Tag Archives: distributive justice

Chapter 7. Reconciliation in Practice: Education.

I disagree with a good deal in Chapter 7 of Kevin’s book.  In fact, I am extremely sympathetic with the overall project of de-privatizing religious reasons: like Kevin I want a liberalism, and more importantly a polity, in which faith traditions engage and are engaged, in politics on a basis of mutual respect.  So the disagreement came as a relief, because there is nothing worse than being assigned commentary on something you agree with. Tthe kind of schooling system I would like to see is considerably different both from the one he rejects and the one he defends in very brief sketch form. This has the inconvenient consequence that engaging and explaining every disagreement would take many more pages than a blog post bears; the reader will be relieved that I am restricting myself to a couple of thousand words, and am willing to take the risk of being misunderstood (and to subject Kevin to that risk – so, if something I attribute to him seems in any way wrong, please assume the error is mine not his!!).
American public schooling is currently arranged roughly as follows: every child is required to have some formal schooling up to age 16 or 18 (depending on the state), and common schools which purportedly promote a common civic identity are provided free at the point of delivery. [1] Parents can legally refrain from sending their children to such schools, and send them, instead, to private schools which are very lightly regulated, and are permitted to foster sectarian identities (in practice the vast majority of children in private schools attend religious schools); they can also provide homeschooling which is, in most states, even more lightly regulated than private schooling.

Something like this system is widely defended by the ‘consensus’ liberals that Kevin takes as his opponents. Liberalism should, as Macedo puts it, embrace “the positive constitutional project of shaping diversity to the end of a shared public life” and should use the schooling system to this end, actively sculpting citizens to have certain liberal values once they reach adulthood. For these liberals, this end overrides religious considerations; the schools must not invoke or teach religious doctrines, because to do so would conflict with the driving purpose of civic education; and they should foster a civic identity that, once instilled, will override religious reasons when citizens are engaged in public debate and political action. More importantly, it requires that children be exposed to a diversity of views about what is of value in the world and how to live their lives – views and approaches that some parents may wish to ensure that their children not be exposed to. Freedom must have its due, of course, so homeschooling and private schooling are permitted; indeed, by permitting them we relieve potential pressure on the public schools which sectarian religious parents would exert, and free them up to do their work relatively unfettered by sectarian lobbyists.
Kevin offers an alternative. The current structure of schooling (in the US) should be rejected, and replaced with some sort of privatized school choice system. He does not object to government funding of schools, but he does object to the government using schools to foster the kind of civic identity that consensus liberals seek, and thinks it is unfair that parents with private identities that are nicely congruent with the kind of civic identity consensus liberals promote get schooling for their children free at the point of delivery, whereas citizens with religious identities have to pay twice, as it were, once for the public schools their children don’t attend, and again for the private schools they do attend.
Why? First, the kind of convergence liberalism he endorses (the right kind of liberalism) does not require the kind of civic identity promoted by consensus liberals. Rather citizens are free to follow their private, including religious, reasons when contributing to public debate and political decision-making and, in fact, they have no obligation to engage in politics at all. Second, though, he reminds us that citizens find tremendous value in raising children: “If we recognize the obvious fact that citizens’ reasons of integrity often involve raising children, then it is easy to see how citizens could have defeaters for state intervention in child development. Consensus liberals emphasize the state’s interest in sculpting children in its image, but on the convergence view shared civic ends are more easily undermined by intelligible defeaters”.
Kevin looks at the debate over whether Intelligent Design should be taught in schools. Whereas, as he observes, it might be possible to forge some sort of compromise between proponents and opponents of ID so that ID and evolution both get taught, there are a host of other issues, such as sex education, and religious education over which there will be dispute; and once all these issues are added up, there will be no sensible in-school compromise with which most people can live; the sensible measure will be to implement a privatized (though maybe publicly funded) choice system.

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On the Scope of Distributive Justice

July 5-7, Central European University, Budapest
Organized by the Departments of Philosophy and Political Science and the Global Justice Network
Venue: Central European University, Nador utca 13, Room 001

11.30-13.00: Keynote Address
• Samuel Scheffler (New York University): The Practice of Equality
• Janos Kis (Central European University): Response
• Shlomi Segall (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem): The Problem with Inequality
• Christian Seidel (University of Erlangen): Vindicating Distributive Equality
• Paul Kelleher (University of Wisconsin-Madison): Distributive Justice is Associative, Relational, Egalitarian, and Prioritarian
• Emily Crookston (Coastal Carolina University): Refusing to Take Up the Slack or Just Slacking?
• Sem de Maagt (Erasmus University Rotterdam): Social Ontology, Practice Dependency, and Normative Political Theory


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Matthew Adler, Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis

Matthew Adler has a major new book with OUP that will interest many readers of this blog. Here is the description:

Well-Being and Fair Distribution provides a rigorous and comprehensive defense of the “social welfare function” as a tool for evaluating governmental policies. In particular, it argues for a “prioritarian” social welfare function: one that gives greater weight to well-being changes affecting worse-off individuals. In doing so, the book draws on many literatures: in theoretical economics, applied economics, philosophy, and law. Topics addressed include the following: the nature of well-being and the possibility of interpersonal comparisons; the measurement of well-being via “utility” numbers; why a “prioritarian” social welfare function is more appealing than alternative forms (for example, a utilitarian, leximin, or “sufficientist” function); whether fair distribution should be conceptualized on a lifetime or sublifetime basis; and social choice under uncertainty.


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CFP: Special Issue on “Global Justice & Practice-Dependence” in Raisons Politiques (in English)

Deadline for submissions: April 1st, 2012

Tentative publication date: Winter 2012

About the Journal

Raisons Politiques is a well-established journal of political thought currently building an international reputation with the support of Sciences Po, the French renowned research institute for social sciences. The journal endeavors to provide a forum where scholars from various backgrounds and traditions can fruitfully engage with contemporary social and political issues. By contrast with publications intended to a particular discipline, Raisons Politiques adopts a thematic approach and welcome contributions from all branches of social sciences. It encourages submissions in English or French, from both established academics and aspiring members of the scientific community.


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Distributive Justice in the Abstract and Concrete

In talking with people about questions of distributive justice, one often encounters a peculiar sort of conflict or tension. It’s not just that different people hold different views on the question. Rather, each individual person seems somehow to be pulled in a number of different directions.

In an exciting new paper in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Christopher Freiman and Shaun Nichols report an experimental study that helps to shed light on this sort of conflict. Subjects were randomly assigned either to receive an ‘abstract’ question or a ‘concrete’ question.


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A quick thought on utilitarianism, non-ideal theory, sweatshops, and distributive justice.

So, I’ve been thinking about utilitarianism and non-ideal theory. Although what I’ve come up with may be quite obvious, I’d be interested in reflections on the thought.

It seems to me that there are times when we might do best (even on utilitarian grounds) not to do what would maximize utility in non-ideal circumstances. Consider an instance in which this point may have practical bite. Some argue against ending child labor because the children we prohibit from working may suffer more for our good intentions. Child prostitution may be their second best option. But that this would be so, holding everything else fixed, does not mean we should not try to end child labor. What it shows is that we should try to end child labor and help educate the children we liberate. If one says that we do not have the resources to do this then we should reply that we can and need to find the resources — that is what justice requires. Even for a utilitarian, there are times when we should not do what might initially seem to maximize utility because doing that will only maximize utility conditional on facts that we can and should change. Perhaps there is reason to worry about doing non-ideal theory in some circumstances. Or, more precisely, that we have to be careful about what kind of non-ideal theory we are doing. Consider another example to support the point. Aid organizations spend a great deal of time and money figuring out how to allocate scarce resources. For instance, the WHO tries to prioritize health interventions to maximize the number of disability adjusted life years (or whatever) that it can save with its resources. But if the global distribution of medical resources is unjust and can be changed, the WHO might better spend its time trying to change the global distribution of medical resources.


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