August 23, 2011


Geoffrey Cupit, Justice as Fittingness (Oxford & New York: Clarendon Press/Oxford U. Press, 1996) ("To do injustices to people is to treat them as less or lower than they are; to treat them as lacking some status-enhancing attributes which they do not lack, or as people possessing some status-reducing attributes they do not possess. The fundamental idea of the account of justice I want to defend, then, is this: an unjust act is an unfitting act; it is an act which fails to accord with the status of the person treated." Id. at 2. "To act unjustly, then, is to act unfittingly, but to act unfittingly is not necessarily to act unjustly: there are actions which are unfitting but not unjust. We might say of those who show contempt for judges in courts of law--perhaps by refusing to stand up, shouting obscenities and so on--that they treat judges unfittingly, as less than they are, but decline to describe such actions as unjust. We might speak, in such cases, of disrespect. Not all unfitting actions are unjust: unfittingness is the genus, and injustice the species within the genus. Justice is a member of a family of concepts. This raises the question of which unfitting acts are unjust. How do unjust acts differ from other types of unfitting act? . . ." Id. at 2-3. "Who or what is able to be treated justly and unjustly? To whom is justice owed? . . . The question of whether it is appropriate to refer to the unfitting treatment of animals, especially the higher animals, as unjust is more disputed. If we take the view that such treatment is not unjust, what distinction are we marking in our use of respect and contempt, and justice? What is it about a being which, we suppose, makes it able to be treated unjustly, as against merely without due respect?" "The distinction we will be drawing here, I want to suggest, is between a being which has the capacity to understand the treatment it receives as fitting or unfitting (or, perhaps, the potential to develop such a capacity), and one which does not. This capacity, in turn, seems to presuppose that the being treated is one which has, or has the potential to have, a conception of itself and its status, and some capacity to interpret what happens to it as constituting being treated as a being with some particular status. Justice and injustice (together with the capacity to be insulted)--unlike the receipt and denial of respect--we seem to restrict to beings we suppose to have the capacities (or potentiality to develop the capacities) for consciousness, including consciousness of status, and interpretation. If it is indeed these capacities which distinguish beings which we suppose are able to be done an injustice from those which are not, we must be willing to accept that if we came to believe that there are animals which possesses these capacities, it would be justice which they are owed. This seems plausible." Id. at 16-18. Nicely argued. Those familiarly with Martha Nussbaum's work on "capabilities," might find this an worthwhile read.).