Dr Alexandra Couto

Lecturer in Philosophy

About

Dr Alexandra Couto is a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Kent. She holds a MPhil and DPhil in Political Theory from Oxford University (Berrow Scholar). 

She held research positions in Vienna (ERC Project, Philosophy Department, Vienna) and in Oslo (Innocently Benefitting from Injustice Project, Philosophy Department) and has also taught at Oxford University and Warwick University.

Research interests

Alexandra's work is within moral and political philosophy. Her recent research focuses on the three following topics: the role of responsibility in luck egalitarianism, the conditions for the justifiability of interpersonal forgiveness and issues relating to the Beneficiary Pays Principle, a principle according to which we might accrue remedial duties by benefiting (innocently) from injustices. 

Previously, she has also worked on freedom of speech and the grounds for taking privacy to be valuable and has also published a book defending a minimal form of liberal perfectionism Liberal Perfectionism: the Reasons that Goodness Gives (De Gruyter).  

Teaching

Alexandra teaches political philosophy, ethics and applied ethics.


Publications

Article

  • Couto, A. and Kahane, G. (2018). Disaster and Debate. Journal of Moral Philosophy [Online] 15. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/17455243-20170011.
    Faced with a national tragedy, citizens respond in different ways. Some will initiate debate about the possible connections between this tragedy and broader moral and political issues. But others often complain that this is too early, that it is inappropriate to debate such larger issues while ‘the bodies are still warm.’ This paper critically examines the grounds for such a complaint. We consider different interpretations of the complaint—cynical, epistemic, and ethical—and argue that it can be resisted on all of these readings. Debate shortly after a national disaster is therefore permissible. We then set out a political argument in favor of early debate based on the value of broad political participation in liberal democracies and sketch a stronger argument, based on the duty to support just institutions, that would support a political duty to engage in debate shortly after tragedies have occurred.
  • Couto, A. (2017). The Beneficiary Pays Principle and Strict Liability: exploring the normative significance of causal relations. Philosophical Studies [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-017-0953-y.
    I will discuss the relationship between two different accounts of remedial duty ascriptions. According to one account, the beneficiary account, individuals who benefit innocently from injustices ought to bear remedial responsibilities towards the victims of these injustices. According to another account, the causal account, individuals who caused injustices (even innocently) ought to bear remedial duties towards the victim. In this paper, I examine the relation between the principles central to these accounts: the Beneficiary Principle and the well- established principle of Strict Liability in law. I argue that both principles display a strong yet unexplored similarity as they make certain kinds of causal connection sufficient for incurring liability. Because of this similarity, I suggest that insights into the Beneficiary Principle can be gained from exploring its relation with Strict Liability. In particular, I examine two new positive arguments that can be made in support of the Beneficiary Principle. I will also, however, point out limits to what these arguments can establish.
  • Couto, A. (2016). Reactive Attitudes, Forgiveness and the Second-Person Standpoint. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice [Online] 19:1309-1323. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-016-9740-7.
    Philosophers discussing forgiveness have usually been split between those who think that forgiveness is typically virtuous, even when the wrongdoer doesn’t repent, and those who think that, for forgiveness to be virtuous, certain pre-conditions must be satisfied. I argue that Darwall’s second- personal account of morality offers significant theoretical support for the latter view. I argue that if, as Darwall claims, reactive attitudes issue a demand, this demand needs to be adequately answered for forgiveness to be warranted. It follows that we should reject the thesis that unconditional forgiveness is appropriate in the absence of repentance.
  • Couto, A. (2015). Luck Egalitarianism and What Valuing Responsibility Requires. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy [Online] 21:193-217. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13698230.2015.1101824.
    Luck egalitarianism originated in an attempt to respond to the conservative objection that egalitarianism fails to respect the value of responsibility. In response, luck egalitarians have introduced a distinction between choice and circumstances and recommend redistribution only when inequalities are not the result of choice. I will argue, however, that this standard formulation of the luck egalitarian aim is problematic, and ought to be revised. Valuing responsibility requires more than redistribution – it requires giving priority to ensuring equality of opportunity for advantages at the level of institutions. Preventing unfairness has normative priority over efforts to alleviate it. Compensation’s role is secondary to the prior normative importance of ensuring that people are responsible for the advantages they have.
  • Couto, A. (2014). Reactive Attitudes, Disdain and the Second-Person Standpoint. Grazer Philosophische Studien [Online] 90:79-104. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/9789004298767_007.
  • Couto, A. (2006). Privacy and Justification. Res Publica [Online] 12:223-248. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11158-006-9007-6.

Book

  • Couto, A. (2014). Liberal Perfectionism: The Reasons that Goodness Gives. [Online]. De Gruyter. Available at: https://www.degruyter.com/view/product/211392.
    Much of the recent literature on political perfectionism has focused on dealing with objections to this view. This book adopts a different approach: It attempts to highlight the intuitive appeal of liberal perfectionism by presenting a positive prima facie argument in its favour. The book starts by clarifying the relation between political perfectionism — a conception of politics — and prudential perfectionism and ethical perfectionism — a conception of the good life, and a type of ethical theory. It is crucial to start by selecting a plausible form of ethical perfectionism, as it makes an important difference to the plausibility of the political conception based upon it. Once appropriate distinctions are drawn and a plausible form of liberal perfectionism is endorsed, many of the standard objections to perfectionism are shown to fail to reach their target. Different arguments in favour of liberal perfectionism are then proposed and critically examined, but the resilience of some pragmatic arguments against liberal perfectionism is conceded. The book ends by showing that perfectionism can be surprisingly relevant for discussions of social justice and proceeds to draw a sketch of the perfectionist implications for questions of distributive justice.

Book section

  • Couto, A. (2016). Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Information and IP rights in the age of ICT. in: Hildebrandt, M. and van den Berg, B. eds. Information, Freedom and Property: The Philosophy of Law Meets the Philosophy of Technology. Routledge. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Information-Freedom-and-Property-The-Philosophy-of-Law-Meets-the-Philosophy/Hildebrandt-van-den-Berg/p/book/9781138669130.
  • Couto, A. (2016). Purity in Concepts: Defending the Social Sciences. in: Kelsen, H. ed. Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook. Springer, pp. 257-266. Available at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-319-21876-2_13.
    In Secular Religion, his posthumously published book, Kelsen intended to defend the prevalent theories in the social sciences from the threat of discredit. The drawing of analogies between the social sciences and religion was indeed quite common at that time among intellectuals (such as Eric Voegelin, Raymon Aron and Ernst Cassirer) and Kelsen thought that this analogy created a serious risk to the credibility of the social sciences. I argue that (1) the drawing of analogies between social sciences and religion is not necessarily bad for the social sciences (2) this rhetorical battle between historians of ideas was much less dangerous for the credibility and survival of the social sciences than Kelsen estimated (3) the method chosen by Kelsen to defend the social sciences, conceptual analysis, might not have been the best method for this purpose.
  • Couto, A. (2008). Free Speech and Copyright. in: Gosseries, A., Marciano, A. and Strowel, A. eds. Intellectual Property and Theories of Justice. Palgrave. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11158-006-9007-6.

Review

  • Couto, A. (2007). Gaukroger, Stephen (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to Descartes’ Meditations Gaukroger, S. ed. Consciousness, Literature and the Arts [Online] 8:5-7. Available at: http://www.dmd27.org/gaukroger.html.
  • Couto, A. (2007). Review - Satisficing and Maximizing: Moral Theorists on Practical Reason Byron, M. ed. Metapsychology Online Reviews [Online]:15-18. Available at: http://metapsychology.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=book&id=3001&cn=135.
  • Couto, A. (2007). Review - Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership. Metapsychology Online Reviews [Online]:15-17. Available at: http://metapsychology.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=book&id=3749&cn=135.
  • Couto, A. (2006). Review of Tony Fitzpatrick and Michael Cahill, Environment and Welfare: Towards a Green Social Policy. Basic Income Studies [Online] 1:21-25. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2202/1932-0183.1010.
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