Just suffering: a theoretical engagement with the demands of justice
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This thesis will engage with the relationship between justice and suffering in order to more clearly understand what being just entails and how we can theorise justice as demanding in a desirable way. Theorising this relationship will focus on the role of various conceptions of self and community to show how justice, as contextual and communal, can be demanding in a way that does not drive the self that suffers apart from those that benefit from justice. Methodologically the thesis will follow in the tradition of self-reflection in the way it was described by Alan Blum and Peter McHugh. This means that the thesis will try to understand justice and suffering by looking at the foundations of justice, or, put differently, by trying to theorise what it is that makes some instances of suffering just. To this end the argument will begin by outlining a concept of community and of justice to then begin looking at various arguments that relate justice with suffering, either explicitly or implicitly and describe this relationship as desirable. Understanding community in a way that is based on Jean-Luc Nancy’s idea of being-with-others the thesis already sets out a way of conceptualising a social actor that is essentially related to other actors. This is then used as the foundation of a community in what will be called a place. This placing of the social self will also be used to place justice and move away from justice as relying on universal principles. The thesis challenges three main arguments: a) René Girard’s justification of excessive spectacular violence against a scapegoat as a means of controlling the violent desires of a community by performing sacred and public acts of violence; b) universal principles using individualist theories of justice by John Rawls and Immanuel Kant; c) benevolence as an alternative to justice as presented by virtue ethicists and also communitarians (specifically Michael Sandel). These three theories are shown not to appreciate various aspects of justice as fairness and a community (in Nancy’s sense); particularly the silencing of difference in Girard’s false utilitarianism, the ignorance of existing injustice and suffering in Rawls’ universalism and the antagonism between the self and the universal interest in virtue ethic’s benevolence (Christine Swanton and Aristotle in particular). The thesis concludes that, in order for justice to be demanding in a way that does not disrupt a community, and in order for members of the community to suffer as part of the demands of justice, the community needs to be able to engage with itself theoretically, allowing it to commit itself to achieving justice. In this process of recognizing injustice and then pursuing fairness, a community has to be able to bind itself to its commitment in such a way that it can affirm itself as a community that is committed to justice, even if this commitment will cause some members of that community to suffer.