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Dr Sean Cordell

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Profile summary

Professional biography

I was introduced to the proper activities of education and philosophy some years ago as a student here at Open University, an experience from which, happily, I’ve never fully recovered.  There I completed my first degree in Humanities with Philosophy before moving to full time study at the University of Sheffield, where I completed a Masters then a PhD in philosophy. After that and before returning to the OU in 2013, I was a research fellow at the University of Birmingham and a lecturer at Sheffield.

Research interests

I wrote my doctoral thesis on contemporary political problems for neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics, and have since been able to develop some of its themes through the intertwining strands of social and moral philosophy and applied ethics. I’ve a continuing interest in the ethical dimensions of social roles and of the ways that institutions do and should define these roles, and in a growing body of literature on the virtues (and vices) of social collectives. Alex Barber and I have recently completed an edited collection of fifteen papers  The Ethics of Social Roles published by Oxford University Press (2023). This comprises work developed in our AHRC funded  Role Ethics Network (2016-18), in which we brought together scholars and practitioners from around the world and across the disciplines of philosophy, political theory and social sciences for a series of workshops and a project conference. 

Current Graduate Students

Ian Watson: 'A Mazzinian Inspired Moral Form of Partiality: Mfp-Patriotism.'

James Holden: 'On Moral Saints'

Jo Morrison: ' The Ethics of Anti-doping Practice and Policy in Sport'


Articles and Chapters
'Role Ethics and the Functions of Institutions'. In Barber, A and Cordell, S. (eds.).The Ethics of Social Roles. (2023). Oxford University Press.
With Alex Barber. 'An Overview of Social Roles and Their Ethics'. In Barber, A and Cordell, S. (eds.).The Ethics of Social Roles(2023). Oxford University Press.
With Jon Pike: 'Armstrong was a Cheat: A Reply to Eric Moore',  Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, 2019, 14: 247-263.
'Can there Be an Ethics for Institutional Agents?' in Kendy M. Hess, Violetta Igneski and Tracy Isaacs (eds), Collectivity. Rowman and Littlefield, 2018.
'Group Virtues: No Great Leap Foward with Collectivism', Res Publica, 2017, 23: 43-59.
‘Virtuous Persons and Social Roles’, Journal of Social Philosophy, 2011, 42: 254-273.
(See a response from Stephen Holland in part of ‘Furthering the Sceptical Case against Virtue Ethics’, Nursing Ethics, 2013, 13: 266–275).
'The Biobank as Ethical Subject’, Health Care Analysis, 2011, 18: 282-194
With Kenneth McLaughlin: ‘Doing What’s Best, but Best for Whom? Ethics and the Mental Health Social Worker’, in Malcom Carey (ed.), Practical Social Work Ethics: Complex Dilemmas within Applied Social Care. Ashgate, 2013.
With Heather Widdows: ‘The Ethics of Biobanking: Key Issues and Controversies’ , Health Care Analysis, 2011, 18: 282-194.
‘Why Communities and Their Goods Matter: Illustrated with the Example of Biobanks’, Public Health Ethics, 2011, 4: 14-25.
‘Constructing Effective Ethical Frameworks for Biobanking’, Dilemata: International Journal of Applied Ethics, 2010, 4: 15-31.
With Heather Widdows, Florence Bellivier and Christine Noiville: ‘Lost Property? Legal Compensation for Destroyed Sperm: A Reflection and Comparison Drawing On UK and French Perspectives’, Journal of Medical Ethics, 2011, 37: 747-751.
Book Reviews
Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement, by Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu, in The Philosophical Quarterly, 2014, 64 (255): 330-332.
Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre, by Kelvin Knight, in Journal of Moral Philosophy, 2009, 6: 137-139.

Teaching interests

Currently I am on the module presentation teams for A222 Exploring Philosophy and for A853 and A854 parts 1 and 2 of the Philosophy MA. For the latter I wrote part of A853's section on Global Justice and for A854 the block on the political and moral problem of 'dirty hands'. I am currently on the production team for a forthcoming Philosophy module DA233 Investigating Philosophy, and have tuition responsibilities for DD103 Investigating the Social World.

Externally funded projects

Role Ethics Network
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 May 201631 Jan 2018AHRC Arts & Humanities Research Council

This project will advance a number of debates about the place of social roles in political, social and moral life. Building on the work we have done at the Role Ethics Workshop held in 2013, we aim to do this by bringing together scholars and practitioners from around the world and across the disciplines of philosophy, political theory and social sciences. Over 18 months we would aim to hold three workshops followed by a project conference, from which we would seek to publish proceedings in an edited collection. Going by previous bids, the time each of us would spend on this over the project period would average 1.5 hours per week, though this will be subject to calculation bearing in mind the cost constraints of the bid.


Armstrong was a Cheat: A Reply to Eric Moore (2019)
Pike, Jon and Cordell, Sean
Sports, Ethics and Philosophy, 14(2) (pp. 247-263)

Group Virtues: No Great Leap Forward with Collectivism (2017-02-28)
Cordell, Sean
Res Publica, 23(1) (pp. 43-59)

Lost property? Legal compensation for destroyed sperm: a reflection and comparison drawing on UK and French legal perspectives (2011-12)
Cordell, Sean; Bellivier, Florence; Widdows, Heather and Noiville, Christine
Journal of Medical Ethics, 37(12) (pp. 747-751)

Virtuous persons and social roles (2011-10)
Cordell, Sean
Journal of Social Philosophy, 42(3) (pp. 254-272)

The biobank as an ethical subject (2011-09)
Cordell, Sean
Health Care Analysis, 19(3) (pp. 282-294)

The ethics of biobanking: key issues and controversies (2011-09)
Widdows, Heather and Cordell, Sean
Health Care Analysis, 19(3) (pp. 207-219)

Why communities and their goods matter: illustrated with the example of biobanks (2011-04)
Cordell, Sean and Widdows, Heather
Public Health Ethics, 4(1) (pp. 14-25)

Constructing effective ethical frameworks for biobanking (2010)
Cordell, Sean and Widdows, Heather
Dilemata, 4(2) (pp. 15-31)

An Overview of Social Roles and Their Ethics (2023-03-01)
Barber, Alex and Cordell, Sean
In: Barber, Alex and Cordell, Sean eds. The Ethics of Social Roles (pp. 1-22)
Publisher : Oxford Academic

Role Ethics and Institutional Functions (2023)
Cordell, Sean
In: Barber, Alex and Cordell, Sean eds. The Ethics of Social Roles (pp. 177-199)
ISBN : 9780191926228 | Publisher : Oxford Academic

Can there be an Ethics for Institutional Agents? (2018-10-16)
Cordell, Sean
In: Hess, Kendy; Igneski, Violetta and Isaacs, Tracy eds. Collectivity: Ontology, Ethics, and Social Justice (pp. 61-79)
ISBN : 978-1-7866-0630-3 | Publisher : Rowman and Littlefield | Published : London

Doing what’s best, but best for whom? Ethics and the mental health social worker (2013-08)
McLaughlin, Kenneth and Cordell, Sean
In: Carey, Malcom and Green, Lorraine eds. Practical Social Work Ethics: Complex Dilemmas Within Applied Social Care (pp. 111-130)
ISBN : 978-1-4094-3825-0 | Publisher : Ashgate | Published : Farnham

The Ethics of Social Roles (2023-03-16)
Barber, Alex and Cordell, Sean
Barber, Alex and Cordell, Sean eds.
Engaging Philosophy
ISBN : 9780192843562 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : Oxford