Photo of Dr Nigel Pleasants

Dr Nigel Pleasants

Research Interests

From the beginning of my studies as an undergraduate, my outlook has been philosophical and oriented towards social, political and ethical issues, informed by social scientific and historical inquiry. My PhD advanced a reading of Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophy and a critical examination of how contemporary social and political theorists have drawn upon that philosophy for their own ideas. This was developed into my first book, Wittgenstein and the idea of a critical social theory: a critique of Giddens, Habermas and Bhaskar (Routledge , 1999; click here for description & contents). I developed further my thoughts on how social and political criticism might more fruitfully proceed in 'Winch and Wittgenstein on understanding ourselves critically: descriptive not metaphysical' (Pleasants, 2000), in my chapter in Marx and Wittgenstein: knowledge, morality and politics (Routledge, 2002; click here for description & contents), and 'Social criticism for "critical critics"?' (Pleasants, 2003).

The overall theme that motivates and guides my current research is the relationship between social structure and moral agency. Within this context I have explored a range of issues arising from reflection on the phenomenon of 'institutional wrongdoing', including both explanation and moral evaluation, principally focussing on: the Holocaust and genocide; the exploitation of non-human animals; slavery, abolition and the anti-slavery and animal liberation movements. I have also been exploring the relevance and usefulness of Wittgenstein’s philosophy for ethical inquiry by criticising what I call the ‘intrinsically-ethical reading’ of his philosophy and making a case for the phenomenon of ‘moral certainty' in relation to the badness of death and wrongness of killing.

I am currently working on papers on the idea of moral progress, moral change and moral revolution, and the relation between wrongdoing and moral/factual ignorance. In the near future I hope to produce a book manuscript consisting in philosophical reflections on the Holocaust and genocide and their wider social implications.

Research Supervision

  • Social, Moral, and Political Philosophy
  • Moral change, progress, responsibility
  • Social epistemology and ontology
  • Philosophy of the Social Sciences
  • Philosophical and Social Scientific issues relating to the Holocaust, Genocide and Slavery
  • Animal Ethics
  • Wittgenstein


External examining of PhDs

University of Manchester – Politics (twice)

University of Cambridge – (HPS) (twice)

University of Edinburgh – Science Studies

University of Bristol– Philosophy

University of Hertfordshire – Philosophy

Research Students


Completed PhDs

Mattia Gallotti: ‘Naturally we: A philosophical study of collective intentionality

Ekiyor Welson: ‘John Rawl's political liberalism: Implications for Nigeria's democracy’

Patrick Cockburn: ‘Rhetoric at the margins of economic legitimacy’ (jointly supervised, Aarhus University, Denmark)

Alexander Scavone: 'Understanding the Phenomenon of Love'

Jessica Groling: Fox hunting and the Urban Fox – Appropriating a Moral Panic

Owen Abbott: The Social Self, Social Relations, and Social (Moral) Practice


Completed MA by Research

Jen Smith: Is rape an act of institutional wrongdoing?

Current MA by Research students

Raymond Auerback:Catastrophe Testimony: Epistemological and Ethical Challenges Beyond the Limits of Language and Experience

Tamara Leonard: What is the relationship between victimhood and autonomy, responsibility and power?