Justice Everywhere

a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Category: Duties (Page 1 of 7)

Dementia, Truthfulness, and Respecting Agency

In this post, Jeanette Kennett and Steve Matthews discuss their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on respecting agency in dementia care.


Years before entering the nursing home Mr Q had been a janitor at a boarding school. With the progression of dementia, he came to perceive the nursing home – with its distinctly institutional décor – as his old place of work. And so, throughout the day he would act out his janitorial role, with its many tasks of checking windows and doors, and making sure that all was running smoothly. The neurologist Oliver Sacks, writing about the case, noted that ‘the Sisters [who ran the home]…though perceiving his confusion and delusion, respected and even reinforced [his] identity. They assisted him [by] giving him keys to certain closets and encouraging him to lock up at night before he retired.’ Did the sisters do the right thing? Perhaps they should have been more truthful by reminding Mr Q that in fact he was a declining patient with dementia. Sacks thought otherwise. Occupying his role helped Mr Q to make sense of his surroundings. In fulfilling this role, says Sacks, ‘[Mr Q] seemed to be organized and held together in a remarkable way…’

The case of Mr. Q raises a thorny problem for caregivers: should truthfulness give way when people with dementia form false beliefs about their circumstances? This moral dilemma is usually presented as a choice between acting on a principle of respect for persons – which requires truthfulness – versus acting out of a concern for their welfare – which might require going along with a false belief. In our recent article, however, we argue that the debate should be framed in a different way. It seems to us, that in going along with Mr Q, the Sisters were scaffolding and protecting his sense of identity, something that thereby respected his agency. This of course had the added effect of attending to Mr Q’s welfare. We argue that when we support a person’s agency in these ways their welfare needs are simultaneously addressed.

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We have a duty to pay for kidneys

In this post, Aksel Sterri discusses their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on the ethics of a government-monopsony market in kidneys.


Two million people suffer from kidney failure worldwide. They either die or live difficult lives on dialysis while waiting for kidneys to become available for transplant, from dead or living donors. Our failure to meet the need for kidney transplants is a moral failure that calls for a change in how we procure kidneys. In a recent paper, I argue members of nation states have a collective duty to pay kidney donors to ensure that people in need receive a new kidney.

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On our special relationship with future generations

In this post, Charlotte Unruh discusses their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on the basis of our duties to future generations.


Do you sometimes picture future generations as strangers in a faraway galaxy? Strangers who we know little about, aside from the fact that our actions can affect their lives?  In a recent paper, I argue that there is a crucial difference between (very) remotely living strangers and future generations. There is a special relationship that obtains between present and future people. We bring future generations into existence. I suggest that this gives rise to special responsibilities to embed long-term thinking in politics, business, and society.

Future generations are not like faraway strangers

One important reason not to think about future generations as strangers from other galaxies concerns our responsibilities towards them. Unlike faraway space travellers, we bring future generations into existence. Bringing future generations into existence puts us in a special relationship with them.

To illustrate, we can look at the paradigm case of a special relationship, the relationship towards our children. Children are vulnerable and helpless without protection. Causal accounts of parenthood say that the primary responsibility for providing this protection lies with those who have caused the child to exist.

Future people are vulnerable too. If we destroy the environment, then future people will not be able to enjoy it. I think that the primary responsibility for future generations plausibly lies with those who bring them into existence. We will put future people into this world. This requires us to ensure that future people have a decent standard of living. This requirement arises from our special relationship with future people, and does not arise for space travellers from faraway galaxies.

It is our responsibility to set the right path for the future

Thinking about our relationship to future generations in this way has interesting implications. It means that our ancestors had special duties towards us, and all generations have special duties towards those who come next. Ideally, then, generations share the responsibility for far future people, such that the burden on each individual generation to ensure a decent future is small.

Problems arise when there is urgent need to act. For example, I worry that digital technologies such as surveillance technologies have the potential to undermine elements of our democracy. We need to steer the development and regulation of digital technologies in the right direction, to ensure that these technologies increase the well-being of citizens and strengthen, rather than compromise, democracy and human rights. Failure to set us on the right path might risk a lock-in into an undesirable future, such as a dystopia fuelled by technology-enabled surveillance. Here, we cannot wait for future generations to do their part. The burden is largely on us.

We need to embed long-term thinking in politics, business, and society

My argument supports reforms that aim to incorporate long-term thinking in politics, business, and society. Some recent proposals in this direction have been to create political institutions for the future and (re-)examine the purpose of business. I think it is important that such reforms are inclusive, comprehensive, and balanced.

An inclusive dialogue is important, since we share the responsibility for the future of our society. We should debate different visions of the future and potential reforms. Moreover, our outlook on the future must be comprehensive. It cannot focus only on environmental issues, for example. Our financial debts, our political institutions, and our cultural and social norms will influence the generations yet to come. If we look at only one policy area, there is a risk that side effects and trade-offs become invisible. For example, tracking technology was introduced to help contain COVID-19, but it also poses a threat to privacy. Finally, we also need to respect the interests of present people and the next generations. We need to be especially aware of the effects of future-directed reforms on the poor and disadvantaged, as well as consider carefully how to distribute the burden of reforms.

In sum, future generations are not like strangers. We cannot escape the responsibility that comes with bringing future generations into existence and shaping the lives of future people. Acknowledging the special relationship to our descendants requires us to debate different views on the long-term future, and to ensure that our current practices and policies do not run counter to these views.

What do co-parents owe each other?

In this post, Daniela Cutas and Sabine Hohl discuss their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on duties of co-parenting.


One of the authors of this post remembers her mother telling her, many years ago, that people spend too much time fretting about who to marry and not enough about who they want to co-parent with, since it is that relationship which lasts for life. And we could not agree with her more. (Spoiler alert: this author’s parents have since divorced. But they are still her parents.) In a new paper, we discuss co-parenting as a moral relationship in its own right, and we explore the duties that it generates between co-parents.

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It is not enough to listen carefully – we also have to identify who is not in the epistemic room

Shawn raises his hand and asks quietly: “Mr Warner?” […] Mr Warner does not hear Shawn or notice his raised hand. Instead, Mr Warner is fielding questions from a group of middle-class students  […] Shawn sighs and puts his hand down (Calarco 2018: 164).

Post by Leonie Smith and Alfred Archer

Introduction

When middle-class students are regularly heard in the classroom and working-class students, such as Shawn, are regularly not heard, and when news reporters consistently fail to seek out women experts to the same extent that they seek out men experts, something unjust is happening. In a recent paper, we argue that this something is an epistemic attention deficit.

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Political Philosophy in a Pandemic (Book Announcement)

We have some exciting news to share: the first ever Justice Everywhere book is on its way. Entitled Political Philosophy in a Pandemic: Routes to a More Just Future, it will be published in  print in September by Bloomsbury Academic (pre-order here). We are hoping that the e-book version will be out in the summer. Edited by Fay Niker and Aveek Bhattacharya, two of the convenors of the blog, the idea for the book developed out of the ‘Philosophers’ Rundown on the Coronavirus Crisis’ that we published here in April last year.

Political Philosophy in a Pandemic contains 20 essays on the moral and political implications of COVID-19 and the way governments have responded to it, arranged around five themes: social welfare, economic justice, democratic relations, speech and misinformation and the relationship between justice and crisis. Almost all of the contributors have featured on Justice Everywhere in recent years in form or another, either as authors or interviewees.

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The COVID-19 crisis: what should we do about the zoos?

 

Brown bear, Germany, 2016. Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / Born Free Foundation

The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us to reassess what we value, what kinds of communities we want to live in, and how we spend our money. The financial pressures caused by repeated lockdowns and rising unemployment means that many businesses and other organisations will not survive without targeted support. And, with so many in need of financial assistance, many of us are faced with the question of who we should help.

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The COVID-19 crisis: a vulnerability perspective

The idea of vulnerability has been discussed regularly throughout the pandemic. This aligns with a more general trend towards considering issues in law, bioethics and philosophy from a vulnerability perspective – especially among those dissatisfied with human rights theory. Can thinking in terms of vulnerability help us understand the current crisis?

The term vulnerability captures cases of risk of harm. To restrict attention to morally significant forms of vulnerability, theorists often refer to harms to vital interests or needs. The concept of vulnerability carries an inherent ambiguity, which is reflected in both ordinary use and theory. On the one hand, we are all vulnerable due to our embodiment and our nature as social beings. This is what theorists call ontological universal vulnerability. On the other hand, particular groups or individuals experience heightened vulnerability in particular respects due to their specific circumstances. This is often called circumstantial vulnerability. An especially problematic kind of circumstantial vulnerability is pathogenic vulnerability, which is the product of injustice. People and groups experience different types of vulnerabilities arising from a variety of sources, which interact with each other, often creating new vulnerabilities.

Because it captures the idea of being under threat of harm and circumstances where an agent is not in the position to protect her vital interests, vulnerability seems to be particularly apt to describe the current situation in connection to the risk of contracting Covid-19, as well as the risks of socio-economic harms and social isolation that have accompanied the pandemic. Distinguishing between different kinds of vulnerability also helps us in reflecting on various aspects of the present crisis. 

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Who should pay the costs of pandemic lockdowns?  

the costs of pandemic lockdowns should be disproportionately covered by a narrower group, consisting of those individuals and businesses who have already acquired vast amounts of economic resources and have substantially prospered as a consequence of the pandemic lockdowns

 

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to play a central role in the lives of many people around the world. While initial governmental responses to the pandemic were often forceful, with lockdowns that lasted for several weeks or even months being widely introduced in March and early April, there seems to be little political appetite for renewed lockdowns of the same scale. Even so, several European countries have once again imposed lockdowns in the past few weeks, following a swift rise in cases starting in late-September.

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The news media are a watchdog, but so are you

In this post, Emanuela Ceva & Dorota Mokrosinska discuss their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on what grounds the duty of the news media (and citizens) to act as a watchdog.


The news media often claim a quasi-political role as a watchdog entrusted by the people to keep the government in check. This claim has a particular purchase when it comes to the dissemination of whistleblowers’ unauthorized disclosures. The publication in the Guardian and the Washington Post of Edward Snowden’s revelations of classified information about British and US governments’ surveillance programs provide a textbook illustration of this claim.

Widespread as it is, this view of the unique quasi-political role of the news media is hard to justify. In a recent article, we argue that the watchdog role of the news media does not derive from their special status in society. It is rather an instance of a general duty that accrues to any member of a well-ordered society in the face of institutional failures.

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