Justice and responsibility: Cultural and Philosophical Considerations

September 9, 2013 - October 10, 2013
Catholic University of America

United States

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The search for justice has ever been one of the great human campaigns, just as corruption has continually undermined the  search to realize the common good. This appears from the analysis of cultures.

The Challenge

Culturally, in ancient Egypt the Pharaoh owned everything and everyone. All power descended from above and all were enslaved.  What once may have been gifts expressing gratitude to the leader for benefices or permissions granted came to be exploitive requirements for any permit. Whether pharaoh, emperor or king absolute power in human hands led to corruption, and in the end to revolution.

Hence, for modern times hierarchy has been eliminated, all are equal, and authority is delegated to elected leaders. But  modernity as marked also by individualism and egoism that again leads to abuses of public power, that is, to corruption. This saps the people’s sense of responsibility and willingness to work for the common good.


This challenge, in turn, calls for a deeper philosophical understanding which relates justice to responsibility in both thought  and action. The 2011 RVP seminar examined this in the thought of Emmanuel Levinas. The present seminar will return to this issue looking more closely not only at a theory of justice (e.g. of John Rawls) but of the way in which justice entails responsibility  for its realization in action. E.G. Paul Ricoeur posits that where justice is necessary but reductive, love is also necessary in order that justice be done and in ways that are truly promotive of persons and responsive to their distinctive needs and true welfare.

Does responsibility for justice then take one beyond justice in order that justice be done?

Legal approaches alone can apply the power of coercion, but while effective to some degree, through fear this has generated  evasion so that corruption becomes more opaque. What is needed is a way for justice as good and indeed beautiful to radiate an overriding power of attraction? What light can philosophical reflection and religious cultures shed on this? Are there resources  which can be assembled from the many cultures to make this effective for these global times?

Application for Participation

Applications for participation in this seminar should be sent by email by February 20, 2013, to
cua-rvp@cua.edu. Participants will cover their own travel costs; the RVP will provide simple room and board during the seminar. The seminar will be held at the RVP Seminar Room: Gibbons Hall B-12, 620 Michigan Avenue, North East, Washington, D.C., 20064.

  1. a vita describing one's education, professional positions and activities,
  2. a list of the applicants' publications,
  3. a letter stating your interest and involvement in this theme and the relation of participation in this seminar to your past and future work in philosophy and related studies, and
  4. an abstract of a study(s) you might present as an integral part of the seminar.

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