When the framers of the U.S. Constitution gathered in Philadelphia in 1787, they seamlessly wove together tenets of philosophy, political science, and economics to articulate their vision for a new republic. In the intervening centuries, however, those three disciplines have separated and become increasingly specialized.

Michael Moehler, an associate professor of philosophy, politics, and economics at Virginia Tech, believes the reintegration of those disciplines represents a valuable tool for complicated decision-making.

“To address complex social problems,” Moehler said, “we must consider all their relevant dimensions, particularly if those dimensions lead us in opposing directions. What’s ethically required may not be economically sound, and what’s economically sound may not be politically feasible, especially in a globally interdependent world.”

Moehler has directed Virginia Tech’s program in philosophy, politics, and economics since its launch in 2015. The interdisciplinary program has inspired faculty and students across the Blacksburg campus to break down disciplinary silos and explore thorny issues from multiple perspectives.

To allow the program to expand its research, teaching, and outreach, two previous funders of the program — David Kellogg, a 1982 graduate of Virginia Tech in electrical engineering, and the Charles Koch Foundation — have together donated more than $4.2 million to the university.

The initiative — now known as the Kellogg Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics — brings faculty and students together to develop comprehensive solutions to complex societal problems.

“The Kellogg Center creates an intersection of the formal reasoning of philosophy, the humanity of political science, and the quantitative discipline of economics,” said Kellogg, managing director of Kellogg Capital LLC, who is contributing nearly $3 million to the center. “Dr. Moehler has done an outstanding job laying the groundwork for this center, and I am grateful for his efforts and proud to support him in taking it to the next level by establishing a philosophy, politics, and economics research capability at Virginia Tech.”

Michael Moehler
Michael Moehler, an associate professor of philosophy, politics, and economics, will direct the Kellogg Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Photo courtesy of Michael Moehler.

The new funding will allow the initiative to increase the number of its core faculty members and to expand its undergraduate degree programs while at the same time supporting its existing programming and student involvement in philosophy, politics, and economics.

The philosophy, politics, and economics major — a popular collaboration among the Department of Philosophy and the Department of Political Science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the Department of Economics in the College of Science — has been an option for undergraduates since 2018.

“Our students work on research topics they’re excited about and that matter socially,” Moehler said. The program’s courses have already allowed students to explore a range of issues, including the social benefits of the sharing economy; the influence of gender, race, and class on political activism; intergenerational justice; implications of the U.S.-Mexico Border Wall; safety ethics in the construction field; and the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s quest for equal pay.

“In our increasingly complex world, we need to be able to apply multiple perspectives to pressing, complicated problems,” said Laura Belmonte, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “The Kellogg Center will contribute to Virginia Tech’s vision of educating students who, informed by the latest research, can help develop ethical, feasible solutions to challenging societal problems. We’re also delighted that the gifts — which together represent one of the largest contributions in our college’s history — help fulfill our mission of placing humanity at the core of all we do.”

The center is expected to serve as a hub for cutting-edge interdisciplinary research in the humanities and social sciences. It will also work to spark research collaborations in other disciplines across the university that have social, ethical, economic, or political dimensions.

“By infusing political science and philosophical issues with data and quantitative analysis, students can more effectively address societal problems and the economic scenarios that may cause them,” said Sally C. Morton, dean of the College of Science. “The Kellogg Center will help encourage Virginia Tech students to view issues from a broad perspective, as informed, engaged global citizens who take their social responsibilities and leadership potential seriously.”

It was while pursuing his doctorate at the London School of Economics that Moehler first became immersed in the growing field of philosophy, politics, and economics. He now appreciates being able to expand the field’s presence at Virginia Tech.

“I am grateful to our funders and the university for their support,” said Moehler. “It has been a tremendous pleasure to build a new interdisciplinary program that involves faculty and students from across campus. I am excited about continuing this work to advance research and teaching excellence in philosophy, politics, and economics.”