Rethinking Inequality: Philosophical Reflections on Recent Empirical Research
University of Ottawa, November 16-17, 2012
Rising economic inequality in advanced industrialized states is a phenomenon much discussed by the media in recent years, and much studied by sociologists, social epidemiologists, and scholars of public health. Political theorists and philosophers too have been concerned with abstract notions of equality, and to what extent material inequalities within states are compatible with the more general notion that all individuals are entitled to equal respect. These arguments have however largely failed to consider that high levels of inequality may be correlated with a host of social problems, such as poorer public health, lower levels of social trust, and higher crime rates.
This workshop asks philosophers to reflect on empirical findings about the social and economic effects of inequality. At the same time, it asks social scientists to consider whether philosophical arguments about equality and egalitarianism can shed light on possible normative and policy responses to the negative effects of rising social and economic inequality.
We are interested in scholarship focused on these questions: Are philosophical ideas about the notion of equality able to aid in the interpretation of the new data on inequality? Can social scientists benefit from philosophical analysis distinguishing among conceptions of equality? Does the new data press us towards adopting any particular egalitarian perspectives – welfare or resource based or other – as best equipped to respond to the consequences of rising inequality? Additional questions participants may choose to pursue include whether normative theories about equality and inequality need to respond to “real world” facts at all, and what the relationship between the empirical and philosophical ought to be. Participants may also choose to combine reflection on these and other “meta” questions with discussion of aspects of welfare that have been newly illuminated by data on inequality.
Those interested to participate should send abstracts (300 words) to Monique Deveaux (mdeveaux (at) uoguelph.ca) and Patti Tamara Lenard (patti.lenard (at) uottawa.ca) by May 30, 2012.