Thursday, March 30, 2006

Summer Project: Equality, Justice, and Freedom

I just submitted a proposal for summer research. Here is what I intend to do this summer:

TITLE OF PROPOSED RESEARCH: “Equality’s Just Place in the Human Person’s Quest for Freedom: Investigating the Interplay of Equality, Justice, and Freedom”


In both the contemporary literature on political philosophy and in the daily discourse of many Americans, there is an ongoing debate over the meaning and role that equality should play in our lives, both as private citizens and as members of a public society. One person advocates political changes in order to achieve greater equality for a certain group. Another seeks revocation of current laws in an attempt to rectify alleged unjust policies. All these are done while referencing “equality,” “justice,” and even “freedom,” though these demands come from quite polarized political viewpoints. Various notions of equality are applied in these discussions. In addition, there are differences in what people think a government’s role and purpose is. Some view equality and a more contemporary notion of justice as the goals of government whereas others view a more traditional understanding of justice as government’s goal in its attempt to provide the framework so its citizens may reach their own political end: liberty.[1] Equality. Justice. Liberty. They are inter-related, indeed. The question is how. The problem is knowing their limits.

In this project, I plan to discuss the major disputes over equality. I will investigate the various and often opposing views on the matter, engaging the works of liberal, conservative, communitarian, and libertarian thinkers. In an effort to understand better the value and place of equality, I will further probe the meaning and scope of justice. With a clear definition of justice, it will then be easier to discuss the main types of equality. Through this discussion, I hope to make clear which forms of equality a government, political theorist, or civic-minded person should be concerned with when discussing what is best for a people called to be free and to do so in a way that respects the dignity of the human person.

This is part of a larger goal of mine, one that seeks to develop and communicate an approach to society that provides for the best conditions in which the human person may not only experience structural equality and justice but also live out the freedom we are called to. Whether this calling is from God or just the dynamism of human nature is not immediately essential to the political discussion on what is best for a society. What is best is that we find a workable solution to continue in this country’s ongoing project of the “pursuit of happiness,” a happiness that finds its roots and its ends in the dignity of the human person.

Though I do believe God cares about what we do and how we treat others, I know that living in a pluralist society means that one has to come up with sensitive language that is both rational and convincing. This language must be understandable and acceptable to the theist and the non-theist, to the Christian and the Jew, to the faithful and the secular. As a result, even religious-minded advocates of justice should find a way to speak across the denominational and non-religious aisles. Theological arguments are good and have their place, but in our society, we do need a language that addresses the same social concerns (as theological mandates for justice) and we need one that does so mindful of the many traditions within our midst. It is unfortunate but a fact of our reality that explicitly theological/confessional language in the public square often turns people off to the message advocated, however worthy the content is. This is where philosophy and the use of reason can come into play. This is where my current proposal can aid: in an effort to supply a rational and human dignity-respecting answer to the problem of the relationship of equality, justice, and freedom.

Lastly, I plan to relate these concerns and the conclusion to the mission of Loyola Marymount University, specifically its Jesuit character and stress on “the promotion of justice in the concern of the Hebrew scriptures for ‘the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in the land’ and the preference of the gospels for the ‘least’ of Jesus’ brothers and sisters.”[2] In doing so, I will also have shown that faith and reason actually are “like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth”[3] as they find agreement on the necessary political conditions for a society that truly serves the individual and common goods of a people in characterized with a certain human dignity.

[1] Cf. John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, Essays in the History of Liberty, Vol. I (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1985), 22.
[2] Robert V. Caro, SJ, “Introduction: Understanding Our Identity,” Mission and Catholic Identity, Loyola Marymount University. 3 December 1990. . 28 March 2006.
[3] Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, Introductory “Blessing.” 14 September 1998. . 28 March 2006.

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