Rockwell Prize for Best Article on Ethics, Leadership and Public Policy Awarded


The Elizabeth D. Rockwell Center on Ethics and Leadership at the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston has announced the winner and runner-up for its 2023 Prize for the Best Article on Ethics, Leadership, and Public Policy.

The winner is Helen Frowe, Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Stockholm and Director of the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace.

She was awarded the $10,000 prize for her article, “Assisting the Assisters: The Comparative Claims of Afghan Refugees,” published in Philosophy & Public Affairs in June, 2023.

The prize announcement says the article “brings insightful, rigorous philosophical analysis to a policy question with profound real-world consequences,” and offers the following summary.

Political leaders, military personnel and citizens claimed amidst the withdrawal of Western military forces from Afghanistan in 2020-2021 that Western states had special duties to prioritize the evacuation of those Afghans who had directly assisted Western troops during the war, such as interpreters and translators. In the article, Frowe asks whether such priority for interpreters, translators and other employees of Western states is justifiable or if Western states might have broader responsibilities to Afghans whom their regime change efforts placed in danger.

Through a series of carefully considered cases, Frowe argues that even though duties of gratitude and promissory obligations can generate obligations to incur supererogatory risks to save individuals who lent one special assistance, they do not justify prioritizing assisters when the risk of saving other potential victims is sufficiently low. Thus, they do not support the claim that Western forces were required, and hence permitted, to prioritize assisters prior to the withdrawal deadline.

Against these popular arguments, Frowe says that Western states do owe stringent duties of rescue to the many Afghans, including many assisters, whom they endangered based on a duty not to harm. Since these duties also ground stringent duties of rescue to many non-assisting refugees, Frowe concludes that it is false that Western states owed more stringent duties to Afghan assisters than to other Afghan refugees. Western states had responsibilities to all those many Afghans who were endangered as a result of the invasion and occupation of their country and chaotic withdrawal from it.

The runner-up for the prize is Joseph Millum (St. Andrews), for his article, “Should Health Research Funding be Proportional to the Burden of Disease?” in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (February, 2023).

Recognizing Millum’s article for “its exceptional ethical analysis and real-world applicability to state health research allocation decisions,” the prize committee describes it as follows:

On what basis should states allocate their limited health research resources? One popular view is that allocations should reflect the relative burdens different diseases impose on a given population. This view—the proportional view—is widely accepted but has never been fully specified or defended. In “Should Health Research Funding be Proportional to the Burden of Disease?,” Millum identifies three questions that proponents of the proportional view must answer to specify the content of their view and further defends the importance of taking into account the magnitude of benefits that research funding can produce and the distribution of benefits among potential beneficiaries, with greater weight given to diseases that are worse for individual patients. Overall, Millum defends a severity-weighted proportional view for allocating health research funds that provides a practical guide for decision-making while making room for several practical or circumstantial factors that might justify amending his formula.

More information here.

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Kaila Draper
5 months ago

Congrats to Helen and Joseph. I will need to familiarize myself with Joseph’s work, but I can say that I find Helen’s work to be consistently awesome!