What is justice? Questions of justice are questions about what people are due, but what that means in practice depends on context. Depending on context, the formal question of what people are due is answered by principles of desert, reciprocity, equality, or need. Justice, thus, is a constellation of elements that exhibit a degree of integration and unity, but the integrity of justice is limited, in a way that is akin to the integrity of a neighborhood rather than that of (...) a building. A theory of justice is a map of that neighborhood. (shrink)
Species egalitarianism is the view that all living things have equal moral standing. To have moral standing is, at a minimum, to command respect, to be more than a mere thing. Is there reason to believe that all living things have moral standing in even this most minimal sense? If so?that is, if all living things command respect?is there reason to believe they all command equal respect?1 I explain why members of other species command our respect but also why they (...) do not command equal respect. The intuition that we should have respect for nature is one motive for embracing species egalitarianism, but we need not be species egalitarians to have respect for nature. This paper questions whether species egalitarianism is even compatible with respect for nature. (shrink)
People ought to get what they deserve. And what we deserve can depend on effort, performance, or on excelling in competition, even when excellence is partly a function of our natural gifts. Or so most people believe. Philosophers sometimes say otherwise. At least since Karl Marx complained about capitalist society extracting surplus value from workers, thereby failing to give workers what they deserve, classical liberal philosophers have worried that to treat justice as a matter of what people deserve is to (...) license interference with liberty. Rawls likewise rejected patterns imposed by principles of desert, calling it “one of the fixed points of our considered judgments that no one deserves his place in the distribution of natural endowments, any more than one deserves one’s initial starting place in society. The assertion that a man deserves the superior character that enables him to make the effort to cultivate his abilities is equally problematic; for his character depends in large part upon fortunate family and social circumstances for which he can claim no credit. The notion of desert seems not to apply to these cases.” Rawls’s view is, in a way, compelling. Inevitably, our efforts are aided by natural gifts, positional advantages, and sheer luck, so how much can we deserve? And if our very characters result from an interplay of these same factors, how can we (capitalists and proletariat workers alike) deserve anything at all? Samuel Scheffler says, “none of the most prominent contemporary versions of philosophical liberalism assigns a significant role to desert at the level of fundamental principle.” If so, I argue, the most prominent contemporary versions of philosophical liberalism are mistaken. In particular, there is an aspect of what we do to make ourselves deserving that, although it has not been discussed in the literature, plays a central role in everyday moral life, and for good reason. (shrink)
This anthology collects 64 accessible classic and contemporary works that fall into the two main categories of research in environmental ethics. The material in the first section of the volume explores the nature of morality from an environmental perspective. It asks is the value of a human being fundamentally different from the kind of value we find elsewhere in nature? What is the role of consumer goods in life? What really matters? The second section explores the current state of our (...) environment, and questions what problems do we face? What is causing or exacerbating those problems? What solutions have been tried? What really works? (shrink)
This volume collects thirteen of David Schmidtz's essays on the question of what it takes to live a good life, given that we live in a social and natural world. Part One defends a non-maximizing conception of rational choice, explains how even ultimate goals can be rationally chosen, defends the rationality of concern and regard for others (even to the point of being willing to die for a cause), and explains why decision theory is necessarily incomplete as a tool for (...) addressing such issues. Part Two uses the tools of analytic philosophy to explain what we can do to be deserving, what is wrong with the idea that we ought to do as much good as we can, why mutual aid is good, but why the welfare state does not work as a way of institutionalizing mutual aid, and why transferring wealth from those who need it less to those who need it more can be a bad idea even from a utilitarian perspective. Most ambitiously, Part Two offers an overarching, pluralistic moral theory that defines the nature and limits of our obligations to each other and to our individual selves. Part Three discusses the history and economic logic of alternative property institutions, both private and communal, and explains why economic logic is an indispensable tool in the field of environmental conflict resolution. In the final essay, Schmidtz brings the volume full circle by considering the nature and limits of our obligations to nonhuman species, and how the status of nonhuman species ought to enter into our deliberations about what sort of life is worth living. (shrink)
When we’re trying to articulate principles of justice that we have reason to take seriously in a world like ours, one way to start is with an understanding of what our world is like, and of which institutional frameworks promote our thriving in communities and which do not. If we start this way, we can sort out alleged principles of justice by asking which ones license mutual expectations that promote our thriving and which ones do otherwise. This is an essay (...) in the how and why of nonideal theory: in particular, how and why principles of property come first and principles of justice second. Ownership conventions, and property law as it develops under the pressures of case by case dispute resolution, tend to become touchstones for conflict mediation down through generations. They may be imperfect, retaining vestiges of adaptations to ancient problems that no longer exist, yet still they work, coordinating expectations so as to make it easier for people to live well together. A priori reasons for endorsing principles of justice generally are not good enough. A good enough reason would be something like this: to endorse this way of applying this principle in this kind of circumstance is to support institutional frameworks that position us to play positive sum games. (shrink)
The typical method of acquiring a property right involves transfer from a previous owner. But sooner or later, that chain of transfers traces back to the beginning. That is why we have a philosophical problem. How does a thing legitimately become a piece of property for the first time ? In this essay, I follow the custom of distinguishing between mere liberties and full-blooded rights. If I have the liberty of doing X , then it is permissible for me to (...) do X . But the mere fact that I am at liberty to do X leaves open the possibility that you might be at liberty to interfere with my doing X . Accordingly, liberties are not full-blooded rights, since my having a right to do X has the additional implication that others are not at liberty to interfere with my doing X . When it comes to mere liberties, interference is not a violation. You can violate rights, but you cannot violate liberties. (shrink)
Samuel Scheffler says, “none of the most prominent contemporary versions of philosophical liberalism assigns a significant role to desert at the level of fundamental principle.” To the extent that this is true, the most prominent contemporary versions of philosophical liberalism are mistaken. In particular, there is an aspect of what we do to make ourselves deserving that, although it has not been discussed in the literature, plays a central role in everyday moral life, and for good reason. As with desert, (...) reciprocity inspires skepticism. What Allen Buchanan calls justice as reciprocity implies that duties of justice obtain only among those who can do each other favors. So characterized, justice as reciprocity is at best only a part of justice – a part that is silent on duties between people who have no favors to offer each other. Still, the more modest root idea of reciprocity – the idea that returning favors is at very least a good thing – remains compelling. What can we say on behalf of this root idea? This article is part of a larger work on the elements of justice. Both parts of it begin with and build on James Rachels’ seminal paper “What People Deserve.”. (shrink)
Libertarians often bill their theory as an alternative to both the traditional Left and Right. _The Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism_ helps readers fully examine this alternative, without preaching it to them, exploring the contours of libertarian thinking on justice, institutions, interpersonal ethics, government, and political economy. The 31 chapters--all written specifically for this volume--are organized into five parts. Part I asks, what should libertarianism learn from other theories of justice, and what should defenders of other theories of justice learn from (...) libertarianism? Part II asks, what are some of the deepest problems facing libertarian theories? Part III asks, what is the right way to think about property rights and the market? Part IV asks, how should we think about the state? Finally, part V asks, how well can libertarianism deal with some of the major policy challenges of our day, such as immigration, trade, religion in politics, and paternalism in a free market. Among the _Handbook_’s chapters are those from critics who write about what they believe libertarians get right as well as others from leading libertarian theorists who identify what they think libertarians get wrong. As a whole, the _Handbook_ provides a comprehensive, clear-eyed look at what libertarianism has been and could be, and why it matters. (shrink)
I remember being a child, wondering where I would be—wondering who I would be—when the year 2000 arrived. I hoped I would live that long. I hoped I would be in reasonable health. I would not have guessed I would have a white collar job, or that I would live in the United States. I would have laughed if you had told me the new millennium would find me giving a public lecture on the meaning of life. But that is (...) life, unfolding as it does, meaning whatever it means. I am grateful to be here. I also am simply amazed. I am forty-four. Not old, but old enough that friends and family are beginning to provide more occasions for funerals than for weddings. Old enough to love life for what it is. Old enough to see that it has meaning, even while seeing that it has less than I might wish. I am an analytic philosopher. Analytic philosophers are trained to spot weaknesses in arguments. Unfortunately, that sort of training does not prepare us for questions about life’s meaning. A perfect argument, Robert Nozick suggests in jest, would leave readers with no choice but to agree with the conclusion.1 When we think about life’s meaning, though, we are not trying to win a debate. Success in grappling with the question is less like articulating and defending a position and more like growing up.2 Perhaps that is why academics have written so little on the meaning of life, despite it being arguably the central topic of philosophy.3 Speaking to analytic philosophers about life’s meaning would be like stepping into a boxing ring in search of a dance partner. Or so we fear. Perhaps there is no excuse for venturing into an area where we cannot meet our usual standards. More likely, one way of respecting philosophical standards is by not trying to apply them when they are not apt, thus refusing to let them become a straitjacket—a caricature of intellectual rigor. So, I do not here seek the kind of argumentative closure that we normally think of as the hallmark of success in analytic philosophy.. (shrink)
What next? We are forever making decisions. Typically, when unsure, we try to identify, then compare, our options. We weigh pros and cons. Occasionally, we make the weighing explicit, listing pros and cons and assigning numerical weights. What could be wrong with that? In fact, things sometimes go terribly wrong. This paper considers what cost-benefit analysis can do, and also what it cannot.
What is justice? Questions of justice are questions about what people are due. However, what that means in practice depends on the context in which the question is raised. Depending on context, the formal question of what people are due is answered by principles of desert, reciprocity, equality, or need. Justice, therefore, is a constellation of elements that exhibit a degree of integration and unity. Nonetheless, the integrity of justice is limited, in a way that is akin to the integrity (...) of a neighborhood rather than that of a building. A theory of justice offers individuals a map of that neighborhood, within which they can explore just what elements amount to justice. (shrink)
We have taken the “why be moral?” question so seriously for so long. It suggests that we lack faith in the rationality of morality. The relative infrequency with which we ask “why be prudent?” suggests that we have no corresponding lack of faith in the rationality of prudence. Indeed, we have so much faith in the rationality of prudence that to question it by asking “why be prudent?” sounds like a joke. Nevertheless, our reasons and motives to be prudent are (...) every bit as contingent as our reasons and motives to be moral–or so I argue in Sections II and III. A second theme of this essay is that conflict between morality and self-interest is contingent as well. The moral perspective, as characterized in Section IV, does not require a universal regard for others, whereas the kind of self-interested perspective characterized in Section III does not require a wholesale disregard for others. Both perspectives make room for a deep although not universal other-regard–or so I argue in Section V. (shrink)
People have accidents. They get old. They eat too much. They have bad luck. And sooner or later, something will be fatal. It would be a better world if such things did not happen, but they do. There is no use arguing about it. What is worth arguing about is whether it makes for a better world when people have to pay for other people's misfortunes and mistakes rather than their own.
This essay considers whether acts of altruism can be rational. Rational choice, according to the standard instrumentalist model, consists of maximizing one's utility, or more precisely, maximizing one's utility subject to a budget constraint. We seek the point of highest utility lying within our limited means. The term ‘utility’ could mean a number of different things, but in recent times utility has usually been interpreted as preference satisfaction . To have a preference is to care , to want one alternative (...) more than another. (shrink)
The issue of social welfare and individual responsibility has become a topic of international public debate in recent years as politicians around the world now question the legitimacy of state-funded welfare systems. David Schmidtz and Robert Goodin debate the ethical merits of individual versus collective responsibility for welfare. David Schmidtz argues that social welfare policy should prepare people for responsible adulthood rather than try to make that unnecessary. Robert Goodin argues against the individualization of welfare policy and expounds the virtues (...) of collective responsibility. (shrink)
Both utilitarian and deontological moral theories locate the source of our moral beliefs in the wrong sorts of considerations. One way this failure manifests itself, we argue, is in the ways these theories analyze the proper human relationship toward the non-human environment. Another, more notorious, manifestation of this failure is found in Derek Parfit's Repugnant Conclusion. Our goal is to explore the connection between these two failures, and to suggest that they are failures of act-centered moral theories in general. As (...) such, they cannot be fixed by simply developing a better version of such a theory. Virtue-based theories, we suggest, provide a more promising alternative. (shrink)
Do our lives have meaning? Should we create more people? Is death bad? Should we commit suicide? Would it be better if we were immortal? Should we be optimistic or pessimistic? Life, Death, and Meaning brings together key readings, primarily by English-speaking philosophers, on such 'big questions.'.
Which social arrangements have a history of fostering progress and prosperity? One quick answer, falsely attributed to Adam Smith, holds that we are guided as if by an invisible hand to do what builds the wealth of nations. A more sober answer, closer to what Smith said and believed, is thatifthe right framework of rules—plus decent officiating—steers us away from buying and selling monopoly privilege and steers us toward being valuable to the people around us, we indeed will be part (...) of the engine that drives human progress and the wealth of nations. (shrink)
Sometimes people act contrary to environmentalist values because they reject those values. This is one kind of conflict: conflict in values. There is another kind of conflict in which people act contrary to environmentalist values even though they embrace those values: because they cannot afford to act in accordance with them. Conflict in priorities occurs not because people’s values are in conflict, but rather because people’s immediate needs are in conflict. Conflict in priorities is not only an environmental conflict, but (...) also often an economic conflict—a conflict rooted in differing economic circumstance. Such a conflict cannot be resolved as an environmental conflict unless it is also resolved as an economic one. (shrink)
According to conservationism, scarce and precious resources should be conserved and used wisely. According to preservation ethics, we should not think of wilderness as merely a resource. Wilderness commands reverence in a way mere resources do not. Each philosophy, I argue, can fail by its own lights, because trying to put the principles of conservationism or preservationism into institutional practice can have results that are the opposite of what the respective philosophies tell us we ought to be trying to achieve. (...) For example, if the wisest use of South American rainforests is no use at all, then in that case conservationism by its own lights defers to preservationism. Analogously, if, when deprived of the option of preserving elephants as a resource, Africans respond by not preserving elephants at all, then in that case preservationism by its own lights defers to conservationism. (shrink)
The Theory of Market Failure explores how markets respond, both in theory and in practice, to public?goods and externality problems. Most of the articles in this anthology find that markets often meet the demand for public goods in a variety of cases where existing theory would lead one to expect market failure. Moreover, upon reflection, existing theory reveals itself to be in need of supplementation by a more realistic picture of how flexible markets (and evolving systems of property rights) respond (...) to the demand for public goods and for the means of internalizing externalities. (shrink)
I shall argue that the way people in relatively affluent countries react to a situation like that in Bengal cannot be justified; indeed, the whole way we look at moral issues—our moral conceptual scheme—needs to be altered, and with it, the way of life that has come to be taken for granted in our society.
This essay compares Rawls's and Nozick's theories of justice. Nozick thinks patterned principles of justice are false, and offers a historical alternative. Along the way, Nozick accepts Rawls's claim that the natural distribution of talent is morally arbitrary, but denies that there is any short step from this premise to any conclusion that the natural distribution is unjust. Nozick also agrees with Rawls on the core idea of natural rights liberalism: namely, that we are separate persons. However, Rawls and Nozick (...) interpret that idea in different ways-momentously different ways. The tension between their interpretations is among the forces shaping political philosophy to this day. Footnotesa For comments, I thank Alyssa Bernstein, Geoffrey Brennan, Jason Brennan, Tom Christiano, Andrew I. Cohen, Andrew Jason Cohen, Tyler Cowen, Teresa Donovan, David Estlund, Jerry Gaus, Allen Habib, Alex Kaufman, Mark LeBar, Loren Lomasky (especially Loren, for insight and inspiration over a period of many years), Cara Nine, Ellen Frankel Paul, Guido Pincione, Thomas Pogge, Dan Russell, Michael Smith, Horacio Spector, and Matt Zwolinski. I thank the Earhart Foundation for financial support in the fall of 2002 and Australian National University's Research School of Social Sciences for its wonderful hospitality during a ten week stay in 2002. The support of the folks at Liberty Fund in Indianapolis during the final stages of this project goes beyond anything I will ever be able properly to thank them for. (shrink)