Felician University Event: “Race and Criminal Justice in America”

A “save the date” announcement:

I’m the co-chair, with Dr. Edward Ogle, of Felician University’s Committee on Leadership and Social Justice (CLSJ). Our theme this year is “Race and Criminal Justice in America,” and I’m pleased to be able to announce our kick-off event: a presentation by Professor Mark Denbeaux, of Seton Hall University Law School, on his recent co-authored study of racial profiling in Bloomfield, New Jersey (“Racial Profiling Report: Bloomfield Police and Bloomfield Municipal Court“).

The event will take place at 6 pm on Tuesday, September 27, 2016 in the Education Commons Building at Felician University’s Rutherford, New Jersey campus (227 Montross Ave, Rutherford NJ, 07070). I will serve as discussant; all are invited and welcome. (Note: Felician University’s sponsoring the event does not necessarily imply agreement with the contents of the Seton Hall Report, or with Professor Denbeaux’s views).

The CLSJ had originally conceived of the event as a debate between Professor Denbeaux and a representative from Bloomfield Municipal Government, but unfortunately, despite a summer’s worth of invitations to Bloomfield (several invitations each to the mayor’s office, to the Police Department, and to Councilwoman Wartyna Davis), Bloomfield has not only declined our invitation but declined to acknowledge it altogether. (If any relevant party in Bloomfield government sees this, and thinks that I’ve been too hasty in making the preceding claim, feel free to contact me at khawajai at felician dot edu. I’m still open to participation by a representative of Bloomfield Township, but the date and time of the event should now be considered fixed.)

Here’s a video based on Denbeaux’s report, from Vice News. 

And here’s another video, an out-take from the first one, that opens in a new window. Here’s some press coverage of the report, from NJ.com. Some more, more, more, more, and yet more. (And one more, for good measure.) I neither fully agree nor disagree with Denbeaux’s report, and hope to blog it–as well as Bloomfield’s refusal to acknowledge my invitation–in the near future.

Haidt—The Righteous Mind, Chs. 7 & 8

In chapters 7 and 8, Haidt describes in detail his account of our innate “moral foundations”—a relatively small set of fundamental psychological mechanisms that underlie and produce our moral intuitions. In previous chapters, he has argued that moral judgment is driven primarily by moral intuition—that the intuitive dog wags the rational tail—and that our moral intuitions cover more areas of life than just harm and fairness. It is now time to get specific. Just what are these fundamental, innate sources of moral intuition, and how can we show that we really have them?

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Another issue from Derek’s TCJ, Part 1

1.1(3) (part 1, para. 1, line 3 of Derek Bowman’s “The Circumstances of Justice” 

We owe (or are due) things from each other and there are general principles (of justice) that specify just what it is that we owe to each other.  That the verb here is ‘specify’ suggests a normative, explanatory role:  the general principles explain why each of us owes it to each other to refrain from PHI-ing, but not to refrain from PSI-ing (or perhaps why each of us owes it to each other to refrain from PHI-ing in certain circumstances but not others).  However, one of several to-me controversial things that Rawls’ characterization of justice suggests is that these general principles do not do this work, but rather some slightly different work – the work of justifying the adoption (perhaps the public adoption) of a prescriptive norm (or a nested set of prescriptive norms with a certain structure).  That might go something like this:  each of us is to refrain from PHI-ing with respect to each other person (and all of us is to stand ready to enforce the prescription to refrain from PHI-ing by demanding that potential rule-breakers don’t break the rule and by punishing actual rule-breakers).  On this second way in which the general principles might work, they do something like specify conclusive reasons to construct a particular social practice.   Continue reading


It appears that my book is officially out. In the hope of further enticing some of you to read it, or at least find a copy and flip through it, I here include a brief snippet from chapter 4 that may be of some interest. We pick up in the midst of my consideration of an alternative view (that of Mary Nichols in her Citizens and Statesmen) of what Aristotle means when he talks about ruling and being ruled “by turns” or “in part.” According to this alternative, I count as ruling “in part” with you provided that you rule me in a way that recognizes my existence as a distinct, independent, free person.

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Stun Grenades, Philosophy, Hilarity: Ringside at a Riot in Palestine

I’m sitting in the common room on the eighth floor of Al Abraj Housing Complex in Abu Dis, having a conversation with a friend, when we hear a loud boom.

“What was that?” he asks. He’s a newcomer.

“I have to get a closer listen.” I go to the balcony, and cock my ear in the direction of the booms.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

“I don’t think that’s firecrackers,” he says.

“Neither do I,” I respond.


“Definitely not,” I confirm. “Today is Friday, right?”


“It’s Friday Clashes in Abu Dis. You want to go?”

He looks at me. There’s a slight tinge of apprehension on his face. “No,” he says, at last. He’s a newcomer, after all.

“OK,” I say, brightly. “Well, I’m off.” Continue reading

Theory and Practice

Snippet of a classroom discussion at Al Quds University on chapter 2 of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.”

Khawaja: So are there any topics that are taboo in Palestinian society, that people refuse to discuss?

Student: Yes, but there really shouldn’t be such topics. We should be able to discuss anything.

Khawaja: I see. But unfortunately, there are such topics?

Student: Yes, there are, like homosexuality and gay rights. These are topics that need discussion, but in our society, people act as though they can’t be discussed.

Khawaja: So what would you want to say on that topic?

Student: I’d prefer not to discuss it.

The Circumstances of Justice: 4. A Revised Account of the Circumstances of Justice

This is Part 4 of a four (or five) part series based on a conference-length version of a longer paper I’m currently preparing for submission to academic journals. Part 1 and Part 2 forcus on the idea of ‘circumstances of justice’ in Rawls and Hume, and each generated some deep and wide ranging discussions of the of the nature of justice and the treatment of justice in the history of philosophy. Part 3  added some brief critical analysis to the exegetical points of the first two parts.

In this section, I finally stick my neck out and offer my own account of the circumstances of justice – an account which I argue explains what is right about Rawls’s view by shedding his unsuitable Humean foundation. I believe this account addresses many of the concerns and objections raised in the comments on earlier sections,  but I look forward to hearing the fresh, new objections it generates.

My plan for Part 5, which is not yet included in the full paper, is to say something more about why all this matters for our understanding of justice, independent of the interpretive puzzles focused on in the first three sections.

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Khizr Khan and the Wages of Self-Sacrifice

Everyone–or at least all of America–seems to be talking about Khizr Khan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Am I the only person who found Khizr Khan’s message depressing rather than uplifting? I understand the need to put Donald Trump in his place, and sympathize with the desire to stick it to him. And yes, there was something inspiring about the spirit if not the letter of Khan’s speech.

But as for the content of the speech, it hit all the wrong notes. Translated, it seemed to be saying the following: Continue reading

Haidt, The Righteous Mind, ch5&ch6


5.1  WEIRD people (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic people) are statistical outliers in the group of humans – and therefore bad samples for generalizing about the group of humans.  They are perhaps most obviously outliers in that, at least in cases not involving other-harming or unfair action, they resist inferring from feelings of disgust upon considering a social situation to that situation being morally bad or involving someone doing something morally wrong.  For example, they are much less inclined to say that someone having sex with a chicken carcass and then eating it is (universally, morally) wrong.  Similarly for other “harmless taboo” cases.  Therefore, good empirical moral psychology should not sample only WEIRDos (e.g., university students in the United States – hard to get much WEIRDer). Continue reading

Why Did It Have To Be Snakes?

In Archaic and Classical Greek religion, snakes are associated with the dead and the dark, atavistic powers of the earth. The so-called chthonic (related to the earth) deities are often presented in contrast and even conflict with the Olympian gods, the justice, order, and patriarchy of the latter set in relief by contrast with the wild, unrestrained, and feminine character of the former (star witness: Aeschylus’ Oresteia). Religious symbolism is always underdetermined by the nature of the symbols, but this bit of symbolism has always seemed, at least broadly, quite natural to me. The association of snakes with the earth is quite natural, and the association of the earth with the dead is quite natural in a culture that buries its dead. So by symbolic transitivity, the association of snakes with the dead seems almost as natural. So too, though in a more indirect way, does the association of snakes with the feminine, since the link between the earth and women is common in many religions and hardly peculiar to the Greeks (the association of women with wild, unrestrained, irrational forces seems much less natural, but thoroughly Greek). Most of all, the association of snakes with things that we are supposed to find scary and dangerous makes perfect sense to me, because I am absolutely and unrestrainedly terrified of snakes. Among my reasons for finding ancient psychological theories that distinguish a rational and a non-rational part of the soul so plausible is that when I encounter snakes, the rational part of my soul seems to depart from my body altogether.

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