Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Papers on Human Rights and on Comparative Assessments of Justice

Two new papers by Pablo Gilabert (Concordia University):

1. Humanist and Political Perspectives on Human Rights [pdf]
(Forthcoming in Political Theory)

This paper explores the relation between two perspectives on the nature of human rights. According to the “political” or “practical” perspective, human rights are claims that individuals have against certain institutional structures, in particular modern states, in virtue of interests they have as members of them. According to the more traditional “humanist” or “naturalist” perspective, human rights are pre-institutional claims that individuals have against all other individuals in virtue of interests characteristic of their common humanity This paper argues that once we identify the two perspectives in their best light we can see that they are complementary and that in fact we need both to make good normative sense of the contemporary practice of human rights. It explains how humanist and political considerations can and should work in tandem to account for the nature, content and justification of human rights.

2. Comparative Assessments of Justice, Political Feasibility, and Ideal Theory [pdf]
(Forthcoming in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice)

What should our theorizing about social justice aim at? Many political philosophers think that a crucial goal is to identify a perfectly just society. Amartya Sen disagrees. In The Idea of Justice, he argues that the proper goal of an inquiry about justice is to undertake comparative assessments of feasible social scenarios in order to identify reforms that involve justice-enhancement, or injustice-reduction, even if the results fall short of perfect justice. Sen calls this the “comparative approach” to the theory of justice. He urges its adoption on the basis of a sustained critique of the former approach, which he calls “transcendental.” In this paper I pursue two tasks, one critical and the other constructive. First, I argue that Sen’s account of the contrast between the transcendental and the comparative approaches is not convincing, and second, I suggest what I take to be a broader and more plausible account of comparative assessments of justice. The core claim is that political philosophers should not shy away from the pursuit of ambitious theories of justice (including, for example, ideal theories of perfect justice), although they should engage in careful consideration of issues of political feasibility bearing on their practical implementation.

Pablo Gilabert is Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy, Concordia University, Montreal.

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