Justice Everywhere

a blog about justice in public affairs

Grade Inflation, Market Ideology and the Contradictions of UK Higher Education Policy

Politicians blame academics for lowering standards, but it is caused by their own ideologically driven market reforms. A version of this post was published in the Guardian on Friday 12th July. 

The Education Secretary Damian Hinds has followed in an illustrious tradition of governments’ blaming Universities for the phenomena of grade inflation. Responding to findings by the Office for Students of an 80% rise in first class degrees (that the body claimed was ‘unexplained’), Mr Hinds attributed this problem to ‘unfair practices’ by universities. It follows his comments last year that ‘institutions should be accountable for maintaining the value of the degrees they award’, with the threat of fines for institutions who fail to comply.

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In Defence of Children’s Civil Disobedience

In this post, Nikolas Mattheis (University of Bayreuth) defends school strikes for climate against the objection that school attendance is mandatory. Children’s strikes should be viewed as civil disobedience (rather than truancy) and as a legitimate form of democratic participation.

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Are ‘New Harms’ really all that new?

Some theorists argue that contemporary problems such as climate change, sweatshop labour, biodiversity loss, … are New Harms – they are unprecedented problems, and differ in important respects from more familiar harms. Intuitively, this view seems to make sense, but in this post I argue that this view is mistaken.*

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Why We Need More Materialism

As the famous adage holds, we should try to Do More With Less. We’re living in a time in which minimalism has become a movement and to Marie Kondo has become a verb. As we all know, materialism is bad for the planet and people around us, but I will only focus on how self-interest might also be a significant motivator to reduce our materialism, and also give a humble suggestion as to what fundamentally underlies moving to Doing More With Less (or getting even better at it if you’re already on the programme).

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Markets and meaning – thinking about their relation

The category of „meaning“ is not one that analytically-minded folks working on public policy and PPE issues use very often. And yet, it is one that I could not stop thinking about for quite a while. I mean by it, very broadly, the kinds of projects that individuals pursue, in which certain values are realized – love, beauty, truth, or whatever, in whatever interpretation individuals chose. A quote from a text about professionalism, by historian Thomas L. Haskel, captures an unease that I had had about markets, and the economic way of thinking about them, for a long time: “Where would liberation stop if the entire social universe was given over to competing selves, none acknowledging any standard higher than his or her own desires?”[1]

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Universities and Democratic Legitimacy (Part 2)

In part 1 of this post I outlined an account of the mainstream liberal view about academic freedom, free speech, and their overlapping democratic purposes. According to this account the university should have an academic zone, protected by academic freedom, and aimed at furthering democratic competence, and it should also have a free speech zone, aimed at supporting democratic legitimation.

I think there’s a problem with this picture. Roughly, what goes on in the academic zone is compromised by what goes on in the free speech zone. The intellectual aims that the university is meant to serve, with a view to furthering our democratic competence, can be undermined by the kind of free speech culture that takes root in universities.

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Universities and Democratic Legitimacy (Part 1)

Free speech is vital to democracy. Alexander Meiklejohn offered a powerful defense of this idea in the mid-20th century, and since then it has gravitated towards centre stage in free speech discourse. The modern academic defenders of this view — people like Robert Post, Eric Heinze, and Ronald Dworkin — typically say that free speech isn’t just important for the health of a democracy, but that it’s also a necessary condition for democratic legitimacy. In a free society people are unafraid to broadcast their ethical convictions in public. There is a free press, an arts sector untouched by state censorship, and a cherished liberty for all to mock and criticise our leaders. The democratic government’s authority is legitimised partly through its upholding these freedoms.

But where does academic freedom fit into this picture? And what is the university’s role in ensuring the vitality and legitimacy of democratic society?

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My body, my self? – #everydaylookism

Beauty as a topic has been neglected in political philosophy and justice theorizing, but in this post I will try to convince you that it should be our concern. Beauty is not something trivial, but a major public issue which requires serious attention from all kinds of disciplines and stakeholders.

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Why Isn’t Ethical Approval Required for Television Shows?

In this post, John Tillson discusses issues raised by the recent decision by ITV to pull the Jeremy Kyle Show from our television screens. 

A guest of the Jeremy Kyle Show has (likely) taken his own life a week after failing the show’s lie detector test taken to prove his fidelity. His partner subsequently ended their relationship. In light of these events, the show was permanently cancelled by its network. The House of Commons Select Committee has announced an inquiry to “ask whether enough support is offered both during and after filming, and whether there is a need for further regulatory oversight.” One proposal the inquiry could consider is whether production companies ought to establish Ethics Review Boards (ERBs) whose approval shows would require in order to enter production, and whether networks ought to make such ethical approval a precondition of broadcasting.

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Votes for children: going back to first principles

I’ve been planning to write something here on the arguments around lowering the voting age, for a few months now. Then Nicolas Brando beat me to it, in a very clearly argued post setting out the main positions last month. I highly recommend Nicolas’ post, which provides an excellent overview of the debate. I’m going to try to avoid covering the same ground by approaching the question from a slightly different angle.

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