We can distinguish between three moral approaches to war: pacifism, realism, and just war theory. There are various theoretical approaches to war within the just war tradition. One of the central disputes between these approaches concerns whether war is morally exceptional (as held by exceptionalists), or morally continuous with ordinary life (as held by reductive individualists). There are also significant debates concerning key substantive issues in the ethics of war, such as reductivist challenges to the thesis that combatants fighting an unjust war are the moral equals of those fighting a just war, and the challenge to reductivism that it undermines the principle of noncombatant immunity. There are also changing attitudes to wars of humanitarian intervention. One under-explored challenge to the permissibility of such wars lies in the better outcomes of alternative ways of alleviating suffering. The notion of unconventional warfare has also come to recent prominence, not least with respect to the moral status of human shields.
Prioritarianism is a principle of distributive justice. Roughly, it states that we should give priority to the worse off in the distribution of advantages. This principle has received a great deal of attention in political theory since Derek Parfit first introduced the distinction between egalitarianism and prioritarianism in his Lindley Lecture, published in 1991. In the present article, prioritarianism is defined in terms of a number of structural features of the principle. These structural features are also used to distinguish between this principle and other distributive principles such as utilitarianism, egalitarianism, and leximin. Prioritarianism is mostly discussed as an axiological principle that orders outcomes with respect to their (moral) value, but it is also clarified how it can be incorporated in a criterion of right actions, choices, or policies. Furthermore, different aspects of the principle that need to be further specified to arrive at a full-fledged distributive theory are discussed, including the weights that give priority to the worse off, currency (what kind of advantages should be distributed), temporal unit (the temporal span in which one has to be worse off in order to be entitled to priority), scope (whether the principle applies globally or only domestically, and whether, for example, future generations and non-human animals are covered by the principle), and risk. For each aspect, different possible views are distinguished and discussed. Finally, it is discussed how prioritarianism may be justified, for example, by outlining and discussing the argument that, unlike certain other distribution-sensitive principles such as egalitarianism, prioritarianism is not vulnerable to the so-called “leveling down objection.”
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.
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.
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.
The punishment of criminal offenders constitutes a topic that has for many years received comprehensive attention, both in narrower academic circles and in broader public debate. This is not surprising. State-mandated infliction of death, suffering, or deprivation of freedom on citizens should from the outset be met with hesitation, and constitutes a practice which clearly calls for more profound considerations. Though the theoretical discussion of punishment has dealt with many conceptual and ethical issues, from an overall point of view, it is dominated by two questions.
The first question, as indicated, concerns the justification of legal punishment. Why and under what conditions is it justified for the state to impose punishment on perpetrators? The traditional answers have been split between the utilitarian approach, according to which punishment can be justified in terms of its future desirable consequences, mainly crime prevention, and the retrospectively oriented retributivist approach, which justifies punishment in terms of just deserts. In the modern discussion, the picture has become more diverse. Consequentialist and retributivist justifications have been developed in many different versions and several attempts have been made to combine forward- and backward-looking considerations into coherent schemes. Moreover, genuinely new accounts of penal theories have also been presented.
The second question concerns the issue of how different crimes should be punitively responded to. Though this question is obviously theoretically closely related to the first, it is also clear that the question of how individual offenders should be punished for their respective misdeeds prompts a plethora of more detailed challenges such as: What should determine the gravity of a crime? How should one determine the severity of a punishment? Are there types of punishment that should never be used in the criminal justice system (e.g., capital or corporal punishment)? Much of the contemporary discussion within penal theory is devoted to the task of providing principled solutions to these detailed challenges.
Søren Flinch Midtgaard
In the standard view, A acts paternalistically toward B if and only if: (i) A restricts B’s liberty, (ii) A acts against B’s will, (iii) A acts for B’s own good. For example, the state may tax or prohibit smoking in the interest of citizens’ health in circumstances in which such measures are resisted by them or some of them. Telling counterexamples have been produced to each of these conditions. In the revised view, A acts paternalistically toward B if and only if: (i) A acts so as to influence B by the use of means other than rational persuasion; (ii) A does not regard B’s will as structurally decisive (i.e., A takes the prevention of voluntary self-regarding harm to constitute a reason for influencing B); (iii) A does so for B’s good or to affect matters within B’s legitimate sphere of control; (iv) A’s act cannot be justified without counting its beneficial effects on B in its favor. The wrongness of paternalism lies in the way in which a paternalistic act by A toward B infringes B’s autonomy: A does not consider B’s will authoritative in determining how A should treat B in B’s self-regarding matters―A subjects B’s will to his in this sense. Hard paternalism as thus understood should be distinguished from soft paternalism or anti-paternalism. According to the latter, the prevention of voluntary self-regarding harm is never a good reason for interference. The latter is justifiable only to prevent involuntary self-regarding harm―harm pertaining to acts that are not his or do not represent his values or preferences. Hard paternalism may, pace what soft paternalism or anti-paternalism claims, sometimes be justifiable. This is particularly so when the voluntary self-regarding harm involved is significant and the infringement of liberty required to prevent it limited or acceptable given the harm at stake. The question of when a good or an advantage is profound and when an infringement of liberty is limited is, however, difficult and worthy of further investigation. Paternalistic justifications should be distinguished from other liberty-limiting principles. That is, they should, first, be distinguished from moral paternalism focusing on improving the person’s moral character and hence his moral well-being or on making the person better (as opposed to the improvement of the person’s physical and psychological condition focused on by ordinary or welfare paternalism). Second, it should be distinguished from legal moralism concerned with barring conduct that is intrinsically morally bad (that is, bad for reasons independent of how it affects people’s character or their physical or psychological condition).
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.
Rational choice theory may seem like a separate theoretical approach with its own forbidding mathematics. However, the central assumptions of rational choice theory are very similar to those in mainstream political behavior and even interpretive sociology. Indeed, many of the statistical methods used in empirical political behavior assume axiomatic models of voter choice. When we consider individual voting behavior, the contribution of rational choice has been to formalize what empirical political scientists do anyway, and provide some new tools. However, it is when we consider collective voting choice—what elections mean and what kind of policy outcomes result—that rational choice leads to new, counterintuitive insights. Rational choice also has a normative dimension. Without voter rationality the traditional understanding of democracy as popular choice makes little sense.
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.