Justice Everywhere

a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Category: Distribution (Page 1 of 5)

Emergency Ethics for a World Broken by Coronavirus

The title might seem melodramatic even though we are all on the edge right now. Humanity has survived many epidemics, two world wars, natural and technical disasters such as tsunamis or reactors exploding. The costs have been high though, and ethics has often shied away from providing answers for these tough times. In this post, I will argue that philosophers must be prepared to undertake a form of non-ideal emergency ethics to be able to help with the pressing moral questions, for instance in the medical sector.

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How will the coronavirus affect us – as individuals and as a society?

Schools are closed. Flights cancelled. Highways and trains deserted. People are asked to minimise social contact. At first, the coronavirus appeared to be not much different from a normal flu. But then it spread in almost no time across 100 states around the world. Initially, the measures taken by the Italian government seemed extreme, perhaps exaggerated – now several countries are following the Italian example, including Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. The most urgent ethical issue raised by the coronavirus will be the allocation of limited resources, including hospital space. There are also concerns of global justice, given the huge differences between states with regard to their ability to deal with the virus. Despite the fatal effects of this pandemic, we also hear voices that view it as a chance and express the hope that it might bring about some positive changes in society. How will covid-19 affect us – as individuals and as a society? Will it make us more egoistic (“My family first!”) or will it bring us closer together, making us realise how much we depend on each other? Can we expect anything positive from this crisis, and what could that be?

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What are the values of the left?

This a guest post by Marius Ostrowski (Examination Fellow in Politics at All Souls College, University of Oxford). He is the author of the recently published book Left Unity: Manifesto for a Progressive Alliance.

‘Being on the left’ can mean a variety of different things. Most commonly, it refers in a partisan sense to support for ‘progressive’ policies designed to bring about political, economic, or social equality. More generally, it is seen as synonymous with radicalism of opinion, and a greater willingness to reform rather than preserve the status quo. In a religious context especially, ‘the left’ is used to describe anti-dogmatic or anti-orthodox tendencies in favour of departing from inherited customs or scriptural interpretations. Sometimes it is identified with activism or protest in defence of specific groups in society: the working class, women, people of colour, national/religious minorities, LGBTQ*, or the disabled. Not all of these meanings of ‘leftness’ are compatible with one another. But despite the differences between them, one thing emerges very clearly: ideas such as ‘leftness’ and ‘being on the left’ play a central role in many areas of social life.

Where the concept of ‘leftness’ is not typically so much at home is in social philosophy. This is not to suggest that social philosophers themselves are hostile to the left or uninterested in left causes. Many are card-carrying activists and partisans of the left movement. Rather, the concept itself—like its relatives ‘centre’ and ‘right’—is somewhat alien to social-philosophical analysis. In general, it is rare to hear social philosophy make any explicit mention of ‘ideologies’. We are far more likely to encounter ‘theories’, ‘accounts’, or ‘comprehensive doctrines’, even when applied to what are clearly ideological constructions, such as ‘political liberalism’. Key social-philosophical concepts such as democracy, authority, or rights are dealt with as if in a vacuum, removed from any ideological connotations or parsing they might have. It is as though social philosophy is embarrassed by ideology—with ‘leftness’ only one of several victims of this embarrassment.

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Feminism for Working-Class Women Is the Best Feminism

This extended post is a response to a recent Boston Review article by Gina Schouten, called “‘Flexible’ Family Leave is Lousy Feminism”.

This must be one of the most animated debates amongst feminists: how to find the best remedial policies for women who are disadvantaged because they serve as main care-givers for their children, elderly parents, sick relatives or friends. They are disadvantaged in many ways. Some are economic: lower lifetime earnings and fewer work-related benefits compared to people without care commitments – hence more dependency on spouses. Others are social: part-time workers take a hit in status, stay-at-home mums even more so. Finally, there are the relational and psychological disadvantages: women who are economically dependent on their partners have less negotiating power than their partners, and many face tremendous difficulties when they want to leave abusive relationships.

The gendered division of labour – women’s assignment to the hands-on care that we all need at different periods of our lives – explains, to a large extent, not only the gender pay gap but also the feminisation of poverty and the private domination to which many women are subjected. No surprise, then, that feminists have two distinct aims: to protect women from the risks of being a care-giver, and also to do away with the gendered division of labour, which is a main source of the problem. I am one of these feminists; I would like to see women and men equally engaged in the labour market, and looking after anybody who needs care.

But I’m also adamant that we should pursue these two aims in the right order: we should give priority to protecting women from the worst consequences of the gendered division of labour over the abolition of the gendered division of labour itself. Moreover, we should be aware of the unavoidable tension between the two aims, and keep this in mind when advocating for particular gender policies.

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What do we owe the victims of exploitation?

In this post, Erik Malmqvist and András Szigeti discuss their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on the remedial duties arising from exploitation.


We tend to think that exploiting people is morally wrong. And yet, this kind of wrong is uncomfortably close to home for many of us. Likely, the clothes you wear today or the computer you use to read this piece were produced by workers who received meagre pay for dangerous and exhausting work. Since exploitation is so widespread and not something most of us can wash our hands of, we have to ask what is required to set things straight after exploitation has happened. This is the question we have raised in a recent article.

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Announcement: MOOC on ‘Inequality and Democracy’

This is an announcement on behalf of the Private Property and Political Power project at Utrecht University. Its members have developed a freely-available Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) entitled “Inequality and Democracy” that may be of interest to our subscribers, readers, and/or their students.

Most countries are getting more and more unequal. But the core of democracy is political equality: that everyone should have an equal say in how their country is run. Can we really expect these things to go together? Can people have equal political power while economic inequality grows and grows? Take this course and decide for yourself.

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Child Poverty through Philosophers’ Eyes

In this post, Justice Everywhere’s Nicolás Brando and his co-editor Gottfried Schweiger introduce their recently-published collection on philosophy and child poverty.

Philosophy and Child Poverty: Reflections on the Ethics and Politics of Poor Children and their Families (2019) is the first full volume to address child poverty from a philosophical perspective. It brings together contributions from a plurality of philosophical approaches, providing an ample exploration into the conceptual, ontological, normative and applied questions that arise when looking at child poverty as a philosophical subject.

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“Dumbed down for the masses”? Public philosophy in different keys, and why it matters for justice

When one makes one first steps into public philosophy, one quickly encounters a challenge: as academic philosophers, we are used to writing in a slow, careful, sort-of-boring-but-at-least-precise way: to hedge our claims, to qualify the scope of our theses, etc. For public philosophy, editors want the opposite: brief, succinct sentences, never mind a bit of exaggeration and a polemical tone. And often, they request more: “We really need a concrete example here.” “This is too abstract, we’ve taken the liberty of rewriting it a bit.”  “Can you please do a photo session, for a nice picture?” For many of us, these things feel a bit awkward. Different people draw the line in different places – but it seems unavoidable to play this game, at least up to a point, if you want to reach a broader audience. And as I will argue, there is a matter of justice at stake here.

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Philosophical experiment about inequality

A cross-post with crooked timber  – written with Ingrid Robeyns.

Political philosophers often engage in thought experiments, which involve putting hypothetical persons in hypothetical scenario’s. However, it is often challenging to find ways to involve real, non-hypothetical, people with the questions we are dealing with, aside from the more traditional ways to engage in outreach such as debates and opinion pieces.  On the evening of Friday the 5th of October, the Fair Limits team – which studies the plausibility of upper limits in the distribution of economic and ecological resources – attempted a new way to engage the public by making use of a participatory “veil-of-ignorance” thought experiment.

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Who Cares: Emotional Labour in Academia

As I am finishing yet another application for a position with limited chances of success (I did my statistics homework), I am reminding myself again that I shouldn’t get too emotionally invested: I shouldn’t picture myself with this specific position in this particular place just yet. I should take a potential ‘No’ lightly as a sportive challenge and not see it as a fundamental rejection of my work and my value as a member of the academic community. I know all of that. But it is emotionally exhausting. It requires energy and time to deal with the anxieties and insecurities this process brings up. And, importantly, it often requires the support and care of people that are close to me.

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