Justice Everywhere

a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Good Friendships for Real People

In this post Simon Keller (Victoria) discusses his recently published article in the Journal of Applied Philosophy, in which he asks what it means to be a good friend in non-ideal circumstances.

Image by efes from Pixabay

Modern education systems erode trust – this may be a big problem.

Photo by lauren lulu taylor on Unsplash

As teachers, our work is inescapably affected by a range of structural features such as the marketisation and commodification of higher education, the erosion of benefits and of pay, and more. Many of these have been amply studied and debated, including on this blog. Today, however, I want to discuss a relatively underexplored dimension of all this – the slow erosion of trust between staff and students.

In a (higher) education setting, trust is an important value, for several reasons. For one, students are typically young adults and being given responsibility – and being trusted with that responsibility – is an important part of the process of growing up. I’m specifically inspired here by an approach to assessment known as ‘ungrading’. Regardless of the merits of the method, Jesse Stommel’s summary of the core philosophy of ungrading is something that needs to be taken extremely seriously: ‘start by trusting students’.

But it’s also a principled point. From a broadly Kantian perspective, one important aspect of ethical behaviour is respect for others as ‘ends in themselves’. While we all may occasionally jokingly remind each other that students’ brains haven’t fully developed yet, it is important to remember that this does not mean that they lack the capacity for autonomy. Indeed, because of their age, it is perhaps more important than ever to allow them to practice, or exercise autonomy.

Why we need alternative voting methods

Don’t you find it highly frustrating when you want to vote for a person or party you like but you can’t really do it because you know that the person or party has a very low chance of being elected or being part of a coalition government? You may think it’s frustrating yet unavoidable. After all, isn’t it part of what making a choice means to sacrifice some attractive options? Well, no, or so I argue in a recently published article. We have a right to voting methods that allow for a more honest and complex expression of our preferences, that do not force us to sacrifice the expression of our genuine preferences. And the good news is that appealing alternative voting methods exist.

Human dignity doesn’t make sense – but animal dignity might

No where else is the human-animal divide more enthusiastically defended than when someone talks about human dignity. According to advocates of this widespread idea, our “human dignity” captures the exceptional value and status that humans uniquely possess. Not only is it thought to elevate us above other animals, but it acts as the basis for distinctly human rights, as enshrined in several international covenants, and constitutions. In other words, dignity seems to do a lot of work in explaining why we have value above and beyond that which other animals possess.

Animal Dignity - Swan Spreading its wings.
Do animals have dignity? Photo by Matt Perry.

The trouble is that a distinctly human dignity cannot be plausibly justified. I will explain why shortly, before going on to suggest that there is one saving grace: dignity can be made into a far more robust idea – and without giving up too much of what is valuable about it. But the catch is that this is only possible if it includes rather than excludes other animals, such as dogs, pigs, or birds.

Why the economic whole is more than the sum of its parts

Contemporary Western societies are often criticized for being excessively individualistic. One interpretation of this claim is that their citizens mainly care about their own well-being and not so much about that of others or about communal bonds. Another, complementary interpretation that I develop here argues that our ideas in economics and about justice overestimate the contributions individuals make to economic production. Recognising the extent to which our productivity and thus our standard of living depends on the cooperation of others has a humbling effect on what income we can legitimately think we are entitled to.

Is resourcist housing policy enough?

Housing deprivation is a manifest indication of injustice in many cities. It occurs when individuals either cannot access housing or when they face a high risk of losing their homes, with the implication that people end up living in the streets or in precarious situations. According to United Nations Habitat, 1.8 billion people lack adequate housing. In Latin America, housing deprivation affects more than 28 million lower-income households. In Brazil, data from the 2022 Census shows that 281.472 people are homeless and from the Brazilian IBGE estimates that more than 5 million people are living in irregular houses. Questions that arise are: why this is an injustice, and how can we best address it?

 In recent years, these questions have gained increasing scholarly attention, in particular following the book on the subject written by Casey Dawkins (2021) and the work done by Katy Wells (2019; 2022). Both philosophers claim that housing deprivation is an injustice because it violates basic ideas of fundamental human needs – which have material and relational dimensions. However, they propose resourcist housing policies as a solution. In this post, although I agree with them that housing deprivation requires a multidimensional normative account, I argue that we should go beyond a resourcist policy.

Is it justified for firms to offer prestige based rewards to some employees?

Consider the following excerpt from an article written by a former student at the University of Oxford –

“The green and lush lawns of the colleges you observe are due to the policy Oxford has maintained for centuries of allowing only professors to step on the grass. Everyone is obliged to keep walking along the concrete path, even when talking to a professor who may be walking through the grass. The rule is indeed odd one since it creates a certain one-manship between the professors and other teaching and supporting staff, as well as students.” 

I argue that this rule, which I refer to as ‘restrictive lawn policy’ henceforth, is not merely odd but it is also morally objectionable. 

What is next for the environmental movement in the UK?

Almost 5 years ago today, on the 31st of October 2018, Extinction Rebellion was publicly launched outside the UK Parliament. Since then, it has been one of the most influential environmental movements in the UK and in other parts of the world, instrumental in changing the public conversation and in leading to the declaration of a climate emergency by the UK parliament in 2019. Using non-violent civil disobedience and mass arrests as the main tactics, in its first few years the movement organised a number of often theatrical actions which included blocking roads and bridges, with activists gluing and locking themselves in public spaces. The question of whether public disruption was indeed the right tactic for Extinction Rebellion, and the environmental movement more broadly, has dominated conversations inside and outside the movement ever since.

Invisible discrimination: the double role of implicit bias

In this post, Katharina Berndt Rasmussen (Stockholm University & Institute for Futures Studies) discusses her recently published article in the Journal of Applied Philosophy (co-authored by Nicolas Olsson Yaouzis) exploring the roles that implicit bias and social norms play in discriminating hiring practices.


The US, like many other countries, is marked by pervasive racial inequalities, not least in the job market. Yet many US Americans, when asked directly, uphold egalitarian “colour-blind” norms: one’s race shouldn’t matter for one’s chances to get hired. Sure enough, there is substantial disagreement about whether it (still) does matter, but most agree that it shouldn’t. Given such egalitarian attitudes, one would expect there to be very little hiring discrimination. The puzzle is how then to explain the racial inequalities in hiring outcomes.

A second puzzle is the frequent occurrence of complaints about “reverse discrimination” in contexts such as the US. “You only got the job because you’re black” is a reaction familiar to many who do get a prestigious job while being black, as it were. Why are people so suspicious when racial minorities are hired?

Intellectually Humble Free Speech Law

Scholars familiar with the philosophical arguments in favor of robust free speech protections commonly identify three kinds of arguments given in favor of such protections:

1. Free speech helps us discover truth,
2. Free speech is required for democratic self-governance,
3. Free speech is an important part of autonomy.

Contemporary social and political circumstances—including the persistent spread of viral misinformation via social media—have called these traditional arguments into question.

Can we really claim that free speech helps us discover truth when the data suggest that falsehoods travel, on average, much faster and farther than truthful corrections? Does free speech, on balance, help preserve democracy when the integrity of elections is being undermined by orchestrated viral disinformation campaigns?

Such questions prompted by social, political, and material reality ought to be taken seriously. Taking such questions seriously may require us to reconsider what kinds of arguments best ground free speech rights. This may, in turn, require us to reconsider what good free speech law and policy should look like.

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