Justice in Schooling and Education

Dr Philip Cook
ESRC Small Grant: Schools, Children, and Social Justice


I am currently working on two broad projects: the moral and political status of children; and the problem of exclusion in contractualism.

My work on the moral and political status of children examines issues such as the nature of childhood; the basis of our duties towards children; and the duties of justice owed children (especially duties of justice in education, schooling, democratic participation, and in the labour market).

In other work, I am interested in whether contractualism can provide an understanding of the equal standing of persons such as children, people with disabilities, and elderly people. Contractualism represents the justification of moral and political principles as a form of agreement. Many contemporary contractualists describe agreement in ways that represent what it is to treat each other as moral equals. However, when specifying how agreement is reached, contractualists have to describe the interests we have in agreeing with others, or the capacities we use when reaching agreement (such as giving and evaluating the reasons of others). This often means that those persons who do not meet these criteria for being involved in agreement with others are excluded from the contractualist framework. For example, persons with severe cognitive disabilities, or elderly people who no longer contribute to the productive economy, or children who are not fully rational or autonomous are often excluded from contractualist accounts of moral and political justification. The problem of exclusion is that these persons are not regarded as equals on the same terms as those who meet the standard contractualist criteria of moral and political agents. This project examines if persons such as children, disabled people and elderly people can be included in contractualism without treating them as less then fully equal, while also retaining the core contractualist commitment to understanding morality in terms of agreement.