By Thomas Rowe

Screen grab care of Mark Sainsbury

According to Lopes, justice is goodness in a relatively large-scale social arrangement. Injustice is thereby badness in such a social arrangement. Aesthetic injustice becomes an issue when cultures encounter one another. The motivating example of the talk was the Canadian government’s use of Haida aesthetic culture (the Spirit of Haida Gwaii sculpture) on the $20 bill. There seemed to be something not quite right about the use of this First Nation art on the national currency. Lopes’s explanation for this is that the use of aesthetic culture subverted the process through which the Haida people fix their own aesthetic profile, contrary to the interest in social autonomy.

The account of aesthetic injustice maps on quite nicely to the familiar notion of political injustice. This is because there is an appeal to the large-scale structural features of society that frame how individuals come into contact with one another. This mirrors the typical approach in political philosophy of seeing justice as a matter of the fundamental political and economic institutions of society.

I will note two points. First, Lopes’s view assumes a perfectionist orientated approach to justice. Perfectionists appeal to an account of a good human life in their accounts of justice. (But what exactly is a good human life?) It is a great contribution, however, to conceive of aesthetic interests as being relevant to justice. The perfectionist approach can be contrasted with approaches of justice such as “realism” which aim to secure conditions for the non-violent coexistence of cultural communities.

Second, Lopes argues that aesthetic injustice can undermine individuals’ capacities to realise the interests of the value of diverse schemes of aesthetic value as well as communities’ interest in social autonomy. These interests can be viewed as part of an account of a good human life, where the former states that it is good, for instance, that there are different ways of doing rock music, and the latter refers to the good of being able to shape one’s life and have an impact on surrounding social practices. Lopes suggested that justice with respect to these interests can be seen as an aspiration to the maximum, and injustice can be seen as the falling below some threshold, where individuals’ capacities to realise these interests are set back to a sufficient degree. But where, we may ask, is this threshold? And what are the particularly aesthetic interests (if any) that are set back by aesthetic injustice? I look forward to hearing more about Lopes’s excellent work on this fascinating area.