The Community of Advantage

An Interview With Robert Sugden

  • Robert Sugden University of East Anglia


This is an interview by the Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics (EJPE) with Robert Sugden. The interview covers the intellectual trajectory of Sugden, from his early critique of Amartya Sen’s liberalism, to his interactions with James Buchanan and his contributions to behavioural economics. A major theme in the interview is Sugden’s development of a rival program of normative economics based on modern behavioural economics. The interview also discusses Sugden’s recent book The Community of Advantage which synthesizes many of the themes he worked on.

Author Biography

Robert Sugden, University of East Anglia

Robert Sugden is professor of Economics at the University of East Anglia. He was born in 1949 (Morley, near Leeds), and obtained a degree in history, with economics as a subsidiary, at the University of York. He started out his career working on welfare economics and cost-benefit analysis. In 1977 he wrote a paper criticizing Amartya Sen’s characterization of liberty, which got him an invitation from James Buchanan to spend a summer at Virginia Tech. Buchanan remained a significant influence on his work. He obtained a readership position at the University of Newcastle in 1978. At Newcastle he started working on the topics that would occupy him most of his professional career, such as the measurement of opportunity, and the relationship between behavioral economics and rational choice theory. At Newcastle, Sugden developed regret theory with Graham Loomes.

By 1982, he had met Robert Nozick and John Rawls, and had started working on a book on social contract theory, which included a theory of rational bargaining on which to ground social contract theory. This subject got him interested in evolutionary game theory, which at the time was unexplored territory in economics. In 1986, building on the theory of coordination and focal points by Thomas Schelling, he published The Economics of Rights, Cooperation and Welfare, which he would have preferred to call “Spontaneous Order”. Because the book treated morality as conventional, it attracted a lot of attention from philosophers.

In 1987, Sugden became a professor at the University of East Anglia. At the time, the University of East Anglia was organized around several interdisciplinary schools; economics was part of a school that contained politics, sociology, and philosophy. In the late 1980s and 1990s, a group of scholars from this school, including Shaun Hargreaves Heap, Albert Weale, Chris Starmer, Robin Cubitt, Alistair Munro, Judith Mehta, Nick Bardsley, and Yanis Varoufakis, came together and became interested in the philosophy of rational choice, social choice, and game theory.

During the 1990s, Sugden continued his work on rational choice theory and game theory. Since then he has made important contributions to the way we think about economic models (as ‘credible worlds’), team reasoning, the moral philosophy of David Hume and Adam Smith and virtue ethics in economics (with Luigino Bruni). Sugden has sought to transcend traditional welfare economics and to develop an alternative normative economics which incorporates the insights from behavioral economics and contractarian theory. Many of his contributions are synthesized in his book The Community of Advantage, which came out in 2018.

How to Cite
Sugden, R. (2020). The Community of Advantage. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 13(1), 61–78.