Call for Abstracts: Social Equality, Aug 2014, Cape Town

Social Equality 

Cape Town, 15-17 August 2014 

The Philosophy Department at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, is hosting a three-day conference on Social Equality. The conference will take place on 15-17 August 2014.

Confirmed keynote speakers:

Prof Miranda Fricker, University of Sheffield

Prof Charles W. Mills, Northwestern University

Prof Jonathan Wolff, University College London

Many contemporary societies are strikingly unequal, and quickly becoming more so. In a country like South Africa, much social inequality is a visible part of daily life. But there are forms of inequality and disadvantage which, though no less problematic, are not immediately obvious to the casual observer. It would be naive to think philosophy on its own could do anything to alleviate inequality. But it does have a role to play. Philosophy can articulate the various different forms of social inequality. By arguing for a particular conception of justice or the good life, it can show what is wrong with some or all of these forms of inequality. In addition, political philosophy can demarcate the steps a government may legitimately take to address inequality and disadvantage. The philosophical debate about equality has become increasingly nuanced, concrete and empirically informed in recent years. We hope this conference will enable its continuation in a place where the need for an understanding of, and a strategy to address, inequality is particularly urgent.

We invite abstracts of no more than 200 words on topics including:

  • What’s so good about equality? Theorists disagree about whether equality per se should be a political goal. Of those who think it should, some think equality has intrinsic value, while others think its value lies in what it enables or what it expresses. Is equality itself a valuable moral ideal? Or is it merely a proxy for values such as respect and sufficiency?
  • What is equality? Political philosophers have increasingly seen the limitations of arguing for equality of wealth or primary social goods alone. Does reconceiving the fabric of egalitarian justice in terms of capabilities, recognition, social relationships or central human functionings provide a fuller picture of the just society?
  • Equality and muliculturalism. How can theorists of justice cope with the fact that conceptions of the human good may vary considerably across society-members? What is an adequate way of measuring levels of inequality in a multicultural society?
  • How should equality be achieved? Assuming societies should aim for equality, can philosophy tell us anything about the best ways to achieve it? What are the limits on permissible government intervention to achieve equality? Is affirmative action in recruitment and admissions justified to advance a currently disadvantaged group?

Researchers (including postgraduate students) who would like to present a paper are kindly requested to send an abstract of no more than 200 words by e-mail to by midnight (GMT) on Tuesday 18th February 2014.

(Conference participants will be asked to pay a small registration fee to cover costs.)


Information about keynote speakers

Miranda Fricker is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. Her work spans epistemology, moral & social philosophy, and feminism. She is author of Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing (OUP), which was the subject of a special issue of the journal Social Epistemology. She co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Feminism in Philosophy (CUP) with Jennifer Hornsby. Recently she has published work on group testimony and moral relativism.

Charles W. Mills is John Evans Professor of Moral & Intellectual Philosophy at Northwestern University, Illinois. His books The Racial Contract (Cornell) and Blackness Visible (Cornell) are classics of the philosophy of race. He collaborated with Carole Pateman on Contract and Domination (Polity). His latest book is Radical Theory, Caribbean Reality: Race, Class and Social Domination (University of the West Indies).

 Jonathan Wolff is Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at University College London. His books include Why Read Marx Today? (OUP), An Introduction to Political Philosophy (OUP), Ethics and Public Policy (Routledge), Disadvantage (OUP) (co-authored with Avner de-Shalit), and The Human Right to Health (Norton). He has served on committees advising the U.K. government on drugs, gambling, railway safety and homicide.

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