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Philosophers at ANU

Last modified 1 Jan 70
Philosophy Program

Australian National University
12 - 13 November 2002

Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, University of Chicago

Beyond the Social Contract:
Toward Global Justice

The social contract tradition has great strengths in thinking about justice. Its conception of justice as the outcome of a bargain among rational independent adults rightly emphasizes the worth of human dignity and of values of mutual respect and reciprocity. Nonetheless, such theories prove unable to provide satisfactory approaches to three of the most urgent problems of justice in today's world. In these lectures I argue that a version of the "capabilities approach," an approach that emphasizes the diversity of human abilities and the worth of opportunities for fully human functioning, can take us further.

The text of the book-length manuscript upon which the lectures are based is available by clicking here.

Lecture 1: Manning Clark Lecture Theatre 1 4pm, Tues 12 Nov 2002
Capabilities and the Mentally Disabled  text
Respondent: Lenore Manderson (University of Melbourne)  text

Social contract theories imagine the bargaining agents as "free, equal, and independent," "fully cooperating members of society over a complete life." It may be questioned whether such approaches can even adequately handle severe cases of physical disability. What is clear is that severe mental disabilities must, in such theories, be handled as an afterthought, after the basic institutions of society are already designed. Thus the mentally disabled are not among those for whom and in reciprocity with whom society's basic institutions are structured. I argue that this is not acceptable. A satisfactory account of human justice requires recognizing the many varieties of disability, need, and dependency that "normal" human beings experience, and thus the very great continuity between "normal" lives and those of people with lifelong mental disabilities. I argue that the capabilities approach, starting from a conception of the person as a social animal, whose dignity does not derive entirely from an idealized rationality, can help us to design an adequate conception of the full and equal citizenship of the mentally disabled.

Lecture 2: Manning Clark Lecture Theatre 1 11am, Wed 13 Nov 2002
Human Capabilities Across National Boundaries  text
Respondent: Zoya Hasan (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  text

Social contract theories take the nation state as their basic unit. For reasons internal to the structure of such theories, they are bound to do so. Taking John Rawls's The Law of Peoples as a best case, I argue that such theories cannot provide adequate approaches to problems of global justice. To solve these problems we must appreciate the complex interdependencies of citizens in different nations, the moral obligations of both individuals and nations to other nations, and the role of transnational entities (corporations, markets, nongovernmental organizations, international agreements) in securing to people the most basic opportunities for a fully human life. I argue that a version of the capabilities approach helps us think well about what the goal of an international politics should be, and also about the role of national and transnational political and economic entities in a just world order.

Lecture 3: Manning Clark Lecture Theatre 1 4pm, Wed 13 Nov 2002
Justice for Non-Human Animals  text
Respondent: Peter Singer (Princeton University)  text

Because social contract theories start from the allegedly crucial importance of human rationality, defining both reciprocity and dignity in terms of it, they deny that we have obligations of justice to non-human animals, and view such obligations as we might have as derivative and posterior. We should correct such views in two ways: by recognizing the extent of rationality in non-human animals, and by rejecting the idea that only those who can join in the bargaining that leads to the social contract are subjects of a theory of justice. I argue that the capabilities approach, with its emphasis on a continuum of types of capability and functioning, is well equipped to do better with urgent issues of justice toward non-human animals than are other approaches currently under consideration.

Note: The Tanner Lectures are public lectures. No registration required.

Learn more about the Tanner Lectures on Human Values by visiting the organization's webpage at the University of Utah.

Visit Martha Nussbaum's webpage.

Further Information: Di Crosse, RSSS, ANU
Email: Tanner.Lectures@coombs.anu.edu.au
Tel: (+61 2) 6125-2341