June 6–8 2013

Following Rawls, the prevailing political thought aims at some form of consensus about justice. Rawls conceives of this as a consensus about an initial choice situation for principles of justice, as a rational consensus about which principles to choose, or as an “overlapping consensus”, which a pluralist society should reach with regard to the political conception of justice he proposes.

The idea of a consensus on justice was questionable from the beginning. For some theorists this was made evident through Robert Nozick’s strong disagreement with Rawls’s fundamental moral intuition that the inequalities of natural endowments are undeserved and call for social redress or compensation. Likewise, Rawls’s idea that individuals are equal as moral persons does not allow for a consensus. Going back to Aristotle, John Kekes argued that people who habitually harm others have a lower moral worth than people who habitually do good. In this case, isn’t Rawls’s rationalist creed that all persons should be convinced by the same arguments, and must therefore reach a rational consensus on principles of justice, highly questionable? In her systematic study of justice Dagmar Herwig showed, as early as 1984, that throughout the history of political philosophy there are irreconcilable conceptions of social and political justice. While egalitarians hold it is just to establish arithmetic, numeric or simple equality, non-egalitarians like Plato, Aristotle or Nietzsche conceive of a just distribution of goods as a distribution in proportion to existing inequalities. For non-egalitarians, it is just to allot equal shares only to equals, not to everyone.

The conference takes as its point of departure the well-researched conviction that there are fundamental disagreements about social and political justice. On the one hand, the conference strives for a more detailed comprehension of the various aspects of the irreconcilable pluralism of conceptions of justice. On the other hand, it investigates the reasons for the fundamental opposition of existing moral intuitions and conceptions of justice. Are these reasons social, cultural, psychological, historical, or even biological? One main focus of the conference will be the relation between conceptions of justice and images of humanity. Do the opposing conceptions of justice derive mainly from opposing anthropological convictions about the equality, or inequality, of men? Do the different understandings of human worth, or value, provide a key to comprehending the fundamental disagreements about social and political justice? In addressing these questions, the conference aims at a more adequate understanding of the concept of justice and the human sense of justice, which can be achieved beyond the idea of the consensus.