Professor of Political Theory
On research leave Term 1 2016-2017
Politics convenor for PPE
Email: adam dot swift at warwick dot ac dot uk
Advice and Feedback Hours
I am on leave until January 2017 and not available for advice/feedback in Term 1.
Careless polemical journalism around an interview I did for an Australian radio programme has resulted in serious misrepresentation of the views put forward in my book Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships (Princeton UP 2014), (with Harry Brighouse).
At no point do we suggest that parents should not read bedtime stories to their children. Quite the contrary. Of course they should! All children should get bedtime stories! But it is easy for parents to think only about their own children and forget about or ignore the way in which things they do with and for their children - some of which it is entirely appropriate (indeed morally required) for them to be doing - may have various kinds of effect on other people's children. Perhaps if they kept those effects in mind, they might be more willing to support policies and initiatives that would enable all children to enjoy things like bedtime stories.
In our view it is unfair that some children enjoy the benefits of loving family life, including things like bedtime stories, and some do not. Children who do not receive those benefits have done nothing wrong and do not deserve to be worse off than those who do. Children who enjoy those benefits are better positioned in various competitive contexts than those who do not. In that sense, those who do not enjoy those benefits are unfairly disadvantaged by other children enjoying them. (In other senses, those who do not enjoy those benefits may be better off as a result of other children enjoying them.)
Suppose we are right that parents doing things like reading bedtime stories to their children unfairly disadvantages other children (in the sense of putting them at an unfair disadvantage compared to the children who are receiving the bedtime stories). That does not mean they should not do it. Our book is all about how important it is that they do indeed do things like that. But in our view it would be a good thing if they occasionally reflected on the unfairness suffered by other children, and maybe even took some steps to do something about it.
In our book, we contrast the reading of bedtime stories with the sending of children to elite private schools. We argue that there are much stronger reasons - 'family values' reasons - to protect the former than the latter.
I am a political theorist with some training in sociology. I read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Balliol College, Oxford, did an M.Phil in Sociology at Nuffield College, and then returned to Balliol as a Tutorial Fellow before joining Warwick. While at Oxford I was Founding Director of the Centre for the Study of Social Justice. I am a member of Warwick's Centre for Ethics, Law and Public Affairs.
Research areas and Interests
I have worked on the communitarian critique of liberalism, the relation between public opinion and political philosophy, the normative aspects of class analysis and social mobility, the morality of school choice, the methodological debate around 'ideal' and 'non-ideal' theory, and the ethics of family relationships. My latest book is Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships (with Harry Brighouse, Princeton University Press). You can hear me talking about Family Values on Philosophy Bites and The Philosopher's Zone. You can see me talking about it here.
Currently my main research project is on Faith Schools: Principles and Policies (with Matthew Clayton, Andrew Mason and Ruth Wareham, funded by the Spencer Foundation).
I am on the editorial board of the following journals:
I have appeared on TV, radio and in podcasts ('The Moral Maze', 'The Learning Curve'. 'The Westminster Hour', 'The Philosopher's Zone', 'Philosophy Bites') discussing education policy, the morality of school choice, meritocracy, and the family, and have written on those and other issues for a variety of newspapers and magazines.