Shane D. Courtland


I am a senior director of faculty relations at the Institute for Humane Studies (@ George Mason University). In fall 2019, I will also be an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business.

In addition to these duties, I serve as the editor of the philosophy journal -- Civil American (hosted by SOPHIA).

My main research interests lie in three different areas: political philosophy, ethical theory and applied ethics.

As for political philosophy, my dissertation (Tulane, 2008) developed a new interpretation of Hobbesian Public Reason. This interpretation has components similar to contemporary liberalism, while, at the same time, staying true to Hobbes’s vision of political authority. A variation of the second chapter of my dissertation, entitled “Public Reason and the Hobbesian Dilemma,” has been published in an issue of Hobbes Studies.

Although my work in this area has concentrated primarily on Hobbes, I plan to broaden its scope to include analyses of philosophers who preceded Hobbes (such as Filmer and Bodin) and those who came after him (such as Locke, Hume, and Rousseau). I intend to pursue a comprehensive study of political absolutism that extends from the late medieval period well into the modern period and foresee this area of research culminating in a book on the development of absolutism in the Western tradition. In fact, a portion of this work, "A Prima Facie Defense of Hobbesian Absolutism,” has been published in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.

With regards to Ethics, I am currently interested in the relationship between self-interest and moral obligation. This perennial issue is present in Hume's "Sensible Knave", Hobbes's "Foole", and Plato's myth "The Ring of Gyges." My current research is focused on Hobbes's argument against the Foole; I am constructing an interpretation of Leviathan that will show how Hobbes's ethical theory contains a defensible answer to the Foole's critique.

I also have a particular interest in research that is associated with applied ethics. To this end, I constructed an edited volume -- Hobbesian Applied Ethics and Public Policy (Routledge 2017). This book explores intransigent problems in business ethics, biomedical ethics, environmental ethics and world poverty – all from a Hobbesian perspective. My most recent publications were written in the spirit of this overall project. I recently published an article in the Journal of Applied Philosophy where I sought to establish a positive right to healthcare. Based upon strict Hobbesian principles, my argument shows that the state is directly obligated to provide its citizens with such a right. I have also written an article, "Hobbesian Justification for Animal Rights,” which was published in the Journal of Environmental Philosophy. It establishes, under a Hobbesian contractarian ethic, full moral standing for non-agents.

Radio Appearances

Media Snippets

Zombie Fest 2012 (My presentation starts at the 1 hour, 2 minute mark) :

UMD Statesmen's coverage of Zombie Fest

KBJR coverage (Video) of Zombie Fest

My interview for "The Bat of Minerva" TV show (with the University of Minnesota's Institute for Advanced Study):

"Shane D. Courtland is the managing director of the Center for Free Enterprise at West Virginia University. His main research interests lie in three different areas: political philosophy, ethical theory and applied ethics. With Gerald Gaus, he is the author of the entry on Liberalism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. His reviews have appeared in Human Rights Review and Utilitas. His article, “Public Reason and the Hobbesian Dilemma,” appeared in Hobbes Studies in 2007."

Absolutism in the United States:

One of the talks I gave at UNO (2015)... this one was geared toward undergraduates, informal, and meant to be contentious enough to spark conversation.

Trigger Warnings: Offense, Freedom, and Respect

A SOPHIA panel that focused on the subject of “trigger warnings,” the act of alerting students in advance about potentially offensive messages or images to be covered in an educational setting. The first 8-10 minutes of the audio includes some background noise that we eventually eliminated.

Religious Debates:

UMD God Debate 2014

Debating the Rationality of Christianity