The petition against Donald Trump’s ‘state visit’ to the United Kingdom has gathered over 1.8 million signatories. (I am one of them). Of particular concern to many of these signatories has been Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’, and its perceived infringement of international human rights law. But there is a curiosity, one that has been seized upon by those more positively disposed to Trump. Trump’s actions to date are surely less objectionable, from a human rights perspective, than the historical actions of Saudi Arabia and China, and the leaders of both of those countries have enjoyed recent state visits to the United Kingdom with (relative to Trump) little outcry. Can these differing scales of public reaction be justified? I suspect not; only explained.
Last week, I was invited to say some introductory words at a non-academic event dedicated to the work of John Rawls. As the main speaker would tell more about the content of Rawls’ theory, I decided to focus on the following question: why is Rawls seen as the most important contemporary political philosopher? Robert Nozick’s claim of 1974, that contemporary political theorists either have to work within Rawls’ framework or explicitly explain why they don’t, is still applicable today. For Jerry Cohen, Rawls’ masterpiece A Theory of Justice is the third most important book in the history of Western political thought. Only Plato’s Politeia and Hobbes’ Leviathan have a higher status, or so does Cohen claim. But what is it, precisely, that makes the work of John Rawls that significant?
A two-day workshop discussing direct normative responses to global realities
Durham University, 23rd-24th June 2016
Due to entrenched public opinion, vested interests among elites, global cooperation problems, and a host of other constraints existing systems impose on would-be reformers, there is currently a great distance between what should be done and what can be done. These limitations raise important questions about the role political philosophers can play in helping to guide decision-makers and the appropriate shape of short- and long-term moral and ethical thinking. To what extent should the constraints of political reality shape and/or constrain the way in which we theorise about moral problems? What kinds of normative recommendations can we offer on issues of pressing political import if we hope them to be realised in the foreseeable future? In short, what can demands of global justice require here and now?
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.
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change has been heralded as ‘a monumental success for the planet and its people.’  However, others have also already expressed strong criticism. It remains up to the future to decide on the success or failure of the agreement. This post contains some reflections about this future, and I hope that the topicality of the issue justifies its length and unscheduled publication.
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?
In a memorable sequence in his book, Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy depicts the young dog, “George’s son” who works for the farmer, Oak, as a sheepdog. The main job of George’s son is to run after the sheep to make sure that they stay together and do not run away. Tragically, however, the sheepdog being under the impression that the more he runs after the sheep, the better, one day drives all the sheep off a cliff. George’s son, thinking that he has done an exceptional job, returns happily to Oak, who is now left with nothing. Hardy writes that George’s son met the “untoward fate which so often attends dogs and other philosophers who follow out a train of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and attempt perfectly consistent conduct in a world made up so largely of compromise. “
This post is about how to go about criticising gender norms (in a wide sense of the term, including explicit expectations but also things like gender schemas – implicit bias and stereotype threat.) Like many other feminists, I find gender norms bothering because of the undue pressure they put on people to behave in ways that limit their social freedom and which very often result in unequal opportunities for women and for men. Overall, women are at the losing end of this inequalities; I will not rehearse here all the counts on which women are worse off than men even in liberal egalitarian democracies that are formally committed to gender justice. (They include political representation, the holding of well-paid, prestigious and interesting jobs, income gaps and various daily, micro-inequalities.) Also – and maybe unlike some feminists – I think that men, too, can be the victims of gender norms – for instance they get conscripted into armies and killed in wars more than women, and probably suffer more injustice than women at the hands of police and the criminal system – especially when gender combines with race, as in the case of black men.