Mark R. Brawley
Two approaches currently enjoy widespread popularity among foreign policy analysts: Analytical Liberalism and Neoclassical Realism. On the surface, they seem remarkably similar. Both emphasize domestic factors, yet each claims to employ domestic variables in a distinct fashion. How do they differ? To answer that question, it would be helpful to reflect upon examples where scholars applying each approach have addressed the same case, allowing us to contrast their descriptions directly. Few such comparisons exist, however. Instead, as is apparent to even the casual observer, each approach fits neatly into its own niche. Neoclassical Realism appeals to scholars addressing security policy, whereas Analytical Liberalism dominates research in international political economy. Why would both approaches enjoy limited applicability? Here too, a direct comparison of their arguments might illuminate their comparative strengths and weaknesses. A review of how each approach works provides insight into their respective strengths and weaknesses. Under certain conditions, the key traits of the approaches can be revealed. These conditions identify a series of cases deserving closer empirical analysis, which would provide evidence concerning the relative utility of each approach.
Marxists believe that an understanding of human society presupposes an understanding of the nature of the production of its material surplus and the nature of control over that surplus. This belief forms part of the “hard core” of the Marxist scientific research program. This hard core is complemented by a set of auxiliary hypotheses and heuristics, constituting what Imre Lakatos has called a scientific research program’s “protective belt.” The protective belt is a set of hypotheses protecting a research program’s hard core. Over the past century and a half, Marxists have populated the protective belt with an economic theory, a theory of history, a theory of exploitation, and a philosophical anthropology, among other things. Analytical Marxism is located in Marxism’s protective belt. It can be seen as a painstaking exercise in intellectual housekeeping. The exercise consists in replacing the tradition’s antiquated, superfluous, or degenerate furnishings with concepts, methods, and auxiliary hypotheses from analytic philosophy and up-to-date social science.
The three most influential strands in analytical Marxism are, roughly: its reconstruction of Marx’s theory of history, historical materialism; its philosophical anthropology, including the theory of freedom; and its theory of exploitation, including the theory of class.
Dictatorships have dominated global politics for hundreds of years, from the pharaohs of Egypt to the absolute monarchs of Europe. Though democracy has since spread to much of the world, about a third of today’s countries are still ruled by dictatorship. And yet, compared to democracies, we know very little about how dictatorships work, who the key political actors are, and where decision-making powers lie. Political processes are opaque, and information is often intentionally distorted. Political survival depends not on maintaining the favor of voters, as in democracies, but on securing the backing of a considerably smaller coalition of supporters. The absence of a reliable third party to enforce compromises among key players means that power-sharing deals lack credibility and the threat of forced ouster is omnipresent. Uncertainty pervades authoritarian politics.
Modern autocrats respond to this uncertain environment in a variety of ways. They use political parties, legislatures, elections, and other institutions typically associated with democracies to lessen their risk of overthrow. Despite the façade of democracy, these institutions are key components of most autocrats’ survival strategies; those that incorporate them last longer in power than those that do not. The specific ways in which autocratic institutions are used and the extent to which they can constrain leadership choices to prevent consolidation of power into the hands of a single individual, however, vary enormously from one dictatorship to the next. Better understanding the conditions that push autocracies down a path of collegial versus strongman rule remains a critical task, particularly given that the latter is associated with more war, economic mismanagement, and resistance to democratization.
The idea that states should provide a means-tested guaranteed minimum income for citizens who are unable to meet their basic needs is widely shared and has been a central component in the evolution of social citizenship rights in existing welfare states. However, an increasing number of activists and scholars defend the more radical option of establishing a universal basic income, that is, an unconditional income paid to all members of society on an individual basis without any means test or work requirement. Indeed, some political philosophers have argued that basic income is one of the most important reforms in the development of a just and democratic society, comparable to other milestones in the history of citizenship rights, such as universal suffrage or even the abolishment of slavery. Basic income or similar ideas, such as a basic capital or a negative income tax, have been advanced in many versions since the 18th century in different parts of the world and under a great variety of names. However, while these were previously often isolated and disconnected initiatives, basic income has more recently become the object of an increasingly cumulative research effort to shed light on the many aspects of this idea. It has also inspired policy developments and given rise to experiments and pilot projects in several countries.
William Smith and Kimberley Brownlee
Civil disobedience and conscientious objection are distinct but related social practices that display people’s opposition to specific laws, policies, directives, or schemes. In general, these two practices arise from people’s deeply held commitments. Civil disobedience is more overtly communicative and political than conscientious objection. Civil disobedience is also, almost by definition, a breach of law, which people engage in to push for changes in either governmental or nongovernmental practices. Conscientious objection, by contrast, does not always break the law: sometimes it is a legally protected form of nonconformity. It is also less overtly political than civil disobedience, stemming as it does from people’s desire not to participate in practices they oppose, rather than from their ambition to change those practices. Both practices can be morally justified under specific conditions that, among other things, include doing only limited harm to other people. Moreover, under even more specific conditions, both practices could be said to be protected by moral rights. Civil disobedience and conscientious objection generate pressing normative and political challenges concerning the nature of the rule of law, respect for the rule of law, conditions for deliberative democracy, equality before the law, policing, adjudication, and punishment.
Ever since Aristotle, the comparative study of political regimes and their performance has relied on classifications and typologies. The study of democracy today has been influenced heavily by Arend Lijphart’s typology of consensus versus majoritarian democracy. Scholars have applied it to more than 100 countries and sought to demonstrate its impact on no less than 70 dependent variables. This paper summarizes our knowledge about the origins, functioning, and consequences of two basic types of democracy: those that concentrate power and those that share and divide power. In doing so, it will review the experience of established democracies and question the applicability of received wisdom to new democracies.
The study of constitutionalism often begins with the question of what a constitution is. Sometimes the term refers to a single legal document with that name, but the term “constitution” may also refer to something unwritten, such as important political traditions or established customs. As a result, scholars sometimes distinguish between the “Big-C” constitution, that is, the constitutional document, and the “small-c” constitution, the set of unwritten practices and understandings that structure political life.
Constitutionalism is typically associated with documents and practices that restrict the arbitrary exercise of power. Most constitutions contain guarantees of rights and outline the structures of government. Constitutions are often enforced in court, but nonjudicial actors, like legislatures or popular movements, may also enforce constitutional provisions.
The relationship between democracy and constitutionalism is not at all straightforward, and it has received an enormous amount of scholarly attention. Constitutionalism seems to both undergird and restrain democracy. On the one hand, constitutions establish the institutions that allow for self-government. On the other, they are often said to restrict majoritarian decision-making.
Related to this question of the relationship between constitutionalism and democracy are questions about how constitutions change and how they ought to change. Can written constitutions change without changes to the text, and can judges bring about these changes? Do extratextual changes threaten or promote democracy?
Finally, not only do individual constitutions change, but the practice of writing constitutions and governing with them has also changed over time. In general, constitutions have grown more specific and flexible over time, arguably, allowing for a different kind of constitutional politics.
Contextualism denotes a set of ideas about the importance of attention to context. The topic of the article is contextualism in normative political theory/philosophy, in relation to the part of political theory concerned with systematic political argument for normative claims—evaluative claims about the legitimacy, justice, or relative goodness of acts, policies or institutions, and prescriptive claims about what we should do, which decision procedures we should follow, or how institutions should be reformed.
In terms of what counts as context, it denotes facts concerning particular cases that can be invoked to contextualize a specific object of political discussion such as a law, an institution, or the like.
Contextualism denotes any view that political theory should take context into account, but there are many different views about what this means. Contextualism can be characterized by way of different contrasts, which imply that the resulting conceptions of contextualism are views about different things, such as justification, the nature of political theory, or methodology.
Here the focus is on characterizations of contextualism in terms of methodology and justification that provide different views about what role context can play in political argument. In the course of doing this, a number of problems facing the different versions of contextualism are identified, including problems of reification and status quo bias, problems of securing that political theory is both critical and action guiding while still being contextualist, and the problem of delimiting the relevant context. Different ways of avoiding these problems are sketched. It is argued that there are forms of contextualism that can avoid the problems, but that these might not be as distinctive as some contextualists think. This also means that contextualism might, in fact, be a more common approach to political theory than sometimes suggested.
Critical Theory is an umbrella term to denote those theorists who take up the task described by Karl Marx as the self-clarification of the age struggles and wishes of the age. As such, two elements are crucial: (a) a connection to social and political struggles of emancipation, and (b) self-reflexivity.
Critical Theorists differ—sometimes quite fundamentally—about what these two elements require (and how they relate). For example, some such theorists (such as Max Horkheimer or Michel Foucault) take the normative orientations of struggles for emancipation as something that does not require grounding at the level of theorizing, while others (such as Jürgen Habermas) think such grounding is the main task of Critical Theory, securing moral validity for the struggles. These substantive differences also mean that there are no accepted methods on which all Critical Theorists would agree. To stay with the example, those Critical Theorists who reject discursive grounding of its normative standards tend to engage in genealogy and other disclosing forms of social critique; while those who seek discursive grounding employ reconstructive and/or constructivist methods.
The existence of fundamental substantive and methodological differences among proponents of Critical Theory means that it is difficult, or perhaps even impossible, to give a uniform characterization of it. Sometimes, Critical Theory is defined institutionally. Then it is denoting a succession of theorists (often classed into different generations) who are connected to the Institute of Social Research and/or the Philosophy Department in Frankfurt am Main, Germany—the so-called “Frankfurt School.” However, this institutional definition has only limited use. The disagreements among thinkers within the Frankfurt School tradition can run deep—sometimes deeper than they run with theorists, like Foucault, who are not connected institutionally to it. And it is an open and contested question whether everyone institutionally connected to the Frankfurt School is engaged in Critical Theory. Thinking systematically about the task of self-reflexively connecting to struggles of emancipation requires a different approach.
It is helpful to understand Critical Theory as a broad and varied tradition, with core cases (such as Horkheimer’s 1937 text “Traditional and Critical Theory”), but no sharp boundaries. Understood that way, there cannot be a fully comprehensive treatment of Critical Theory, but it is possible to think of this tradition as involving multiple morphing sequences, whereby approaches are amended in various ways over time and thereby change into something else. One important dividing line is how historical or transcendental one takes Marx’s task to be—some proponents of Critical Theory are, in effect, historical contextualists, while others seek to establish the conditions of possibility of human interaction as such.
Frej Klem Thomsen
The conceptualization and moral analysis of discrimination constitutes a burgeoning theoretical field, with a number of open problems and a rapidly developing literature. A central problem is how to define discrimination, both in its most basic direct sense and in the most prominent variations. A plausible definition of the basic sense of the word understands discrimination as disadvantageous differential treatment of two groups that is in some respect caused by the properties that distinguish the groups, but open questions remain on whether discrimination should be restricted to concern only particular groups, as well as on whether it is best conceived as a descriptive or a moralized concept. Furthermore, since this understanding limits direct discrimination to cases of differential treatment, it requires that we be able to draw a clear distinction between equal and differential treatment, a task that is less simple than it may appear, but that is helpful in clarifying indirect discrimination and statistical discrimination. The second major problem in theorizing discrimination is explaining what makes discrimination morally wrong. On this issue, there are four dominant contemporary answers: the valuational and expressive disrespect accounts, which hold that discrimination is wrong when and if the discriminator misestimates or expresses a misestimate of the moral status of the discriminatee; the unfairness account, which holds that discrimination is wrong when and if the discriminator unfairly increases inequality of opportunity; and the harm account, which holds that discrimination is wrong when and if the discriminator harms the discriminatee. Each of these accounts, however, faces important challenges in simultaneously providing a persuasive theoretical account and matching our intuitions about cases of impermissible discrimination.
Iwao Hirose and Shlomi Segall
Equality is an undisputed political and moral value. But until quite recently, political philosophers have not fully explored its complexity. The literature on equality and egalitarianism is vast, complex, and multilayered—with over thirty-five years of philosophical discussion. Specifically, there are three major questions to ask about equality. First, what is equality? This question can be unpacked into two sub-questions. Distinguishing first between formal and distributive accounts of equality, we may ask what the currency of egalitarianism can be. The article goes through currencies such as welfare, resources, and capabilities, showing their respective strengths and weaknesses. A second important sub-question here is: what are the relevant scope and temporal dimensions of equality? Among whom is equality valuable, and precisely in what time frame is it valuable?
This hints at the second major question, namely concerning the value of equality. Is equality indeed valuable, or are we confusing it with some other value, be it giving priority to the worse-off, or lifting individuals above a certain threshold of deprivation? The article goes through some famous criticisms of equality’s purported lack of value (e.g. the leveling down objection), explores some potential answers, and then examines the relative strength of equality’s two main rivals, namely priority and sufficiency.
The third major question concerns what the proper account is of egalitarian justice. In particular, setting aside the question of currency, should our conception of distributive justice be informed by responsibility-sensitive accounts, or rather be focused on a responsibility-insensitive accounts that moreover place an emphasis on equality of relations rather than individuals’ holdings? We explore this in the two final sections, one devoted to understanding luck egalitarianism, and the other to its rival, relational egalitarianism.
Ethics and foreign policy have long been considered different arenas, which can only be bridged with great analytical and practical difficulty. However, with the rise of post-positivist approaches to foreign policy, much greater attention has been paid to the way that ethical norms and moral values are embedded within the way states understand their own actions and interests, both enabling and constraining their behavior. Turning to these approaches raises a different question to whether ethics and foreign policy can mix, that of how best to understand, analyze, and critique the role that ethics inevitably play within foreign policy making? What are required are perspectives which, instead of constructing an ethical theory in the abstract and applying it to a concrete situation, start from the ethics of the foreign policy arena itself.
Two ways of looking at ethics are especially useful in this regard: a virtue-ethics approach and a relational-ethics approach. These can be best explored by observing how they work in a particular foreign policy context, such as the highly controversial U.K. decision to join the invasion and occupation of Iraq from 2003. This was a policy where ethics came particularly to the fore in both the decision-making process and its justification. The case study can therefore help show the types of questions virtue and relational ethics ask, the way they work as analytical and critical frameworks, and the problems they raise for the role of ethics in foreign policy. They also point toward important future directions for research in the area.
James Stacey Taylor
The first question that is often raised in a discussion of the ethics of voting is whether or not there is a duty to vote. The view that there is a duty to vote is supported by two main arguments. The first holds that since the value of democratic governance is high persons should vote to preserve stable democracy. The second is that there is a duty to vote because if nobody voted the effects would be disastrous. The first of these arguments is criticized by Jason Brennan, who holds that since each individual vote will play little to no role in preserving stable democracy nobody has a duty to vote. The second is criticized by Loren Lomasky and Geoffrey Brennan, who argue that it is incomplete unless its supporters can show that democracy needs everyone to vote to continue. The question of whether there is a duty to vote naturally leads to the question of whether it is permissible for persons to vote in their own self-interest. Jason Brennan argues that persons should only (morally) vote for candidates or policies that they are justified in believing would promote the common good. It is unclear, however, what “the common good” consists of. This discussion of the morality of voting in one’s self-interest leads to the question of whether voting for a politician because she has made campaign promises is morally analogous to a voter selling her vote. In discussing this issue it is important to distinguish between the “restricted” defense of markets in votes (that the purchased votes are to be cast in favor of what the buyer is justified in believing is the common good) and the “unrestricted” defense of such a market (that purchased votes can be cast in any way the buyer pleases). Much of this discussion focuses on the morality of unrestricted markets in votes. Christopher Freiman has offered four main arguments in favor of such a market: (1) that it will make both the buyer and the seller better off; (2) that it is required by respect for voter liberty; (3) that it is relevantly similar to other practices that are currently allowed, such as logrolling; and (4) that it would enable electoral outcomes to better express voter preferences. None of these arguments are persuasive. The first is based on illicitly inferring from the claim that persons would voluntarily buy and sell votes if a market were allowed to the claim that they would thereby desire that this market be allowed. The second argument is flawed because if some persons would prefer that a market not be allowed, this could provide a sufficient reason to restrict their liberty by precluding them from selling their votes. The third argument overlooks important disanalogies between votes traded between voters, and votes traded between legislators. The fourth argument is based on the implausible assumption that vote sellers would not misrepresent their political preferences in a market for votes.
The concept of exploitation is often invoked in situations where relatively impoverished people are treated unfairly in economic and social contexts. While the claim that exploitation involves taking unfair advantage is broadly accepted, there is little consensus about what fairness requires and whether unfairness is seriously wrong in the context of exchanges. One family of accounts claims that exploitation involves the maldistribution of resources, either because exploitative transactions result in distributions that violate substantive norms of fairness, or because procedural flaws in the way exploitative transactions come about entail that their outcomes are unfair.
A second, domination-based approach to exploitation claims that the moral flaw embodied by exploitative relations is the exploiter’s disrespectful use of his power over the exploitee. While exploiters’ domination of others may lead to maldistributions, defenders of the domination-based approach argue that distributive unfairness is neither necessary nor sufficient for exploitative relations.
These approaches both face two kinds of challenges. The first concerns the scope. Neither appears to provide necessary and sufficient conditions that are adequate to capture all and only cases commonly described as exploitation. The second concerns the normative status. Exploitation is typically assumed to be morally impermissible, yet neither approach seems to satisfactorily explain how exploitations that nevertheless generate significant welfare gains for both parties can be wrong.
John Stuart Mill is a liberal icon, widely praised in particular for his stirring defense of freedom of speech. A neo-Millian theory of free speech is outlined and contrasted in important respects with what Frederick Schauer calls “the free speech ideology” that surrounds the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and with Schauer’s own “pre-legal” theory of free speech. Mill cannot reasonably be interpreted to defend free speech absolutism if speech is understood broadly to include all expressive conduct. Rather, he is best interpreted as defending an expedient policy of laissez-faire with exceptions, where four types of expression are distinguished, three of which (labeled Types B, C, and D) are public or other-regarding, whereas the fourth (labeled Type A) is private or self-regarding. Types C and D expression are unjust and ought to be suppressed by law and public stigma. They deserve no protection from coercive interference: they are justified exceptions to the policy of letting speakers alone. Consistently with this, a moral right to freedom of speech gives absolute protection to Type B public expression, which is “almost” self-regarding. Type A private expression also receives absolute protection, but it is truly self-regarding conduct and therefore covered by the moral right of absolute self-regarding liberty identified by Mill in On Liberty. There is no need for a distinct right of freedom of expression with respect to self-regarding speech. Strictly speaking, then, an expedient laissez-faire policy for public expression leaves the full protection of freedom of private expression to the right of self-regarding liberty.
An important application of the neo-Millian theory relates to an unjust form of hate speech that may be described as group libel. By creating, or threatening to create, a social atmosphere in which a targeted group is forced to live with a maliciously false public identity of criminality or subhumanity, such a group libel creates, or significantly risks creating, social conditions in which all individuals associated with the group must give up their liberties of self-regarding conduct and of Type B expression to avoid conflict with prejudiced and belligerent members of society, even though the libel itself does not directly threaten any assignable individual with harm or accuse him or her of any wrongdoing of his or her own. This Millian perspective bolsters arguments such as those offered by Jeremy Waldron for suppressing group libels. America is an outlier among advanced civil societies with respect to the regulation of such unjust hate speech, and its “free speech ideology” ought to be suitably reformed so that group libels are prevented or punished as immoral and unconstitutional.
Market-based economies outperform the alternative forms of economic organization on almost every measure. Nevertheless, this leaves open what the optimal degree of government regulation, government-provided social insurance, and macroeconomic adjustment is. Most economists seem to favor mostly, but not completely, free markets. Although regulation can in principle correct certain market failures, whether it will do so in practice depends in part on how pervasive and damaging corresponding government failures will be.
Philosophers, unlike economists, tend to think that questions about the value of the free market are not settled entirely by examining how well free markets function. Some philosophers even claim that markets are intrinsically unjust. In their view, markets encourage wrongful exploitation, lead to excessive economic inequality, and tend to induce people to treat each other in inhumane ways.
Among those philosophers who are more sanguine about markets, one major question concerns the moral status of economic liberty. Some philosophers, such as John Rawls, hold that economic liberty is purely of instrumental value. Citizens should be granted a significant degree of economic freedom only because this turns out, empirically, to produce good consequences. However, other philosophers, such as Robert Nozick and John Tomasi, argue that economic freedom is valuable in part for the same reasons that civil and political liberties are valuable—as a necessary means to respect citizens’ autonomy.
Mirya R. Holman and Erica Podrazik
Religiosity is a combination of public and private religious practices, beliefs, and experiences. While diversity exists in how religiosity is measured, three central components are consistent across the scholarship: organizational religious engagement, non-organizational religious activities, and subjective religiosity. To measure organizational religious engagement, scholars frequently look at church attendance and participation in congregational activities. Non-organizational religious activities include frequency of prayer, reading the Bible or other religious materials, or requesting others to pray for you. Subjective or intrinsic religiosity includes self-assessed religiousness (where respondents are asked, “How religious would you consider yourself?”) or strength of affiliation, as well as specific beliefs, such as views of the afterlife, hell, and whether the Bible is the literal word of God.
Various groups express different levels of religiosity. One of the most well-documented and consistent group-based differences in religiosity is that women, including white women and women of color, are more religious than are men across religions, time, and countries. Women report higher rates of church attendance, engagement in religious practices (including prayer and reading the Bible), and more consistent and higher levels of religious interest, commitment, and engagement. Many explanations for these gaps in religiosity exist including differences in personality and risk aversion, gendered socialization patterns, and patriarchal structures within churches. Scholars have engaged in robust debates around the degree to which explanations like risk assessment or gender role theory can account for differences in religious behavior between men and women. Yet unresolved, these discussions provide opportunities to bring together scholarship and theories from religious studies, sociology, gender studies, psychology, and political science.
Religiosity shapes a variety of important political and social attitudes and behaviors, including political ideology and participation. The effects of religiosity on political attitudes are heterogeneous across men and women—for example, highly religious women and men are not equally conservative, nor do they equally oppose gay rights. The process by which religiosity shapes attitudes is also gendered; for example, the effects of women’s religiosity on political attitudes and participation are mediated by gendered attitudes. And while religiosity increases political participation, the effects are not even for men and women, nor across all groups of women. Future research might examine the differing effects of religiosity on subgroups of men and women, including evaluations of how intersecting social categories like race, gender, and class shape both levels of religious engagement and the degree to which religiosity influences other political and social behavior.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
All over the world, indigenous peoples are engaged in domestic and international struggles over their ability to self-determine. Though the specific character and aims of each struggle are different, most resonate with the definition found in the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which states in article 3 that “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development.” The rights extended to “all peoples” under the UN Charter (1945) now explicitly include all indigenous peoples. On the other hand, the right to a State, or what could be called external self-determination, does not seem to follow as article 46, section 1, UNDRIP stipulates that “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, people, group, or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act contrary to the Charter of the United Nations or construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States.” Even singular documents like the UNDRIP highlight the tension that exists between indigenous peoples’ quest for self-determination and national majorities who exercise control over them through the international state system.
The topic of indigenous self-determination is approached from many angles. Legal positivists strive to understand the implications of legal documents like UNDRIP, the International Labour Organization Convention 169, treaties, domestic laws, and, increasingly, sui generis, indigenous law. In debates about the nature, extent, and importance of self-determination, normative political theorists continue to study relationships between territory, citizenship, sovereignty, colonialism, human rights, justice, and institutions including the various legal orders previously mentioned. Increasingly, and combining the legal and normative with the strategic, indigenous scholars have taken the lead in debates that evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of various political approaches in promoting and securing what they believe to be their inherent right to self-determination under difficult circumstances. These range from local cultural revitalization to international indigenous social movements, and often involve evaluating trade-offs between direct action and co-operation with states or between treaty negotiations versus legal actions. In summary, indigenous self-determination is a broad field of study with many approaches, most of which endeavour to understand and ultimately help achieve the emancipation of indigenous peoples from centuries of problematic colonial relations.
Serious inequalities in health abound the world over. For example, there are marked differences in average life expectancy both between and within countries. Individual life expectancy varies by more than 30 years between the highest national average and the lowest. Even worldwide, average life expectancy lags more than 10 years below the highest national average. Within single countries, inequalities in life expectancy between the top and bottom groups of men, for example, have been recorded at 7 years in England and Wales and at almost 15 years in the United States, albeit using rather differently constituted groups.
Intuitively, these inequalities in health will strike many observers as unjust. But why are they unjust, if they are? Are inequalities in health unjust per se? If not, what makes some inequalities in health unjust, but not others?
According to an influential analysis, inequalities in health are unjust when they are avoidable, unnecessary, and unfair. Thus, if an inequality in health is inevitable, it is not unjust. Following this analysis means that answering these questions requires a combination of empirical and normative understanding. On the empirical side, some understanding of the socially controllable causes of health is required. On the normative side, various dimensions of fairness have to be understood. In addition, some appreciation of the interaction between these two sides is needed..
Each side of the question is fairly complicated. With respect to the requirements of fairness, three subsidiary controversies can be distinguished. To begin with, should a general principle of equality be applied directly to the case of health? An alternative approach traces the injustice of avoidable inequalities in health to the independent injustice of their social causes instead. Next, should inequalities be defined across social groups (such as class or race within countries or, indeed, countries themselves)? If so, which groups? An alternative is to define inequalities across individuals. Finally, should equality be defined in comparative terms (as is traditional)? An alternative is to define the requirements of fairness non-comparatively (as a matter of “priority” to the worst off). Even if a given inequality in health is avoidable, some resolution of all three controversies is needed to decide whether that inequality is unfair.
A wide range of issues in moral, political, and legal philosophy fall under the heading of “intergenerational justice,” such as questions of justice between the young and the old, obligations to more-or-less distant past and future generations, generational sovereignty, and the boundaries of democratic decision-making.
These issues deserve our attention first because they are of great social importance. Solving the challenges raised by aging, stable pension funding, and increasing healthcare costs, for example, requires a view on what justice between age groups demands. Climate change, resource depletion, environmental degradation, population growth, and the like, raise serious concerns about the conditions under which future people will have to live. What kind of world should we bequest to future generations?
Second, this debate has theoretical significance. Questions of intergenerational justice force reconsideration of the fundamental commitments (on scope, pattern, site, and currency) of existing moral and political theories. The age-group debate has led to fundamental questions about the pattern of distributive justice: Should we care about people’s lives considered as whole being equally good? This has implausible implications. Can existing accounts be modified to avoid such problematic consequences?
Justice between nonoverlapping generations raises a different set of questions. One important worry is about the pattern of intergenerational justice—are future generations owed equality, or should intergenerational justice be cast in terms of sufficiency? Another issue is the currency of intergenerational justice: what kind of goods should be transferred? Perhaps the most puzzling worry resulting from this debate translates into a worry about scope: do obligations of justice extend to future people? Most conventional views on the scope of justice—those that focus on shared coercive institutions, a common culture, a cooperative scheme for mutual advantage—cannot easily be extended to include future generations. Even humanity-based views, which seem most hospitable to the inclusion of future generations, are confronted with what Parfit called the nonidentity problem, which results from the fact that future people are mostly possible people: because of the lack of a fixed identity of future people, it is often impossible to harm them in the comparative sense.