Representing the Unrepresented

Université de Fribourg, Miséricorde
09:00 - 18:30

«Representing the Unrepresented»


International 2-Day Workshop – Thursday, 14th and Friday, 15th September 2017

Venue: University of Fribourg, Switzerland


Organized by: 

Angela Martin (Department of Philosophy, University of Fribourg)

Dominic Roser (Institute for Ethics and Human Rights, University of Fribourg)


Rational moral agents are capable of presenting and defending their own interests in political decision-making. For example, they can campaign, protest, and publicly discuss pressing issues; they can take up a political mandate; and they are entitled to vote for delegates or representatives who will defend their interests. In short, they have the possibility to actively engage with and to influence political decision-making.                

However, there are many entities who might count morally, but who lack such a capacity because they cannot speak up for themselves, because they lack rationality and agency to utter their needs and interests, or because they do not exist yet. Examples are, amongst others, animals, the environment, very young children, robots, cognitively disabled persons, and unborn future generations. They are frequently concerned with the consequences of political decision-making, but cannot defend their own interests in political decision-making. For example, they might be ignored when scarce resources are distributed, when decisions are made about how to arrange their living space, or when long-term decisions that affect them are taken. For their interests to be genuinely taken into consideration on a political level, moral agents need to be convinced of the moral worth of these entities and be willing to represent and defend them. 

However, it remains an open question how this should best be done: is it sufficient that concerned individuals take over this task (such as family members of the mentally disabled, or animal lovers), or should there be designated defenders of these interests? And if the latter, should these defenders have a seat in parliament, do their work in the judicial process, or have the task to directly inform and influence public opinion? Should we, for example, elect representatives or delegates or nominate an ombudsperson, who will defend the presumed interests and will of these non-political entities? Could there be further reforms to the design of political institutions such that the interests of the unrepresented automatically receive more attention without specific agents having the task of highlighting them? And if yes, how should this be done in practice? Particularly with respect to the political inclusion of interests of future generations and non-nationals, a range of proposals have already been discussed in the literature. Can these proposals be transferred to other contexts, e.g. for defending the rights of animals? And what can we learn from existing practical experience regarding the representation of previously unrepresented groups? 

An additional problem arises due to the fact that the group of non-political entities that should morally count is substantially larger than the group of political agents. This raises a lot of questions concerning the just distribution of power: How many representatives would be needed? Should they just oversee debates in parliament and voice the concerns of those unable to defend themselves? Or should they have a voting or veto right? Or does such a suggestion go too far, and all citizens should simply actively try to internalize the interests of these non-political entities (in Goodin’s words: “encapsulated interests”) and represent them in public discourse? 

The aim of this conference is to address questions revolving around these issues:

  • Which entities should be politically represented?
  • Do we need substantial changes in the political system in order to take the interests of the unrepresented into account, or can we just modify the system slightly?
  • Is there one single model for improving the representation of the unrepresented, or do the models vary depending on those to be represented?
  • How should power be distributed? How much political weight should the unrepresented be accorded?
  • Do improvements to the representation of the unrepresented primarily have the purpose to promote substantive justice or procedural justice? Or is there a trade-off between substantive and procedural justice in representing the unrepresented?
  • Are there differences between representing the unrepresented on a national and international level?



Thursday: Room 2122AB (Campus Miséricorde – Avenue de l'Europe 20)

9:00 Welcome
9:10 Danielle Zwarthoed: Political Representation of Future Generations
10:15 Fritz Gillerke: Revising the Representation of Future Generations: Challenges to the All Affected Principle
11:30 Alasdair Cochrane: Animal Representation and the Equal Consideration of Interests

13:50 Dan Hooley: Animal Representatives
15:05 Linda Barclay: The Special Human Dignity of the Vote
16:25 Regina Schidel: The Representation of Cognitively Disabled Persons. Addressing Some Pitfalls of the Current Debate
17:30 Franziska Felder: Social, not (only) individual: Political inclusion and the case of cognitive disability
18:30 End of Day 1

Friday: Room Salle Jaeggi (Campus Miséricorde – Avenue de l'Europe 20)

9:00 John O’Neill: Who Speaks for Nature?
10:05 Alfonso Donoso: Towards an Assembly of the Living: Non-Human Representation of Interests
11:25 Siobhan O'Sullivan: Justice for Animals and Turning Principles into Practice: an Australian Case Study

14.00 Attila Mráz: The normative distinctness of children's political representation and political equality
15:15 Claudio López-Guerra : Representation, Equality, and Future Generations
16:30 Ivo Wallimann: Representing Future Generations or Concerns for Sustainable Development?
17:30 End of Workshop

Participation is free of charge. If you wish to participate, please contact angela.martin@unifr.ch and dominic.roser@unifr.ch for inscription. 

Supported by the following organisations within the University of Fribourg: Lehrstuhl für Ethik und Politische Philosophie, Institut für Ethik und Menschenrechte, CSWM, Fakultätsfonds FAF and Pôle éthique