I present a fictional and somewhat unpleasant tutorial. In it a use of the term “ideal political theory” is connected with the reflective equilibrium method: an ideal theory requires no adaptation of specific moral judgments to fit with the theory. I have not been in a tutorial closely resembling this, I should say.
In this paper I make some distinctions, which I hope are of help for Laura Valentini and others. Are the recommendations of a theory of what the government should do possible and are they feasible? Is the project of the theorist possibility-sensitive and is the project feasibility-sensitive?
This paper presents an attempt to solve Laura Valentini’s ideal theory paradox, in a way which makes me think of G.E. Moore but I shall leave the classification of the solution to the experts. I also discuss the claim that philosophy is so easy.
I present a sense of the term “ideal theory” based on Joseph Raz’s response to the situation of a lifeguard faced with three drowning on one side and two on the other and unable to save all. From what is of value, such a theory builds up a conception of an ideal political state or an aspect of it which we have reason to realize, but ignoring whether it is possible for us to realize this.
Efficiency requires legislative political institutions. There are many ways efficiency can be promoted, and so an ongoing legislative institution is necessary to resolve this choice in a politically sustainable and economically flexible way. This poses serious problems for classical liberal proposals to constitutionally protect markets from government intervention, as seen in the work of Ilya Somin, Guido Pincione & Fernando Tesón and others. The argument for the political nature of efficiency is set out in terms of both Pareto optimality and (...) aggregate welfare maximisation, and similar arguments can be generalised to other social values. (shrink)
The ethics of immigration is currently marked by a division between realists and idealists. The idealists generally focus on formulating morally ideal immigration policies. The realists, however, tend to dismiss these ideals as far-fetched and infeasible. In contrast to the idealists, the realists seek to resolve pressing practical issues relating to immigration, principally by advancing what they consider to be actionable policy recommendations. In this article, I take issue with this conception of realism. I begin by surveying the way in (...) which it exemplifies what certain political theorists have recently called ‘problem-solving’ realism – a species of realism which they reject as incoherent. These theorists demonstrate that what counts as a ‘feasible’ solution is far harder to establish than most problem-solving realists would have us believe. Applying this general critique to the specific domain of immigration ethics turns out to radically undermine the notion of realism that prevails in this sphere of applied ethics. I conclude that we should therefore revise our conception of what constitutes a genuinely realist approach to the problem of immigration. (shrink)
This article challenges the association between realist methodology and ideals of legitimacy. Many who seek a more “realistic” or “political” approach to political theory replace the familiar orientation towards a state of justice with a structurally similar orientation towards a state of legitimacy. As a result, they fail to provide more reliable practical guidance, and wrongly displace radical demands. Rather than orienting action towards any state of affairs, I suggest that a more practically useful approach to political theory would directly (...) address judgments, by comparing the concrete possibilities for action faced by real political actors. (shrink)
Apocalypse, it seems, is everywhere. Preachers with vast followings proclaim the world's end and apocalyptic fears grip even the non-religious amid climate change, pandemics, and threats of nuclear war. But as these ideas pervade popular discourse, grasping their logic remains elusive. Ben Jones argues that we can gain insight into apocalyptic thought through secular thinkers. He starts with a puzzle: Why would secular thinkers draw on Christian apocalyptic beliefs--often dismissed as bizarre--to interpret politics? The apocalyptic tradition proves appealing in part (...) because it theorizes a special relation between crisis and utopia. Apocalyptic thought points to crisis as the vehicle to bring the previously impossible within reach, thus offering apparent resources for navigating challenges in ideal theory, which tries to imagine the best and most just society. By examining apocalyptic thought's appeal and risks, this study arrives at new insights on the limits of ideal theory and utopian hope. (shrink)
I present and argue for a novel function-based account of feasibility - what I call the "Fitting Deliberation Account" - according to which whether an (individual or collective) action counts as feasible is a matter of whether it possesses those features that are required to make it a fitting object of practical reason or deliberation about what to do.
It is tempting to think (1) that we may sometimes have hopelessly utopian duties and yet (2) that “ought” implies “can.” How might we square these apparently conflicting claims? A simple solution is to interpret hopelessly utopian duties as duties to "pursue" the achievement of manifestly unattainable outcomes (as opposed to duties to "achieve" the outcomes), thereby promising to vindicate the possibility of such duties in a way that is compatible with “ought” implies “can.” The main challenge for this simple (...) solution is to say what the relevant “duties to pursue” are supposed to involve. We survey several existing candidates (duties to try, duties to approximate, duties to do our part, and dynamic duties) and argue that none of them succeeds in delivering on the promise of the simple solution. We then propose a previously untheorized class of duties that we call "duties to devote ourselves" to achieving an outcome, and argue that such duties provide us with an interpretation of hopelessly utopian duties that is up to the task. (shrink)
A common objection to a proposal or theory in political philosophy is that it is not feasible to realise what it calls for. This is commonly taken to be sufficient to reject a proposal or theory: feasibility, on this common view, operates as a straightforward constraint on moral and political theory, whatever is not feasible is simply ruled out. This paper seeks to understand what we mean when we say that some proposal or outcome is or is not feasible. It (...) will argue that no single binary definition can be given. Rather, there is a whole range of possible specifications of the term ‘feasible’, each of which selects a range of facts of the world to hold fixed. No single one of these possible specifications, though, is obviously privileged as giving the appropriate understanding of ‘feasibility’ tout court. The upshot of my account of feasibility, then, will be that the common view of feasibility as a straightforward constraint cannot be maintained: in order to reject a moral theory, it will not be sufficient simply to say that it is not feasible. (shrink)
The ‘limits of markets’ debate broadly concerns the question of when it is (im)permissible to have a market in some good. Markets can be of tremendous benefit to society, but many have felt that certain goods should not be for sale (e.g., sex, kidneys, bombs). Their sale is argued to be corrupting, exploitative, or to express a form of disrespect. InMarkets without Limits, Jason Brennan and Peter Jaworski have recently argued to the contrary: For any good, as long as it (...) is permissible to give it for free, then it is permissible to give it for money. Their thesis has led to a number of engaging objections, and I leverage recent work on the nature of feasibility within political philosophy to offer a new challenge.I argue that feasibility offers a constraint on which markets can be permissibly implemented. Though it may be possible to create a morally acceptable version of an otherwise repugnant market, some of these markets may be infeasible, and so we are not permitted to implement them. After laying out this challenge, I consider several replies. They concern the relevance of feasibility, and whether any markets really are infeasible. This provides an opportunity to explore the dangers of pursuing the infeasible and with markets generally. I conclude by considering what might lead us to pursue these markets despite their infeasibility, or how knowledge of infeasibility may prove useful regardless. (shrink)
What kinds of feasibility restrictions should be taken into account in practically relevant political philosophy? David Estlund argues that “ought” does not imply “can will,” and, hence, that we should be very cautious regarding the inclusion of motivational restrictions in political philosophy. As Nicholas Southwood and David Wiens point out, however, Estlund’s position clashes with the requirement that “ought” implies “feasible.” The present article argues that even though we must accept that “ought” implies “feasible,” this does not settle the question (...) regarding the adequate set of feasibility restrictions to be included in applied normative thinking. Instead, we need to distinguish different kinds of normative theory that require different sets of feasibility restrictions. For this, the article provides a taxonomy of feasibility restrictions and a preliminary discussion of the adequate set of feasibility restrictions for different kinds of normative theory. (shrink)
The open borders view is frequently dismissed for making infeasible demands. This is a potent strategy. Unlike normative arguments regarding open borders, which tend to be relatively intractable, the charge of infeasibility is supposed to operate as what we call a "normative argument-stopper." Nonetheless, we argue that the strategy fails. Bringing about open borders is perfectly feasible on the most plausible account of feasibility. We consider and reject what we take to be the only three credible ways to save the (...) charge of infeasibility: by proposing an alternative account of feasibility; by proposing an alternative, more circumscribed interpretation of the subject-matter of feasibility claims; and by proposing a more expansive account of the addressees of the demand for open borders. The first fails to vindicate the claim that infeasibility is a normative argument-stopper. The second does not provide an argument against open borders at all. The third underestimates the power of at least some non-state actors. We conclude by drawing some lessons for the open borders view and the use of feasibility in politics more generally. (shrink)
This article defends a specific account of reasonableness as a virtue of liberal citizenship. I specify an account of reasonableness that I argue is more consistent with the phenomenology of intersubjective exchanges among citizens over political matters in contexts of deep disagreement. My reading requires reasonable citizens to undertake an attitude of epistemic modesty while deliberating public matters with agents who hold views different from theirs. In contrast with my view, I debate Martha Nussbaum’s and Steven Wall’s accounts of reasonableness (...) and specify why I believe that these proposals, although interesting, both require revisions. Distinguishing my account from theirs, I specify the normative relation between reasonableness and a general framework of political legitimacy that identifies citizens as ‘co-authors of democratic decisions’. Here, I argue that the liberal ideal of ascribing to each member of the constituency the status of putative epistemic authority can be properly fulfilled if coupled with a correct specification of the political ideal of mutual respect. I conclude claiming that opacity respect, a notion of respect according to which the recognition respect that is owed to individuals is expressed by the idea that we have to treat them as ‘opaque’, is the most adequate concept of political respect when dealing with interpersonal deliberations at political level in contexts of deep disagreement. (shrink)
This paper discusses how the general and abstract concept of legitimacy applies to international institutions, using the United Nations Security Council as an example. We argue that the evaluation of the Security Council’s legitimacy requires considering three significant and interrelated aspects: its purpose, competences, and procedural standards. We consider two possible interpretations of the Security Council’s purpose: on the one hand, maintaining peace and security, and, on the other, ensuring broader respect for human rights. Both of these purposes are minimally (...) morally acceptable for legitimacy. Second, we distinguish between three different competences of the UNSC: 1) the decision-making competence, 2) the quasi-legislative competence, and 3) the referral competence. On this basis, we argue that different procedural standards are required to legitimise these competences, which leads to a more differentiated understanding of the Security Council’s legitimacy. While maintaining that the membership structure of the Council is a severe problem for its legitimacy, we suggest other procedural standards that can help to improve its overall legitimacy, which include broad transparency, deliberation, and the revisability of the very terms of accountability themselves. (shrink)
Building on the work of John Rawls, this book offers a conception of ideal theory which provides practical guidance and a critical perspective on politics, institutions and society. The author develops this approach by discussing recent criticism of ideal theory by authors such as Amartya Sen and Raymond Geuss. Answering Sen’s criticism, the author proposes a novel account of feasibility in relation to ideal theory, especially with regard to ideal institutional design. As a reply to Geuss’ criticism, he discusses constructivist (...) approaches of moral theory-building. Building on this discussion, the book develops an account of practical ideal–theoretical thinking that can be used for evaluating and criticizing societies and can guide institutional design under nonideal conditions. (shrink)
L’anno appena trascorso è stato dimenticabile (per ovvie ragioni) e i filosofi politici hanno una ragione in più per dimenticarlo data la prematura scomparsa di Gerald Gaus. Tuttavia, essi potrebbero forse trovare una qualche consolazione nel fatto che il 2020 ha visto la pubblicazione di due notevoli opere dedicate alla loro disciplina. Non mi riferisco a due notevoli opere di filosofia politica – quelle spesso non mancano – ma a due opere sulla filosofia politica: Utopohobia: On the Limits (if any) (...) of Political Philosophy, di David Estlund e What is Political Philosophy?, di Charles Larmore. Ci sarebbe molto da dire su entrambi questi volumi. Quello di Estlund, soprattutto, apre un grande ventaglio di questioni interessanti ed è ricco di spunti di grande originalità, solo parzialmente abbozzati nei saggi che il volume riprende e sviluppa. Tuttavia, lo spazio a disposizione è limitato e impone una scelta. Ho optato per questa: dopo aver offerto una sintesi criminalmente breve del nucleo argomentativo dei due volumi (sezione 2), li metterò in dialogo. Cercherò, in altre parole, di usare alcune risorse offerte dall’uno per interrogare e problematizzare alcuni aspetti centrali dell’altro. Per quanto riguarda Larmore, l’aspetto che discuterò è il primato che egli assegna al disaccordo e al problema della legittimità in filosofia politica: un punto che interrogherò a partire da alcune critiche. (shrink)
Proponents of political liberalism standardly assume that the citizens of an ideal liberal society would be overwhelmingly reasonable. I argue that this assumption violates political liberalism's own constraints of realism—constraints that are necessary to frame the central problem that political liberalism aims to solve, that is, the problem of reasonable pluralism. To be consistent with these constraints, political liberalism must recognize that, as with reasonable pluralism, widespread support for unreasonable moral and political views is an inevitable feature of any liberal (...) society. I call this the fact of unreasonable pluralism. This fact threatens Rawlsian political liberalism's account of stability because an overlapping consensus cannot stably order a society pervaded by unreasonable views. My argument also raises questions about the coherence of Rawls's conception of ideal theory. (shrink)
Based on three recently published books on climate justice, this article reviews the field of climate ethics in light of developments of international climate politics. The central problem addressed is how idealised normative theories can be relevant to the political process of negotiating a just distribution of the costs and benefits of mitigating climate change. I distinguish three possible responses, that is, three kinds of non-ideal theories of climate justice: focused on (1) the injustice of some agents not doing their (...) part; (2) the policy process and aiming to be realistic; and (3) grievances related to the transition to a clean-energy economy. The methodological discussion underpinning each response is innovative and should be of interest more generally, even though it is still underdeveloped. The practical upshot, however, is unclear: even non-ideal climate justice may be too disconnected from the fast-moving and messy climate circus. (shrink)
Human dignity: social movements invoke it, several national constitutions enshrine it, and it features prominently in international human rights documents. But what is human dignity, why is it important, and what is its relationship to human rights? -/- This book offers a sophisticated and comprehensive defence of the view that human dignity is the moral heart of human rights. First, it clarifies the network of concepts associated with dignity. Paramount within this network is a core notion of human dignity as (...) an inherent, non-instrumental, egalitarian, and high-priority normative status of human persons. People have this status in virtue of their valuable human capacities rather than as a result of their national origin and other conventional features. Second, it shows how human dignity gives rise to an inspiring ideal of solidaristic empowerment, which calls us to support people's pursuit of a flourishing life by affirming both negative duties not to block or destroy, and positive duties to protect and facilitate, the development and exercise of the valuable capacities at the basis of their dignity. The most urgent of these duties are correlative to human rights. Third, this book illustrates how the proposed dignitarian approach allows us to articulate the content, justification, and feasible implementation of specific human rights, including contested ones, such as the rights to democratic political participation and to decent labour conditions. Finally, this book's dignitarian approach helps illuminate the arc of humanist justice, identifying both the difference and the continuity between the basic requirements of human rights and more expansive requirements of social justice such as those defended by liberal egalitarians and democratic socialists. -/- Human dignity is indeed the moral heart of human rights. Understanding it enables us to defend human rights as the urgent ethical and political project that puts humanity first. (shrink)
This paper explicates the influential Confucian view that “people” and not “institutional rules” are the proper sources of good governance and social order, as well as some notable Confucian objections to this position. It takes Xunzi 荀子, Hu Hong 胡宏, and Zhu Xi 朱熹 as the primary representatives of the “virtue-centered” position, which holds that people’s good character and not institutional rules bear primary credit for successful governance. And it takes Huang Zongxi 黃宗羲 as a major advocate for the “institutionalist” (...) position, which holds that institutional rules have some power to effect success independently of improvements in character. Historians have often called attention to this debate but left the major arguments and positions relatively unspecified. As I show, the Confucian virtue-centered view is best captured in two theses: first, that reforming people is far more demanding than reforming institutional rules; second, that once the rules have reached a certain threshold of viability, further improvements in those rules are unlikely to be effective on their own. Once we specify the theses in this way, we can catalogue the different respects and degrees to which the more virtue-centered political thinkers endorse virtue-centrism in governance. Zhu Xi, for example, turns out to endorse a stronger version of virtue-centrism than Hu Hong. I also use this account of the major theses to show that Huang Zongxi, who is sometimes regarded as historical Confucianism’s foremost institutionalist, has more complicated and mixed views about the power of institutional reform than scholars usually assume. (shrink)
This research study focuses on the problem of populistic propaganda online. In particular, this research study provides three case studies gathered in a Facebook Group of the Italian populistic movement Movimento 5 Stelle. On the one hand, the three case studies provide three powerful counterexamples to the thesis that online media are purposeful aggregator of people. In fact, this research study finds that online media are the perfect environment for populism to thrive. For online media seem to foster the aggregation (...) of people into groups whose main common denominator is the total refusal of anything that opposes the groups’ views. On this basis, this paper provides evidence that online media may impoverish democratic confrontation. On the other hand, this paper finds that the one of the causes of the rapid rise of populistic movements in Western countries might also be related to the problem of cognitive biases. Indeed, the case studies presented in the paper posit the existence of something that is addressed as the trigger effect, i.e. agents’ tendency to react impulsively to any kind of content that fits agent’s views about current events. Specifically, this research study finds that the activation of the trigger effect might be a direct consequence of the activation of the narrow framing bias and of the anchoring heuristic in presence of fake news. (shrink)
It is common in political theory and practice to challenge normatively ambitious proposals by saying that their fulfillment is not feasible. But there has been insufficient conceptual exploration of what feasibility is, and very little substantive inquiry into why and how it matters for thinking about social justice. This paper provides one of the first systematic treatments of these issues, and proposes a dynamic approach to the relation between justice and feasibility that illuminates the importance of political imagination and dynamic (...) duties to expand agents’ power to fulfill ambitious principles of justice. (shrink)
Some theorists—including Elizabeth Anderson, Gerald Gaus, and Amartya Sen—endorse versions of 'public reason' as the appropriate way to justify political decisions while rejecting 'ideal theory'. This chapter proposes that these ideas are not easily separated. The idea of public reason expresses a form of mutual 'civic' respect for citizens. Public reason justifications for political proposals are addressed to citizens who would find acceptable those justifications, and consequently would comply freely with those proposals should they become law. Hence public reasoning involves (...) 'local ideal theorizing': the justification of political proposals includes their consideration and evaluation under conditions of compliance with them by the citizens to whom those justifications are addressed. Local ideal theorizing, moreover, can lead to 'full ideal theorizing', wherein citizens outline and evaluate an amended version of their society’s 'basic structure'. This argument is illustrated by some recent empirical work on inequality within the United States. (shrink)
This chapter develops a ``nesting'' model of deontic normative principles (i.e., principles that specify moral constraints upon action) as a means to understanding the notion of a ``fundamental normative principle''. I show that an apparently promising attempt to make sense of this notion such that the ``real'' or ``fundamental'' demands of justice upon action are not constrained by social facts is either self-defeating or relatively unappealing. We should treat fundamental normative principles not as specifying fundamental constraints upon action, but as (...) specifying basic criteria for comparatively evaluating and ranking possibilities. (shrink)
This paper examines what agents should do when others fail to comply with their responsibilities to prevent dangerous climate change. It distinguishes between six different possible responses to noncompliance. These include what I term (1) 'target modification' (watering down the extent to which we seek to prevent climate change), (2) ‘responsibility reallocation’ (reassigning responsibilities to other duty bearers), (3) ‘burden shifting I’ (allowing duty bearers to implement policies which impose unjust burdens on others, (4) 'burden shifting II’ (allowing some to (...) protect peoples rights in ways which impose otherwise unjustified burdens on the duty bearers, (5) 'compromising moral ideals' (permitting agents to compromise non-justice ideals that they are otherwise bound by); and (6) ‘promoting compliance (implementing policies and creating institutions which reduce noncompliance). It concludes by outlining a methodological framework for evaluating these options, and by setting out my tentative and provisional evaluation of which responses are the least bad. (shrink)
« Utopique » se dit d’un projet irréalisable, qui ne saurait exister. Or, un monde où les passeports n’étaient pas obligatoires pour traverser une frontière a bel et bien existé : c’est celui d’avant la Première Guerre Mondiale. Cet article résume l'histoire des efforts pour abolir le régime des passeports obligatoires après la Première Guerre Mondiale.
-/- This essay discusses the relation between ideal theory and two forms of political moralism identified by Bernard Williams, structural and enactment views. It argues that ideal theory, at least in the sense Rawls used that term, only makes sense for structural forms of moralism. These theories see their task as describing the constraints that properly apply to political agents and institutions. As a result, they are primarily concerned with norms that govern action. In contrast, many critiques of ideal theory (...) are structured and motivated by their commitment to an enactment model of political theorizing. This instead sees political agents and institutions as instruments for producing or promoting better states of affairs. Enactment models treat the evaluations that rank different states of affairs as justificatorily basic, rather than norms governing action on which structural models focus. This reveals an important feature of debates about ideal theory. Whether ideal theory is capable of appropriately guiding action will depend on what the criteria for appropriately guiding action are, about which different theorists have importantly different views. For example, some popular strategies for defending ideal theory fail, while it may be much less clear that some alternatives to ideal theory can provide action guidance than their advocates claim. (shrink)
Many of us feel internally conflicted in the face of certain normative claims that make infeasible demands: say, normative claims that demand that agents do what, given deeply entrenched objectionable character traits, they cannot bring themselves to do. On the one hand, such claims may seem false on account of demanding the infeasible, and insisting otherwise may seem to amount to objectionable unworldliness – to chasing “pies in the sky.” On the other hand, such claims may seem true in spite (...) of making infeasible demands, and insisting otherwise may seem to amount to treating the agents in question with undue lenience – to mistakenly letting them “off the hook.” What is going on? One possibility is that we are making a mistake. I explore the alternative hypothesis that our ambivalent reactions, far from involving any mistake, are entirely consistent and appropriate. Rather than some single privileged ought such that the idea that “ought” implies “feasible” is either true or false, there are simply different oughts that are supposed to be capable of operating in the service of, and playing distinct roles associated with, what I shall call different core normative practices. In particular, there is a) some salient core practice-serving ought for which it’s true that “ought” implies “feasible” and b) some other salient core practice-serving ought for which it’s false that “ought” implies “feasible.” I sketch a framework for understanding different core practice-serving oughts in general and then use this framework to consider which particular core practice-serving oughts might be capable of vindicating our ambivalence. I begin by considering and rejecting a prevalent and prima facie promising account according to which the relevant oughts are the prescriptive ought and the evaluative ought. I then propose a different account that holds that the oughts we need are instead the deliberative ought and the hypological ought. (shrink)
The familiar complaint that some ambitious proposal is infeasible naturally invites the following response: Once upon a time, the abolition of slavery and the enfranchisement of women seemed infeasible, yet these things were actually achieved. Presumably, then, many of those things that seem infeasible in our own time may well be achieved too and, thus, turn out to have been perfectly feasible after all. The Appeal to History, as we call it, is a bad argument. It is not true that (...) if some desirable state of affairs was actually achieved, then it was feasible that it was achieved. “Actual” does not imply “feasible,” as we put it. Here is our objection. “Feasible” implies “not counterfactually fluky.” But “actual” does not imply “not counterfactually fluky.” So, “actual” does not imply “feasible.” While something like the Flukiness Objection is sometimes hinted at in the context of the related literature on abilities, it has not been developed in any detail, and both premises are inadequately motivated. We offer a novel articulation of the Flukiness Objection that is both more precise and better motivated. Our conclusions have important implications, not only for the admissible use of history in normative argument, but also by potentially circumscribing the normative claims that are applicable to us. (shrink)
Do motivational limitations due to human nature constrain the demands of justice? Among those who say no, David Estlund offers perhaps the most compelling argument. Taking Estlund’s analysis of “ability” as a starting point, I show that motivational deficiencies can constrain the demands of justice under at least one common circumstance — that the motivationally-deficient agent makes a good faith effort to overcome her deficiency. In fact, my argument implies something stronger; namely, that the demands of justice are constrained by (...) what people are sufficiently likely to be motivated to do. Thus, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, it is the business of ideal theory — not just nonideal theory — to work with the motivational capacities people are likely enough to have. (See also Estlund's reply in the same issue of EJPT and my rejoinder on Philpapers.). (shrink)
In this paper I develop an account of member obligation: the obligations that fall on the members of an obligated collective in virtue of that collective obligation. I use this account to argue that unorganized collections of individuals can constitute obligated agents. I argue first that, to know when a collective obligation entails obligations on that collective’s members, we have to know not just what it would take for each member to do their part in satisfying the collective obligation, but (...) also what they should do if they cannot do their part because others will not do theirs. I go on to argue (contra recent proposals) that it is not good enough for members in this situation to reasonably believe that others will not do their part. Rather, for a member of an obligated collective to permissibly escape doing her part in a collective obligation, she must both reasonably doubt that others will do their part and stand ready to act in case others do as well. -/- This necessary condition for collective obligation points the way to plausible sufficient conditions – conditions that, I argue, allow unstructured collectives to bear obligations. For (a) if a collective’s members are individually obligated to be ready to do their part, in a given collective action, and (b) if that individual readiness makes it sufficiently likely that the collective will in fact act, then it is hard to see what could block an attribution of collective obligation. In particular, in that case there ought to be no additional objection that there is no existing, organized “agent” on which the obligation might fall. For agents are, simply, things that can act. To be able to act is just to be able to succeed by trying. Unstructured collectives try to do something, I argue, when each member acts on their willingness to do their part in that thing if others do theirs; sometimes they succeed, producing a collective action. Some unstructured collectives, therefore, can succeed by trying; therefore, they can act; therefore they are agents. (shrink)
This paper offers an exploration of the socialist principle “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” The Abilities/Needs Principle is arguably the ethical heart of socialism but, surprisingly, has received almost no attention by political philosophers. I propose an interpretation of the principle and argue that it involves appealing ideas of solidarity, fair reciprocity, recognition of individual differences, and meaningful work. The paper proceeds as follows. First, I analyze Marx’s formulation of the Abilities/Needs Principle. Second, (...) I identify the principle’s initial plausibility, but show that it faces serious problems that cannot be addressed without developing a fresh interpretation of it. Third, I provide an interpretation of the principle that highlights demands concerning opportunities for self-realization in work, positive duties of solidarity, sensitivity to individual differences, and mechanisms of fair reciprocity. Fourth, I discuss a possible institutional implementation of the Abilities/Needs Principle. Finally, I identify some normative puzzles about the transition from capitalism to socialism, and suggest how the Abilities/Needs Principle might gain motivational traction by mobilizing the powerful idea of human dignity. (shrink)
Many political theorists think about how to make societies more just. In recent years, with interests shifting from principles to their institutional realization, there has been much debate about feasibility and the role it should play in theorizing. What has been underexplored, however, is how feasibility depends on the attitudes and perceptions of individuals, not only with regard to their own behaviour, but also with regard to the behaviour of others. This can create coordination problems, which can be described as (...) “feasibility gridlocks”. These problems are interesting from a normative perspective, not only because they arguably play an important role for the feasibility of institutions, but also because they contain a normative element themselves: individual might be willing to cooperate in order change the “feasibility frontier” Political ideals and the feasibility frontier. Econ Philos), but only if others are also willing to do their bit, which contains a judgment about the fair distribution of burdens. Beliefs about the selfish nature of human beings, however, can make feasibility gridlocks more likely. This is why what I call, for the sake of brevity, “economic ideology”, i.e. an account of human nature as fundamentally self-interested, can be harmful. Finding a way out of such equilibriums therefore is an important task for political theorists and social reformers. (shrink)
Allen Buchanan proposes a methodological framework with which theorists may evaluate different theories of secession, including the National Self-Determination theory. An important claim he makes is, because the right to secede is inherently institutional, any adequate theory of secession must include, as an integral part, an analysis of institutional morality. Because the National Self-Determination theory blatantly lacks such an analysis, Buchanan concludes that this theory is inherently flawed. In this paper, I consider Buchanan’s framework and the responses from supporters of (...) national self-determination theory. I try to clarify the confusion shared by both parties. I conclude that, although Buchanan’s theory of institutional morality is sound, his critiques of the national self-determination theory fails. (shrink)
The so-called "Human Nature Constraint" holds that if an agent is unable, due to features of human nature, to bring herself to act in a certain way, then this suffices to block or negate the claim that the agent is required to act in that way. David Estlund (2011) has recently mounted a forceful objection to the Human Nature Constraint. I argue that Estlund’s objection fails – but instructively, in a way that gives Estlund resources for a different way of (...) resisting attempts to negate normative claims by deploying the Human Nature Constraint. (shrink)
Political philosophers frequently claim that political ideals can provide normative guidance for unjust and otherwise nonideal circumstances. This is mistaken. This paper demonstrates that political ideals contribute nothing to our understanding of the normative principles we should satisfy amidst unjust or otherwise nonideal circumstances.
Recent methodological debates regarding the place of feasibility considerations in normative political theory are hindered for want of a rigorous model of the feasibility frontier. To address this shortfall, I present an analysis of feasibility that generalizes the economic concept of a production possibility frontier and then develop a rigorous model of the feasibility frontier using the familiar possible worlds technology. I then show that this model has significant methodological implications for political philosophy. On the Target View, a political ideal (...) presents a long-term goal for morally progressive reform efforts and, thus, serves as an important reference point for our specification of normative political principles. I use the model to show that we can- not reasonably expect that adopting political ideals as long-term reform objectives will guide us toward the realization of morally optimal feasible states of affairs. I conclude by proposing that political philosophers turn their attention to the analysis of actual social failures rather than political ideals. (shrink)
My aim in this paper is twofold. First, I challenge the view that ideal normative principles offer appropriate guidelines for our efforts to identify morally progressive institutional reform strategies. I shall call this view the "ideal guidance approach." Second, I develop an alternative methodological approach to specifying nonideal normative principles, which I call the "failure analysis approach." I contrast these alternatives using examples from the global justice literature.
There appear to be few ways available to improve the prospects for international cooperation to address the threat of global warming within the very short timeframe for action. I argue that the most effective and plausible way to break the ongoing pattern of delay in the international climate regime is for economically powerful states to take the lead domestically and demonstrate that economic welfare is compatible with rapidly decreasing GHG emissions. However, the costs and risks of acting first can be (...) very large. This raises the question of whether it is fair to expect some states to go far ahead of others in an effort to improve the conditions for cooperation. I argue that a costly obligation to act unilaterally and to accept weak initial reciprocity can be justified and does not violate standards of fair burden sharing. Rather, the costs of creating the underlying conditions within which we can hope to achieve meaningful international cooperation are non-‐ideal burdens for which we can appropriately assign fair shares. (shrink)
I discuss Gheaus's (2013) argument against the claim that the requirements of justice are not constrained by feasibility concerns. I show that the general strategy exemplified by this argument is not only dialectically puzzling, but also imposes a heavy cost on theories of justice -- puzzling because it simply sidesteps a presupposition of any plausible formulation of the so-called "feasibility requirement"; costly because it it deprives justice of its normative implications for action. I also show that Gheaus's attempt to recover (...) this normative force presupposes an epistemic dimension to the feasibility requirement that most proponents of that requirement would reject. (shrink)
Doing the best we can in the world as it is requires that appropriate account be taken of The object of this essay is to examine what amounts to feasibilitydesirability considerations.feasibilitycoming in degrees objects that the advisee controls feasibility ofought-implies-can” principle, a point of departure that frames feasibility considerations in a dismissive or otherwise inadequate way.
In this article, I will reflect on Lea Ypi’s methodological contribution in her wonderful book Global Justice and Avant-Garde Political Agency. Ypi addresses the important and underexplored issue of the relation between normative principles and political agency. She proposes a ‘dialectical approach’ to normative political theory, which she contrasts with ‘ideal’ and ‘non-ideal’ approaches, arguing that the first does a better job in articulating progressive guidelines for political agents seeking to achieve justice. Ypi presents a general framework that applies, but (...) is not restricted to, global justice. In what follows, I first reconstruct what I take to be Ypi’s key conceptual and substantive moves and then raise some critical observations and questions. The central polemical contentions are that Ypi’s arguments do not succeed at defeating the importance of ideal theory for activist political theory and practice, and that we need an account of normative political reasoning that articulates more explicitly the relation between considerations of moral desirability and political feasibility. (shrink)
Many political philosophers hold the Feasible Alternatives Principle (FAP): justice demands that we implement some reform of international institutions P only if P is feasible and P improves upon the status quo from the standpoint of justice. The FAP implies that any argument for a moral requirement to implement P must incorporate claims whose content pertains to the causal processes that explain the current state of affairs. Yet, philosophers routinely neglect the need to attend to actual causal processes. This undermines (...) their arguments concerning moral requirements to reform international institutions. The upshot is that philosophers’ arguments must engage in causal analysis to a greater extent than is typical. -/- [Supplement: Handout available at http://db.tt/fyuVW3Xv]. (shrink)
What should our theorizing about social justice aim at? Many political philosophers think that a crucial goal is to identify a perfectly just society. Amartya Sen disagrees. In The Idea of Justice, he argues that the proper goal of an inquiry about justice is to undertake comparative assessments of feasible social scenarios in order to identify reforms that involve justice-enhancement, or injustice-reduction, even if the results fall short of perfect justice. Sen calls this the “comparative approach” to the theory of (...) justice. He urges its adoption on the basis of a sustained critique of the former approach, which he calls “transcendental.” In this paper I pursue two tasks, one critical and the other constructive. First, I argue that Sen’s account of the contrast between the transcendental and the comparative approaches is not convincing, and second, I suggest what I take to be a broader and more plausible account of comparative assessments of justice. The core claim is that political philosophers should not shy away from the pursuit of ambitious theories of justice (including, for example, ideal theories of perfect justice), although they should engage in careful consideration of issues of political feasibility bearing on their practical implementation. (shrink)
Do we have positive duties to help others in need or are our moral duties only negative, focused on not harming them? Are any of the former positive duties, duties of justice that respond to enforceable rights? Is their scope global? Should we aim for global equality besides the eradication of severe global poverty? Is a humanist approach to egalitarian distribution based on rights that all human beings as such have defensible, or must egalitarian distribution be seen in an associativist (...) way, as tracking existing frameworks such as statehood and economic interdependence? Are the eradication of global poverty and the achievement of global equality practically feasible or are they hopelessly utopian wishes? -/- This book argues that there are basic positive duties of justice to help eradicate severe global poverty; that global egalitarian principles are also reasonable even if they cannot be fully realized in the short term; and that there are dynamic duties to enhance the feasibility of the transition from global poverty to global equality in the face of nonideal circumstances such as the absence of robust international institutions and the lack of a strong ethos of cosmopolitan solidarity. The very notion of feasibility is crucial for normative reasoning, but has received little explicit philosophical discussion. This book offers a systematic exploration of that concept as well as of its application to global justice. It also arbitrates the current debate between humanist and associativist accounts of the scope of distributive justice. Drawing on moral contractualism (the view that we ought to follow the principles that no one could reasonably reject), this book provides a novel defense of humanism, challenges several versions of associativism (which remains the most popular view among political philosophers), and seeks to integrate the insights underlying both views. (shrink)