Meet the Expert IV

Prof. Norman Daniels, Ph.D.

Justice and Feasibility


Many times, new political and practical ideas on the ethical improvement of societal interactions and political regulation are quickly marked “infeasible” by opponents and critics, often to be met in turn by an argument of “ought implies can.”

In this workshop, our expert first explored the distinctive senses of “feasibility,” giving a plausible account of the slogan “ought implies can”, and thus dealt with ethics and justice, “taking people as they are” (or as they can potentially be).

This included the claim that we often do not even know what people can do or be (for example, what institutions they can sustain) – and indeed, we often lack direct evidence of such sustainable feasibility because the institutions that embody, for example, non-racist or non-gender-biased requirements are relatively new and they may well fail to constitute direct evidence of sustainable feasibility. Nevertheless, justice can still push people to reform even if there is some uncertainty about whether the reforms are feasible.

Our expert presented and discussed his approach to solving the feasibility problem. He argued that an apparent inconsistency exists between (a) contexts in which actors cannot modify a practice that they believe (correctly) is unjust and (b) contexts in which the infeasibility of people behaving a certain way involves modifying what people believe justice can require of them.

His main claim was that the first context involves feasibility as achievability, and the second involved feasibility as sustainability. Justice requires us to do things that we have the capabilities to sustainably do, and the apparent inconsistency is eliminated if these different senses of “feasibility” are understood to be involved in the different contexts.

October 20th, 2015

10.00 a.m. – 1.00 p.m.

ceres, Universitätsstr. 91, 50931 Cologne

The Expert

Prof. Norman Daniels, Ph.D.

Norman Daniels is Mary B. Saltonstall Professor and Professor of Ethics and Population Health at Harvard School of Public Health. He is one of the leading experts world-wide in the field of the philosophy of science, ethics, political and social philosophy and medical ethics and has published over 150 articles in anthologies and numerous internationally high-ranking journals such as Isis, Philosophy of Science, Journal of Philosophy, Philosophical Review, Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Journal of Political Philosophy, Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Bioethics, AJOB, JAMA,

New England Journal of Medicine, British Medical Journal, Lancet, Hastings Center Report, Health Affairs, Nature Medicine, WHO Bulletin and others.

His books include Just Health Care (Cambridge, 1985); From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice (Cambridge, 2000; with Bruce Kennedy and Ichiro Kawachi); Is Inequality Bad for Health? (Beacon Press, 2000); and Setting Limits Fairly: Can We Learn to Share Medical Resources? (Oxford, 2002; 2nd edition 2008; with James Sabin). His Just Health: Meeting Health Needs Fairly (CUP, 2008) is a sequel to Just Health Care and integrates his work into a comprehensive theory of justice for health. His current research focuses on adapting the "benchmarks of fairness" for use in less developed countries (WHO Bulletin, 2000, 2005), and developing fair process for priority and limit setting decisions about

resource allocation in various settings, including the new Mexican health insurance plan (Health Affairs 2003, Lancet 2005).

A member of the Institute of Medicine, a Fellow of the Hastings Center, a Founding Member of the National Academy of Social Insurance and of the International Society for Equity in Health, he has consulted with organizations, commissions, and governments in the U.S. and abroad on issues of justice and health policy, including for the United Nations, WHO, and the President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine.

To find out more about our Expert visit his personal homepage at Harvard School of Public Health.