Dialogue on Peace as the Presence of Justice: Ethical Reasoning as an Essential Learning Goal of Peace Education (Part 2 of 3)

An Invitation to Peace Educators from Dale Snauwaert and Betty Reardon

Editor’s Introduction

This is the second in a three-part series dialogue between Betty Reardon and Dale Snauwaert on “Dialogue on Peace as the Presence of Justice.”  This installment includes the third and fourth exchanges between the authors.  The dialogue in its entirety is published via In Factis Pax, a peer-reviewed online journal of peace education and social justice.

The purpose of the dialogue, according to the authors:

“This dialogue on peace education is guided by two foundational assertions: peace as the presence of justice; and ethical reasoning as an essential learning goal of peace education. We invite peace educators everywhere to review and assess our dialogue and the challenges outlined, and to engage in similar dialogues and colloquies with colleagues who share the common goal of making education an effective instrument of peace. In this way we hope to inspire discourse on cultivating peace, human rights and the moral imperatives of justice; let us strive together to develop core learning pedagogies of ethical inquiry and moral reasoning as essentials of peace education.”

Read part 1 and part 3 in the series.

Citation: Reardon, B. & Snauwaert, D. (2022).  Dialogue on Peace as the Presence of Justice: Ethical Reasoning as an Essential Learning Goal of Peace Education. An Invitation to Peace Educators from Dale Snauwaert and Betty Reardon. In Factis Pax, 16 (2): 105-128.

Exchange 3

Snauwaert:  As you suggest, the claims and obligations of justice, which form the ethical core of peace education, can be expressed in the language of rights and duties, and therefore, peace educators have a moral duty to provide the opportunity for human rights learning and a learning environment consistent with justice.  Your points here are of great importance.  The idea of human rights is the dominant way of articulating the demands of justice in the modern world (Bobbio, [1990] 1996; Falk, 2000; Glover, 2000; Gutmann, 2001; Ignatieff, 2001; Jones, 1999; Perry, 1998; Vincent, 1986).  Rights talk has become the “lingua franca of global moral thought” (Ignatieff, 2001), p.53).  Rights are justified demands for the socially guaranteed enjoyment of ethical goods.  In addition, some rights are “basic,” in the sense that they are necessary for the enjoyment of all other rights (Shue, 1980, p. 19).  A right is a rational basis for a justified demand in the sense that it provides a compelling normative reason for the demand being met.  Rights have to do with the activity of claiming, which is a rule-governed activity: “To have a claim … is to have a case meriting consideration … to have reason or grounds that put one in a position to engage in [legitimate] claiming (Feinberg, 2001, p. 185).”

As such, rights can be conceived as protections against coercion, deprivation, and inhumane treatment.  Rights protect the powerless from the powerful (Bobbio, [1990] 1996; Ignatieff, 2001; Jones, 1999; Vincent, 1986). As Norberto Bobbio asserts, human rights arise out of “specific conditions characterized by the embattled defense of new freedoms against old powers (Bobbio, [1990] 1996, p. xi).”  R. J Vincent maintains that they are “a weapon of the weak against the strong (Vincent, 1986, p. 17).” In this sense rights are political, in that they are means of adjudicating conflict and serve as a means to protect the interests of individuals (Ignatieff, 2001).  Rights thus define what the individual is due, is justified in demanding/claiming, and/or is protected from, and, as such, constitute one of two core dimensions of justice.

Reardon:  There are two concepts in these assertions about rights that are integral to the social purposes and civic learning goals of peace education: first, the notion of rights as ethical goods that you defined in another exchange that I paraphrase as: vital basic interests, substantive or abstract, a person has reason to value; and second, your concluding statement on the rules-based political nature of rights. The learning goals I posit as the intended outcome of secondary and tertiary study of these ideas are the capacities to recognize, define and pursue ethical goods, and the skills to engage in the politics of realizing them.

While you speak in terms of the rights of the individual, the assertion that it is society that is obligated to fulfill justified rights puts the learning discourse in the communal realm of second-generation human rights, codified in the International Convention on Social and Economic Rights. The norms or rules of the Convention were generated from the fundamental concepts of needs required for human wellbeing, previously and more succinctly identified in the UDHR. Within the framework of your assertions, the claim that all members of a society, individually and collectively, can make for fulfillment of these needs is that they are universal requirements to maintain life, physical and social wellbeing.

Reflection on rights so conceived, essentially recognizing universal human needs, could lead learners to a comprehension that human beings are one single species who share a common destiny. The species, generally referred to as humanity is, like societies, a subject of rights. For example, the UN recently declared humanity’s right to a healthy environment. The fact of universal human needs combined with the concept of a singular humanity manifest both substantive and abstract ethical goods, the claims to which raise fundamental ethical and moral issues. The current fragility of the wellbeing and the future survival of humanity pose the overriding political problematic that peace education has an unavoidable ethical responsibility to confront.  As such, it should be both a primary focus and a constant subtext of all peace education inquiries into human rights and any and all forms of justice.

The primary focus and subtext put the requisite peacelearning directly in the context of the current cultural, social, and political conflicts, rawer and more virulent than any faced since human rights became recognized international norms. Peace education is challenged to guide learners in acquiring political skills that enable them to effectively apply human rights to the resolution of conflict, making your concluding assertion an excellent articulation of the positing of this goal. I urge all peace educators to consider your statement as the justification of how we can seek to fulfill this crucial ethical obligation of our time.

Exchange 4

Snauwaert: Given the importance of rights and duties that you suggest are the core purposes of peace education, it would be fruitful to elaborate further on the idea of rights and duties. The idea that rights are justified claims is comprised of two elements: the claim, and its justification. Claims necessarily have a content.  When a claim is made it is always a claim for something, and this raises the question of the content of rights—what are we justified in claiming?  Moreover, justified claims are necessarily addressed to others (Forst, 2012).  “To have a claim-right is to be owed a duty by another or others” (Jones, 2001, p. 53).  A basic element of a right, therefore, is the identification of a duty generated by the right (Shue, 1980).

In turn, duties entail the identification of the agent(s) who holds the duty generated by the right.  This identification also entails a justification for imposing the duty onto the specified agent (Jones, 2001).  Rights necessarily entail duties and thus the identification of who is obligated to guarantee the protection of those rights.  The imposition of the duty onto a specific agent is contingent upon the type of duty involved, the capability of the agent to fulfill the duty, and a moral justification for the imposition of the duty.

This discussion of duties invoked by rights suggests that, as we discussed above, the subject of justice is the basic institutional structure of society (Rawls, 1971).  As Thomas Pogge argues, rights are “moral claims upon the organization of society” (Pogge, 2001, p. 200), and thus are matters of social justice.  It is the primary duty of the state, of government, to aid, avoid depriving, and protect the rights of its citizens.  The idea that rights entail duties is a foundational idea of justice.  Rights as justified claims to, and protections of, one’s vital interests thus call for the institutional structures of society, its’ legal and governmental systems, to be just.

It is essential to point out that citizens, in turn, have a duty to support the establishment and sustainability of just institutions.  This duty includes a duty to resist injustice. If we are due the protection of our rights, and social institutions, specifically the government, hold the duties of aid and protection, then individual citizens hold a basic duty to support just social and political institutions, and to resist and reform institutions, laws, policies, customs, and practices that fail to provide that protection, or are intentionally designed to violate the rights of certain persons.

Reardon:  The philosophic concepts on which you build these assertions are the foundation for education for ethical reasoning, and various core skills of responsible citizenship. They also provide opportunities for reflection on language, the words we use to interpret the world, and to articulate how we hope to change it. Agency, content, duty, institutional structures, and justification are terms that should be in the vocabulary of all peace educators, and the ideas they express – even if in different words – should be familiar to and valued by the citizens of any society that purports to seek justice.

To achieve familiarity, the curricular task for basic citizenship education is to interpret these concepts in the language of the ordinary citizen. If sustainable justice is to be achieved through the realization of human rights, the foundational ideas of a philosophy of justice need to be familiar to and valued by the general citizenry. For that reason, these observations are formulated with secondary school and beginning level undergraduate teachers in mind. Secondary school and the first years of undergraduate education are the learning levels most relevant to the purposes that inform this exchange. These are years during which young citizens begin to take up action in pursuit of the values they hope society will manifest, to confront the complexities of realizing justice. Complexities are revealed as the meanings and usage of the relevant words that articulated the concepts are to be explored, seeking the clarity of meaning and purpose essential to political efficacy.

Conceptual clarity is important for the content of all curriculum design and has been especially emphasized in peace education. I would argue that informing values and the philosophy of purpose should also be clearly stated by the designers. Concepts – i.e., ideas and the words that articulate them – are the primary medium of the discourse of peace education. The philosophic concepts you invoke in this statement should be the medium that peace education employs to explore the complexities of the problematic of justice. As the connotations that the words bring to mind are considered, learners clarify the denoted and connoted meanings of the relevant concepts and how they operate realizing justice.

Complementarities as well as contradictions among the core concepts and meanings of the words we use to express them can be discerned, invoking more complex thinking a step away from the bifurcation of the either/or framing that dominates consideration of ethical issues in most current political discourse. Establishing complementarities, the possibilities of also/and as framing is grounds for projecting various alternative approaches to any given problem of justice. Assessing multiple alternatives and engaging in values reflection in selecting among choices for action are practices prominent in the pedagogy of peace education. Learning to assess various possibilities for action and analyzing the values that infuse them, nourishes the will to act, to exercise agency. Proposing and assessing alternative courses of action is a capacity that well serves those who intend to be agents of justice.

The assertion that claiming rights requires an agent, is one of the factors that makes the development of capacities for effective agency an imperative of peace education. The learner/citizen, thinking as agent, must identify and choose courses of action to realize the claim, i.e., to pursue justice by providing remedy for a harm or access to a benefit though one or a combination of the alternatives. The efficacy of the action will likely be determined by the rigor of the assessment of alternatives and sharpness of the values analysis, and certainly on the articulation of the content of the claim.

Developing the content of a claim (referred to in a previous exchange as substance) – describing the benefit to which the claimant aspires or the harm for which remedy is sought – is essentially the same process of identification and definition of the injustices deemed to be the causes and consequences of World War II that produced the UDHR; and in subsequent decades, as other harms were identified, the international human rights standards now recognized – though not fully observed – by the world community. The UDHR and the international conventions and covenants are essential material for any and all curricula intended to develop capacities for the pursuit justice.

Knowing the standards and the history of the evolution of human rights concepts brings a human dimension to the inquiry through which the content of a claim is conceptualized. Accounts of actual experiences can serve to humanize this history and can be woven into curricula through the stories of how society came to see harms as injustices to be remedied, stories that we call history. Study of actual cases illuminate the actual suffering of harms or struggles to acquire benefits; the stuff of great literature and films, long used to good effect in human rights curricula. Human experience is the most motivating framework for inquiry into conceptualizing the claim.

As illustration of a possible line of inquiry, I suggest here a few sample queries. These queries are intended to provide deeper understanding of experiences that lead to awareness of the injustice that gave rise to the claim in question. An inquiry establishing the content of a claim might begin with asking, “What actually is being experienced or was experienced by the claimant?” Then with a view toward establishing grounds for justifying the claim, “Is the harm or denial of a benefit the claimant experiences addressed in international human rights standards? If not, on what grounds might the claim be argued? Are there applicable national, local, or customary laws to be invoked? How might these laws be used to argue for the claim?” Here, the point is to clarify the injustice, establish that it is recognized as a violation of rights, make the case that justice demands the harm be remedied or the benefit provided and awaken in the agent a motivation to act to fulfill the claim as a personal responsibility and a civic duty.

Fulfilling of personal and civic obligations leads the citizen/learner to seek out the institutional structures designed to realize justice, such as those intended to enact human rights standards. Such seeking facilitates understanding of how justice is pursued in the public sphere and imparts knowledge of the institutional procedures for the remediation of harms that society designates as inconsistent with its fundamental values.

Peace pedagogy should aim to cultivate comprehension of the evolution of how societies came to recognize harms as contradictory to their sense of what is right. That comprehension could be achieved in reviewing the conceptualization and encoding of those human rights standards, such as the human rights of women and the rights of the child, as political processes in which, citizen agents took responsibility to actively pursue justice as a civic duty. The complementarity of also/and framing of responsibility and duty, I argue, is more likely to achieve a more genuine and sustainable quality of justice than justice pursued only through responsibility or duty. Authentic justice is the consequence of wanting for others the rights and benefits we hope to enjoy ourselves. It derives largely from the acknowledgement that equity in the sharing of social goods is mutually beneficial to all members of society, and that every possible means should be used to pursue it. Pursuing authentic justice invokes the complementarity of morality/ethics. Morals, or inwardly held convictions of what is right and good, are usually acquired from family, religious teaching, or other authoritative sources;  ethics are derived from demonstrable principles of fairness, justice and equity. The origins of the morality/ethics complementarity and application are similar to those of duties/responsibilities.  

Duty and responsibility both have roles in the justification of claims. Together they can provide a wide range of arguments, principles, and standards to establish that support fulfilling a claim.  Indeed, justification should be the cornerstone of a peace and justice pedagogy. It calls for the problem analysis integral to peace pedagogy, but also and particularly for the ethical reasoning so sorely needed and tragically absent it today’s political discourse. Considering the multiple crises that now overwhelm the pursuit of justice, questions of basic needs, human dignity, and the legality of circumstances in which they are denied, now addressed by but few active citizens and fewer policy makers, needs to be central to all policy discourse. It is imperative that peace education place a high priority on a capacity for ethical reasoning as a primary educational goal. For without such capacity, citizens are not likely to function as responsible and efficacious agents of justice. Ethical reasoning is integral and essential to peace education’s long advocated educational goal of political efficacy. Ethical reasoning for political efficacy was never more needed than now when Earth itself calls us to act to remedy the multiple harms that can lead to the end of the whole human experiment.

Read part 1 and part 3 in the series.
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