Structural Injustice and the Place of Attachment
Journal of Practical Ethics 5(1): 1-21
Reflection on the historical injustice suffered by many formerly colonized groups has left us with a peculiar account of their claims to material objects. One important upshot of that account, relevant to present day justice, is that many people seem to think that members of indigenous groups have special claims to the use of particular external objects by virtue of their attachment to them. In the first part of this paper I argue against that attachment-based claim. In the second part I suggest that, to provide a normatively defensible account of why sometimes agents who are attached to certain external objects might also have special claims over them, the most important consideration is whether the agents making such claims suffer from structural injustice in the present. In the third part I try to explain why structural injustice matters, in what way attachment-based claims relate to it and when they count.
Accepting Collective Responsibility for the Future
Journal of Practical Ethics 5(1): 22-52
Existing institutions do not seem well-designed to address paradigmatically global, intergenerational and ecological problems, such as climate change. In particular, they tend to crowd out intergenerational concern, and thereby facilitate a “tyranny of the contemporary” in which successive generations exploit the future to their own advantage in morally indefensible ways (albeit perhaps unintentionally). Overcoming such a tyranny will require both accepting responsibility for the future and meeting the institutional gap. I propose that we approach the first in terms of a traditional “delegated responsibility” model of the transmission of individual responsibility to collectives, and the second with a call for a global constitutional convention focused on future generations. In this paper, I develop the delegated responsibility model by suggesting how it leads us to understand both past failures and prospective responsibility. I then briefly defend the call for a global constitutional convention.
The Death Penalty Debate: Four Problems and New Philosophical Perspectives
Journal of Practical Ethics 5(1): 53-80
This paper aims at bringing a new philosophical perspective to the current debate on the death penalty through a discussion of peculiar kinds of uncertainties that surround the death penalty. I focus on laying out the philosophical argument, with the aim of stimulating and restructuring the death penalty debate. I will begin by describing views about punishment that argue in favour of either retaining the death penalty (‘retentionism’) or abolishing it (‘abolitionism’). I will then argue that we should not ignore the so-called “whom-question”, i.e. “To whom should we justify the system of punishment?” I identify three distinct chronological stages to address this problem, namely, “the Harm Stage”, “the Blame Stage”, and “the Danger Stage”. I will also identify four problems arising from specific kinds of uncertainties present in current death penalty debates: (1) uncertainty in harm, (2) uncertainty in blame, (3) uncertainty in rights, and (4) uncertainty in causal consequences. In the course of examining these four problems, I will propose an ‘impossibilist’ position towards the death penalty, according to which the notion of the death penalty is inherently contradictory. Finally, I will suggest that it may be possible to apply this philosophical perspective to the justice system more broadly, in particular to the maximalist approach to restorative justice.