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'Justice, Aid and Poverty' - Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences

VATICAN CITY, MAY 27, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the contribution from Edmond Malinvaud to the round table "International Justice and Aid" in the 13th plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. The session was held from April 27 - May 1.

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Justice, aid and poverty: a short survey of the literature
E. Malinvaud[1]

In this session, dedicated to "Charity and justice in the relations among peoples and nations," we accept the idea that international justice calls for an increase in aid to the poorest countries. This round table is meant to study how the increase should be patterned so as to implement as well as possible a just reduction in poverty. That is a wide-ranging matter to the clarification of which a short survey of the literature may contribute, even though it will leave aside how the increase in aid will be financed, an issue that other members of the round table will better tackle than I could do.

The first two parts of this paper will essentially consider a literature that existed before the millennium goals were chosen. Their title will respectively be: "What Would International Justice Require?" "Poverty, Aid and Economic Growth." The literature of the last decade, which was particularly rich, will be the subject of the last part.

What would international justice require?

Philosophy often closely examined what justice should be. But our concern in this round table is to reach operative proposals. Attempting to survey fundamental debates between philosophers would be misplaced.[2] We shall rather consider, directly and in turn, justice according to the humanist philosopher Paul Ricoeur, the application of justice in law, and the application of justice in international relations.

Justice according to Paul Ricoeur[3]

This philosopher takes a strong position against the idea that principles of justice could be derived from rational reasoning only. He points instead to the relevance of a teleological perspective inspired by the sense of justice rooted in the mind of men and women who yearn for meaningful lives, with and for others within just institutions.

What matters is first to appeal to practical wisdom in judging each context in itself. It is also the emergence of an ethic in the process by which argumentations and convictions are exchanged between persons, are progressively improved, up to the point where considered convictions might have a fair degree of universality. Ricoeur then concludes: "The skill of conversation in which the ethics of argumentation is put to the test of the conflict of convictions makes up one of the faces of practical wisdom."

Social scientists have a natural role to play in Ricoeur scheme. They seldom claim to dictate what institutions and social policies ought to be. Their role is rather to reflect on social realities and to present evidence showing what the positive or negative effects of institutions and policies are likely to be. The argumentations in which they are involved, in relation with the demands addressed to them, help to the formation of considered convictions in the citizenry.

Application of justice in law

All social scientists may now benefit from occasionally referring to the three volumes of the Palgrave Dictionary of Economics and the Law (Macmillan, 1998, London). These volumes are relevant in particular for the discussion in our round table, because they lead readers to reflect on the application of justice.

In entry "justice," A. de Jasay begins with: "The concept of justice informs our sense of justice." The first part is entitled "findings and judgments," the second "donstituent principles" with the subheadings "responsibility," "presumption," "convention." We perceive continuity with the thinking of Ricoeur and a distance from the two principles stated by Rawls (1971).

The dictionary well exhibits three important distinctions in the constituting of law: (i) common law and written law; (ii) legal justice and social justice; (iii) render unto each "his own" or "according to his needs." I shall say no more about the first distinction. But the second leads us to refer to the entry "social justice" where we find the two relevant definitions. For legal justice: "exercise of impartiality in enforcing the system of rights and duties by which a basic level of order in society is achieved"; for social justice: "ensuring that each individual is given his due, not in terms of a claim to just conduct on the part of others, but as an assigned share of society wealth." This induces us to refer to entry "equity," but it turns out that the entry is focused on the "jurisdiction of equity," which I understand to be a historical distinctive feature of some English courts.

There is no doubt in my mind that the drive for fighting against poverty belongs to social ...

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