"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

CFP: 6th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy

This CFP caught my eye out of the steady stream from Philos-L...

6th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy
16th and 17th September 2008
Call for Papers

On the 16th and 17th of September 2008, the Human Development, Capability and Poverty International Research Centre at the Institute for Advanced Study of Pavia (Italy), will host the sixth edition of the Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy. This two-day conference is meant to offer graduate students an opportunity to present papers, get helpful feedback in a friendly atmosphere, and exchange ideas both with peers andwith leading academics in the field of political philosophy. In addition to parallel sessions devoted to students' presentations, there will also be two plenary sessions. Plenary speakers in past editions have been, Hillel Steiner, Anna Elisabetta Galeotti, Peter Jones, Gianfrancesco Zanetti, Jonathan Wolff, Michele Nicoletti, Philippe Van Parijs, Sebastiano Maffettone, Giovanni Giorgini, and Andrew Williams.

This year's keynote speakers will be:
David Miller (University of Oxford)
Alessandro Ferrara (Universita' di Roma, Tor Vergata)

Graduate students interested in giving papers should send their contributions (max 2500/3000 words in English) accompanied by a short abstract (max 300 words in English), by Sunday 25th May 2008. Papers may focus on any area within political philosophy, and presentations should take no longer than twenty minutes to allow at least another twenty minutes of discussion. Please note that the 25th of May is also the deadline for registration for anyone who wishes to attend the conference without presenting a paper. Conference registration is free of charge. Paper givers will be offered accommodation in local university colleges. Accommodation fees and details will be arranged individually. Anyone who wishes to attend the conference without presenting a paper can write to check availability. Details about meal arrangements and conference programme to follow.

Please address all correspondence (including paper submissions and additional inquiries) to the conference email address: graduate.conference@iuss.unipv.it Updated information will shortly be available on the conference website:

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.

Monday, 25 February 2008

ETMP paper

I've just sent my paper for the ETMP conference off to the organisers. I felt quite constrained by the 5000 word limit and the need to do quite a lot of expository work. As a result I'm not sure that I made my argument in the strongest way. I think it's the type of paper that is best given as a conference presentation, by which I mean its aim is more to start discussion (and get feedback on issues that interest me) than to make unassailable arguments. The organisers are going to distribute the papers to all participants prior to the conference, but for anyone else who is interested, I've published it on Google Docs here.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Justice and Ethics

I've been thinking about a crude distinction that one might want to draw between justice and ethics. Justice is obviously something different to ethics else it wouldn't have a separate name and be studied separately. But what is the difference between the two? 

I take it that ethics is broader than justice, in that ethical principles concern a wider range of action than principles of justice. I also take it that justice is usually talked about in terms of laws, duty, obligation etc., whereas ethics is not necessarily couched in those terms. 

So which areas does justice apply to if not all? This is a hugely controversial question, and is at the heart of the disputes between cosmopolitans and nationalists/statists. Traditionally justice has been conceived as a social and political issue - principles of justice are designed to regulate the interaction between states and their citizens. Cosmopolitans dispute this idea and argue that justice is a global issue. 

An alternative way of making this distinction which would be more specific to distributive questions would be to draw a line between comparative and non-comparative justice. Comparative justice is concerned with relative well-being, whereas non-comparative justice is concerned with absolute well-being. Sometimes this is made in the language of justice versus charity or humanitarianism. 

One thing that seems certain is that by labelling an issue a matter of justice it gains some normative weight that would not arise otherwise. Charity is supererogatory, justice is obligatory. Humanitarianism is desirable, but justice is duty. Given this evaluative element which the label carries, discussions of justice need to be clear about what they take it to refer to. 

Monday, 18 February 2008

Cosmopolitan Intuitions

My ethical intuitions are strongly cosmopolitan. By that I mean it seems obvious to me that moral and ethical principles are not constrained by distance or borders. You might agree, but in reality the way in which we live our lives suggests that most of us hold the opposite view.

What does the cosmopolitan intuition imply? Firstly, it implies that the fact that an individual is born or lives on the other side of the world is morally insignificant. My prima facie obligations to them are identical to my prima facie obligations to my neighbour. By prima facie obligations I mean those that arise from our shared humanity (however that is conceived). You might that that we don't have any prima facie obligations that arise from shared humanity, and if so, then I'm not engaging with you here. I'm assuming that most people accept that there are at least certain limitations on our behaviour towards others, such as a prohibition against wrongful killing. I cannot use the fact that someone belongs to a different nation to me as a basic moral reason for acting (or not acting) in a certain way towards them. Such facts (often called relational) are not moral relevant - they can't be used in moral reasoning at the fundamental level.

What does the cosmopolitan intuition not imply? Importantly, it does not imply that I am obligated to treat everyone exactly the same. I do not have to let my family 'go without' if devoting my time and energy to relieving a foreign famine would save more lives, or produce more utility. To put this a different way, it doesn't imply that relational facts can't be morally relevant at the non-fundamental, or applied, level. I just need a good reason why the particular relational fact is relevant in those circumstances. Most people will agree that the fact that someone is a member of my family is in many circumstances relevant to my action. However there are some circumstances in which it shouldn't be - when interviewing for a job for example. My reason for allowing the relational fact in must be independent at the pain of circularity. Anyone who is familiar with Bernard Williams will cry at this point that this demands 'one thought too many' - unfortunately my reply to that charge will have to wait for another day.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Graduate Research Seminar

I'll be speaking at our department's graduate research seminar on Wednesday 27th Feb. I'm going to present one of the conference papers that I am working on, although I'm not sure yet which one to choose. The paper on Miller is probably more accessible to a general audience, but I'm not sure if it will be done in time.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 10th Anniversary Conference

As well as the paper on David Miller that I am writing for the ALSP conference, I am also working on a seperate paper for a conference being held in Amsterdam in March. The conference is in honour of the 10th anniversary of the journal Ethical Theory and Moral Practice.

My paper is entitled 'Universalism and Moral Schizophrenia' and the abstract is below:

Universalist moral theories are often charged with lacking motivational or practical force; they are said to exhibit ‘ethical schizophrenia’ in that they force a split between one’s motives and one’s judgements (Stocker). Particularist critics argue that there is little point in theorising about ethics if all we are doing is a purely intellectual enterprise that has no practical relevance. When looking for principles that tell us how to behave morally we must make sure they have practical force; that they motivate people to act on them. Universalist theories are said to lack this force because they are too general, too abstract, and, worst of all, too demanding. The particularist solution is to take into account people’s commonsense ideas of their own moral obligations and so to reject impartialist abstraction in favour of embeddedness and immersion (Walzer, Miller). The charge is that particularist moral theory therefore possesses more relevance and legitimacy, as well as more practical force, than universalist moral theory ever can. However there is a trade-off here between these virtues and the equally important virtues of objectivity and impartiality. The particularist rejection of abstraction leads to a lack of critical force and a tendency toward conservatism. This paper will argue that given these problems with particularism, we should not simply reject universalism because of its ‘schizophrenic’ tendencies, but instead should find ways to treat this malaise. Many people share universalist intuitions to the effect that our moral duties are stronger and of wider scope than previously thought, but fail to act on these intuitions in any concrete way. This is an example of the gap between people’s moral intuitions and their actions which particularist critics of universalist moral theory point to. This paper will argue that we should be working to explain and understand the reasons for this gap, and looking for ways to close it. I will suggest that use of the concept of empathy to show why universalist intuitions really can have motivational force is a potential course of treatment.

Monday, 11 February 2008

ALSP 08 Abstract

The abstract for my paper for ALSP is reproduced below:

In recent work (National Responsibility and Global Justice 2007) David Miller has proposed a system of global basic rights, argued for via a humanitarian strategy, focusing on basic human needs. His position however remains non-cosmopolitan; he remains committed to strong national responsibility and social (rather than global) justice. His theory of social justice (Principles of Social Justice 1999) is pluralistic; he argues that there are three different principles of justice which apply within three different modes of relationship. One of these is the principle of need, which applies within solidaristic communities. Miller argues that need as a principle of justice is only feasible within such communities because they provide the necessary practical conception of need. This paper will explore the relationship between Miller's views in these two books. I will suggest that Miller's use of needs to underpin his system of basic rights might indicate that he is in some way committed to there being a global solidaristic community. If this were the case then it would provide ammunition for cosmopolitanism. I will suggest a way of reply for Miller, which will utilise his distinction between basic needs and societal needs to show how he might deny the existence of a global solidaristic community.


I'm currently writing a paper for the upcoming Association for Legal and Social Philosophy conference on Global Justice which be held at Nottingham University from 27th-29th March this year. I've had my abstract accepted - now I just have to finish the paper.

My paper is entitled 'A Global Solidaristic Community?'. It addresses the role that the concept of need plays in David Miller's theories of social and global justice, and asks whether there is substantial and problematic divergence between his two theories.
I have been assigned to one of the panels on 'Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism', and from the other titles it looks like we will all be focusing on David Miller's work in some way or another. At the moment our panel is scheduled for 9am on 28th - which may mean a smaller attendance than if it were scheduled later in the day!