Tag Archives: Justice

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. read more...

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Bleg-Readings for a Morality of War Course

Hi everyone.  I’m conducting an advanced undergraduate course on the morality of war next erm and would be very appreciative if anyone has any suggestions on which books or articles to assign.  Obviously, I know Walzer’s book is a classic, and there’s McMahan’s book Killing in War — but I’m not a specialist, so I could really use some help.  Many thanks in advance to everyone who posts a suggestion!

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My Warmest Thanks, and One Final Bleg

I’d like to thank all of you who sent me comments on the RNR (“Foundations of a Nonideal Theory of Justice”) I posted here the other week. Almost all of you homed in on a problem with the Side-Constraint Principle that had been worrying me: its unexplained (and unjustified) reference to ideal primary goods.  I’ve now fixed the issue and would like to post the paper here one final time (old revisions are in red; new ones in blue) before I send the paper back to the journal later this week.  Any last-minute comments/suggestions/worries would be immensely appreciated.  Again, I really can’t thank you all enough.  Your feedback has been invaluable! read more...

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CEU Summer University: Justice: Theory and Its Applications

The CEU Summer University
July 4-15, 2011
Budapest, Hungary


  • Peter Vallentyne, University of Missouri-Columbia, Department of Philosophy, Columbia, USA
  • Andrew Williams, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Catalan Institute of Research and Advanced Studies, Barcelona, Spain
  • Matthew Clayton, University of Warwick, Department of Politics and International Studies, Coventry, UK
  • Greg Bognar, New York University, NYU Center for Bioethics, New York, USA
  • Janos Kis, Central European University, Department of Political Science, Budapest. Hungary
  • Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, Aarhus Universitat, Institut for Statskundskab, Århus C, Denmark

Course Directors:

  • Andres Moles, Central European University, Departments of Political Science and Philosophy, Budapest, Hungary
  • Zoltan Miklosi, Central European University, Department of Political Science, Budapest, Hungary

The problem of justice occupies a special place in contemporary political philosophy. In the words of its most influential figure, Rawls, “justice is the first virtue of social institutions”. That view seems to be shared by a majority of authors and theories. However, there is no comparable agreement regarding what justice demands, from whom and to whom. These questions have utmost relevance for political philosophers. However, their importance spill over other disciplines. Given that many choices policy makers make are distributive in nature, it is not surprising that issues of justice appear in many other spheres. In addition to dealing with purely theoretical issues, the course will revise some contexts which raise important questions about justice: education, health care, environmental issues, taxation.

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Sen, ‘The Idea of Justice’, Chapter 15, ‘Democracy as Public Reason’

In chapter 15 of The Idea of Justice, “Democracy as Public Reason,” Sen defends the idea that democracy is a universal value. Can democracy flourish outside the west? One reason for thinking it can’t is that it (supposedly) has never done so before. To answer this charge, Sen distinguishes between the “institutional structure of the contemporary practice of democracy,” which is “largely the product of European and American experience over the last few centuries” (pp. 322-323), and the political ideals that underlie it. By the former, Sen seems to have in mind the institutions of electoral conflict (competitive elections, secret ballots, political parties, etc.). But these institutions, Sen argues, are simply the latest effort to institutionalize certain fundamental ideals, ideals of “political participation, dialogue and public interaction” (p. 326). These ideals, Sen suggests, are well-nigh universal in their appeal. But once one sees that the institutions are of use primarily as means to the realization of deeper ideals, then one has reason to avoid running the former and the latter together. In particular, one should not assume that because a certain type of institutional structure is up and running (i.e., there are elections, the votes are counted properly, the loser concedes power to the winner) that a satisfactory level of democracy has been achieved. This has been done by many comparativists, such as Sam Huntington. To do this is to focus (once again) on niti to the exclusion of nyaya.

Sen believes that an overly-institutional focus on democracy has caused particular trouble at the global level. John Rawls and Thomas Nagel may be right that there are no democratic global institutions–indeed, no institutions at all comparable to states. But this need not mean that there is no way to realize democratic ideals such as public discussion internationally. There already exist tentative practices of global deliberation, and they are worthy of support and encouragement, whatever the proper scope and limits of international institutions.

Of course, globalized public deliberation is only conceivable if the ideal of public dialogue has universal appeal. Sen believes that this ideal does have deep roots all around the world, including in areas that have little experience with popular elections. Of course, Sen also suggests that the divide between western and nonwestern experiences with democratic institutions is not as clearcut as the democracy-is-a-western-value story would have it. India was inspired by ancient Greece to experiment with formal democratic institutions (at least on a local level) long before the barbarian tribes of northern Europe. But societies have undeniably assigned value to public reason–the ideal underlying these institutions–for a very long time, and virtually everywhere. Sen illustrates this point using the Indian experience. He also discusses the Middle East in this context.

Sen concludes the chapter with a few words about the role of the media in a democratic society. (The transition to this topic is a bit abrupt.) Obviously, to the extent that the idea of public reason underlies and democratic practice, the media matters quite a lot. Sen argues that a well-functioning free press 1) enables the free expression of ideas, which is intrinsically valuable; 2) spreads information and subjects it to critical scrutiny; 3) protects the weak by subjecting the strong to the gaze of the public eye; 4) facilitates the formation of common values by the public; and 5) contributes to the pursuit of justice (though this last contribution is not clearly specified).

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Sen, ‘The Idea of Justice’, Chapter 12, ‘Capabilities and Resources’

Chapter 12, Capabilities and Resources, begins with the well-known contrasts between capabilities (as what opportunities people actually have) and resourcist views. Sen then outlines four kinds of contingencies that figure importantly into the conversion of resources into the lives people can actually lead. These are: personal “heterogeneities,” differences in the physical environment, differences in the social climate, and differences in relational perspectives. Variations in the social climate refer to social structural differences—for example, the availability of publicly funded health care. Differences in “relational perspectives” refer to difference in social norms that may affect the need for resource expenditure to achieve desired goals; for example, in one society, the clothes required to command social respect may be far more expensive than in another. These types of contingencies may be interconnected; an example would be how a physical environment in which there is a great deal of snow interacts with mobility impairments in affecting how people can get around in society.Sen places particular emphasis on the interrelationship between disability and the opportunities provided by resources. He cites familiar data about the interrelationship between disability and poverty, and notes that much disability is preventable (e.g. disabilities that result from preventable infectious diseases such as polio or measles) and that this is a particularly important matter for social justice. Overall, Sen emphasizes both the conceptual and the normative importance of disability for theorizing about justice.

The remainder of the chapter is devoted to criticizing Rawlsian primary goods and Dworkinian hypothetical insurance markets. Sen commends Rawls for paying attention to “special needs,” but contends that the Rawlsian structure mistakenly downplays human difference. Pace Rawls, human variations in conversion capacities should not be seen as derivative matters for attention at the legislative stage. Rather, in Sen’s view they are ubiquitous to how social structures should be organized and analyzed. Sen recognizes that the capabilities approach will not be able to give a complete or even a linear ordering of social states, but contends that it directs us to make the important comparisons about justice.

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