Justice Everywhere

a blog about justice in public affairs

Author: Andrew Walton (Page 1 of 2)

Lectureships at Newcastle Politics Department: Information & Applications

Newcastle Politics Department currently have 4 lectureships advertised and a chair/reader to be advertised shortly. In this blog post those who are on the interview panels for the lectureship posts give some information to anyone thinking of applying to try give everyone an inside track.

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Should we grant legal personhood to robots?

With significant recent advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, it is increasingly pressing that we consider the legal and ethical standing of autonomous machines.

Here I post some considerations on this matter from a recent debate organised by Thomas Burri (University of St. Gallen) with Shawn Bayern (Florida State University) and myself:

Why should housing be fit for human habitation?

There is currently a lot of attention on the UK’s “housing crisis”. One issue here is the quantity of available housing. There are commitments to address the shortage of housing in the 2017 manifestos of both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. Another issue is the quality of housing. On this issue, the Labour Party have restated the commitment they made in a 2015 Homes Bill to require that all homes meet the standard of being “fit for human habitation”. In this post, I explore the reasons in favour of this commitment.

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Reminder – Call for Papers: Labour Market Injustice Workshop

Newcastle University & Durham University, 14-15 December 2016

Labour market injustice is a pressing problem both domestically and globally. None the less, there continues to be considerable disagreement about how to understand and locate the moral concerns involved. Many commentators understand labour market injustice in interactional terms, viewing it as a problem with the wage or contract terms employers offer their workers. But, there is also an emerging trend towards thinking about it in more structural terms. One such thread involves conceptualising labour market injustices as systemic problems, such as understanding exploitation or discrimination as group-to-group phenomena. Another thread involves articulating proposals to prevent labour market injustices through institutional and policy level responses.

This workshop will operate as a detailed discussion of a set of works-in-progress that consider these emerging angles on (domestic and global) labour market injustice. We invite submissions grounded in any area of political theory, including both applied work and more theoretical or methodological contributions, and also papers that consider the intersection with importantly related disciplines, such as law and economics. Topics may include, but are not limited to, areas such as:

  • Labour rights
  • Discrimination
  • Work-life balance
  • Business organisation
  • Supply chains
  • Brain-drain
  • Exploitation

Confirmed participants

  • Anca Gheaus (University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona)
  • Martin O’Neill (University of York)

Workshop Organisers

  • Elizabeth Kahn (Durham University)
  • Tom Parr (University of Essex)
  • Andrew Walton (Newcastle University)

Submissions

Abstracts of up to 500 words, accompanied by contact details and institutional affiliation, should be sent to andrew.walton@ncl.ac.uk by 30th September 2016.  We will notify accepted papers by 14th October.

For further information, please contact andrew.walton@ncl.ac.uk, tparr@essex.ac.uk, or elizabeth.kahn@durham.ac.uk

Euthanasia and Slippery Slope Arguments

One argument made against the proposal to legalise assisted dying in the UK is that making this change might result in older citizens feeling pressured to choose death, increased pressure on people to think about and defend their existence, and theslippery-slope inevitable acceptance of voluntary and, then, involuntary and non-voluntary euthanasia. This kind of argument can be called a slippery slope argument. A
slippery slope argument claims that if we make a proposed policy change, other changes or outcomes will occur, and because these other outcomes are objectionable, we should not make the policy change. I am generally sceptical of slippery slope arguments and in this post I wish to register some issues with their use.

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Call for Papers: Labour Market Injustice Workshop

Newcastle University & Durham University, 14-15 December 2016

Labour market injustice is a pressing problem both domestically and globally. None the less, there continues to be considerable disagreement about how to understand and locate the moral concerns involved. Many commentators understand labour market injustice in interactional terms, viewing it as a problem with the wage or contract terms employers offer their workers. But, there is also an emerging trend towards thinking about it in more structural terms. One such thread involves conceptualising labour market injustices as systemic problems, such as understanding exploitation or discrimination as group-to-group phenomena. Another thread involves articulating proposals to prevent labour market injustices through institutional and policy level responses.

This workshop will operate as a detailed discussion of a set of works-in-progress that consider these emerging angles on (domestic and global) labour market injustice. We invite submissions grounded in any area of political theory, including both applied work and more theoretical or methodological contributions, and also papers that consider the intersection with importantly related disciplines, such as law and economics. Topics may include, but are not limited to, areas such as:

  • Labour rights
  • Discrimination
  • Work-life balance
  • Business organisation
  • Supply chains
  • Brain-drain
  • Exploitation

Confirmed participants

  • Anca Gheaus (University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona)
  • Martin O’Neill (University of York)

Workshop Organisers

  • Elizabeth Kahn (Durham University)
  • Tom Parr (University of Essex)
  • Andrew Walton (Newcastle University)

Submissions

Abstracts of up to 500 words, accompanied by contact details and institutional affiliation, should be sent to andrew.walton@ncl.ac.uk by 30th September 2016.  We will notify accepted papers by 14th October.

For further information, please contact andrew.walton@ncl.ac.uk, tparr@essex.ac.uk, or elizabeth.kahn@durham.ac.uk

Writing a good referee report for a journal article

[This article was originally posted on Politicsblog, of the journal Politics.]

Peer-reviewing articles for journals is one of the important professional contributions made by academics. But it can seem an unusual exercise when undertaken for the first time and it is a difficult art form to master. There are a number of extended resources online with useful guidance, from academics, editors, publishers, and the American Philosophical Association, and a set of links to discussions on aspects of peer-review on various blogs. Here I offer seven quick tips that are designed to help make a review useful to both an editor and an author:

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Good books for a ‘first read’ in political philosophy / ethics

Recently, I was asked a question I have been asked on a few occasions: ‘what books should I recommend to a friend who has never read any political philosophy or ethics, but is interested in taking a look at the subject?’ I reply to this question with assorted recommendations, but what I recommend almost certainly varies depending on my mood, what I am currently researching/teaching, and, most significantly, how my memory is functioning in that moment. My recommendations are also limited to the list of books that I have read. To rectify these deficiencies, I write this post with two aims in mind: first, to identify some of the books I often recommend and garner suggestions from others about suitable books; and, second, thereby, to provide a list of texts to refer people when they ask the question above.

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Valuing Aims vs. Valuing Implementation, on wedding day organisation and assessing ‘impact’

There are many policies and courses of action that reflect good ideas, but are imperfectly or poorly implemented. On my wedding day, I was trying to make efficient use of time making final arrangements before the ceremony by talking to a friend about one task whilst walking backwards in the direction of my next task. As I finished the conversation, I turned forwards whilst maintaining my momentum and promptly walked into a door that I had not realised Wedding picwas behind me, leaving a clearly obvious cut down my forehead for day (see right). Alongside finding it hilarious, my partner did ask why I had not thought more carefully about where I was walking. While I accepted the criticism of that question, I retained that my attempts to work efficiently on that morning were to be commended. We continue to disagree on whether the merit of my aim outweighs the demerit of my execution.

The same tension arises elsewhere. In the current UK university climate, departments are assessed, amongst other things, on the extent to which their research has influence beyond the academic community. A few weeks ago David argued that there are good reasons for academics to think about how their work has political influence and I think these reasons offer some support for assessing research ‘impact’. However, many people criticise how this assessment is implemented. Questions have been raised whether it places too much weight on easily observable, short-term impact. Such criteria would be problematic if, for example, they would not identify, and would, thereby, discourage, the immense and sustained impact of Pythagoras Theorem because many of its impacts have developed from other disciplines using it in applied research many years later. If such criticisms have merit, we, again, face the question: how should we balance valuing a policy’s basic form against valuing (or disvaluing) some of its substance?

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In defence of a constitution for the UK

Magna Carta Memorial, by Karnaphuli / CC BY-NC 2.0
In honour of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the United Kingdom is presently considering whether to adopt a written constitution.  Of course, the UK has various legal documents that set rules and precedents for government and legislation.  There is a Ministerial Code that outlines the duties of ministers and a Human Rights Act that stipulates various rights and freedoms to be upheld.  But it does not have a single, formal, codified document encapsulating the essence and dimensions of all these segments.  In this post, I outline two reasons in favour of the UK adopting such a constitution.
1) A Constitutional Code, which would outline essential elements and principles of government, but not be legally binding.
2) A Constitutional Consolidation Act, which would bring together the various segments of existing common law and parliamentary practice.
3) A Written Constitution, which would be a legally binding statement of basic UK law, democratic procedure, and the relationship between state and citizen.
 
What I have in mind to defend is a version of 3 not dissimilar to the draft of this option in the Select Committee Report.  I think there would be value to the UK adopting a document which details certain core existent and aspirational principles of governance – “liberty, equality, tolerance, and the rule of law” are the draft’s specification (on p.285) – and delineates their manifestation in various rules – such as the rights to life, security, and a fair trial of citizens.  This change would replace the existing patchwork of acts of parliament, legal texts, and conventions through which the UK now operates with a clearer focal point containing the essential rules of state and the principles on which they are based.
One benefit of doing so is that it would make these structures easier for citizens to find and comprehend.  Andrew Williams persuasively argues that justice can make only demands that fall within the epistemic capabilities of citizens.  Individuals must be able to know what the rules require and whether they are being observed, because it respects them as citizens to put this information within their reach and allows them assurance that others are complying.  Arguably the current UK structures fall outside this requirement.  They can be difficult even for legal practitioners to master.  But, at any rate, it seems reasonable to think that a tighter, collated outline of the rules would help meet this goal better.
Another benefit would be that it would provide a clearer mandate for a system of judicial review.  Some worry that adopting a constitution would allow (unelected) judges a political role in setting the rules of society.  Given that UK judges already have power to overrule legislation under the Human Rights Act, it is not clear that adopting a constitution is any more liable to this objection than the status quo.  But, regardless, as Ronald Dworkin argues, there is value in judges having this mandate if it protects certain principles and rights we deem important, such as those mentioned above.  And while some suggest that the British unwritten constitutional model has been good at protecting freedom over time, the evidence is that independent courts operating with safeguarded statutes have the stronger record in protecting human rights, especially those of minorities.  Moreover, offering judges a tighter, collated outline of the relevant principles and rights seems, if anything, likely to improve the viability of this task.  It would help distinguish these cases from instances of legislation more concerned with improving general welfare, thereby establishing a clearer domain and set of parameters within which their rulings must operate.
One important question asked about the project of adopting a constitution is whether there is a clear objective in doing so.  I have some (perhaps overly optimistic) hope that the process could help the UK clarify what truly follows from some of its foundational values – that equality requires far more in terms of social and economic rights than our existing structures offer, for example.  But, whatever else, I do think that bringing principles and current rules into sharper focus and alignment would set the tone and motion for a better political climate in the senses described above.  That, I believe, would be a worthy objective.

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