Justice Everywhere

a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Dementia, Truthfulness, and Respecting Agency

In this post, Jeanette Kennett and Steve Matthews discuss their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on respecting agency in dementia care.


Years before entering the nursing home Mr Q had been a janitor at a boarding school. With the progression of dementia, he came to perceive the nursing home – with its distinctly institutional décor – as his old place of work. And so, throughout the day he would act out his janitorial role, with its many tasks of checking windows and doors, and making sure that all was running smoothly. The neurologist Oliver Sacks, writing about the case, noted that ‘the Sisters [who ran the home]…though perceiving his confusion and delusion, respected and even reinforced [his] identity. They assisted him [by] giving him keys to certain closets and encouraging him to lock up at night before he retired.’ Did the sisters do the right thing? Perhaps they should have been more truthful by reminding Mr Q that in fact he was a declining patient with dementia. Sacks thought otherwise. Occupying his role helped Mr Q to make sense of his surroundings. In fulfilling this role, says Sacks, ‘[Mr Q] seemed to be organized and held together in a remarkable way…’

The case of Mr. Q raises a thorny problem for caregivers: should truthfulness give way when people with dementia form false beliefs about their circumstances? This moral dilemma is usually presented as a choice between acting on a principle of respect for persons – which requires truthfulness – versus acting out of a concern for their welfare – which might require going along with a false belief. In our recent article, however, we argue that the debate should be framed in a different way. It seems to us, that in going along with Mr Q, the Sisters were scaffolding and protecting his sense of identity, something that thereby respected his agency. This of course had the added effect of attending to Mr Q’s welfare. We argue that when we support a person’s agency in these ways their welfare needs are simultaneously addressed.

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Combining public policies and transformative action in fighting against gender violence

In this contribution, Katarina Pitasse Fragoso and Nathália Sanglard reflect on gender violence and public policies. 

 Gender violence is a form of physical, verbal, psychological or symbolic damage, caused directly or indirectly to the person due to her gender identity. It is an injustice, because, according to Elizabeth Anderson, it has been generated by arbitrary systems, such as patriarchal ones, which use gender as a justification to harm others and prevent access to resources, rights, the job market and other services. In this article, we will explore how these types of violence disproportionately affect women and feminized subjects, and we will propose some ways to enhance mainstream public policies, through a combination of actions and participatory devices.

With historical and structural roots, gender violence unequally affects the lives of women and feminized subjects, placing them in an inferior position in society and, in Young‘s terms, oppressing them in such a way that violates their autonomy to have and choose alternatives for their lives. The limitation of female participation in politics, for example, is not due to laws that prohibit their presence, but to practices that persist in constraining their capacity to advance their interests for and by themselves. Among these practices, misogyny stands out, which, for the philosopher Kate Manne, consists of a violence based on emotions, such as hatred and hostility, directed at women who threaten the patriarchal system – for example, women who dispute power roles in society and question the domination of men.

Misogyny would, therefore, be directed towards those who dare to move through spaces that are closed to them. This is because the configuration of the private and public spheres would be riddled with gender violence, since the first would have been demarcated as a domain of domesticity and, therefore, the feminine, while the second, as a manifestation of power, would be restricted to the masculine. For the philosopher Susan Okin, the assumption that these spaces would be disconnected is a way to perpetuate and intensify gender violence, by confining women to the domestic world and, at the same time, establishing the private sphere as protected from the state action, so that any intervention would require special justification. This argument is clearly illustrated by the growth of domestic violence in Brazil, during the pandemic and its naturalization cycle as a result of mere marital fights.

Yet, the configuration of public and private spaces cuts across other forms of gender violence. For instance, if we consider that women at the intersection of race and class have never been exclusively in the scope of the domestic sphere – working in the streets and factories – and neither have their homes been recognized as genuinely private, as evidenced by the successive violations of the state in police operations.

For authors such as Lélia Gonzalez and Sueli Carneiro, in Brazil, these multiple forms of violence are associated with the colonial system, in which black and indigenous women had their bodies systematically violated and their images stereotyped in hypersexualized representations. To the brutality with which their bodies were historically arranged and eroticized, it is possible to add other dimensions of power, shown in new forms of expropriation of work, in the processes of pauperization, in the dispossession of land and resources – all extensions of colonial violence, according to Verónica Gago. These vulnerabilities manifest themselves in concrete situations and, in the Brazilian context, translate themselves into rates of femicide among black women, increased violence in rural areas and precarious conditions in work places.

In this scenario, overcoming the violence established by the patriarchal system involves different responses, depending on the type of violation in question. The state, despite not being the only actor, has an important role in confronting it. Regarding domestic violence, the philosopher Alasia Nuti categorizes three main public policies: protective, restorative and preventive. The former aim to guarantee reporting mechanisms and a safe place for women. Restorative policies, on the other hand, seek to change the behaviour of violent men, as well as to help survivors rebuild their lives after an abusive relationship, through counselling and psychological programs. Finally, preventive measures are intended to prevent violence from happening, including campaigns, self-defence classes for women, and awareness-raising programs for men.

In Brazil, there are examples of the three measures. Among the protective measures, in addition to the law against domestic violence (i.e., lei Maria da Penha), women can use reporting numbers, such as call-180 and the women’s service app. Some public institutions, also ensure restorative measures by providing psychologists for victims and reflection groups for perpetrators. Available in drugstores and supermarkets, spelling books and campaign posters against gender violence are also used as preventive measures.

However, although these measures are necessary, they are not enough to solve the complexity of gender violence. First, as Nuti argues, measures to combat gender-based violence need to be sensitive to other injustices, such as those arising from economic inequality, and, as Gonzalez and Carneiro advocate, from the colonial system. Therefore, we think that it is essential to implement a regular and unconditional income transfer programme, initially aimed at poor women, but progressively eligible for all. This would be a necessary step for enabling women to escape from a precarious life, without depending on husbands or degrading jobs.

Second, it is also essential to encourage participatory devices for the production of collective knowledge and local decisions with a view to respecting the victims’ abilities to reflect on their needs and, at the same time, recognizing their active places in political spheres. When their voices are heard, beyond what Verónica Gago calls “victimistic testimonial”, a horizon of perspective opens up to help challenge stereotypes, and weave bonds of solidarity and mutual care. As Patricia Hill Collins argues, participatory devices allow for the entry into the scene of other values, such as dialogue and the ethics of care – and of transforming the dominant ways of thinking and doing politics, which is markedly masculine.

In conclusion, we need to create other possible worlds, other practices, and conceptions of justice. This means there is more than one path to confront gender violence, and escape from the traps of a no transformative action and policy, as the answers actively rely on individuals, and do not only stem from state policies.

* This blog post is based on our opinion article published on the Nexo Políticas Públicas website. Click here to access the article.

** We would like to thank Pedro Lippmann for helpful comments on our earlier draft.

 

Out today: Political Philosophy in a Pandemic

We’re very pleased to announce that our book, Political Philosophy in a Pandemic: Routes to a More Just Future, is released today in e-book format. The print versions will follow, on 23rd September. You can order the e-book and/or pre-order a print copy here (or via other booksellers, such as Waterstones, Amazon, etc.). You can also read an extract of the book — which includes the Table of Contents, Foreword by Onora O’Neill, and Introduction — here.

Edited by two of the Justice Everywhere editors (Fay Niker and Aveek Bhattacharya), with several of the chapters written by Justice Everywhere contributors, and having its genesis in a blogpost for this website, this is very much a Justice Everywhere book. We hope you will read and find it stimulating.

COVID-19 and Technomoral Change

According to the emerging paradigm of technomoral change, technology and morality co-shape each other. It is not only the case that morality influences the development of technologies. The reverse also holds: technologies affect moral norms and values. Tsjalling Swierstra compares the relationship of technology and morality with a special type of marriage: one that does not allow for divorce. Has the still-ongoing pandemic led to instances of technomoral change, or is it likely to lead to them in the future? One of the many effects of the pandemic is the acceleration of processes of digitalisation in many parts of the world. The widespread use of digital technologies in contexts such as work, education, and private life can be said to have socially disruptive effects. It deeply affects how people experience their relations to others, how they connect to their families, friends and colleagues, and the meaning that direct personal encounters have for them. Does the pandemic also have morally disruptive effects? By way of changing social interactions and relationships, it might indirectly affect moral agency and how the competent moral agent is conceived of. As promising as the prospect of replacing many of the traditional business meetings, international conferences, team meetings etc. with online meetings might seem with regard to solving the climate crisis, as worrisome it might be with an eye on the development and exercise of social and moral capacities.

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Public-private collaboration in the governance of AI

Artificial Intelligence – Adobe Stock

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have seen impressive developments in the last decades. Think about Google’s DeepMind defeating Lee Sedol, the best human player of Go, with their program AlphaGo in 2015. The latest version, AlphaZero, is remarkable because it relied on deep reinforcement learning to learn how to play Go entirely by itself from scratch: with only the rules of the game, through trial and error, and playing millions of games against itself. Machine learning algorithms have a range of other practical applications, from image recognition in medical diagnostics to energy management.

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Having slaves and raising children

When I said yes to co-writing a book on surrogacy, I thought it would be just a straightforward application of my general view that moral rights over children, including the right to custody, are grounded in children’s own interests rather than in any interest of the right holder. And in a way it is: in a nutshell, I argue that custody is a prerogative, and hence cannot be sold or gifted. A practice that permits people to transfer it at will is illegitimate. But, along the way, I’m making interesting discoveries; one of them is just how far one may push the analogy between holding slaves and raising children in a world like ours, which has not yet fully outgrown the long tradition of denying rights to children. Many contemporary philosophers of childrearing should find the analogy plausible, even if they don’t share my view about the justification of the right to custody. Let me explain.

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A Puzzle about Disability and Old Age

In this post, Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen discusses their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on the connections between disability-related disadvantages and old-age-related disadvantages.


Many think that being disabled and being old are worse for a person than being able-bodied and being young respectively. However, many think differently about these two disadvantages. Specifically, they think that while the disadvantages of disabled people are (largely) due to ableism, the disadvantages of old age are not due to ageism, but simply reflects a regrettable, unavoidable fact of life. In a recent article, I argue that this view is untenable. More generally, I suggest in the light of how our thinking of one of these forms of disadvantages constrains our thinking about the other that much of the previous debate about the badness of disability and old is misdirected.

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Ending Child Marriage in the UK

On 16 June 2021, Sajid Javid MP introduced a Private Members’ Bill into the UK Parliament to raise the minimum age of marriage in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to 18. This follows earlier attempts by Pauline Latham MP to criminalise child marriage. Currently, teenagers aged 16-18 may marry with their parent’s consent (in Scotland, they can already marry without parental consent). From an international law perspective, this Bill would end child marriage in the UK (which the international community has pledged to stop by 2030). Philosophically, it raises interesting questions about what decisions people should be permitted to make at 16; and the balance between maximising people’s options, and protecting a small number from significant harm.

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We have a duty to pay for kidneys

In this post, Aksel Sterri discusses their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on the ethics of a government-monopsony market in kidneys.


Two million people suffer from kidney failure worldwide. They either die or live difficult lives on dialysis while waiting for kidneys to become available for transplant, from dead or living donors. Our failure to meet the need for kidney transplants is a moral failure that calls for a change in how we procure kidneys. In a recent paper, I argue members of nation states have a collective duty to pay kidney donors to ensure that people in need receive a new kidney.

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A Criminal Law for Semi-Citizens

In this post, Cristián Irarrázaval Zaldívar and Ivó Coca-Vila discuss their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on how to legitimate punishment in the context of varying forms of citizenship.


Ask yourself why an English court can legitimately punish an Indonesian who committed an offence in Japan but now lives in the UK, or a Spanish judge can punish a young Senegalese criminal offender who, after months crossing through Africa, enters Spain illegally and subsists in absolute hardship hidden from state authorities. Probably your answer would be something along the lines that punishment is necessary to prevent harm. Indeed, that is how most criminal law scholars respond. However, among contemporary authors, it is increasingly common to assert that the criminal law of a given state should be applicable only to those who, at the time of the commission of the offence, had some kind of political bond with it, namely, to those who belonged to the polity as “citizens”. In our recent article, we explain why the advantages of this approach outweigh the downsides, at least as long as we take seriously the fact that citizenship is not all-or-nothing, but comes in degrees.

The “citizen criminal law” dilemma

The major strength of this “citizen criminal law” approach is that it rightly places the individual who must endure punishment at the centre of the discussion about its legitimacy. “If you are going to send me to prison, explain to me why I have to bear your punishment!” This not only seems to be the correct starting point for any attempt at theoretical justification, but also provides a limiting force to the scope of the criminal law that is lacking in those theories that justify punishment mainly on the rationale of prevention. When it comes to prevention, punishment is never harsh enough! Thus, citizen criminal law highlights the huge problems of legitimacy when punishing people living in social exclusion, foreigners who commit crimes against nationals abroad, minors who are not allowed to vote, or disenfranchised criminal offenders.

However, the idea of a citizen criminal law comes up against a difficult problem to solve. Advocates of this conception usually operate with a binary understanding of citizenship, which apparently allows a clear line to be drawn between full citizens (who can be punished legitimately) and outsiders (against whom the state could not impose a punishment, at most perhaps a coercive preventive measure). The problem with this is that binary classification between insiders and outsiders is implausible. If citizenship as a right-based status is composed of multiple elements (i.e., different types of rights, including civil, political, social, and nationality rights) that a state guarantees to an individual, then most persons in contemporary societies will be neither full insiders, nor complete outsiders, but rather semi-citizens. By semi-citizen we mean someone who enjoys some – but not all – of the rights associated with citizenship. This term obviously applies in the absence of legal citizenship status, as in the case of the permanent resident or the unauthorized immigrant. Yet it also refers to someone whose legal status does not translate into the effective guarantee of important rights (think of the case of a Brazilian national living in a dangerous favela).

Therefore, the binary understanding of citizenship confronts the proponents of citizen criminal law with a dilemma. They can resort to a strict notion of citizenship and accept that a large number of semi-citizens who commit crimes cannot be punished, meaning that a significant proportion of what we understand as criminal law would be illegitimate. Or, more commonly, they can undertake ad hoc adaptations of the notion of citizenship that lead to more acceptable consequences, in that they treat different types of semi-citizens (including unauthorized immigrants or the socially marginalized) as if they were full citizens. Thus, for example, some authors who identify citizenship with the right to vote end up also accepting the legitimacy of punishment with respect to those who cannot vote by affirming that they at least have the right to express themselves politically. But, by reducing the standard of citizenship in this way, the advantages promised by the citizen criminal law vanish, because citizenship status is not truly taken into account when punishing.

Our proposal: proportionality between punishment and the bond of citizenship

In a recent co-authored article, we argue that there is a path to overcome this dilemma. The binary approach to citizenship is unfitting. In fact, the political link between a community and a person is scalar, meaning that there is a continuum of possible political relationships with varying intensities. For the sake of our proposal, as reference points at the extremes of this spectrum, we outline the ideal types of “full-citizen” (strong rights in all elements, i.e. civil, social, etc…) and “minimal semi-citizen” (those who at least enjoy very weak rights of some kind in a community). Now, if we take seriously the idea that the foundation of punishment lies primarily in the political bond between the punishing polity and the punished, then the strength of this bond (necessarily gradient) must be considered in the severity of the punishment. In other words: fewer (lower quality) rights guaranteed = weaker citizenship bond = less punishment when all other relevant variables (e.g., culpability or harm) are held equal. Thus, the full citizen and the minimal semi-citizen should be punished differently for the same offence.

This approach has two important virtues in comparison with the proposals of citizen criminal law referred to above. Firstly, our approach leads to a fairer and more individualised punishment of crimes committed by semi-citizens, insofar as it enables the infliction of a punishment that fits the (semi-)citizenship status, making it possible to distinguish between markedly different statuses, such as national and tourist. Secondly, by legitimising the imposition of punishment against individuals who lack the idealised status of full-citizens, we adopt a variant of citizen criminal law that suits the real world, where semi-citizens are the rule. In short, the semi-citizen criminal law approach can legitimate punishment on those only partially part of the state while circumscribing the severity of the punishment to the degree of their citizenship status.

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