The public interest and the common good - Mancept Workshops in Political Theory, 9-11 September 2020

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Call for Papers
September 9, 2020 to September 11, 2020
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
Philosophy, Political Science, Public Policy

Call for abstracts 
The public interest and the common good. Historical and contemporary use of contentious concepts

MANCEPT Workshops in Political Theory, University of Manchester 
9th to 11th September 2020

Organizers: Daniele Santoro (CEPS, UMinho), Eric R. Boot (Hoover Chair, UCLouvain) 

Appeals to the public interest in fields such as politics, law, and healthcare ethics are commonplace. Government policies are often justified by public interest considerations, but at the same time can also be criticized for contravening the public interest. A whistleblower’s violation of government secrecy laws is deemed justified because her disclosures are in the public interest, but whistleblowers are also accused of threatening the public interest of national security. Rights violations are sometimes justified when a particularly weighty public interest (public safety, public order) is at stake. Biobanking can promote the public interest, but concerns related to the privacy of health data seem to run against it. The problem is that such appeals are made without clarifying what the public interest is and how it can be determined. Often this leads to judicial idiosyncrasy, threatening legal certainty. In the public sphere, moreover, generic appeals to the public interest lead to public contestation and political factionalism that muddle the public debate. Despite much-needed analysis and moral reflection, political philosophers seem to have largely ignored the issue in the past few decades. The workshop aims to remedy this neglect by providing a conceptual clarification of the public interest that can help to disentangle the issues arising in the above-mentioned fields, among others.
The workshop welcomes contributions of scholars from different disciplines.
Historians of thought might wish to clarify how the concept of the public interest has been conceptualized within the philosophical canon, e.g., by Aristotle, Cicero, Rousseau, and Bentham, and how it is related to cognate concepts such as the common good, general interest, public good, etcetera;
Contemporary political philosophers might want to clarify how public interest (and cognate concepts) are understood in more recent work in democratic theory, distributive justice, and public policy.
Scholars working in applied or legal philosophy might want to discuss the uses of public interest arguments in bioethical controversies, in the laws governing expropriation, or in whistleblower protection legislation;
Those especially interested in conceptual analysis might be interested in clarifying the relation between the public interest and related concepts, such as “justice,” “the common good,” and “the general interest.” For instance, is the public interest a distinctive notion? How does it differ from justice?
Democratic theorists might be interested in explaining the role of public and private interests in democratic decision-making, whether public interest is an aggregative or a procedural concept, and what political process, if any, is most likely to yield the public interest.
Political theorists may be interested in the role public interest arguments play in the justification of public safety and national security;
Scholars working on civic virtues might wish to engage with the question of what measures might be taken to encourage citizens to act in the public interest, rather than to give precedence to their private interests.

Abstract Submission 

To present a paper, please submit an abstract of no more than 500 words to

Indicate in your email your name, affiliation, position, and whether you intend to apply for a bursary. 

Deadline for submissions: 7th June 2020. Applicants will be notified by 12th June.  

Paper presentations should not exceed 30 minutes. Each presentation will be followed by a Q&A of 20-30 minutes. In case you wish to share a full paper, please send them two weeks prior to the panel to ensure pre-circulation. 

Conference/bursary/practical information

Registration for the conference opens in June. All participants are required to register in order to attend. This year’s fees are £240.00 for academics and £135.00 for graduate students and retirees. 

The deadline for bursary applications (available to current graduate students/early-career researchers and retirees only) will be 14th June, and successful applicants will be informed by 21st June. Only people accepted to present on a panel should apply for bursaries. Bursaries are allocated by MANCEPT organisers, however, please state in your application whether you intend to apply for a bursary. 

For any further questions regarding registration and other practical matters, please contact the MANCEPT 2020 organisers at

Given the current Covid pandemic, we will arrange a videoconference presentation for those panelists who will be unable to travel.