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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 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. 

How Should We Understand NIMBYism?

In this post, Travis Quigley (U. Arizona) discusses his article recently published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy  about the issues at stake and justifications for and against restrictive zoning policies.

You might think that zoning policy should be politically boring. Instead, there is a high-stakes and high-intensity debate between defenders of restrictive zoning regulations, which currently set aside huge swaths of land for single-family houses, and those who wish to abolish most such restrictions. Defenders of restrictive zoning often are called NIMBYs, for Not In My Backyard; reformers are then called YIMBYs, for Yes In My Backyard. As such things go, each term can be an insult or a point of pride, depending on who’s speaking. In the housing context, the rationale of increasing supply to decrease prices is pitted against neighborhood preservation; the climate context pits ecological conservation against large-scale climate change mitigation projects. The two issues intersect: new, dense housing is far more energy efficient. I focus especially on residential zoning here.   

Attribution fallacy, incentives, and income inequality

It is difficult to read anything on the justification of high salaries these days without running into catch phrases such as “the hunt for talent”, “attracting the best people to this job”, or “retaining human capital.” The core idea underlying this kind of discourse is one that has got a lot of traction in political philosophy in recent decades, too: It is justified to pay certain individuals – be they neurosurgeons, lawyers, or CEOs – financial incentives, because the productive contribution they will make in response benefits us all.

Why justice requires mandatory parenting lessons and therapy

In this post, Areti Theofilopoulou (Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences) discusses her recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on the range of wrongs that can occur in problematic parent-child relationships.

We know that our upbringing massively affects the way that our lives go. This is partly because, in our unequal societies, the socioeconomic status of our family determines the education and connections we have access to. But our upbringing would still affect the rest of our lives even in fairer societies, because the ways our parents treat us determine our future mental health and the kinds of people we become. Often, the upbringing people receive leads to the development of mental illness or personality traits that disadvantage them in all spheres of life (such as their career and relationships), and that is undeniably unfair. In my recent paper, I argue that states should intervene heavily in the family via mandatory parenting lessons and therapy to prevent these harms and disadvantages.

‘Whataboutism’ about justice

There is a growing tendency to label some argumentative moves commonly performed in public discourse as “whataboutism”. A quick search on Google Trends shows that the term has begun to gain more serious traction in 2017, reaching its peak popularity in June 2020 and March 2022 – likely in the context of debates on the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, as Ben Zimmer points out, its roots can be identified much earlier on, first as a charge against defenders of the Provisional IRA’s actions during the Troubles and later as a charge against a particular brand of Soviet-style rhetorical strategy. When whataboutism is pointed at in public speech, it is usually done so as to discredit an objection to an argument not by showing that it fails on its own terms, but rather because it constitutes an illegitimate move aimed at deflecting attention from the topic on which the argument is focused. But is whataboutism, especially when it concerns questions of justice, problematic, or – to the contrary – is the charge of whataboutism largely vacuous?

Inequality, Segregation, and Gentrification: It’s Complicated!

by Hwa Young Kim and Andrew Walton

Image by Ilona S from Pixabay

Something as arbitrary as which neighbourhood we live in should not determine our future. However, residential segregation between people who are rich or poor and people who are black or white is highly pervasive and highly correlated with socio-economic inequality. Neighbourhoods that are disadvantaged face notably worse prospects in terms of economic opportunities, public services, and local amenities. To make this image starker, many people who are disadvantaged live in areas of concentrated poverty, with high rates of violence, street crime, and unemployment. Surely, this situation is unjust and requires action.

But what action? Some argue for providing those living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods subsidies to move to wealthier locations. Others have called for greater redistribution of wealth from rich neighbourhoods to those communities who have less than they should. In a recent article, we argue that there is potential to another, less conventional, route: reducing residential segregation through those who are advantaged relocating to disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Our reasoning is that integration has a beneficial role in reducing the prejudice that sustains inequality. What’s more, we think this can occur without crossing a line into a problematic form of gentrification.

From the Vault: Journal of Applied Philosophy Collaboration

While Justice Everywhere takes a short break over the summer, we recall some of the highlights from our 2021-22 season. This post focuses on our ongoing collaboration with the Journal of Applied Philosophy.


In 2019, Justice Everywhere began a collaboration with the Journal of Applied Philosophy. The journal is a unique forum that publishes philosophical analysis of problems of practical concern, and several of its authors post accessible summaries of their work on Justice Everywhere. These posts draw on diverse theoretical viewpoints and bring them to bear on a broad spectrum of issues, ranging from the environment and natural resources to freedom, empathy, and medical ethics.

For a full list of these posts, visit the JOAP page on Justice Everywhere. For a flavour of the range, you might read:

Stay tuned for even more from JOAP authors in our 2022-23 season!


Justice Everywhere will return in full swing on 1st September with fresh weekly posts by our cooperative of regular authors (published on Mondays), in addition to our Journal of Applied Philosophy series (published on Thursdays). If you have a suggestion for a topic or would like to contribute a guest post on a topical subject in political philosophy (broadly construed), please feel free to get in touch with us at justice.everywhere.blog@gmail.com.

Withdrawing and withholding treatment are not always morally equivalent

In this post, Andrew McGee (Queensland University of Technology) and Drew Carter (University of Adelaide) discuss their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on the moral difference between withdrawing and withholding medical interventions.

Some health ethics writers and clinical guidelines claim that withdrawing and withholding medical treatment are morally equivalent: if one is permissible or impermissible, so too the other.

Call this view Equivalence. It is heir of a related view that has held sway in ethical and legal debate for decades, in support of the withdrawal of treatment that is no longer beneficial.  The thinking was that if treatment no longer benefits a patient, then whether it is withheld or withdrawn does not matter – so there is no morally relevant difference between the two.

Equivalence goes beyond this. It applies to beneficial treatment, where two patients compete for one resource. The reasoning is: To save as many lives as possible, we would have no qualms about withholding a beneficial treatment from one person to give it to another who can benefit more. We should therefore have no qualms about withdrawing it either. In a recent article, we argue that Equivalence is false.

Why Property-Owning Democracy is Unfree

In this post, Paul Raekstad (University of Amsterdam) discusses their recent article in Journal of Applied philosophy on whether Property-Owning Democracy can resolve the unfreedom of capitalism.

Socialists rightly argue that capitalism cannot be free. This is because it’s built on the personal domination of workers by bosses, the structural domination of workers in labour markets, and the impersonal domination of everyone by market forces. The solution to domination is democratisation. But do we really need to replace capitalism with socialism to secure emancipation? Advocates of Property-Owning Democracy argue that we don’t. In a recent article I argue that they are wrong.

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