"Actual" does not imply "feasible"

Philosophical Studies 173 (11):3037-3060 (2016)
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Abstract

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.

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Author Profiles

David Wiens
University of California, San Diego
Nicholas Southwood
Australian National University

Citations of this work

The feasibility issue.Nicholas Southwood - 2018 - Philosophy Compass 13 (8):e12509.
Global Democracy and Feasibility.Eva Erman - 2020 - Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 23 (3):1-21.

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References found in this work

Rationality Through Reasoning.John Broome (ed.) - 2013 - Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Rescuing Justice and Equality.G. A. Cohen (ed.) - 2008 - Harvard University Press.
Why be rational.Niko Kolodny - 2005 - Mind 114 (455):509-563.
The Idea of Human Rights.Charles R. Beitz - 2009 - Oxford University Press.
Rescuing Justice and Equality.G. A. Cohen - 2008 - Harvard University Press.

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