Monthly Archives: January 2010

CFP – Democracy, including Workplace Democracy (Portugal, Nov. 2010)

Congress: Democracy Today – In Political Philosophy and Theory, 3 – 6 November 2010 – Universidade do Minho, Braga, Portugal

Today western democracies confront social, cultural and political challenges, which call for a reevaluation of our state affairs, our system of practices and our system of discourses. In contemporary pluralist and multicultural societies, there is an increased gap between citizens and political establishments. Traditional approaches of politics of recognition or redistribution, used to translate claims into the public sphere, seem no longer sufficient in this new paradigm of an increased globalized world and trans-national politics. Under this light, the meaning(s) we generally tend to attribute to the concept of democracy need to be re-evaluated and ultimately redefined.

This will be the First International Congress on ‘Democracy Today’ which will take place at Universidade do Minho, Braga. Having as starting point the assumption that the concept of democracy needs to be revised, we intent, during this congress, to accomplish two main tasks: on the one hand, to provide an account of the multiplicity of meanings of ‘democracy’ and its conceptual nuances. On the other hand, to account for the different instantiations of democracy and its intrinsic practices. Under this light we propose four days of reflection, discussion and dialogue, specially under the scope of political philosophy and political theory.

These are some of the questions we expect to explore:

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Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute

Penn State: 25 July-1 August 2010 | Applications by 10 March (grad) or 15 April (undergrad)

Via Eva Kittay:

The Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute (PIKSI) is designed to encourage undergraduate students from underrepresented groups to consider future study in the field of philosophy. PIKSI, held 25 July to 1 August, emphasizes both traditional and nontraditional philosophical scholarship, such as feminist philosophy, critical race theory, and disability studies. All undergraduate student participants are fully funded by PIKSI.

PIKSI is a project of the Association for Feminist Ethics and Social Theory (FEAST) and is supported the Rock Ethics Institute and the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State, as well as a number of graduate programs which have funded their graduate students to serve as Graduate Student Assistant.

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The Value and Limits of Rights

Newcastle University: 25-26 February 2010

The Newcastle Ethics, Legal and Political Philosophy Research Group are holding a conference in honour of Professor Peter Jones. The topic of the conference is “The Value and Limits of Rights.” The conference will be held at the Devonshire Building (G21 & G22) at Newcastle from 25-26 February. The programme is as follows:

Thursday, 25 February
1:30-2:00pm: Registration and Welcome Address
2:00-3:15pm: Albert Weale (UCL)
3:30-4:45pm: Simon Caney (Oxford)

Friday, 26 February
9:30-10:45am: Richard Bellamy (UCL)
10:45-11:00am: Tea/coffee
11:00am-12:15pm: John Horton (Keele)
12:15-1:00pm: Buffet lunch
1:00-2:15pm: Susan Mendus (York)
2:15-3:30pm: David Miller (Oxford)
3:30-3:45pm: Tea/coffee
3:45-5:00pm: Hillel Steiner (Manchester)

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Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and Political Philosophy

Speaking of non-ideal theory (or ideal theory in less than ideal contexts)… I am curious to hear whether my fellow public reasoners believe that the recent US Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance should have any impact on our work as political philosophers.  To be clear, I don’t mean to start a debate over whether or not the Supreme Court ruled correctly, or whether campaign donations are speech, or even whether corporations are people who have rights like you and me (though I do have opinions on such matters).  Instead, I want to consider whether the American legal landscape should guide our work on theories justice or democracy.

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A Thought on the Ideal and Non-Ideal Theory Distinction

Many of you have probably seen Simmons’ article just out in PPA on ideal and non-ideal theory. Simmons defends Rawls’ account of the ideal/non-ideal theory distinction and his paper is a must read. That said, I have been ruminating over a slightly different take on the debate over the nature of the ideal/non-ideal theory distinction and so thought I’d throw an idea out there.

Drawing on John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice many have suggested that the ideal/non-ideal theory distinction is akin to the full/partial compliance distinction. In creating his ideal theory, Rawls assumes that people will comply (almost) perfectly with the requirements of justice. He then uses his original position argument to conclude that his first principle of justice should have priority over his second. Next, Rawls weakens his ideal theory assumptions, adding the constraint that people may not abide by the requirements of justice. He concludes that we should only embrace his general conception of justice in non-ideal theory.

Unfortunately, the canonical examples of ideal and non-ideal theories cannot be fully characterized as full and partial compliance theories respectively. As Simmons and others note, even Rawls says ideal theory requires more than perfect compliance. In creating his ideal theory he assumes, for instance, that the circumstances do not prevent justice from being secured. Furthermore, others have more recently provided ideal and non-ideal theories that are not full and partial compliance theories (respectively). The main thing that distinguishes Allen Buchanan’s and Michael Blake’s non-ideal theories from their ideal theories, for instance, is that their non-ideal theories assume that there will be states and consider what we should do given that we are confined to a statist system. Similarly, the main thing that distinguishes Ronald Dworkin’s non-ideal theory from his ideal theory is that he assumes that people only have different talents and disabilities in his ideal theory. Blake’s, Buchanan’s, and Dworkin’s ideal theories do not require perfect compliance. Assuming that there is something to the ideal/non-ideal theory distinction and these authors are not just using the terms in completely different ways, the ideal/non-ideal theory distinction cannot just be the full/partial compliance distinction.

Reflecting on the many ways people seem to use the terms, one might despair at the thought of trying to unify such disparate ideal and non-ideal theories. In the draft of his book manuscript Michael Blake suggests, for instance, that the ideal/non-ideal theory distinction is not that useful because it can mean many different things. He implores others to be careful to explain just what assumptions they are making in advancing any theory. Perhaps this is part of what drives Simmons and others to argue for one or another of these ways of thinking about the ideal/non-ideal theory distinction.

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The Burqa in France

According to the BBC, in the latest twist in l’affaire du foulard/voile, a French parliamentary committee has recommended a ban on women wearing Islamic face veils in public [Correction: the proposal applies to public facilities, such as hospitals and mass transit, and not walking about the street]. The reasoning behind the report seems to be that face veils are contrary to the values of the republic, as symbols of women’s repression and extremist fundamentalism.

The proposal strikes me as a very bad idea in a number of ways. I don’t see how the law liberates women from whatever social pressure there exists to wear a veil. Will wearing a balaclava in public be illegal too? If not, then won’t the law just force a change of attire? Nussbaum has some discussion of this general issue in her Liberty of Conscience, pp. 346-53, invoking the ability of Chicagoans (and the Dutch, and presumably the French) to conduct normal social interactions with their faces covered in winter.

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