Ethics and Social Welfare

Ethics and Social Welfare:
Human interdependency and
unconditional rights
Hartley Dean
London School of Economics
1. Ethics and morality
2. The hegemonic liberalindividualist ethic
3. Human (inter-)dependency
4. Human (co-)responsibilities
5. Unconditional rights ?
1. Ethics and morality
• A contested distinction
• A dialectical relationship
Cognitive ‘ethos’
Cultural ‘mores’
Values (what is ‘right’)
Norms (what is ‘good’)
Abstract principles
Customary practices
Doctrines (eternal)
Codes (agreed)
2. The hegemonic liberal-individualist ethic
• Regards dependency and responsibility as inimical
• Deep-rooted contractarian assumptions
– The sovereignty of the bargaining/competitive human
subject must be ‘traded’ to secure the minimum necessary
level of social order
– Civil and political rights take precedence over social rights
which must remain (a) subordinate to political and legal
processes; and (b) subject to ‘progressive realisation’
• Social rights and social liberalism
– ‘Reluctant collectivism’ of Keynes and Beveridge
– The Roosevelt legacy and the UDHR
• The re-construction of social rights in a post-social era?
– Equality of (moral) worth and the ‘covenant of opportunities
and responsibilities’
– A test of ‘worth’: avoidance of (welfare) dependency
– Welfare conditionality: no help without strings
3. Human (inter-)dependency
• Alternative solidaristic conceptions of rights
– The sovereignty of the attached/co-operative
human subject must be ‘pooled’ to secure the
maximum achievable level of social cohesion
– Rights as a system of mutual protection premised
on a collectively held recognition of individual
vulnerability/frailty (Turner)
• The struggle for recognition (Honneth)
– The ‘ethical life’ depends on recognition through:
• Love: self-identity
• Solidarity: collective identity
• Rights: mutual recognition of each other’s claims
3. Human (inter-)dependency (Contd…./)
• The right to (ontological) security
– The distinction between categorical and ontological
identity (Taylor): the noumenal self
– Frailty and the right to social protection, social
inclusion and ‘asylum’
• An ethic of care
– Self-alienation from social humanity: capitalism’s
fetishised notions of work, dependency and justice
– Re-constituting individuals as interdependent ‘selvesin-relationship’; and social policy in terms of the
organisation/ negotiation of how we care for and
about each other (e.g. Sevenhuijsen/ Williams)
4. Human (co-)responsibilities
Competing conceptions of responsibility
4. Human (co-)responsibilities (Contd…./)
• An (alternative) ethic of co-responsibility
– The social negotiation of mutual obligation: beyond
the mechanistic calculus of policy prescription
– Apel: co-responsibility requires
• Rational judgements, not moral traditions
• An effective (global) communication community capable of
acknowledging the needs/claims of all its members
• Equal respect for scientific and ethical claims to truth
• Constituting personhood
– Minimum material provision is as constitutive of personhood
as liberty or autonomy and reflects extent to which we each
have ethical responsibility for everybody else (Griffin)
The evidence (from UK):
• Popular discourse
– Is capable (reluctantly) of acknowledging human
– Is ensnared by a narrow (ethically individualistic)
notion of responsibility
– Accedes to the inalienability of certain human rights,
but is inhibited from translating awareness of
interdependency into support for universal social
To promote an ethically premised unconditional
rights-based approach to social welfare provision
would be:
• Jolly nice (Pooh)
• Ever so difficult (Eyore)
• Tremenously exciting (Tigger)

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