"The accident of where one is born is just that, an accident; any human being might have been born in any nation"
Martha Nussbaum, 'Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism' in For Love of Country (Beacon Press, 2002)

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Graduate Seminar 27th Feb

Yesterday I gave a draft of my paper on Miller for the ALSP conference at the department's graduate research seminar. I will be posting the paper here tomorrow when I've sent it to the conference organisers.

Generally I think the response to the paper was good, and there were several helpful questions and comments. The main point of contention seemed to be my argument that Miller's use of needs to ground his theory of basic rights in National Responsibility and Global Justice leaves them lacking objectivity, given his arguments in Principles of Social Justice (PSJ). Many people had the same thought - why can't Miller just have objective basic human rights at the global level as well as contextually specific needs based justice within solidaristic communities? I wanted to show that his contextual arguments in PSJ make this difficult - if the concept of needs has no content without a community-defined conception of harm, then how can needs ground basic rights without there being such a community at the global level? If Miller is committed to such a community, if he holds to the view that needs have no content without a community-defined concept of harm, then it seems to me that his basic rights are contingent on that community. Basic rights as I understand them can't be contingent in this way - mainly because of the work we want to do with them.

There were also a few questions about what exactly the difference was between a global 'solidaristic community' and humanity as such. The concern was that I was placing too much weight on there being something importantly different between the two. I think there is an important difference, because the solidaristic community that Miller describes is a type of relationship between persons, whereas humanity as such is just the set of all persons - there might not be any relationships between them at all. If there was a solidarisitc community that encompassed all persons then the rights it would support would be universal, but this is contingent on the membership of the community encompassing everyone - and it might not be the case that it did so.

Overall it was a helpful discussion in that it flagged up the areas which are likely to attract the most criticism, and which need more work.

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