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Introduction PhD in Law, Ethics & Economics for Sustainability (LEES)  

Objectives, Research Program and Structure of the PhD Course

An international research community committed to sustainability

The International PhD Programme in Law, Ethics & Economics for Sustainability (LEES) aims at the creation of a worldwide interdisciplinary research community that shares a commitment to the goals of sustainability.  Such a community will be devoted to promote an interdisciplinary, integrated research approach to global concerns, able to foster a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological innovation, the model of economic development and organization, and the consequent institutional change, are all made consistent with future as well as present needs of humankind, granting self-determination, equal treatment and social justice to each of its members, being as well compatible with the preservation of the ecosystem.

A research program

Sustainability requires fundamental changes in the legal, economic policy, and institutional framework.  In fact, notwithstanding the wide consensus on the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Goals, many powerful governmental and corporate actors disclaim responsibility for their attainment. The enormity of the problem justifies an interdisciplinary research program on the institutions and the multilevel governance systems for sustainable developments, based on the interdisciplinary interaction among law, normative ethics, and the economic analysis of individual, strategic and collective decision mechanisms.  The principle of Rule of Law already establishes that fundamental rights cannot be fully overridden for economic stability reasons, and stresses the unacceptability of phenomena of discrimination and inequality. But sustainability, and especially the affirmation of responsibility for the prevention of global warming and climate change, still asks for the elaboration of new general normative views of social welfare, fully able to incorporate the inter-generational dimension of human well-being.  At the same time, these views should answer the problems and trade-offs of inter-generational and gobal justice in the distribution among people of different nations of the costs and benefits of sustainability. Any solution, however, would be illusory if it does not at the same time consider the problems of infra-generational social justice, in an age of explosive increase of unacceptable inequalities, especially in developed countries.

A new and deeper understanding of the ideas of justice will lead to a wide inquiry, both comparative and de jure condendo, on the institutions for sustainability. This involves, among others aspects, the role of international organizations and public regulation, and poses the basic question whether the separation that shields institutions and organizations operating in the sphere of market relations from the claims of social and distributive justice should not be crossed. Subjects that then come under scrutiny are (for example) the access to the economic exploitation of innovation (intellectual property rights), the distribution to stakeholders of corporate residual control rights and their participation in corporate governance, the limits imposed to property rights by the recognition of stakeholders’ capabilities and positive freedoms, the democratic self-governance of common pool resources (local and global), infrastructures, public services and knowledge all seen as common goods. Sustainability goals (such as the fight against unacceptable inequalities, poverty and environmentally irresponsible practices) and human rights can also be pursued by innovaive legal practices, such as strategic litigation aimed at promoting institutional change that has significant impact not only on court’s decisions, but on collective deliberation.

Resort to economic analysis - both the perspective of the theory of choice and behavioral/experimental economics - in the research program for the institutions of sustainability provides a better understanding of the collective (social and public) choice mechanisms that satisfy not only the requirements of efficiency, but also postulates of justice, and can then be used for designing institutions based on rational acceptance. At the same time, economic analysis permits to predict whether and when equilibria evolve from strategic interaction, which may be understood as the emergence of self-supporting norms that give stability to sustainability institutions. The latter, then, may provide incentives inducing agents to converge to behaviors consistent with sustainability principles. A joint approach of ethics and behavioral economics to the analysis of institutions, however, suggests that impartial deliberative procedures and fair collective agreements may retro-act on the individuals’ motivations, and can in this manner elicit preferences and beliefs that support voluntary adhesion to sustainability principles and may also support responsible behavior. 

Interdisciplinary research

Consistently with the idea of a research program on the institutions for sustainability, the PhD programme will integrate different fields of research – Ethics, Law and Economics, but also political theory and political economy, environmental sciences, and social sciences related to sustainability - in a broad philosophical approach. The aim is to break the unnecessary boundaries between related disciplines, reconnecting research with practice, and examining in depth the current capabilities, limitations, strength and weaknesses of each discipline. Ultimately, the goal is to pursue innovative results at the frontiers of research where unsolved problems ask for interdisciplinary approaches and contributions. 

Forms of international cooperation

The LEES Programme will provide to its PhD students either a fully integrated joint doctorate programme between some partner Universities, or double or multiple (co-tutelle) programmes entered into between any of the various partners of the LEES Programme. LEES’ PhD students will also be offered various cooperation and exchange programmes with leading academic institutions in which leading scholars, contributing to the area and fields of research and their intersections, as defined by the LEES Programme, operate.

 Doctoral board and scientific council            

            The LEES’ Governance is ensured by the Doctoral Board, in charge of running the international PhD programme, and a Scientific Council that will operate as a global network of leading scholars committed to advising and supporting the Board. The Scientific Council will represent the main scientific competences and expertise in the three main areas of the PhD programme (Law, Ethics & Economics for Sustainability) and the research topics in their intersections. It will plan a yearly summer school and workshop in which outstanding scholars at international level will discuss with young researchers and PhD candidates the topics of path breaking research.

Scientific areas of interest

  • International and European law;
  • Comparative law;
  • Constitutional and public law;
  • Environmental sciences and law;
  • Corporate governance;
  • Microeconomics;
  • Political economy, economic policy and public choice;
  • Law & economics;
  • Ethics & economics and business ethics;
  • Philosophy and sociology of law;
  • Political theory and political philosophy;

Reference to Italian SSDs: IUS/08 , 09, 10, 13, 14,  IUS/21, SECS-P/02


  1.  Sustainable development
  2.  Human rights and strategic litigations



Associate Universities (Joint-Degree)

Partner Universities (Co-tutelle or Exchange Agreement)


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