Justice Everywhere

a blog about justice in public affairs

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 2)

Plastic Pollution: How to avoid further degrading our natural environment

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day (5 June 2018) is Beat Plastic Pollution. Plastic pollution is indeed a serious problem, severely affecting animals, humans, and marine ecosystems.  Removal of the pollutants that are already in the environment is exceedingly difficult, so we should also ask: How can we avoid plastic and other pollutants entering the environment in the first place?

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Moral progress in beliefs and practices

Abraham Lincoln said: “If slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong”. Similarly we could say: “If the abolition of slavery is not an instance of moral progress, then nothing is an instance of moral progress.” The abolition of slavery is the favourite example of philosophers who write about the topic of moral progress. While the existence and the possibility of moral progress are contested, the view that if there were such a thing as moral progress, the abolition of slavery would be an instance of it is not. (By the way, I fully acknowledge that slavery still exists, especially new forms of slavery, which are in some respects even worse than the old forms. But this doesn’t change the fact that the slave trade that we used to have for centuries is now illegal in every country in the world.) Other popular examples of moral progress include the development of a human rights regime, the emancipation of women and the abolition of foot binding. In a previous post, I argued that moral progress is not impossible and cited evolutionary considerations. In this post, I challenge Michelle Moody-Adams’ view of moral progress in social practices as the realization of previously gained moral insights.

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On Striking as a Privilege

As the readers of this blog probably already know, UK-based academics have been on strike for five days over the past two weeks, and the industrial action is likely to escalate further. The current dispute concerns pensions, is quite major, and many good things have been written about it – including, and indeed especially, by other political theorists.

The question I would like to address here has less to do with the specifics of the current dispute and more with a general point that circulates among fellow-academics – and philosophers in particular – nearly every time the possibility of a strike is raised: are we, as comparatively privileged workers, justified in striking to keep and sometimes even improve our privileged status? The point is made in a particularly forceful manner when strike for pay is at stake, but is actually equally relevant to pensions – after all, UK academics are currently striking to defend their current defined benefit pension plan, and the very fact of being in a defined benefit pension scheme (even if one whose conditions have worsened over time) is a rare luxury these days.

Over the last two weeks, I have myself been suspiciously quiet about the fact that I am on strike in many of my daily interactions. This is especially the case with people who might reasonably regard my being on strike as a luxury – such as the carers at my daughter’s nursery, who are on minimum wage, do not get sick pay, and could not even dream of being in a union. That is, I feel self-conscious not only about what I am striking for, but about the very fact of being on strike: just that, in itself, feels like a privilege.

And yet I have little symapathy for the argument that academics should not strike; indeed I believe that too much self-reflection on our relatively privileged status is a display of complacency rather than virtue.

So, why do the comparatively privileged have a claim to strike?

  1. Because it’s either us or nobody else. The practice of withdrawing labour comes well before the establishment of the right to do so within a framework of labour law: the first strikers were engaging in industrial action at their own risk. Then, at least in Europe, strike has (fortunately) become a right. In so doing, it has come to be perceived as something that requires certain some guarantees to be in place: strong union-friendly legislation, the guarantee that one will not lose one’s job over industrial activity, etc. But as labour standards – after a steady improve over the golden era of the welfare state (apologies for the oversimplification) – have been deteriorating again in OECD countries over the last decades, this right has become less of a universal guarantee and more of a privilege of the few who still enjoy a permanent and secure contract, robust labour guarantees, the luck of working in strongly unionized sector, etc. If you come to see something as a right (and rightly so, don’t get me wrong!), then something is obviously problematic when only some enjoy it, and on arbitrary grounds at that. The question of whether those privileged few should exercise a right which others are deprived of has some prima facie legitimacy. But we are not doing atypical and vulnerable workers any favour by not exercising our right to strike. We are only actively contributing to erasing striking from the toolkit of progressive politics. If the very idea of striking is to stay alive, the last thing to do is tell those who can still strike relatively safely that it is bad taste of them to do so. Of course, we want to find ways of enabling those who are even much more vulnerable than us to engage in industrial action again, and this is a tricky task to say the least – but making industrial action a vestige of the past is certainly not a sensible way of achieving said aim.
  2. Because the benefits we would be giving up on would exacerbate, not mitigate, inequality. Yes, the demand for a pay increase that reasonably follows the trajectory of growth and inflation, and for keeping a defined benefit pension scheme, are a privilege of the few these days. But we all know perfectly well that we are not being asked to give up on those in order to redistribute down. By refusing to resist, we would only contribute to making inequality steeper.
  3. Because it is about relational goods. For decades now, academics have been asked again and again to do a little bit more, a little bit better, for a little bit less – and often with no good justification. Whether or not there are workers whose conditions are incomparably worse, this is not a way to treat people in the workplace and ought to be resisted, period.
  4. Because it is about showing disobedience, defiance and will to fight back. UK universities are increasingly run like businesses, with all the problems that this entails – short termism, disregard for the specific nature of higher education, job insecurity, hierarchy in decision-making, and the treatment of staff as disposable goods being only some of them. Those of us who can still do so without bearing prohibitive costs should simply engage in all the push backs they can. The idea that workers should just shut up, get their heads down, and get s%&t done must encounter resistance.

Are there other reasons why the comparatively privileged should strike? Or are there other, stronger objections to the right of the relatively privileged to strike which deserve a fair hearing?


Workplace Democracy – a proposal for saving democracy

This is an interview with Isabelle Ferreras, who has just published a book on workplace democracy – to my knowledge, it’s the most detailed argument and proposal for a specific form of workplace democracy that has been provided in recent years. To get a sense of what it is all about, check out the animated trailer at www.firmsaspoliticalentities.net. We asked Isabelle to tell us more about her book, and we are very happy that she immediately agreed to do so.

Q: How did you get interested in the topic of workplace democracy?

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Winner of the 2nd Jonathan Trejo-Mathys Essay Prize Announced

2018 Jonathan Trejo-Mathys Essay Prize to Francisco Garcia Gibson (Buenos Aires)

The Global Justice Network is very pleased to announce the winner of this year’s Jonathan Trejo-Mathys Essay Prize, awarded annually to recognize a stellar contribution to the political theory and philosophy of global justice, which was one of Jonathan Trejo-Mathys’ areas of scholarship. The prize is sponsored by the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy at Boston College.

This year’s prize goes to Francisco Garcia Gibson, postdoctoral researcher at the National Research Council of Argentina (CONICET) and the Centro de Investigaciones Filosóficas (CIF) at the Universidad de Buenos Aires for his essay  “Guns or Food: On Prioritizing National Security over Global Poverty Relief”. The committee believes that the essay makes an important contribution to the scholarship in political theory, philosophy and international relations through its discussion of the normative commitments of political realism.

Honourable mentions go to Nicole Hassoun, Associate Professor at Binghampton University, for her piece on “Fair Trade: An Imperfect Obligation?” and Anahi Wiedenbrüg, doctoral research student at the LSE, for her submission “On the Responsibilities of Dominated States”.

Congratulations to all three authors. All three papers will be published in the next issue of Global Justice: Theory, Practice, Rhetoric.


Durkheim on social justice (or: why political theorists should read sociology)

As part of my long-term project to convince political theorists that they can benefit from cooperating with empirical social scientists (see also here), I’ve recently written a paper on an intriguing argument about social justice that I found in the writings of Émile Durkheim, who is widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of sociology. I here present a short summary; the full paper can be found here.

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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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Global Justice meets Global Democracy

Workshop at the University of Durham

22nd and 23rd June 2017

The Durham Centre for Political Thought in collaboration with the Global Politics Masters Programme and Global Policy Institute are set to host a 2 day workshop next week to discuss questions of global justice, democracy, power and legitimacy.

The event ‘Global Justice Meets Global Democracy’ is organised by Elizabeth Kahn and Luke Ulas and will take place on the 22nd and 23rd of June at Elvett Riverside 1 (ER148). The workshop will consist in the presentation of ‘work in progress’ papers given by a number of invited speakers,  followed by a pre-prepared responses and broader discussion.

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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:


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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