George Sher

WEBSITE(S)| Podcast with George Sher | Video Interview with George Sher

Over the years, I’ve held three academic appointments: first at Fairleigh Dickinson in New Jersey, then at the University at Vermont, and finally at Rice, where I joined the philosophy faculty as Herbert S. Autrey Professor in 1991. I chaired the Rice Philosophy Department from 1993 to 2000.

My early interests in philosophy were in action theory and the philosophy of mind. My interest in agency has persisted, but my interest in the philosophy of mind soon faded as that field increasingly incorporated findings from neuroscience and other empirical areas. I was, and remain, strictly an armchair philosopher.

My first venture into normative philosophy was an essay entitled "Justifying Reverse Discrimination in Employment," which led to a series of further essays on compensatory justice and then to my first book, Desert. Since then, my interests have zigzagged between political philosophy and questions of ethics and moral psychology. Within political philosophy, I've written books on the thesis that government should remain neutral toward different conception of the good life and on the role that choice should play in determining who has what. Within moral psychology, I've written one book about the nature and importance of blame and another about the relation between what we know and what we're responsible for.

My most recent book, A Wild West of the Mind, is about freedom of mind, and in particular the threats to it that are posed by internalized moral restrictions. Unlike those who believe that many nasty beliefs, attitudes and fantasies are morally off limits, I argue that within the confines of our own minds, we are morally permitted to think absolutely anything. After completing  A Wild West,  I've gone on to write essays on: the suppression of offensive speech, trying as hard as one can, culpable moral ignorance, adaptive preference formation, the rationality of resisting change, the case against living in the moment, whether morality requires ineffective gestures, the relative moral standing of humans and animals, the marketplace of ideas, and non-moral blame. For what comes next: stay tuned.



  • Desert, Princeton University Press, 1987; paperback 1989.
  • Beyond Neutrality: Perfectionism and Politics, Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Approximate Justice: Studies in Non-Ideal Theory, Rowman & Littlefield, 1997.
  • In Praise of Blame, Oxford University Press, 2006; paperback 2007.
  • Who Knew? Responsibility Without Awareness, Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Equality for Inegalitarians, Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  • Me, You, Us: Essays, Oxford University Press, 2017.
  • A Wild West of the Mind, Oxford University Press, 2021.

Selected Articles

  • "Justifying Reverse Discrimination in Employment," Philosophy and Public Affairs, Winter, 1975.
  • "Effort, Ability, and Personal Desert," Philosophy and Public Affairs, Summer, 1979.
  • "What Makes a Lottery Fair?" Nous, May, 1980.
  • "Ancient Wrongs and Modern Rights," Philosophy and Public Affairs, Winter, 1981.
  • "Three Grades of Social Involvement," Philosophy and Public Affairs, Spring, 1989.
  • "Diversity," Philosophy and Public Affairs, Spring, 1999.
  • "But I Could Be Wrong," Social Philosophy and Policy, Summer, 2001.
  • "Out of Control," Ethics, January 2006.
  • “Talents and Choices,” Nous, September 2012.
  • “You’re Not Trying,” Journal of the American Philosophical Association, May, 2021.
  • “The Weight of the Past,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy, July, 2021.
  • “Living in the Moment is for Oysters,” American Philosophical Quarterly, forthcoming.

Research Areas

Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy, Moral Psychology

Teaching Areas

Undergraduate: Contemporary moral issues, ethics, social and political philosophy, moral psychology

Graduate: recent seminar topics have included equality, blame and responsibility, and time and morality


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