PUBLIC JUSTIFICATION AND CAPABILITY PLURALISM (JOPS)

The project is funded by The Croatian Science Foundation, call IP-2020-02

Grant number: IP-2020-02-8073


About JOPS

One of the fundamental problems in  philosophy of politics is the justification of public evaluative standards in democracy in the context of pluralism. Evaluative standards are criteria by which we judge (support, or reject) moral rules, principles of fairness, character traits, and personal and social conditions. For example, evaluative standards inform the justification or legitimacy of fundamental principles of the constitution, fundamental rights and freedoms, and their application, such as the legitimacy of coercive medical intervention, or diagnostic practices in psychiatry. Tensions arise when, for different evaluative standards, we seek justification within, institutional or outside institutional, democratic practices. In these circumstances, the legitimate pluralism amongst  persons is often neglected, with the imposition of majority-accepted standards. To eliminate the risk of discrimination and stigmatization of those whose perspectives deviate from that of the majority, a method of justification of public evaluative standards is needed, which will equally take into account the perspective of all relevant subjects in circumstances of pluralism. Such cases are found in the history of psychiatry: for example, when behaviors that did not conform to public standards for the appropriate behavior of women were diagnosed as hysterical disorder (Warren,. 2009, Willoughby, 2018). The project positions in the context of discussions that have a strong scientific reputation in the field of political philosophy. The fundamental approach developed in the project derives from John Rawls’s theory of public justification, which this author refers to as “the public reason” (Rawls, 2005). The basic idea behind the theory of the public reason is that the justification for public decisions should respect pluralism and not use sectarian reasons. These latter are the reasons  which may not be accepted by some relevant agents. One of the innovative aspects of our proposal is the extension, in relation to Rawls’s original formulation, of justifications through the method of the public reason and public evaluative standards by which we evaluate the contents of individual lives, not just the basic structure of society and the basic principles of justice. This extension is justified by the need to protect the same fundamental rights and freedoms that are the foundations of the constitution, while also allowing every individual involved to have his or her perspective respected. An example is the attribution of a disease state in psychiatry and decisions about the behavior of persons classified according to such conditions. We believe that this innovative aspect of our research is one of the interesting areas of the possible extension of the application of the method of the public reason. Specifically, classifications in psychiatry strongly affect fundamental rights, freedoms and opportunities, and equality status, and psychiatry includes particularly vulnerable groups whose perspectives are often overlooked.

The capability approach, in the formulation of Martha Nussbaum, poses an important challenge to Rawls’s theory because of the attention that, according to her criticism, is directed exclusively at rational and reasonable individuals (Nussbaum, 2006). In fact, Rawls’s thesis is that pluralism in justification is respected when we use those reasons that any individual can accept as free and reasonable. This, however, excludes persons who do not have such powers. Thus, moral and political pluralism among rational and reasonable persons is respected, but fails to recognize the cognitive and emotional differences between people. We agree with the thesis that the needs and perspectives of persons who are not rational and reasonable must be respected. Nussbaum seeks to address the need for full acceptance of pluralism through the capability approach (Nussbaum, 2000, 2006). The capability approach responds to the above challenge by listing ten central human capabilities that are prerequisites for a dignified human life. Society has to provide every person with the opportunity to exercise his or her capability and thus pay attention to him or her even if the subject in question is not rational and reasonable. Among other things, a lack of such capabilities may determine the condition of disease or disorder, or serve as a justification for a particular action upon the person in such circumstances. However, the risk of such an approach is the imposition of standards that are not properly justified, excessively paternalistic and, therefore, do not respect autonomy and pluralism (Claassen, 2018). We see the solution in a reconciliation that involves an altered form of public justification inspired by the proposal of Gerald Gaus (1996; 2011). Evaluative standards should be justified based on perspectives that include the specific reasons of each person. These perspectives are made of beliefs, preferences, etc. of an individual. Still, there is a difference between ours and Gauss’s proposal. For him, this model of the justification of evaluative standards is meaningful only if individuals can adopt them with the support of reactive moral emotions (moral condemnation, regret, remorse, etc.). We believe that this requirement is too strong, as shown in the cases of justification of evaluation standards in psychiatry where individuals who do not have the capacity to use such emotions are excluded in advance from the realm of subjects to whom we need to provide the justification in question.

 The major scientific contributions of our project are the following:

  1. We investigate the justification for public evaluative standards of traits and conditions in human lives that respond to the need to avoid reasons that are valid from only some perspectives. We do this by being inspired by Rawls’s model.  The guiding hypothes is that public evaluative standards are legitimate and a guarantee of discrimination is present, only when publicly justified, with justification aimed at all relevant subjects.
  2. We bring the focus of moral attention to all persons and their perspectives, regardless of emotional and cognitive diversity. We achieve this by being  by Martha Nussbaum, who states that moral status and attention should also be given to those individuals who are not rational and reasonable by guaranteeing or supporting the exercise of relevant capabilities.
  3. We establish a theoretical connection between Nussbaum’s and Rawls’s inspiration by abandoning Rawls’s reference solely to idealized, rational and reasonable agents and by retaining inspiration from Gaus’s theory of the public reason (at least when talking about valuing individual lives). According to him, public evaluative standards should be justified by a strong adherence to pluralism, that is, by taking into account the diversity of individuals’ specific reasons. Yet we respect pluralism even more broadly than Gaus. Specifically, the Gausian model requires the exclusion of those agents who cannot possess moral reactive emotions. On the other hand, our goal is to embrace a broader pluralism that is determined by the diversity of cognitive and emotional human powers.
  4. We apply the public justification method to the determination of relevant evaluative standards in the field of psychiatry, specifically in the cases of autism spectrum and antisocial personality disorders.