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Doing Justice Without Doing Harm (2016)

2016 Nootbaar Conference - Doing Justice Without Doing Harm


Justice is a central theme in most secular and religious moral traditions, though there are significant disagreements about its content. As Alasdair McIntyre asked, "Whose Justice?" During some periods of history there has been great optimism that the world was moving in a more just direction, generally followed by periods of great injustice and great disillusionment.

Our conference themes have ancient roots --"do justice" (Micah 6:8) and "do no harm" (Hippocrates). The first theme is a call to do justice and to serve a hurting world. What do our traditions say about justice to the 21st century? What are the great injustices and causes of suffering in our world? How might they be addressed by individuals, religious congregations, NGOs, and governments?

A second theme (raised powerfully in Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert's book When Helping Hurts) will be how individuals, groups, and laws might avoid doing harm as we attempt to do good. Attempts to help can generate dependence or harm bystanders. The work of governments and NGOs can undercut local institutions like religious congregations and businesses that might address local problems. Laws can have unintended consequences that do greater harm than good. Protections afforded some groups, may harm other groups. We need to make a difference, but to do so wisely.

Conference Materials