The Nottingham Centre for Normative Political Theory

Research: Justice

Justice and the Politics of Recognition

Recent work on justice has focused on the issue of 'the politics of distribution versus the politics of recognition'. The former is associated with what is allegedly the traditional way of thinking about problems of justice from Aristotle to Rawls. The latter is associated either with the philosophy of Hegel or with contemporary poststructuralism/postmodernism, with its focus on 'identity politics'. The issue is which of these two ways of thinking about problems of justice is most appropriate in society today, in what some people think is a 'postmodern' world. Please contact Tony Burns if you have an interest in this area of research.

Justice in Education

Questions of social justice and the provision and content of education are very closely intertwined. Schools educate the next generation of citizens. Consequently, questions in the field of educational justice range across issues such as: what values ought educational institutions aim to impart to children to make them functioning citizens? Is the cultivation of the capacity for autonomous decision making an appropriate aim of school education? Should the state allow, or even support, religious education? Is private education permissible? How much control should parents have over what their children learn about in school? Is equality of opportunity the correct foundation for the provision of education? What opportunities should be equalised, and how is this best achieved? As such, questions of justice in education overlap with other important areas of normative theory such as egalitarianism, rights, multiculturalism, and democracy. David Stevens is the fellow of CONCEPT with a particular interest in this area.  

Justice and the 'Digital Divide'

The rise of the new technologies has transformed restrictions on human actions and public policies. The work of David Stevens looks at developments such as the Internet and world wide web have created new inequalities, exacerbated old ones, and removed or lessened others. Questions of how to deal with these issues, because they include the distribution of benefits and burdens amongst people, are ultimately questions of social justice. How access to technology and the training to utilise it should be distributed, and who picks up the tab, are pressing normative issues. Similarly, the new technologies provide mechanisms for political action, including radicalisation and religious and political extremism. These raise questions concerning censorship, market regulation, freedom of speech, and so forth. 

Justice and the Environment

The question of how the tenets of justice might be applied to environmental questions has been a central concern in environmental political theory in recent years, as considerations of both distribution and recognition raise difficult problems in this area. For example can and should the 'community of justice' be extended beyond the conventional human-centred sphere to include sentient animals, all life, or even entire ecosystems? Can such an extension be grounded in the concept of autonomy? How can we understand justice in relation to future generations of human beings who do not yet exist? Does the loss of irreplaceable natural values raise special problems for justice theory? The work of Mathew Humphrey, Matthew Rendall, and David Stevens relates to such questions about the relationship of the environment and justice. 

Justice and Future Generations

For the first time in history, man-made disasters such as climate change or nuclear war might damage the earth for hundreds or thousands of years. Yet if economic growth continues, our descendents are likely to enjoy higher incomes than we do. Costly measures to fight climate change will benefit people who may well, in some respects, be richer than we are. When balancing the interests of present and future people, should we 'discount the future', as many economists argue? Or should we accord gains and losses to our descendants the same weight as our own, as the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change maintained? Might this not then require us, as Stern's criticsargued, to make huge sacrifices for the sake of small gains to future rich people, simply because there will be so many of them? Can people have rights if they don't yet exist, and can we harm them if these particular persons would never have been born in the absence of our actions? If you have an interest in this research area please contact Matthew Rendall

Group rights and multiculturalism

Liberal theories insist on the uniformed application of individual rights, and the neutrality of liberal principles vis-à-vis alternative conceptions of the good. By way of contrast, multiculturalists see liberal principles as a reflection of the particular values of western secular culture with its emphasis on individualism, and advocate instead a series of legal and institutional reforms to protect the rights of minority cultural groups. Liberals have responded with the claim that group rights will undermine the rights of individuals, as some minority groups – and particularly traditional religious communities - will use these privileges to discriminate against their own internal minorities, and especially to deny basic rights to women. Can questions of justice be resolved within a universalist paradigm? Who or what is the appropriate agent of legal recognition: groups or individuals? Can a prudent balance be struck between the claims of individuals and those of minority groups? Can these issues be resolved within a juridical framework of rights? The work of Mark Wenman and Gulshan Khan in the Centre explores these and related questions. 

Aggregation and risk imposition

Suppose we must decide between saving someone from agonizing pain and annoying several hundred million people by interrupting the broadcast of the World Cup. Many believe that we should save the suffering person however many other people suffer minor annoyance. Many also would say that no number of mild headaches could outweigh an agonizing death. But why then don't we require everyone to drive at ten miles per hour? Here too, as Alistair Norcross points out, we would annoy many people - but also save others from death and agony. What's the difference? Some think a risk is permissible if everyone stands ex ante to gain. But are such lotteries really fair ex post to those who have the misfortune to lose out? If you have an interest in working in this area please contact Matthew Rendall.  

Justice and Property Rights

What do claims of justice imply for the recognition of the right to hold property? Is the acquisition of private property just? What degree of inequality in property holdings should society tolerate? What rights, exactly, should a 'right to hold property' endow upon the property owner? The current research of Chris Pierson is centrally concerned with questions about property rights such as these.



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