Writings from 2010

The philosophical and political implications of 'The Spirit Level'

If you want a primer on Wilkinson and Pickett's joint book The Spirit Level, then the pieces here are worth a look (one by me). And for a comprehensive set of responses to their critics, including a pre-emptive strike against Gerry Hassan’s recent piece on OK this is all you need. (It is worth noting too that Wilkinson and Pickett’s work is peer-reviewed; that of their critics isn’t.)

For me as a philosopher, the thing about The Spirit Level that is most exciting is that as a study of the pervasive harms of inequality it strongly suggests that John Rawls's 'difference principle', which says that inequalities are OK provided that they materially benefit the worst off, a principle that has dominated political philosophy for 40 years, is simply wrong. Empirically wrong.

Our responsibility to the future: justice or love?

How ought we to think of our relationship to — our responsibility for — future people? Is this question (a question pressing all the harder in the wake of the recent failure to adequately safeguard those future people, at Copenhagen) essentially a question of justice? The rallying cry at Copenhagen was, "What we do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!" But what if it's not enough to call for justice?

"I'm not a racist, but..."

Many voters are 'against immigration' and against foreign aid (they say things to me on the doorstep along the lines of: "We should take care of our own; that's enough"); and yet they insist that they are not racists. This includes many Tories and the whole of UKIP – and many ordinary voters.

My reaction, perhaps like yours, is to suspect that, actually, in many cases they are racists. But it is hard to prove that; dangerous to say it (at least, to someone's face) – and, I increasingly suspect, not always true, not by any means.