Nikolas Kirby

Departmental Lecturer in Philosophy and Public Policy

Nikolas Kirby is Departmental Lecturer in Philosophy and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government.

He was educated at the University of Sydney (BA (Hons), LLB (Hons)) and the University of Oxford (BPhil, DPhil), as a Rhodes Scholar.

He has worked in law, academia and politics in Australia. He is a co-founder and chair of the Good Lad Initiative, a social enterprise that engages boys and men in discussions about masculinity, sexism and lad culture. He plays Australian Rules Football for the University of Oxford during the winter, and village cricket in the summer.

I have two major current research interests.

First, I work on what philosophers call 'basic equality'. This is the concept used the proposition 'that all human beings are one another’s equals'. This claim is widely considered to be a unifying premise sitting at the very foundation of all contemporary moral and political theories. I investigate its meaning(s), justification (if any), and its implications (if true). The work delivers conclusions on a very wide range of issues, such as the basis of basic equality, the plight of the mentally disabled and animals, the fundamental premises of political liberalism, distributive justice, the relationship between scepticism and rationality, responsibility and the problem of freewill.

Secondly, I work on how trust and distrust affect our oblgations – to each other and government. Political philosophy is currently dominated by ‘ideal theories’. They aim to determine the obligations of agents under the assumption that all other agents will also generally comply. Little thought, however, is given to how such a system implicitly assumes deep reserves of trust between individuals, communities and institutions. And, almost no thought is given to how much these obligations may be altered by conditions of distrust.

I teach the Foundations Module. This is one of the core modules on the Masters in Public Policy (MPP). Its purpose is to introduce students to the fundamental values that both justify and should inform the practice of government; to equip students to identify the moral issues at stake in policy issues; and to help them reason well regarding those issues. See here for more. The module takes place in Michaelmas term.

I also teach an Option Course in Trinity Term.


Nikolas Kirby, The People's Trust: Trust, Distrust, and the Legitimacy of Government, Palgrave MacMillan (under contract)

Peer Reviewed Articles

Nikolas Kirby, ‘Basic Equality and Social Contract Theory’ in Etieyibo, ed., Perspectives in Social Contract Theory, Council for Research in Values and Philosophy (forthcoming).

Nikolas Kirby, Nikolas Kirby, ‘Two Concepts of Basic Equality’, Res Publica (2017), (doi: 10.1007/s11158-017-9354-5).

Nikolas Kirby, ‘The Service Conception: Just One Simple Question’, Law and Philosophy (2017), 36(3), 255-278.

Nikolas Kirby, ‘Revising Republican Liberty: what is the difference between a disinterested gentle giant and a deterred criminal?’, Res Publica (2015), 22 (4):369-386.

Nikolas Kirby, ‘When Rights Cause Injustice: A Critique of the Vexatious Proceedings Act 2008 (NSW)’, (2009), 31 Sydney Law Review 163, cited by Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of NSW in Teoh v Hunters Hill Council (No. 8) [2014] NSWCA 125 (14 April 2014) [43]; and, Supreme Court of NSW in Attorney General of NSW v Wilson [2010] NSWSC 1008, [139-140, 149].

Blavatnik School of Government,
University of Oxford,
Radcliffe Observatory Quarter,
Woodstock Road,
Oxford OX2 6GG,
United Kingdom

Office hours: by appointment

A piece on The Good Lad Workshop in The Oxford Mail
The Oxford Mail - Thursday, 4 June, 2015
A piece on The Good Lad Workshop in The Times
The Times - Saturday, 9 May, 2015
A piece on The Good Lad Workshop in The Guardian
The Guardian - Wednesday, 12 November, 2014
A piece on The Good Lad Workshop in Zeit Online
Zeit Online - Wednesday, 30 July, 2014
A piece on The Good Lad Workshop in The Huffington Post
The Huffington Post - Monday, 28 July, 2014