When Michael Moehler was an undergraduate at the London School of Economics, the work of Amartya Sen was already considered so classic that Moehler assumed the man behind the theories had long ago departed the earth. Imagine his shock, then, when he learned that Sen was scheduled to speak on campus the following week.

Sen will soon be speaking on campus again, but this time it will be at Virginia Tech — and at the invitation of the Program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics that Moehler now directs.

Sen, the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor at Harvard University, will deliver the 2018 PPE Distinguished Public Lecture on April 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. His topic will be “Democracy and Elections.”

“It’s such an honor to have Professor Sen speak at Virginia Tech,” said Moehler, who is an associate professor of philosophy in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “Professor Sen’s work has had such an impact on the fields of philosophy, political science, and economics that it’s difficult to imagine a better speaker for this event.”

In 1998, Sen received the Nobel Prize in Economics for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory. His work has led to a new understanding of the catastrophes that plague society’s poorest members and helps to explain the economic mechanisms that underlie famine and poverty.

Sen, who is also a senior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, has served as an economics professor at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, the Delhi School of Economics, and the London School of Economics, as well as the Drummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford University. In 1999, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of India, and, in 2017, he received the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science for his work on democracy and its potential power to redress and relieve human deprivation.

“Contemporary notions that development should not just be measured by economic variables stem to a large extent from Professor Sen’s work and advocacy,” said Sudipta Sarangi, head of the Department of Economics, which is part of the College of Science. “He has been instrumental in arguing that development should include notions of freedom, well-being, and quality of life.”

Sarangi, who served as a research assistant on Sen’s 1996 book, “India: Social and Economic Opportunities,” coauthored with Jean Drèze, noted that Sen played a significant role in the creation of the United Nations Development Programme’s monthly “Human Development Report,” which has, since 1990, focused on expanding the richness of human life, rather than simply the richness of economies.

Sen will be only the second speaker in the history of the PPE Distinguished Public Lecture. Martha Nussbaum, an internationally celebrated philosopher based at the University of Chicago, delivered the inaugural lecture last year.

“The goal of our lecture series is to foster dialogue among faculty, students, and the public about important problems that our contemporary societies face,” said Moehler, who is also an affiliate associate professor in the Department of Economics.

The Program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Virginia Tech trains students to take comprehensive, interdisciplinary approaches to complex issues, to create solutions that are not only economically sound, but also socially, ethically, and politically informed. The program offers a major and a minor for undergraduates and integrates research, teaching, and outreach to advance the well-being of individuals and societies.

No tickets are required for the lecture, which will take place in the Haymarket Theatre at the Squires Student Center. Virginia Tech students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to attend, as are members of the community. A public reception will follow the talk.

Written by Paula Byron; photo courtesy of Stephanie Mitchell, Harvard University