The research carried out within this axis is structured around the evaluation of justice and the legitimacy of social institutions, understood as sets of rules allowing cooperation between individuals, at the national and international levels. The work consists of: (a) examining the founding concepts and arguments of contemporary political discourse and practice (freedom, equality, tolerance, deliberation, representation, etc.); and (b) study the deployment of these concepts in specific institutional frameworks such as schools, healthcare systems, judicial institutions, etc. Our work is organized around four research projects that host transversal collaborations.
Axis directors: Pablo Gilabert and Christian Nadeau
THEME I – Representation and deliberation: the institutions of democracy
Led by: Christian Nadeau
Other contributors: Arash Abizadeh, Charles Blattberg, Marc-Antoine Dilhac, Pablo Gilabert, Jacob Levy, Dominique Leydet, Colin Macleod, Jocelyn Maclure, Victor Muniz-Fraticelli, Pierre-Yves Néron, Emmanuel Picavet, Juliette Roussin, Robert Sparling and Daniel Marc Weinstock
The particularity of this theme lies in that it will bring into dialogue theoretical developments on the foundations of democracy and reflections on institutional choices in the context of modern representative democracy. The contact between these two areas of the political philosophy of representative democracy has so far been insufficient. It will be a question of seeing how the debate of recent years which opposes two types of justification of democracy, “epistemic” or “ethical”, illuminates or can be illuminated, by questions of institutional decisions. We will examine the affinities between the two theories for the choice of different mechanisms of representation and electoral systems. We will also look at the independent normative constraints that may affect the debate between proponents of an “ethical” approach and advocates of an “epistemic” conception of democracy.
Project 1.1. – Theories justifying democracy: epistemic or ethical?
Led by: Marc-Antoine Dilhac
Other contributors: Arash Abizadeh, Charles Blattberg, Pablo Gilabert, Jacob Levy, Dominique leydet, Jocelyn Maclure, Christian Nadeau, Emmanuel Picavet, Juliette Roussin and Daniel Marc Weinstock
A state that is not democratically governed would appear to us to lack legitimacy in its actions both domestically and internationally. What, then, can confer on representative democracy such a status that it appears to us to be the only legitimate system of political organization? This is the fundamental question addressed by this theme. In the recent literature on the subject, there are two opposing explanations. Some believe that representative democracy is justified by ethical considerations—the moral equality of all citizens—while others argue that representative democracy is justified (comparatively) by the epistemic benefits and better outcomes it generates. This project is thus interested in deepening the reflection on the theories justifying democracy and in examining whether questions of institutional choice can shed new light on the debate.
Project 1.2. – Democracy and institutional mechanisms
Led by: Arash Abizadeh
Other contributors: Charles Blattberg, Marc-Antoine Dilhac, Jacob Levy, Colin Macleod, Victor Muniz-Fraticelli, Pierre-Yves Néron, Juliette Roussin, Robert Sparling et Daniel Marc Weinstock
The way in which the institutions of democracy are designed and organized raises several important ethical questions. However, thinking about the design of democratic institutions through the prism offered by the debate between conceptions justifying democracy could certainly help to make better institutional choices. It is this possibility that this project proposes to explore. Primarily, we look at the arguments that the two theories justifying democracy could offer for or against different institutional mechanisms of representation and electoral systems, such as proportional representation or election by lot. In short, the objective of this project is to examine the support that the different justifications of democracy can bring to the different positions in the debate on the forms that democratic institutions should take.
THEME II – Justice and new ethical frontiers
Led by: Marc-Antoine Dilhac and Jocelyn Maclure
Other contributors: Allison Christians, Peter Dietsch, Naïma Hamrouni, Dominic Martin, Frédéric Mérand, Jonathan Simon and Daniel Marc Weinstock
The challenges of justice that contemporary democratic societies are facing are not static. They evolve with social changes and technological developments. Artificial intelligence is taking more and more place in the world of work and in private life, but also within public institutions and public policies. Because of the distance it creates between decision-making and human intervention, this technology raises important questions of justice and accountability for decisions made by artificial intelligence algorithms. Similarly, the adoption of medical assistance in dying policies, necessitated by significant social change, creates new areas where injustice and exclusion can spread. The aim of this theme is to look at the challenges that these changes or developments may present for democratic societies and the ways in which they can be addressed.
Project 2.1. – Democracy and the challenges of artificial intelligence
Led by: Marc-Antoine Dilhac
Other contributors: Allison Christians, Peter Dietsch, Jocelyn Maclure, Dominic Martin, Frédéric Mérand and Jonathan Simon
Artificial intelligence is taking more and more place in the world of work, in our private lives and in public institutions, where more and more decisions previously made by human beings are now made by algorithms. Because of the distance it creates between decision-making and human intervention, this technology raises important ethical questions. On the one hand, errors in the design of these algorithms or artificial intelligence systems could lead, despite the appearance of impartiality of these systems and algorithms, to the creation or support of certain economic, social or political distributional injustices. On the other hand, the use of this technology makes it difficult to determine who can be held responsible or who is accountable, morally and politically, for the decisions taken and their potentially deleterious effects. This project addresses these issues.
Project 2.2. – Justice, inclusion and medical assistance in dying
Led by: Naïma Hamrouni
Other contributors: Jocelyn Maclure and Daniel Marc Weinstock
Thanks to advances in the medical field in recent decades, the limits of the human body and the borders of death have been pushed back more than ever before. Living longer is accompanied in many cases by loss of autonomy and, sometimes, incurable and degenerative diseases. For the time being, in Quebec, people who are unable to give their consent to medical assistance in dying cannot receive this end-of-life care, even if they had consented to it in advance. This is also the case for people whose suffering is exclusively psychic or for people who are not considered to be at the end of life. Are these exclusions justified? This project will address the normative foundations of advance consent, the epistemic injustices experienced by people who are ill or have a mental health disorder, and the tensions between autonomy and vulnerability.
THEME III – Pluralism, inclusion and equality
Led by: Jacob Levy and Jocelyn Maclure
Other contributors: Arash Abizadeh, Valérie Amiraux, Charles Blattberg, Amandine Catala, Ryoa Chung, Marc-Antoine Dilhac, Luc Faucher, Pascale Fournier, Naïma Hamrouni, Colin Macleod, Christian Nadeau, Juliette Roussin, Natalie Stoljar, Luc B. Tremblay, Kristin Voigt and Daniel Marc Weinstock
The growing pluralism of contemporary societies creates important challenges for democracy. Cultural and religious diversity requires reflection on how neutrality, secularism and tolerance should be conceptualized and applied within public institutions. It is also important to address the phenomena of discrimination and structural injustice that make the realization of the ideal of equality, which is central to democracy, difficult for certain demographic groups. We are primarily interested in racism and the structural injustices it produces, as well as the injustices that result from systemic deficits in the recognition of the epistemic agency of members of certain groups. The aim here is to clarify the conceptual tools for understanding pluralism and its challenges, and to highlight the social mechanisms that make it difficult to build inclusive societies.
Project 3.1. – Liberal neutrality, recognition theory and institutional accommodations
Led by: Jacob Levy and Jocelyn Maclure
Other contributors: Arash Abizadeh, Valérie Amiraux, Charles Blattberg, Marc-Antoine Dilhac, Colin Macloead, Luc B. Tremblay and Daniel Marc Weinstock
The neutrality of the state towards each of its citizens is one of the principles of liberalism. Similarly, liberal democratic societies generally recognize the importance of state secularism. One might think that these principles require the State to treat every citizen identically and to reject religion in all its forms and in all spheres of public life. Yet it seems that the principles of equality and tolerance, also central pieces of liberal theory, are pushing us in different directions. Indeed, would not the principle of tolerance, for example, require that the difference of all be equally tolerated, if not recognized, in the public sphere? This project focuses on how neutrality, secularism and tolerance should be conceptualized and applied within public institutions and the question of the legitimacy of legal and institutional accommodations.
Project 3.2. – Feminism, anti-racism and anti-speciesism: intersection of oppressions and solidarity of struggles for emancipation
Led by: Naïma Hamrouni
Other contributors: Amandine Catala, Ryoa Chung, Luc Faucher, Pascale Fournier, Dominique Leydet, Christian Nadeau, Natalie Stoljar and Kristin Voigt
One of the guiding principles of democratic societies is that of social and political equality. Yet, due to real and socially constructed differences from certain normative conceptions of the citizen, members of non-dominant groups are systematically discriminated against and oppressed. This is particularly the case for women, racialized people, people with disabilities, and, as many argue, non-human animals. This project is interested in examining mechanisms that may be common to these different forms of oppression—such as the social and institutional norms that contribute to the marginalization and stigmatization of certain vulnerable groups. We look at what these forms of oppression have in common, the dynamics that participate in their co-construction and the alliances and solidarities that could be deployed in resistance to the forms of oppression suffered.
Project 3.3. – Epistemic injustices and agency
Led by: Amandine Catala and Naïma Hamrouni
Other contributors: Ryoa Chung, Juliette Roussin and Natalie Stoljar
In recent years, several researchers have focused on a previously understudied phenomenon: the relationship between an individual’s real or imagined membership of a given demographic group, certain social norms, and the credibility or esteem that the individual enjoys in different contexts as an epistemic agent. Thus, some people, because they are women, for example, will be given less credibility as an agent capable of acquiring and sharing knowledge. These inequalities of epistemic credibility, if manifested systematically, support a set of economic, social and political inequalities and injustices. This project is interested in deepening our understanding of the phenomenon of epistemic injustices; identify the social, political and economic injustices to which they contribute; and to examine how the concept can be operationalized in a set of particular contexts.
THEME IV – Democracy and international justice in times of crisis
Led by: Catherine Lu
Other contributors: Ryoa Chung, Amandine Catala, Peter Dietsch, Pablo Gilabert, Matthew Hunt, Sylvie Loriaux, Cynthia Milton, Frédéric Mérand, Christian Nadeau and Daniel Marc Weinstock
The problem of the global distribution of goods remains a crucial issue that we continue to address by focusing on contemporary structures of domination and oppression that constitute obstacles to the achievement of justice on a global scale. We are also interested in the ethics of humanitarian action and post-conflict intervention: we examine the stakes of the action and political and economic agency of humanitarian NGOs and we ask ourselves how military interventions on humanitarian grounds can be justified in terms of a reasonable conception of justice and/or international democracy. Similarly, in times of post-conflict reconstruction, the question of paternalism in the light of the principle of the self-determination of peoples raises crucial issues that are examined in the context of post-war law and the use of transitional justice discourse.
Project 4.1. – Humanitarian crises and non-governmental organizations
Led by: Ryoa Chung
Other contributors: Catherine Lu, Pablo Gilabert, Matthew Hunt and Christian Nadeau
Humanitarian crises, whether the product of armed conflict or natural disaster, require a response that goes beyond regular efforts to mitigate distributive injustices on a global scale. This response is often provided by humanitarian NGOs. The humanitarian action of these NGOs can generate or contribute to perpetuating inequalities and injustices. This project is therefore interested in the ethics of humanitarian action by NGOs. We examine the issues of political and economic agency of humanitarian NGOs by focusing on issues of democratic representativeness, legitimacy and accountability. Humanitarian crises may also sometimes require military intervention. Such intervention can create or sustain significant injustices. This project therefore also looks at how military interventions on humanitarian grounds can be justified in terms of a reasonable conception of justice and/or international democracy.
Project 4.2. – Transitional justice and self-determination of peoples
Led by: Catherine Lu
Other contributors: Ryoa Chung, Amandine Catala, Pablo Gilabert, Cynthia Milton, Christian Nadeau and Daniel Marc Weinstock
Following armed conflicts, the reconstruction period involves, in addition to the actors directly concerned, a range of agents of the international community. In such situations, the paternalistic action of such agents and the demands of the principle of self-determination of peoples are often opposed. This project examines the critical problems created by this confrontation and looks at what justice can demand from the actors directly involved and from the rest of the international community during the period of transition and reconstruction. During this period of reconstruction, we also often witness the emergence of another problem: the reappropriation, by violent or anti-democratic social movements, of the discourse of transitional justice and human rights to marginalize populations that are often already the most affected by economic and social inequalities. So we are looking at that phenomenon as well.
Project 4.3. – Global justice and the dismantling of structural injustices
Led by: Pablo Gilabert and Catherine lu
Other contributors: Amandine Catala, Ryoa Chung, Peter Dietsch, Sylvie Loriaux, Frédéric Mérand, Christian Nadeau and Daniel Marc Weinstock
This project focuses on how contemporary structures of domination and oppression create significant obstacles to the achievement of justice on a global scale. More specifically, how do agents who find themselves under conditions of structural injustice come to diagnose such injustices and to state their responsibility for dismantling them? This raises important questions about the agency and autonomy of these agents, the external conditions that support them, and their effects on the motives agents may have for engaging in a difficult process of self-reflection and personal transformation leading to collective action against injustices. This project also questions the institutional prerogatives of state sovereignty and how they can accommodate the self-determination of indigenous communities and demands for the decolonization of the international order.