Justice and Self-Interest


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The individualistic tendencies of liberalism have been strongly criticized by so-called communitarian authors who argue for a stronger awareness of the importance of the community in the life of individuals. The most important element of the communitarian critique is that liberalism presents the individual as an autonomous and independent entity before it engages with others in social practices: individuals are not seen as defined by their membership in communities or practices, but as free to decide to be, or not, a part of any such community, whether religious, political, sexual, or else.

So, the problem of liberalism, according to communitarians, is that it presents individuals as disconnected from social practices and communities and refuses to see that their identity as individuals, their well-being, and their values are constituted by and in their participation in these communities [ 15 ].

Self-determination and individual freedom can only be exerted within social practices and with reference to the common good. The language of rights of liberal philosophy separates individuals in an artificial way from the social practices in which they are embedded. Communitarian authors generally criticize contemporary individualism, and particularly the individualism of the market, in which individuals seem to be interested only in chasing their own claims and interests and not in feeling any responsibility for the needs of others [ 15 ].

In the view of communitarian thinkers, individualization is a morally doubtful process that tends to undermine the organic ties in society and, therewith, the social responsibilities of individuals. Some communitarians refer to traditional societies in which individuals found moral orientation in the values of family, school, church, and cultural and political associations.

The strong social cohesion of the Gemeinschaft is opposed to the emphasis on the individual and the lack of communal ties in the modern Gesellschaft. While the Gemeinschaft can be typified by strong mutual bonds and feelings of togetherness, the individuals in the Gesellschaft see society merely as instrumental to their own personal ends. Apart from the nostalgic and moralistic atmosphere that pervades much of its discourse, however, it is not clear how communitarianism resolves the problem of how to reach consensus on a societal level concerning what kind of life we should live.

The idea of solidarity, according to which individuals give up their own interests to serve the common good, seems to fit very well with communitarianism and its emphasis on the importance of society and the social group. In such a notion, it is difficult to acknowledge the importance of individuality and autonomy. Moreover, the range of individual differences and of their expression in different identities is restricted by the effort to maintain the unity of the group.

In contrast, modern theories of solidarity try to reconcile the recognition of individual differences with an inclusive interpretation of solidarity. In this process, identities are affirmed and recognized as different ways to meet those expectations. Dean calls this reflective solidarity to describe the difference with conventional solidarity. Axel Honneth comes to a comparable understanding of solidarity and the recognition of difference. Where modern law provides a medium for the recognition of universal rights, solidarity requires a medium to express the characteristic differences between individuals.

According to Honneth, the cultural self-understanding of a society provides the criteria for the social esteem of persons because their abilities and achievements are judged in an intersubjective process according to the degree to which they help to realize culturally defined values. While the group is the first instance for such recognition of individual differences, and for the self-esteem resulting from it, such solidarity can be extended to other members of society [ 18 ]. One can speak of societal solidarity to the extent that every member in society is in a position to esteem himself or herself in relation to a shared value horizon.

Honneth and Dean distance themselves from the traditional concepts of solidarity as put forward by communitarian authors, in which the values of the group leave little room for personal development and individual differences in relation to life style, sexual orientation, religion, or race. This idea goes beyond the liberal idea of the unencumbered individual who is free to make any choices he or she sees as important, and for whom society is a hindrance, not a condition for personal development and self-esteem.

It is not an exclusive solidarity of the group or class, but an inclusive solidarity that promotes self-esteem by way of solidarity, self-respect, and protection of rights [ 18 ]. As discussed at the beginning of this article, solidarity is nowadays mainly viewed from the perspective of self-interest: individuals are prepared to serve the collective interest because they expect a return when they are in need of support and medical assistance.

For example, Rahel Jaeggi argues that solidarity expresses a deeper commitment than is necessary for such a coalition. Many attitudes of solidarity do not seem to be directed to simple self-interest or strategic calculations. Solidarity also refers to relations of support and understanding between individuals engaged in cooperative practices. As a moral concept solidarity implies a sense of non-calculating cooperation based on identification with a common cause.

In the Kantian tradition, justice is interpreted as a matter of universal duties between individuals that can be justified on the basis of rational deliberations.

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Love is the relationship in which individuals build up trust and self-confidence, starting with the relationship between mother and child. Rights express the recognition of and respect for persons as agents capable of acting on the basis of reasons, as morally responsible persons. Solidarity is the experience of recognition of one-self as a person with a particular identity in the intersubjective context of mutual recognition.

Solidarity is an essential part of the ethical life as it is a necessary precondition for individual self-esteem. The forms of recognition associated with love, rights, and solidarity provide the intersubjective protection for the process of articulating and recognizing individual identity based on a positive relation to one-self. Liberal theorists do not regard values of personal commitment and recognition as unimportant, but they do not regard it as the task of society to promote such values or to interfere in personal plans or life forms.

The task of society is to enable individuals to facilitate their personal plans on the basis of a principle of fair procedures. The central ethic of procedural liberalism is that of the right rather than that of the good. There are of course areas in society where individuals bond and share a conception of the good life, like families, friendship, social clubs, and neighborhoods, but on an institutional level, such ties and bonds are irrelevant: institutions like health care or education are collective instruments to help individuals to reach their individual goals and fulfil their life plans.

However, one can argue whether such a limited role for communal ethics is feasible or desirable. According to Charles Taylor, a society is more than just instrumental for individual life plans. It is also a place for common action and common identification with values. Identification with a common cause, or a shared vision of the common good, helps to promote self-discipline and asks the members of a community or nation to do things that they normally would try to avoid [ 7 , p. A neutral state undermines the shared sense of the common good which is required for citizens to accept the sacrifices of the welfare state [ 11 ].

When citizens distance themselves from a shared communal life, they are less inclined to support the welfare arrangements that are based on these common views. In fact, this can lead to a legitimation crisis in which citizens are asked to make increasing sacrifices in the name of justice, while they have less in common with those for whom they are making sacrifices. This is actually the problem in many solidarity based institutions in various European countries where individuals are asked to make high financial and personal sacrifices to deal with the increased pressure on institutions for health and social care due to the ageing of the population and the increased costs of medical care.

This support from individuals may dwindle when they are confronted with the prospect of diminishing returns when they eventually need help themselves. Margalit makes a distinction between ethics and morality : while ethics is concerned about thick relations between individuals, that is, relations that call for actions, morality regulates our thin relations which express our concerns for humanity [ 22 , 23 ]. The former leads to a society that is immoral , the latter to a society that is indifferent [ 23 ]. A society that is dominated by liberal principles and rights only risks becoming an indifferent society which is hardly interested in the well-being of fellow citizens.

Such a society is particularly at risk of becoming indifferent to its responsibility for vulnerable individuals who cannot help themselves, like people with dementia, learning disabilities, psychiatric problems, and others struggling with a loss of autonomy, failing health, and a lack of security.

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Care for these vulnerable individuals will not only support their health and social needs, but will also keep them included in our society. Care for them can be regarded as an expression of what Margalit calls shared humanity [ 23 ].

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Failing to provide decent care for vulnerable people does not only express a lack of ethical concern, but is at the same time a violation of the rules of humanity in which respect of human dignity is central. Solidarity with the vulnerable groups in society can be called humanitarian solidarity: this type of solidarity is not based on personal interests but on identification with the values of humanity and responsibility for the other [ 24 , 25 ]. Humanitarian solidarity is a common cause Taylor that goes beyond the self-interest and indifference typical for a society based on liberal rights only.

Humanitarian solidarity is a commitment that can define a particular society and should never be abandoned in favor of the rational self-interest of the liberal discourse. The concept of solidarity tries to capture the commitment to the well-being of the other by emphasizing the importance of recognition of identities and the promotion of dignity in the context of personal relationships.

This is not to say that justice should be discarded in the arrangement of health care policies and practices in favor of solidarity; solidarity does not attempt to offer an alternative for distributive justice. But solidarity must be regarded as an important corrective to arrangements of health care practices that are based on a just distribution of goods only. The author is grateful to the Brocher Foundation in Hermance, Geneva, for awarding him a residential fellowship during which much of the research for this paper was conducted and most of the text was prepared.

National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics. Theor Med Bioeth.

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The Development of Justice and Self-Interest during Childhood | SpringerLink

Published online Nov Ruud ter Meulen. Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer.


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Ruud ter Meulen, Email: ku. Corresponding author. This article has been corrected. See Theor Med Bioeth. Abstract Solidarity has for a long time been referred to as the core value underpinning European health and welfare systems. Solidarity in health care The idea of solidarity is commonly used in European countries which have a tradition of national insurance systems that provide security against the impact of disease, old age, and unemployment.

Self-Interest and Solidarity

The theory of justice As soon as solidarity is based on personal interest only, it becomes difficult to differentiate it from the liberal idea of justice in which individual interests are balanced against one another in the context of a social contract. On Plato's view, the just person is one with a harmonious soul. That is to say, she lacks the psychic tension of having incompatible desires.

This theory raises several points which deserve brief mention. First, it would be a mistake to suppose that Plato thought one could come to have a harmonious soul by the simple expedient of not having any desires at all. Indeed, this interpretation is so clearly absurd Plato does not even pause to consider it. Second, it is not clear whether it is the fact of conflict in one's soul or the perception of conflict this is the problem. Plato, as well as most of those who have been influenced by Freud, think it is the fact of conflict that is the evil.

Yet it is not at all clear why this should be so. Third, it may be that some desires have a privileged position, such that if one satisfies them one will find that satisfying some others is either unnecessary or counter-productive. Plato holds that the desire for knowledge is of this type. As far as I can tell, he offers no argument for this claim, although, of course, the Platonic theory seems to require it.

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