) kicked things off by discussing how members of a democracy should be able to persuade one another using the right reasons. Next, Marc Grinberg (Political Science) argued that there is a vital role for autonomy in luck egalitarianism, particularly when we consider ways to inform whether someone’s choice was truly reflective of his authentic self. Following a lunch on the patio, I had the good luck of presenting outside, with the sound of the ocean providing the perfect soundtrack for a discussion on the implications of implicit bias for equality and autonomy.

We next heard from Nathan Hauthaler (Philosophy), who asked how we should treat those we care about if we find out that they have done wrong in a separate context (e.g. you discover your grandfather, who you love, was a Nazi). Govind Persad (Philosophy; Stanford Law School graduate) presented on whether and to what extent heath care systems are obligated to protect the financial interests of individuals. During the last presentation on Saturday, Ben Miller (Philosophy) led a discussion on the scope and substance of parental rights claims.

After each talk, the presenter was surrounded by thoughtful colleagues offering ideas, asking questions, and suggesting papers to read. Without fail, every talk inspired informal conversations on the topic – following Marc’s talk on the role of autonomy in luck egalitarianism, for example, I overheard several conversations during lunch concerning the differences between the current self and the future self, the role of contracts in binding people to their current commitments, and more. These conversations extended into Saturday evening, when we built a bonfire on the beach and sat underneath the stars making s’mores. We even spotted the International Space Station as it flew over Pajaro Dunes.

The next morning, we wrapped things up with our final talk. Erin Cooper (Philosophy) presented on the relationship between Rawls’ theory of justice and issues surrounding pregnancy. Completely by chance, it became clear to us that prominent themes connected the work of all the presenters: the role of luck in determining outcomes in society; the boundaries of parental authority; issues of gender, class, race, and ethnicity. By the end of the weekend, it did not feel like we had listened to seven discrete presentations, but rather that we had held one long, ever evolving discussion. In the weeks that followed, many students who previously did not know they shared interests have come together for reading groups and informal workshops to continue these conversations. These tight-knit relationships also stem from other Dirty Leviathan events supported by the Ethics Center, including a fall event featuring Professor Josh Cohen’s (Political Science, Philosophy, Law School, discussions of his work outside of academia as well as more informal opportunities for dialogue made possible during happy hours, trivia sessions, barbecues, and more. The ties that bind us are closer than ever, and we are excited to see how our ideas and friendships evolve during the coming years.



Lily Lamboy is a PhD student in the Political Science department, where she researches educational interventions aimed at reducing implicit bias. She also works as the graduate mentor for Stanford’s program in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality