Justice Everywhere

a blog about justice in public affairs

Author: Lisa Herzog (Page 1 of 2)

Who can speak for/with/about whom? Two metaphors, and why they matter

The question of who can speak about what, about whom, with whom and for whom is at the heart of many recent controversies: Who has the right to speak on behalf of disadvantaged groups, e.g. sexual or racial minorities? Who should be invited to speak, e.g. on college campuses, who should be refused a stage? Have speakers with more extreme political positions, e.g. climate change deniers, a right to be listened to?

These issues are so difficult that I can hardly do justice to even just one aspect in this blogpost.[1] And yet, we cannot ignore them – arguably, they go to the heart of what political philosophy is all about. What I want to do is to reflect on two concepts, or metaphors, which have floated around in the debates: “identity politics” and “standpoint epistemology.” They point to deeper assumptions about who can speak for/with/about whom. Making these explicit might help us to move the discussion forward.

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Interdisciplinary fellowship on global challenges

The Hochschule für Politik München (Bavarian School of Public Policy) advertises an interdisciplinary fellowship in “Global Transformations.” It is open to political theorists with an interdisciplinary bend. Details here:

http://www.hfp.tum.de/fileadmin/w00bwi/www/hfp/News/Post-Doc_Fellowship_Global_Transformations.pdf

If everything is measured, can we still see one another as equals?

Relational egalitarians hold what matters for justice is that all members of a society “stand in relations of equality to others.” The idea that all human beings are moral equals is widely shared: it underlies the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many national constitutions. How will this norm be affected by the arrival of “big data,” the collecting and analysing of huge amounts of data about individuals? Internet companies and government services collect data about individuals’ activities, including geographic locations, shopping behaviour and friendships. Many individuals voluntarily share such information on social media, some also track their physical activities in meticulous details. Experts expect that “people analytics” – big data applied to the measurement of work performance – will have a revolutionary impact on labour markets.

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TTIP – What we’ve learned in the debate

This post is Part 2 of the special series on TTIP that we’ll be running in the coming weeks.

12/07/2014 - Protestors against the EU-US trade deal (TTIP - Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) march from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to Europe House, the London Headquarters of the European Commission and the European Parliament, in Smith Square, London.

Anti-TTIP protesters in London, 2014. Wikimedia Commons.

TTIP is a complicated issue – but the fact that there is so much public debate about it shows that we have, after all, learned something from the Great Financial Crisis, or so I will argue. Before this crisis, many debates about economic policy took the form of “more market, please” (usually coming from the right) versus “more state, please” (usually coming from the left). But this way of carving up the terrain overlooks the essential preconditions of markets that are themselves political. In addition to questions about “more market” versus “more state”, we need to ask questions about who sets the rules of the economic game.

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Dear fellow Europeans (in passport and spirit),

this is a dark day for the European Union. Great Britain has cast its vote, and will part ways from the EU. Both for Great Britain and for the EU, things won’t continue as before. But it is up to us where they go from here.

It is sometimes said that the EU has become a cold and technocratic projects. But the EU is, first and foremost, a project of peace, and peace is a matter of the heart. The EU a project of peaceful cooperation among people who have fight endless wars, for centuries after centuries. It is heart-wrenching to see it falter as it does today, threatened by waves of nationalism and chauvinism, in Great Britain and elsewhere. 

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Why good intentions need informed intentions

IMG_20150802_164103738

In discussions about climate change and climate justice, there has been quite some debate about individual duties – should we try to change our lifestyle to reduce emissions, or should we try to influence political processes that bring about institutional change? It always seemed to me that the correct answer is: do both, or whatever you are able to do. Given how drastic the consequences of climate change are likely to be, and given how climate-unfriendly our Western lifestyle typically is, this seemed the right answer. Wouter Peeters has made this case in previous posts, so there is no need to repeat the arguments here. But I’ll add a third point: in our attempts to do good, we also have a duty to be as well-informed as possible.

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Are financial markets – markets?

Philippine-stock-market-board

(source: wikimedia)

What a weird question, you may think. But consider:

  • In textbook markets, what is traded are products that are supposedly useful to customers. What is traded in many financial markets are highly artificial contractual arrangements that are several layers away from what happens in the real economy.
  • In textbook markets, participants are liable to go bankrupt if they overspend. In financial markets, some market participants know that they are too big to fail, creating problems of “moral hazard.”
  • In textbook markets, participants are expected to inform themselves about the products they trade. At least in some financial markets, what matters are not the “fundamentals” (e.g. the economic success of a company the shares of which are traded), but what other participants do. Many participants try to make profits by outrunning market movements or “sentiments”; this can lead to large swings, in disconnect from fundamentals

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If everything is measured, can we still see one another as equals?

Relational egalitarians hold what matters for justice is that all members of a society “stand in relations of equality to others.” The idea that all human beings are moral equals is widely shared: it underlies the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many national constitutions. How will this norm be affected by the arrival of “big data,” the collecting and analysing of huge amounts of data about individuals? Internet companies and government services collect data about individuals’ activities, including geographic locations, shopping behaviour and friendships. Many individuals voluntarily share such information on social media, some also track their physical activities in meticulous details. Experts expect that “people analytics” – big data applied to the measurement of work performance – will have a revolutionary impact on labour markets.

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Addressing “the social” in normative theorizing

CIMG4071

Normative theorists are not a species known for an oversupply of consensus. But one of the most heated debate of recent years has led to a kind of consensus: the debate about “situationism”, which was raised as a challenge to virtue ethics. With virtue ethicists referring to the character of virtuous agents for guidance about moral behaviour, situationists drew attention to the problem that human behaviour is greatly influenced by the situations they find themselves in. For example, they are more altruistic when exposed to the good smells of a bakery. They are more likely to cooperate in a game call “Community Game” than in one called “Wall Street Game” even if they payoffs are the same. And if they are told to play the role of “prison guards”, while others play the role of “prisoners”, the situation can easily get out of hand. Reading such accounts, one might think that all talk about individual agency and responsibility had been based on an illusion: on an account of a “Cartesian” or “Kantian” self, or on an “Aristotelian” notion of stable character, that simply do not exist. All that there is, it seems, are situational forces.

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Leaders and their responsibility for knowledge

This article in the Guardian, which some members of our team have shared on Facebook, suggests that the British prime minister David Cameron may have (had) no clue about what his policies did to local services. If we assume that this is true, it raises a moral question of great importance for today’s societies: how can leaders make sure that they know enough about the consequences of their decisions to make decisions at all?

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