Chris Melenovsky

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My primary research is on the role of social practices in shaping our moral and ethical life. The specific demands that structure our relationships and the particular values that direct our pursuits are given their form within a determinate social context.  While moral theory often focuses on the foundations of ethics, the significance of any such foundation will be seen in and through particular social practices. Just as many of our obligations are determined by the institutions we act within, so are many of our values identifiable only by reference the particular activities we pursue. Any moral theory--whether Utilitarian, Kantian, Pluralist or other--needs to be able to link the particularities of our ethical life with the foundational values it defends. My research aims to show how such a link can be made. 

Given the breadth of this primary interest, my research ranges from moral and political philosophy to metaethics and the philosophy of social science. I have focused on issues in the foundations of value theory, the history of political thought and applied ethics. For example, I am interesting in applying this approach to answer questions in political ethics. By seeing ourselves as participants in political social practices, we can better understanding the responsibilities persons have as citizens, representatives, lawyers, bureaucrats or judges. 

Currently, I am working on a dissertation project that defends the Rawlsian focus on the basic structure of society. I argue that there is a distinct set of social practices that establish background security for persons as members of a society. Included amongst these practices is a property scheme, legal system, political constitution and economic system. In order to assess any of these practices we ought assess them together as forming a single system of social cooperation. In short, I argue that we ought assess the most formative practices in any society as part of a single system, the basic structure of society. Given the importance that these institutions play in our lives, it is no surprise that their assessment is among the most important ethical concerns. 

Dissertation Title: 
"A Mooring for Ethical Life: Assessing the Basic Structure of Society"
Research Interests: 
  • Political Philosophy
  • Moral Philosophy
  • MetaEthics
  • Philosophy of Social Science
  • History of Value Theory (esp. Rousseau, Kant, Mill, Marx, Dewey, Rawls)
Previous Degrees: 

BA in Philosophy- University of Michigan
BA in Economics- University of Michigan


C.M. Melenovsky, "The Basic Structure as Set of Social Practices" Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 39, Iss. 4 (2013). 

In Progress:

"Practice-Dependent Obligations and Personal Wrongs" (I argue that we can explain social practices as giving rise to second-personal moral claims by appealing to the Rawlsian idea of legitimate expectations)

"Fair Play, Voluntariness and Legal Obligation" (I argue that we ought obey the law due to a principle of fair play, and address the major objections to this view offered by Roberty Nozick and John Simmons)

"Why Economic Rights and Not Basic Liberties" co-authored with Justin Bernstein (We show why John Tomasi's recent argument in Free Market Fairness is incomplete)

"The Implicit Argument for the Basic Liberties" (Here, I draw out the distinctive argument that Rawls uses to ground protection of the specific liberties that he argued for)


"The Practice-Dependent (Yet Personal) Wrong of Breaking Promises" Fifth Annual Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress. Boulder, CO. August 9th-12th, 2012.

"The Practice-Dependent (Yet Personal) Wrong of Breaking Promises" Sixth Annual Felician Ethics Conference. April 21st, 2012. 

"The Basic Structure as a Particular Set of Social Practices" 15th Annual Graduate Conference, CUNY. April 20th, 2012

"Legal Obligation, the Principle of Fairness and the Value of Choice" Graduate Workshop Series, Penn Program on Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism. March 15th, 2012

"Finessing Ecumenical Expressivism: A Critique of Ridge's Hybrid Expressivism" Brandeis Graduate Student Philosophy Conference; Intersections with Philosophy of Language, March 5-6, 2010

"International Right and Kant's World-Federation" Oxford University Graduate Student Philosophy Conference, November 21-22, 2009

"Global Duties and Responsibility Assignment" University of Albany Graduate Student Philosophy Conference, March 28th, 2009

  • SAS/Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellowship, 2013-2014
  • Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching by Graduate Students, 2010-2011
  • Teaching Certificate, Center for Teaching and Learning
  • (Honorable Mention) Penn Prize for Excellence in Teaching by Graduate Students, 2010-2011

Dissertation Supervisor: Samuel Freeman

Advisors: Elizabeth Camp, Waheed Hussain, Kok-Chor Tan

Curriculum Vitæ: