UCL News


UCL academics ponder 'Political Questions'

22 November 2006

'Political Questions' - a new book edited by Dr Morten Ebbe Juul Nielsen (Roskilde University, Denmark) - features interviews with two prominent UCL academics: Professor Richard Bellamy (UCL Political Science) and Professor Jonathan Wolff (UCL Philosophy).

The editor invited eighteen of the most distinguished and influential Anglophone political philosophers to explain what drew them to the subject, what they see as their most significant contributions to it, and what the future of political philosophy looks like. UCL is the only institution with contributions by more than one of its faculty, testimony to the international standing and strength of its programme in political philosophy.

An excerpt from Professor Wolff's interview reads: "The argument I presented in what I think is my best-known paper 'Fairness, Respect and the Egalitarian Ethos' … raised a number of problems with contemporary work on equality. The main argument is that the forms of conditional systems of benefit …can create a division in society and undermine self-respect, neither of which sit comfortably with the idea of a society of equals."

He goes on to suggest that implementing a system that would make people bear the costs of their choices before society moves to a full, enlightened, system of equality would force some people to declare that they lack employable talents others have, with humiliating consequences:

"Policies required in the name of fairness can undermine self-respect, and therefore we have to accept that the egalitarian ethos can have conflicting elements which need to be accommodated in some way."

In his interview, Professor Bellamy considers whether there can ever be a fruitful relationship between political philosophy and political practice:

"I think we can relate political philosophy to political action only if political philosophers are sensitive to the languages of politics and self-conscious about the ways their arguments abstract from, yet engage with past and present discourses."

He urges philosophers wishing to influence political action to avoid empty idealisations and view politics as having its own merits rather than simply as a means to implement their own ends. According to Professor Bellamy, they should also engage with empirical work in the social sciences so that their theories are informed by knowledge about how social, economic and political processes work."

'Political Questions' is published by Automatic Press and is available from 1 December 2006.