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West, Macintyre and Wojtyla: Pope John Paul II's Contribution to the Development of a Dependency-Based Theory of Justice


Elizabeth Rose Schiltz


University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)


Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, Vol. 45, p. 369, 2007
U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-27

Abstract:     
In recent decades, proponents of a strand of feminist theory variously referred to as care feminism, cultural feminism, or relational feminism have been arguing for a social re-evaluation of what has traditionally been regarded as women's work - the care of dependents, such as children and elderly or disabled family members. As part of that project, a number of feminists have suggested that the traditional liberal theory of justice, based on the ideal of autonomous, independent actors, should be rejected, or at least revised, to reflect the reality of dependency in the life of every individual.

A number of writers have begun to explore the application of a dependency-based theory of justice in other contexts. In her recent book, Re-Imagining Justice (2001), legal scholar Robin West placed the dependency-based theory into a more general theory of justice with applications that extend beyond the concerns of women engaging in caregiving. The philosopher Alisdair MacIntyre, in Dependent Rational Animals (1999), after acknowledging his debt to the feminist writers, went on to apply their insight to general systems of moral philosophy. He argued that a recognition of the inevitability of periods of dependency in all human lives necessitates political and social structures that protect all members of society unable to advocate for themselves due to various conditions of dependency - children, people with disabilities, and the aged.

I have argued elsewhere that the writings of Pope John Paul II on women are in many significant ways compatible with much of this emerging strand of feminist theory. In this article, I explore the extent to which his writings support a general dependency-based theory of justice, such as those being developed by West and MacIntyre.

I conclude that the writings of John Paul not only support, but significantly advance, the project of articulating a general dependency-based theory of justice, with applications beyond the context of supporting motherhood. Even proponents of a dependency-based theory of justice who are not comfortable with the vocabulary of faith used by John Paul might borrow from him certain concepts that could be translated into secular vocabulary that would strengthen their arguments: acceptance of gender-based distinctions in gifts and perspectives that support arguments to restructure the workplace to allow fuller participation of women; a recognition of the full spectrum of human dependency conditions entitled to protection under this theory; and acknowledgment that the human condition of dependency might justify a right of dependents to receive care, as well as a right of care givers to provide care. At the same time, proponents of a dependency-based theory of justice who are motivated by faith convictions must acknowledge the persuasive power of many of the arguments presented by dependency-based theorists in purely secular terms such as those of West and MacIntyre.

I end the article with some preliminary thoughts about how the dependency based theory of justice might be applied to two concrete areas of law - disability rights and consumer protection.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 47

Keywords: moral philosophy, feminism, feminist theory, theories of justice, dependency-based theory, disability rights, consumer protection

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Date posted: August 9, 2006 ; Last revised: November 6, 2007

Suggested Citation

Schiltz, Elizabeth Rose, West, Macintyre and Wojtyla: Pope John Paul II's Contribution to the Development of a Dependency-Based Theory of Justice. Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, Vol. 45, p. 369, 2007; U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-27. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=923209

Contact Information

Elizabeth Rose Schiltz (Contact Author)
University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )
MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States
651-962-4922 (Phone)
651-962-4971 (Fax)
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