the very unofficial blog loosely associated with the graduate program in philosophy
23 March 2012
Jessie Payson at IASH
March 28, 2012
Jessica Payson, Graduate Fellow, Philosophy
IASH Fellows’ Speaker Series: “Structural Justice and the Objects of Responsibility”
Structural injustice presents unique problems for determining what individuals can be said to carry responsible for. In the most straightforward applications of a causal responsibility model, what individuals are responsible for can be determined by calculating deviations from a given baseline. An individual who causes a certain amount of harm is thought to owe that much in return. In a role-based responsibility model, the content of individuals’ responsibilities can be specified by reference to the tasks and expectations associated with the role. An individual’s responsibility is determined by reference to her position in a structure, and the content of the responsibility is typically meant to perpetuate this structural framework. Both causal and role-based models of responsibility suggest that the meaning of individuals’ responsibilities is self-contained: what an individual is responsible for can be explained only in reference to the individual’s own doings or positioning, as measured against either a stable baseline or given structural framework. Efforts towards structural justice, in contrast, aim to question and amend such background structures. Additionally, changes to this background are not brought about by individuals acting discretely, but instead by individuals acting together. The meaning of individual responsibilities is not entirely self-contained, but instead is explicable only through reference to what others are doing to collectively intervene in structural functioning. The topic of this paper is to explain the content of individual responsibilities in this context. If an individual, despite her limited causal effects, can do something meaningful towards justice, what is the “something” that can appropriately be said to carry value? How does an individual contribution become meaningful?