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    Learning to live more equitably

    James, Susan (2023) Learning to live more equitably. Southern Journal of Philosophy , ISSN 0038-4283.

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    Seventeenth century European societies were in many ways radically unjust. While there is now a broad consensus that the members of a state are entitled to equal political rights, early-modern theorists lived in a world where most people – all women and many men, together with members of non-Christian religions and some Christian sects – were excluded from voting and political office. Where there is now a consensus that spouses should have the same basic rights regardless of their gender, early modern marriage laws subjected women to the power of their husbands. While slavery is nowadays held to be an appalling abuse, this was the era in which the European slave trade was established. These are troubling reflections. They distance us from our philosophical forebears whose sense of justice must, it seems, have been vastly different from and even inferior to our own. They may even prompt us to wonder why we should study them. What is to be gained from trying to understand the attitudes of people whose ways of life were shockingly unjust? Seductive as these doubts may be, I aim to show that they are not decisive. The early modern philosophers whose work I shall discuss thought deeply about what justice is, and about the virtues that enable us to live justly. For them, understanding justice was not only a theoretical project - a matter of articulating distributive norms that could in principle be implemented. They were equally concerned with practical questions about the qualities we need to cultivate if we are to be capable of making just judgments. How can we become more just? The answers they give, as I argue in the concluding section of this paper, are a source of inspiration and at the same time contain a warning. Inspiringly, they offer sophisticated insights into habits and dispositions that hold back our understanding and block our ability to act justly. Here are ideas from which we can learn. By way of warning, they show how taxing it is to act on these insights and how easily we fall short of them. While identifying limitations within early modern conceptions of justice may be relatively straightforward, identifying comparable shortcomings in our own attitudes is arguably less so. Early modern philosophical culture offers us a mirror in which to examine our own failures to practise justice.


    Item Type: Article
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): equity, justice, Hobbes, Locke, Bodin, arbitrators, Levellers, Tryon, Drake, Cavendish, Astell.
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Historical Studies
    Depositing User: Susan James
    Date Deposited: 06 Mar 2023 13:26
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 18:20


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