Theodore M. Lechterman

Postdoctoral Researcher in Political Theory & Applied Ethics


Photo credit: Stefanie Wetzel

Photo credit: Stefanie Wetzel

Since September 2019 I am a visiting scholar at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. I received my Ph.D. in 2016 in Politics from Princeton University, where I also pursued advanced studies in Philosophy. I then completed postdoctoral fellowships at the McCoy Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University and Centre for Advanced Studies Justitia Amplificata at Goethe University Frankfurt.

My research principally concerns how democratic ideals apply to emergent economic practices. It draws on the tools of analytic philosophy, enriched by further training in empirical social science and the history of ideas. I am currently completing a book manuscript on the relationship between philanthropy and democratic theory. It is widely believed that a democratic process is necessary for the exercise of state power to be fully legitimate. Through the lens of philanthropy, the book considers the extent to which democratic principles ought to carry over to exercises of power that occur outside the confines of formal political institutions. The book argues that in certain areas philanthropy can in fact be a more serious threat to the democratic ideal than we generally realize, while in others it can actually work to support democratic principles. These conclusions carry unique implications for both public policy and individual behavior. 

Other research interests of mine include:

  • the ethics of digital technology production, including the risks of artificial intelligence and the governance of technology firms;

  • the ethics of international assistance;

  • the institutional implications of theories of distributive justice;

  • the relevance of social and ontological facts for normative theory-building.

A lengthier description appears in the Research section of this site.

I frequently comment on current events that relate to my research. Examples can be found in the Applications section.

In Spring 2018 I taught a popular course at Stanford on "The Ethics and Politics of Effective Altruism." Effective altruism is a school of thought and social movement that urges individuals to do the most good they can for the world, and to do so based on careful reasoning and reliable evidence. The course explored the philosophical foundations and critical reception of this movement. In the past I have served as a teaching assistant for courses in Ethics and Public Policy, Global Justice, and Practical Ethics, and as a mentor for undergraduates in Princeton's Values and Public Life program. I encourage students with whom I work to regard political theory not only as a rewarding intellectual challenge but also as a tool for reflecting on our duties as citizens. A lengthier explanation of my teaching philosophy is available through the Teaching link.



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