"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)

Monday, 31 March 2008

Back from Nottingham

And again I'm back in Sheffield, for slightly longer this time (a whole week! I'm heading to Bristol to stay with a friend this weekend) after the ALSP conference in Nottingham. The conference was excellent - interesting papers, good discussion and some really nice people. I got a lot out of it, and will be posting my thoughts on here over the next few days. My paper was well received, and a couple of the questions were really helpful, if a little challenging. I'm planning on revising it slightly and then submitting it to a journal soon (once I've made up my mind where to send it that is).

Thinking (With)Out Borders: International Political Theory in the 21st Century

This conference has been brought to my attention - it sounds like it could be really interesting, although unfortunately the deadline for submission has passed.

Thinking (With)Out Borders: International Political Theory in the 21st Century

June 12-13, 2008, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland, UK

Whether it is a matter of power, sovereignty, justice, citizenship or the political itself, international political theory is both constituted by and probing of borders, boundaries, and dividing lines of various sorts: territorial, conceptual, historical, social, legal, economic, intellectual, and ethical. With this broad theme in mind, this conference presents a major opportunity for scholars working in the interdisciplinary field of international political theory to discuss the past, present and future questions and challenges of this burgeoning area of study.

Keynote Speaker: Seyla Benhabib, Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Yale University

Papers and panels are invited on any of the following indicative themes:

Global constitutionalism
Refugees and migration
Global practices of violence
Human rights and responsibilities
Environment, technology and development
Friendship and hospitality
International political thought beyond the West
Imperialisms and empire
Globalization and global civil society
Democracy and peace

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Employability Workshop for Philosophy PhD Students

Sounds good...



This workshop is a collaboration between the British Philosophical Association, the British Postgraduate Philosophy Association, and the University of Birmingham. It is open to Philosophy PhD students in the UK who are interested in pursuing an academic career in Philosophy. The workshop will focus on 'generic' skills that are related to academic employability – for example writing a CV, preparing for a job interview, and presenting and publishing your work.

Thanks to the University of Birmingham Graduate School, most of the places are heavily subsidised (full cost £20 including accommodation), and we also have some money to subsidise travel. Places on the workshop are strictly limited. If it is oversubscribed, the organisers may give preference to applications which (a) arrive the earliest (the final deadline is 25 April) and/or (b) come from students with AHRC funding (since the workshop is funded indirectly by RCUK), and/or (c) come from students in at least the second year of their PhD.

Further information about the workshop can be found at:


Back from Amsterdam

I'm now back in Sheffield for a few days before heading off to Nottingham for the ALSP conference on Global Justice. I spent the Easter weekend at home in Cambridgeshire with my parents - it was a nice opportunity to relax after getting back from Amsterdam late Friday night. Amsterdam was lovely, as I expected it would be. The snow on Friday morning was however unexpected!

The ETMP conference was really enjoyable. My paper was in the first session, and was well attended. There were some good questions and positive comments which are always nice to receive! The general thrust of many of the questions was a doubt about whether the particularist needs to be too worried about objectivity (one of my criticisms in the paper is that objectivity is going to be lacking for the particularist). It became clear during the discussion that the reasons I have for thinking that a lack of objectivity is a problem for particularists stem from the location of the debate in global justice literature. As a general approach to ethics particularism can do without (perhaps) objectivity, but in the context of the search for a comprehensive theory of global justice, it seems to become more of a problem. All in all I'm pleased with the reception to the paper. I don't think I'll be taking it any further in it's current form however, because I think it would work much better if the focus was restricted to the context of the global justice literature, rather than ethical theory in general. 

Tuesday, 18 March 2008


I'm in Amsterdam (which is beautiful) awaiting the start of the ETMP conference tomorrow. My paper is in the first session, so the stressful part will out of the way early! I have 20 mins to present and 15 mins for questions so hopefully there should be time for some good discussion. I'm interested in hearing what people have to think about the issue in general, because I haven't had that much chance to talk to people about it so far. Expect updates on how it went fairly soon...

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Nagel - The Problem of Global Justice

In 'The Problem of Global Justice' Nagel defends a political conception of (socioeconomic/redistributive) justice. A political conception of justice holds that justice is a political virtue: the existence of sovereign states '...is precisely what gives the value of justice its application, by putting the fellow citizens of a sovereign state into a relation that they do not have with the rest of humanity, an institutional standard of fairness and equality that fill out the content of justice' (p. 120). I define this type of view as a relational approach to justice, because it holds that justice considerations arise through relationships between persons, rather than prior to them.

Nagel contrasts the political conception with the cosmopolitan conception, under which justice is pre-political: '...the demands of justice derive from an equal concern or a duty of fairness that we owe in principle to all our fellow human beings, and the institutions to which standards of justice can be applied are instruments for the fulfillment of that duty' (p. 119). This conception of justice is non-relational, because justice considerations arise prior to the existence of relationships between persons. The political conception is typified by Rawls' view that justice is a political value.

Nagel agrees with the Hobbesian view that justice requires sovereignty (pp. 115-117), and so concludes that for both the cosmopolitan and political conceptions, global sovereignty is required for global justice (p. 122). My inclination is to dispute this conclusion, because I need further convincing that justice is impossible to achieve without sovereignty. I'll not go into this further here though, perhaps another time.

Under Nagel's political conception socioeconomic justice is 'fully associative' (p. 127). The relationship that we stand with to each other as fellow citizens is the basis of us having duties of justice towards each other. Why? For Nagel it is because the societal rules which govern our relationships with each other as fellow citizens are coercively imposed - the state is not a voluntary organisation (p. 128).

'Without being given a choice, we are assigned a role in the collective life of a particular society... thereby supporting the insitutions through which advantages and disadvantages are created and distributed. Insofar as those institutions admit arbitrary inequalities, we are, even though the responsibility has been simply handed to us, responsible for them, and we therefore have standing to ask why we should accept them' (p. 129).

Nagel argues that there are seperate humanitarian duties and basic rights which do not depend on this type of coercive community, but apply universally (p. 130-1). He maintains however that the obligations of socioeconomic justice remain restricted to within this type of community. He also rejects the claim that this type of coercive relationship now obtains at the international level, and so remains committed to socioeconomic justice being a matter for within states (p. 137).

This conclusion is clearly non-cosmopolitan. There are two different routes that a cosmopolitan can take to dispute it.

The first route involves accepting his relational conception of justice. There are then two seperate lines of argument that can be pursued. The first strategy for a relational cosmopolitan involves arguing that the coercive conditions under which considerations of justice arise do actually exist at a global level, and so socioeconomic obligations are relevant globally. The second strategy for a relational cosmopolitan involves arguing that Nagel's conception of coercive institutions giving rise to considerations of justice is false, and putting forward an alternative conception. This is a course that has been pursued by many of the commentators on Nagel whom I will be discussing at a later date.

The alternative route, which is the one I find most appealing, is to reject Nagel's relational approach to justice. If we pursure a non-relational, or 'cosmopolitan' approach, then as Nagel says, we will be committed to global redistributive justice. Nagel admits that this conception 'has considerable moral appeal' (p. 126) but does not spend any time attempting to defend he. He chooses the relational, or 'political' approach 'partly because I believe that the political conception is accepted by most people in the privileged nations of the world, so that, true or false, it will have a significant role in determining what happens' (p. 126). To me this seems like a reason not to go with this conception, not a reason to go with it - it's plausible that such a conception is accepted by people in the privileged nations because such a conception supports their continued privilege.

Friday, 7 March 2008

CONFERENCE: Justice and Borders

This sounds like a very interesting day...

A one-day political theory conference hosted by University College Dublin on May 2, 2008 at the Royal Irish Academy, Dawson Street, Dublin

Elizabeth Ashford (St. Andrews)
Simon Caney (Oxford)
David Miller (Oxford)
Hillel Steiner (Manchester)

The conference is organized by the UCD School of Politics and International Relations in collaboration with the School of Philosophyand the School of Social Justice. We gratefully acknowledge UCD Seed Funding support for this conference.
If you are interested in attending the conference, please contact Adina.Preda@ucd.ie. There is no conference fee but places are limited so please book by March 31st.

Recent Debate in Global Justice

The most influential debate in the global justice literature in the last few years has been taking place in the pages of Philosophy and Public Affairs. It was sparked by Thomas Nagel's 'The Problem of Global Justice' (2005). Subsequent additions to the debate include A. J. Julius's 'Nagel's Atlas' (2006), Andrea Sangiovanni's 'Global Justice, Reciprocity, and the State' (2007), Joshua Cohen and Charles Sabel's 'Extra Rempublicam Nulla Justia?' (2006), and Arash Abizadeh's 'Cooperation, Pervasive Impact, and Coercion: On the Scope (not Site) of Distributive Justice' (2007).
It's is now pretty much impossible to write on global distributive justice without referring to the discussion that has taken place in these papers. Given that, I'm planning on re-reading each of these papers and posting about them weekly on this blog. I predict that much of my discussion will centre on the way in which the debate has been framed (which I partially disagree with). I'll start next week with Nagel's paper.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Journal Submission

I've had some really encouraging feedback about my paper on Miller's theory of rights for the ALSP conference, and my supervisor thinks it would be a good candidate for publication. Apart from the task of getting it up to scratch for submission, I've also got to decide where to submit it to. This, it seems, is an important decision, for several reasons.
The done thing is to only submit to one journal at a time, and journals can take up to a year to come back to you, so it's important not to aim too high and completely wreck your chances. However, getting accepted to a quality journal will enhance your CV no end, so it is worthwhile being a bit ambitious.
There is also the issue of which type of journal to submit to - a political theory journal or a more traditional philosophy journal. I've been advised that a philosophy journal would be a better idea because politics departments (in the UK at least) will regard that highly, whereas the reverse is not so true - philosophy departments might consider political theory publications less impressive. This accords with my general impression of UK departments, but given that I'm currently in a philosophy department perhaps that's not so suprising?
My initial impression is that the Journal of Applied Philosophy might me a good choice, although they have recently published a paper specifically on David Miller. I'm not sure if this is a good or bad sign. The Journal of Moral Philosophy is also a possibility.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008


Whilst this is a bit off-topic, I think it's worthwhile drawing people's attention to the Freecycle network.

The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,272 groups with 4,602,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them's good people). Membership is free.

Since joining I've managed to save several household appliances from the tip, and have received several useful items for free - it really is a great idea and (in my experience) works really well. I urge you to find your local network and join.

Monday, 3 March 2008

ALSP paper

I sent my paper for the ALSP conference to the organisers on Friday. For anyone else who is interested I've made it available on Google Docs here.