Academic journal article Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics

Justice, Markets, and the Family: An Interview with Serena Olsaretti

Academic journal article Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics

Justice, Markets, and the Family: An Interview with Serena Olsaretti

Article excerpt

SERENA Olsaretti (Naples, Italy, 1971) is a political philosopher at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), where she holds a research professorship with the Catalan Institute of Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA). Before moving to Barcelona, she was University Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Philosophy of Cambridge University. She obtained a BA, MPhil, and DPhil degree in political philosophy from Oxford University. Her DPhil thesis was supervised by G.A. Cohen.

Olsaretti's research interests range widely, including the ethics of markets, justice and the family, feminist philosophy, theories of responsibility, and theories of well-being. She is the author of Liberty, desert and the market (2004), and the editor of Desert and justice (2003), Preferences and well-being (2006), and the Oxford handbook of distributive justice (forthcoming). Her work has appeared in various journals, including Analysis, Economics & Philosophy, Philosophy & Public Affairs, and Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. Olsaretti is one of the editors of Law, Ethics, and Philosophy. She is the principal investigator of Family justice: an analysis of the normative significance of procreation and parenthood in a just society, a research project funded by a European Research Council (ERC) consolidator grant.

The Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics (EJPE) interviewed Olsaretti about becoming a political philosopher, her work on the ethics of markets and justice and the family, the ERC-project that she directs, her views on teaching, and her advice for political philosophy graduates aspiring to an academic career.

EJPE: Professor Olsaretti, you studied political philosophy at Oxford University. Which people and writings have had a particular influence on the development of your interests during your studies?

SERENA OLSARETTI: There was quite a difference between my undergraduate and graduate years. During my undergraduate years, two influential people were Peter Hacker and Gordon Baker, who ran a philosophy seminar on Hume's Enquiry (1993) at St. John's, the college where I was a student. The one thing that I remember most clearly from this seminar was Peter Hacker's dreaded 'What do you mean?' question. It was the first time that I was exposed to that degree of high expectations in terms of the clarity of what we said. I was also influenced by Jonathan Glover's lectures on moral philosophy, which really drew me to the topic.

However, on balance, I was more interested in continental philosophy than in analytical philosophy during my undergraduate studies. I was interested in Marxism, critical theory, and Michel Foucault. My first political philosophy tutor was Lois McNay, who worked on Foucault and feminism. For my undergraduate thesis, I chose to write a comparative study of the analyses of power of Herbert Marcuse and Michel Foucault. My thesis was supervised by Leszek Kolakowski, whom I knew as the writer of the three volume-work Main currents of Marxism (1982a, 1982b, 1982c). I remember that one of the few, if not the only, substantive comment he gave me on the thesis was: "This is fine, but move on". He thought that it would be fruitful for me to engage with a different type of philosophy, which I did.

When I finished the BA and went on to graduate studies, G.A. Cohen supervised me on an extended essay in methodology. I knew Cohen's work on analytical Marxism and was not very sympathetic to it at the time. When I told him that I was interested in anarchism, he got me to work on Robert Nozick. I found it very hard to take Nozick seriously at the beginning. I had not yet been trained in the habit of really engaging with arguments that I very much opposed. However, I did end up writing my MPhil thesis on Nozick, which was the basis for my DPhil thesis, and in turn the basis for my first book, Liberty, desert and the market (2004).

Given your interest in continental philosophy during your undergraduate studies, how do you view the divide between analytic and continental philosophy? …

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