"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)

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

ALSP08: Future Trends in Global Justice Research

As I mentioned yesterday, a theme of many of the discussions at ALSP08 was the current state of global justice research. The round table event which concluded the conference was on the theme of Future Directions in Global Justice Research. Several interesting issues were raised which I will discuss briefly here.

Firstly, Professor Stephen Gardiner raised the issue of environmental ethics and climate change. He called this issue the 'elephant in the room', and argued that given the dire scientific prognosis, we really should be doing as much as we can to debate the ethical issues that arise from climate change. He specifically raised the issue of what he called 'transition ethics', by which I think he meant the ethical problems which are going to face us during the huge changes to the planet that are up ahead. This presumably includes refugee and migration issues, resource scarcity and property rights, as well as the ethical implications of various mooted solutions, including the topic of Gardiner's plenary lecture - geoengineering. Gardiner expressed disapointment that more had not been done in this area since he first started publishing on the issue. I don't think many people would argue with Professor Gardiner on the urgency of environmental issues, although I suppose some people might dispute the relevance or helpfulness of philosophy in the face of such a huge practical problem. I am inclined to agree with him that we do need philosophy in relation to problems such as these, especially when we are treading new ground, as we would be in the case of geoengineering.

Professor Simon Tormey raised another concern about the current state of global justice research. He highlighted that all but one of the conference delegates were affiliated to institutions from the Global North, and was concerned that there is a lack of voices from Global South in western philosophical discourse on global justice. Given that these are the people most affected by the current unjust state of the world, we should be listening more closely to their views. Professor Tormey warned against an 'us' and 'them' mentality, and against us merely perceiving members of the Global South as victims. We should respect their agency and the fact that their views on how best to acheive global justice, as well as what global justice consists of, may differ from ours. Again, I find it hard to disagree with Professor Tormey on this point, but I'm not sure how to best solve this problem.

A question was raised about the challenge to traditional methods of global justice research, as well as to moral and politial theory more generally, from so-called 'experimental philosophy'. This new area of research which uses methodology from the cognitive sciences has posed challenges to our theories of mind and agency. As one of the panelists pointed out, these challenges are broad ones which if forceful, have implications for philosophy in general, not just global justice research. Stephen Gardiner argued that in terms of the branch of experimental philosophy which is seeking to find an accurate picture of what people think about issues of justice and ethics, we should pay no attention to the results when it comes to people's opinions on climate change, because they simply do not know what they think. I am generally not well disposed towards this type of experimental philosophy, but I am mildly optimistic about its applications, especially in the realm of motivation. After all, in order to acheive global justice or solve some of the problems presented by climate change, we do need to be able to motivate people to act differently to how they currently do.

Finally there was some discussion about closing the gap that currently exists between the Global Justice Research that takes place in philosophy and political theory departments, and traditional IR theory as done in politics departments. Participants seemed to agree that this gap exists in North American as well as European (both Continental and British) departments. It is strange that we work on such similar areas to IR theorists yet rarely interact with them on a professional level. Several differences between the disciplines were pointed out. Firstly, IR theory is still dominated by realism, whereas in political philosophy the statism inherent in realism is just one of many approaches. Secondly, IR theorists are primarily concerned with feasibility, whereas in political philosophy and normative theory we tend to deal more often in questions of normativity first, and feasibility second (if at all).

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