Mathias Risse


Welcome to My Home Page 

I am an academic philosopher at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. I've been here since 2002, after teaching for two years in the Department of Philosophy at Yale University. I received my PhD from Princeton University, having also studied at the University of Bielefeld (where I got a Master's Degree in Mathematics), the University of Pittsburgh, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (where I wrote my master's thesis in mathematics under the supervision of Robert Aumann). My thesis advisors in Princeton were Richard Jeffrey (who died in 2002, see here for a memorial page) and Paul Benacerraf (see here for a picture of Paul and me at his retirement in 2007). My dissertation was concerned with some questions about group decision making, some of it best characterized as decision theory (including some mathematical parts), and some of it best characterized as political philosophy. I have since worked mostly on political philosophy, first on a range of questions including equality and responsibility, equality of opportunity, racial profiling, majoritarian voting, etc., but for a few years I have focused primarily on questions of global justice, including topics such as obligations towards the poor, how the global order might harm the poor, fairness in trade, human rights, immigration, and the justifiability of the state. 

I have just published a book called On Global Justice (whose working title over the many years that it has taken to complete this book has been The Grounds of Justice: An Inquiry about the State in Global Perspective. (See here and here.) My goal there is to offer a foundational theory of global justice that takes an approach "in between" the classical dichotomy according to which principles of justice either apply only within the state, or else apply globally, either because they apply to the global political and economic order, or else because they apply to all human beings in virtue of being human. Instead, I develop a view I call pluralist internationalism, according to which there are different grounds of justice that individuals may or may not share, such that those who share such a ground are people to whom the distribution of certain goods must be justifiable. Principles of justice then are those principles that fulfill that role, and they will vary with the specific grounds. While this is an unorthodox approach to thinking about justice, what is most distinctly novel about all this is that among these grounds of justice as I see them is shared ownership of the earth. That is, I am trying to revitalize a standpoint that was central to 17th century political philosophy but has since never received as much attention. Topics that one can fruitfully address through that approach include issues of immigration, the foundations of human rights, as well as obligations to future generations in the context of climate change. 

            In addition, I have also published a second book, called Global Political Philosophy, in Palgrave’s Philosophy Today series. (See here and here.) There are plenty of good introductions to political philosophy, and one may wonder why I would bother writing another one. But unlike other introductions, this one does not start at the domestic level and then address global questions in a chapter or two towards the end. The goal of this book is to offer an introduction to political philosophy by way of starting with questions that arise at the global level. I start with human rights and universalism vs. relativism, then discuss whether there ought to be states and explore different theories of global distributive justice, and then add a chapter each on environmental justice, immigration and fairness in trade. 

At the Kennedy School, I am faculty associate of the Center for Ethics as well as the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, and I am also directing the McCloy Fellowship Program that the Kennedy School runs jointly with the German National Academic Foundation. I am also a faculty associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. In addition to my work in political philosophy, I have serious research interest in post-Kantian, and mostly 19th century, German philosophy, in particular Nietzsche. 



Mathias Risse
79 JFK St.
Rubenstein 209
Cambridge, MA 02138
T: (617) 495-9811
F: (617) 495-4297

Derya Honça
T: (617) 495-1923
F: (617) 496-4297

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