Justice Everywhere

a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Author: Anh Le

On The Decision to Leave Afghanistan

This post is not an assessment of the military performance of the Afghan National Army or whether the American withdrawal made sense politically (or if it could have been planned better). There are more qualified people for that task. What’s lacking in the current discussion is a just war perspective; in other word, a moral assessment of the decision to wrap up our military involvement in Afghanistan. This post offers a tentative analysis of President Biden’s decision to pull out of Afghanistan and, crucially, to do nothing to aid the government of President Ghani when it became evident Kabul would fall.

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Vaccine Equity and the Responsibility of Rich Countries

What We Owe to Each Other is the title of Tim Scanlon’s famous work on contractualism. As the title reveals, Scanlon seeks to investigate how to treat others with the due respect and dignity they deserve. This post is not about contractualism or about the TV show. Rather, borrowing Scanlon’s book title, I suggest what rich nations should do to address the global vaccine inequity that is hampering poorer nations’ efforts to combat the pandemic. The account sketched here must stand a good chance of being accepted by the relevant rich states. To this end, the following constraints must be accepted. First, governments are primarily driven by concerns for their own citizens and residents. This means that, as non-ideal as it may sound, global egalitarian ideals would not be realised, at least for now. Second, and relatedly, access to vaccines would always likely to be decided by free market principles. Again, legitimate objections, especially egalitarian ones, can be raised against this but this is a constraint that must be accepted, given the dominance of free market thinking in Western countries. Third, as a result, COVAX’s original goal – ‘to ensure that people in all corners of the world will get access to COVID-19 vaccines once they are available, regardless of their wealth’ – was always a wishful thinking.

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Should Academics Also Be Activists?


The debate on the role of academics in a democracy has intensified in recent years with the rise of worrying trends in global politics. The election of Donald Trump in the US, for instance, has escalated racial tensions, worsened treatment of refugees, etc. The President himself has repeatedly expressed support for Neo-Nazi and white supremacy groups. The ruling parties in Poland, Hungary and Turkey have consolidated their power and continued imposing rules and espousing rhetoric that are inherently inimical to an inclusive democracy. The question is this: what should academics do when witnessing these events? Should we take an ‘activist’ role, effectively becoming academic-activists? Or should we remain neutral out of respect for objectivity? This post makes a case for the former proposition, advancing the case for academic-activists. But first, let me engage with the latter proposition – the neutral option – and show why the criticism from the ‘neutralists’ misses its target.

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UCU Strike Meets Jus ad Bellum

Today, thousands of academic and professional support staff from 74 universities will begin a rolling 14-day strike action over a four-week period. This will be the largest industrial action ever taken by higher education workers in British history, surpassing the scale of previous disputes in November – December 2019 and in 2018. A considerable amount of ink has been spilled on the technicalities of the strike (Mike Otsuka, in particular, has written extensively on the pension dispute). My focus in this post is different: I want to establish some of the moral aspects of the strike through the principles governing the resort to war – jus ad bellum.

Let me first address a concern to this approach, namely the applicability of the just war framework with regards to something like strike action. The two issues, war and strike, do not share any commonalities. How could moral principles used to govern war be deployed to understand strike action? I think that the content of individual ad bellum principles can be useful in revealing morally relevant facts in a number of contexts other than war. For example, the principle of proportionality, which demands the benefits of an action must outweigh its potential harm is relevant in almost all situations. The principle of last resort, which demands other less harmful options to be tried first, is also relevant to the undertaking of strike action, given the enormous financial and educational costs. Taken together, the framework of jus ad bellum gives us a substantive moral picture of the action.

My aim here, to reiterate, is simply to show a substantive moral picture of the strike through the lens of jus ad bellum. I make no claims regarding the overall moral permissibility of the strike. All just war criteria are individually necessary and jointly sufficient in order for a war to be justly fought. I don’t know how many criteria would need to be met to justify a strike like this one (or should more criteria be introduced).  This is an interesting query, though not one I’ll pursue here.

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Should We Be Cheering the Death of al-Baghdadi?

On the Sunday morning of 27 October, President Trump sent out a flurry of tweets, announcing to the world the death of one of the most hunted terrorists: ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The full detail of the assault is still emerging, as is expected with any covert operations. One thing is clear. The US and allies view al-Baghdadi’s killing as a positive news. I, however, think we should be cautious in uncritically celebrating his death. By this, I mean we should first assess this act of killing through a critical lens. In other words, we should ask: was this act of killing permissible?

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In Defence of a Second Referendum

The UK has been in the grip of a political crisis since 24 June, 2016 when the people voted to leave the European Union, ending an uneasy relationship lasting 43 years. PM David Cameron resigned the following morning, citing the need for new leadership to lead the country out of the EU. Since then, another PM, Theresa May, has resigned and her successor, current PM Boris Johnson, is nowhere nearer to solving the Brexit question than his predecessors. As the UK’s date of departure from the EU approaches, the sense of a political deadlock is palpable. In this post, I argue for the need to hold a second referendum on democratic grounds.

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A Moral Case for Strikes against Syria? Part II: Punitive Strike

In this post, I explore the punitive justifications for the recent strikes against Syria in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons. In the previous post, Sara was right to call into question the HI justification for the strikes provided by Theresa May. Indeed, even if one could assume that the strikes could satisfy the just cause criterion (and this is a big if), it’s doubtful that other ad bellum criteria could be met (proportionality and reasonable chance of success). The situation is Syria is complicated with multiple parties involved, either directly or through proxy. It is, therefore, difficult to determine what success would mean in this context and, correspondingly, what would be counted as proportionate force. I think Sara is right that the strikes could not be justified on the basis of HI. But, I ask, are there any other justifications for these strikes?

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