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Rough justice: Predicaments of philosophy, history, and world politics

Pitt, Peter (2014) Rough justice: Predicaments of philosophy, history, and world politics. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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In this dissertation I explore some recent philosophical attempts to address questions related to global justice and world politics, principally through the work of Amartya Sen and Thomas Pogge. My discussion focuses on some central intractable puzzles, and I argue that global justice is best seen as a predicament – an unanswerable, impossible question which cannot be readily dismissed, but also as a topic of deliberation and contestation which, once predicated, requires a depth and seriousness of response which confounds conventional disciplinary and conversational boundaries.

The disciplinary decorum of liberal political philosophy minimises attention to the historical context of the theorist, along with evidence and interpretive argument about history and social theory. Writers such as Pogge and Sen have pushed against those constraints, attempting to develop more empirically informed and practically oriented accounts. However, I argue that they have underestimated the need for a deeper engagement with history, and for a more radical challenge to implicit understandings of the character of the world. Without a more robust engagement with the power-infused politics of the real world, the abstraction of political philosophy will continue to produce accounts which are inadequate to the dimensions of domination, the character of human suffering, and the dynamic and strategic character of normative argument.

To counteract the bias towards conciliation and public reason in recent liberal political philosophy, I emphasise a history of deeply connected reciprocal engagement, cooperation, and struggle. This orientation allows a better sense of the power and persistence of the rhetoric of justice, and particularly its capacity to motivate social and political movements of resistance to domination. Liberal humanitarianism unduly privileges the beneficiaries of past injustice. A perspective of rough justice is needed – attuned to the dialectic between facticity and evaluative aspiration which the concept of justice has long embodied, and recognising claims to rough equality, fair treatment, and reparation – on the basis of a broadly connected, deeply reciprocal, and deeply conflictual history.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Supervisor: Bowden, Peta
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