Semiotic objections to commodification hold that buying and selling certain goods and services is wrong because of what market exchange communicates or because it violates the meaning of certain goods, services, and relationships. We argue that such objections fail. The meaning of markets and of money is a contingent, socially constructed fact. Cultures often impute meaning to markets in harmful, socially destructive, or costly ways. Rather than semiotic objections giving us reason to judge certain markets as immoral, the usefulness of (...) certain markets gives us reason to judge certain semiotic codes as immoral. (shrink)
Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia made libertarianism a major theory in political philosophy. However, the book is often misread as making impractical, question-begging arguments on the basis of a libertarian self-ownership principle. This essay explains how academic philosophical libertarianism since Robert Nozick has returned to its humanistic, classical liberal roots. Contemporary libertarians largely work within the PPE tradition and do what Michael Huemer calls “non-ideal, non-theory.” They more or less embrace rather than reject ideals of social justice, and they (...) accept that positive liberty is important. The difference between them and Left-liberals is not so much a dispute over fundamental values, but empirical disagreements about the extent of market versus government failure. In contemporary political philosophy, libertarianism remains a significant but influential minority position. Nevertheless, many philosophers have little sense of how libertarian and classical liberal thought has developed and changed after Robert Nozick's seminal Anarchy, State, and Utopia, published in 1974. This essay provides a short guide. The terms “libertarianism” and “classical liberalism” refer to a body of related views about politics, philosophy, and economics. As a body of related ideas, classical liberalism has the unity of a neighborhood more than a house. That said, libertarians and classical liberals generally tend to argue for following two sets of claims: As a matter of justice, each individual has an extensive set of negative civil and economic rights, which cannot easily be overridden in the name of utility, stability, or desirable cultural goals. Granting everyone a wide scope of personal and economic liberty tends to generate good consequences, while restrictions on liberty tend to produce bad consequences. Classical liberals accept that markets and civil society can fail, but they argue government agents generally lack both the competence and the motivation to intervene in ways that fix rather than exacerbate the problems. The first set of arguments is deontological; the second is consequentialist. Early classical liberal thinkers, such as Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and David Hume, did not quite recognize this distinction. They made both arguments without any apparent worry that these were different kinds of argument. But Robert Nozick, the most famous libertarian philosopher of the Twentieth Century, seemed to focus almost entirely on rebutting deontological arguments against libertarianism with providing deontological arguments of his own. This tendency, along with the radical contrarianism of certain other mid-Twentieth Century libertarians, seems to cause the perception that libertarians are impractical and inhumane. In contrast to Nozick, contemporary classical liberal thought is largely pre-occupied with social justice issues and with assessing the expected consequences of adopting various institutions and policies. In a sense, this a return to Adam Smith and origins of classical liberal thought: Contemporary classical liberals are not so much synthesizing left-liberalism and classical liberalism as they are instead clarifying the basic concerns that have driven mainline classical liberal thought all along. (shrink)
The practice of unrestricted universal suffrage is unjust. Citizens have a right that any political power held over them should be exercised by competent people in a competent way. Universal suffrage violates this right. To satisfy this right, universal suffrage in most cases must be replaced by a moderate epistocracy, in which suffrage is restricted to citizens of sufficient political competence. Epistocracy itself seems to fall foul of the qualified acceptability requirement, that political power must be distributed in ways against (...) which there are no qualified objections. However, it is less intrinsically unjust than democracy with universal suffrage, and probably produces more just outcomes. Thus epistocracy is more just than democracy, even if not perfectly just. (shrink)
According to the commonsense view of civic virtue, the places to exercise civic virtue are largely restricted to politics. In this article, I argue for a more expansive view of civic virtue, and argue that one can exercise civic virtue equally well through working for or running a for-profit business. I argue that this conclusion follows from four relatively uncontroversial premises: (1) the consensus definition of “civic virtue”, (2) the standard, most popular theory of virtuous activity, (3) a conception of (...) the common good widely shared by liberal political philosophers, and (4) the mainstream economic theory of for-profit business. (shrink)
In most, if not all, forms of epistocracy, we can expect that the more advantaged demographic groups would have higher rates of representation than less advantaged groups. The Demographic Objection to Epistocracy holds that this means epistocracy is unjust. One version of the Demographic Objection holds that the unequal representation is inherently unfair. I show that this argument fails, as proceduralist concern for fairness does not get us to universal equal suffrage at all. A second version holds that by giving (...) some kinds of people more power than others, epistocracy will tend to help the advantaged and harm the already disadvantaged. In contrast, I argue that certain forms of epistocracy escape this objection altogether. For the others, though, this version of the objection relies on questionable empirical assumptions. In the end, neither version of the Demographic Objection succeeds. The Demographic Objection to epistocracy is much weaker than it seems. (shrink)
This paper concerns the question of whether the political liberties tend to be valuable to the people who hold them. Philosophers have argued that the political liberties are needed or at least useful to lead a full, human life, to have one's social status and the social bases of self-respect secured, to make the government responsive to one's interests and generate preferred political outcomes, to participate in the process of social construction so that one can feel at home in the (...) social world, to live autonomously as a member of society, to achieve education and enlightenment and take a broad view of the world and of others' interests, and to express oneself and one's attitudes about the political process and current states of affairs. I argue that for most people, the political liberties are not valuable for these reasons. (shrink)
This paper critiques many of the leading popular and philosophical arguments purporting to show employers have a duty to pay a living wage. Some of these arguments fail on their own terms. Some are not really about a living wage. The best of them fail to show employers per se owe a living wage; at best, they should that governments should supplement market incomes though a negative income tax or some other redistributive device.
Just because one has the right to vote does not mean just any vote is right. Citizens should not vote badly. This duty to avoid voting badly is grounded in a general duty not to engage in collectively harmful activities when the personal cost of restraint is low. Good governance is a public good. Bad governance is a public bad. We should not be contributing to public bads when the beneﬁt to ourselves is low. Many democratic theorists agree that we (...) shouldn’t vote badly, but that’s because they think we should vote well. This demands too much of citizens. (shrink)
Suppose a person who is agnostic about most philosophical issues wishes to have true philosophical beliefs but equally wishes to avoid false philosophical beliefs. I argue that this truth-seeking, error-avoiding agnostic would not have good grounds for pursuing philosophy. Widespread disagreement shows that pursuing philosophy is not a reliable method of discovering true answers to philosophical questions. More likely than not, pursuing philosophy leads to false belief. Many attempts to rebut this sceptical argument fail.
American universities rely upon a large workforce of adjunct faculty—contract workers who receive low pay, no benefits, and no job security. Many news sources, magazines, and activists claim that adjuncts are exploited and should receive better pay and treatment. This paper never affirms nor denies that adjuncts are exploited. Instead, we show that any attempt to provide a significantly better deal faces unpleasant constraints and trade-offs. “Adjunct justice” would cost universities somewhere between an additional $15–50 billion per year. At most, (...) universities can provide justice for a minority of adjuncts at the expense of the majority, as well as at the expense of poor students. Universities may indeed be exploiting adjuncts, but they cannot rectify this mistake without significant moral costs. (shrink)
The common image of the fully virtuous person is of someone with perfect self-command and self-perception, who always makes correct evaluations. However, modesty appears to be areal virtue, and it seems contradictory for someone to believe that she is modest. Accordingly, traditional defenders of phronesis (the view that virtue involves practical wisdom) deny that modesty is a virtue, while defenders of modesty such as Julia Driver deny that phronesis is required for virtue. I offer a new theory of modesty-the two (...) standards account-under which phronesis and modesty are reconciled. Additionally, since the two standards account involves reflection on llloral ideals, I provide an account of the proper nature of moral ideals. (shrink)
This paper argues that mandatory, government-enforced vaccination can be justified even within a libertarian political framework. If so, this implies that the case for mandatory vaccination is very strong indeed as it can be justified even within a framework that, at first glance, loads the philosophical dice against that conclusion. I argue that people who refuse vaccinations violate the ‘clean hands principle’, a moral principle that prohibits people from participating in the collective imposition of unjust harm or risk of harm. (...) In a libertarian framework, individuals may be forced to accept certain vaccines not because they have an enforceable duty to serve the common, and not because cost–benefit analysis recommends it, but because anti-vaxxers are wrongfully imposing undue harm upon others. (shrink)
May you sell your vote? May you sell your kidney? May gay men pay surrogates to bear them children? May spouses pay each other to watch the kids, do the dishes, or have sex? Should we allow the rich to genetically engineer gifted, beautiful children? Should we allow betting markets on terrorist attacks and natural disasters? Most people shudder at the thought. To put some goods and services for sale offends human dignity. If everything is commodified , then nothing is (...) sacred. The market corrodes our character. Or so most people say. In Markets without Limits , Jason Brennan and Peter Jaworski give markets a fair hearing. The market does not introduce wrongness where there was not any previously. Thus, the authors claim, the question of what rightfully may be bought and sold has a simple answer: if you may do it for free, you may do it for money. Contrary to the conservative consensus, they claim there are no inherent limits to what can be bought and sold, but only restrictions on how we buy and sell. (shrink)
Most economists believe capitalism is a compromise with selfish human nature. As Adam Smith put it, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." Capitalism works better than socialism, according to this thinking, only because we are not kind and generous enough to make socialism work. If we were saints, we would be socialists. In Why Not Capitalism ?, Jason Brennan attacks (...) this widely held belief, arguing that capitalism would remain the best system even if we were morally perfect. Even in an ideal world, private property and free markets would be the best way to promote mutual cooperation, social justice, harmony, and prosperity. Socialists seek to capture the moral high ground by showing that ideal socialism is morally superior to realistic capitalism. But, Brennan responds, ideal capitalism is superior to ideal socialism, and so capitalism beats socialism at every level. Clearly, engagingly, and at times provocatively written, Why Not Capitalism? will cause readers of all political persuasions to re-evaluate where they stand vis-à-vis economic priorities and systems—as they exist now and as they might be improved in the future. (shrink)
Rawls’ theory of justice is paradoxical, for it requires a society to aim directly to maximize the basic goods received by the least advantaged even if directly aiming is self-defeating. Rawls’ reasons for rejecting capitalist systems commit him to holding that a society must not merely maximize the goods received by the least advantaged, but must do so via speciﬁc institutions. By Rawls’ own premises, in the long run directly aiming to satisfy the difference principle is contrary to the interests (...) of the poor, though it is meant to aid them. -/- . (shrink)
Moral theory is no substitute for virtue, but virtue is no substitute for moral theory. Many critics of moral theory, with Richard Posner being one prominent recent example, complain that moral theory is too abstract, that it cannot generally be used to derive particular rights and wrongs, and that it does not improve people's characters. Posner complains that it is thus of no use to legal theorists. This article defends moral theory, and to some degree, philosophical inquiry in general, against (...) such pragmatic complaints. I argue that the primary goal of moral theorizing is not pragmatic, but theoretical. Moral theory aims at explanation, at answering certain kinds of questions about morality. Moral theory is meant to deepen our insight into morality but, to count as deepening our insight, it need not provide a formula for calculating what to do in a particular circumstance, nor must it make us more virtuous. I provide an account of the scope and nature of explanation provided by moral theory as well as an account of why such explanations can be worth having, even if they were to have few pragmatic consequences. (shrink)
Until Joseph Heath came along, philosophical business ethics was in a bad way. To the extent it’s still in a bad way, perhaps it’s because Heath has had insufficient influence. Before Heath, much of the debate in the field was between two major theories—stockholder and stakeholder theory. Both of these theories are either false, or vacuous and empty, depending on the interpretation. Heath has to some degree rescued the field by providing what is perhaps the only good general theory of (...) business ethics, which Heath calls the Market Failures Approach. (To be clear, there is some good casuistical work in business ethics, but the Market Failures Approach is perhaps the only good general theory of.. (shrink)
Alon Harel wants to show that punishment is a kind of symbolic expression that, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, can only be performed by governmental agents. Contrary to Harel, I argue private agents can in fact realize those features he argues only public agents can realize. I also argue that, even if he were right that only public guards and wardens can punish, it’s unclear why we would have an all-things-considered rather than merely a pro tanto/prima facie duty to (...) punish. An instrumentalist can grant Harel that only state employees can punish, but still decide, on instrumental grounds, to reject public punishment in favor of private “schpunishment.”. (shrink)
Communitarians have argued against Millian individualism (ethical liberalism) by claiming that it leads to the compartmentalization of life, and thus inhibits virtue, that it causes alienation, and leads to what I call the problem of choice. Ethical liberals celebrate the free choice of a conception of the good life, but communitarians respond by posing a dilemma. Either the choice is made in reference to some given standard (a social or natural telos), in which case it is not free, or it (...) is made without reference to a standard, in which case it is arbitrary. This entails either ethical liberalism is false or it reduces to existentialism. I tackle each of these arguments in turn, showing that alienation is not any more of problem in liberal than in communitarian societies, and explain how virtues can fit between compartments in our lives. Regarding the problem of choice, I show that communitarians have assumed that justification must have a foundationalist structure. I show instead how a coherentist structure can allow for a person to begin with unchosen ends or with unchosen standards, but eventually arrive at a structure of ends (which constitute a vision of the good life) that is both freely chosen and rationally justified. This vindicates Millian individualism. (shrink)
Emotional cognitivists, such as the Stoics and Aristotle, hold that emotions have cognitive content, whereas noncognitivists, like Plato and Kant, believe the emotions to be nonrational bodily movements. I ask, taking Martha Nussbaum's account of cognitivism, what if Kant had become convinced of a cognitive theory of the emotions, what changes would this require in his moral philosophy. Surprisingly, since this represents a radical shift in his psychology, it changes almost nothing. I show that Kant's account of continence, virtue, the (...) evaluation of inclinations, and his argument for morality taking the form of categorical imperatives, are immune to such a change, despite the prima facie deep connection (on the received view) between these and his moral psychology. (shrink)
Carl Hoefer has argued that determinism in block universes does not privilege any particular time slice as the fundamental determiner of other time slices. He concludes from this that our actions are free, insofar as they are pieces of time slices we may legitimately regard as fundamental determiners. However, I argue that Hoefer does not adequately deal with certain remaining problems. For one, there remain pervasive asymmetries in causation and the macroscopic efficacy of our actions. I suggest that what Hoefer (...) may have shown us is that causation, not determinism, was the threat to free will all along. Additionally, Hoefer might avoid the problem of the asymmetry of macroscopic efficacy by noting we have a very small region of space-time completely determined by our choices. However, this move implies our freedom to act is freedom to do very little, given that the region is trivial. I suggest that Hoefer should instead claim that we do have pervasive macroscopic efficacy toward the past, though I am unsure of how well this thesis works. Regardless, there remains a problem that the inside-out perspective requires us to see our choices as brute facts or random occurrences. Attempts to resolve this problem seem to require either a theory of agent causation or a traditional compatibilist argument, making Hoefer’s thesis extraneous, unless he can show us that these require the inside-out perspective. However, Hoefer has not yet shown us this, so there is work to be done. (shrink)
In Why Not Socialism ?, G. A. Cohen argues that market society and capitalism are intrinsically repugnant. He asks us to imagine an ideal camping trip, which becomes increasing repugnant as it shifts from living by socialist to capitalist principles. In this paper, I expose the limits of this style of argument by making a parallel argument, which shows how an ideal anarchist camping trip becomes increasingly repugnant as the campsite turns from anarchism to democracy. When we see why this (...) style of argument fails to generate interesting objections to democracy, we then see why it also fails to generate interesting objections to market society. (shrink)
Many political theorists and philosophers use Condorcet's Jury Theorem to defend democracy. This paper illustrates an uncomfortable implication of Condorcet's Jury Theorem. Realistically, when the conditions of Condorcet’s Jury Theorem hold, even in very high stakes elections, having more than 100,000 citizens vote does no significant good in securing good political outcomes. On the Condorcet model, unless voters enjoy voting, or unless they produce some other value by voting, then the cost to most voters of voting exceeds the expected epistemic (...) benefits to the common good of their casting a vote. Anyone who is committed to democracy on the basis of the Jury Theorem ought also to hold that widespread voting is wasteful, at least unless she can provide some further justification of mass democratic participation. (shrink)
Something is wrong with the desire to dominate nature. In this paper, I explain both the causes and solution to anti-environmental attitudes within the framework of Hegel's master–slave dialectic. I argue that the master–slave dialectic (interpreted as a metaphor, rather than literally) can provide reasons against taking an attitude of domination, and instead gives reasons to seek to be worthy of respect from nature, though nature cannot, of course, respect us. I then discuss what the social and economic conditions of (...) moving to a post-domination philosophy appear to be. (shrink)
James Stacey Taylor offers three interpretations of our thesis, and argues that only one of them goes through. His point is to clarify our view rather than critique our position. In this brief response, we argue that, upon further clarification, we could endorse at least one of the other interpretations, though as Taylor notes, we don’t need to for our book’s thesis to go through.
Daniel Layman attempts to critique our recent paper debunking semiotic objections to commodification. Semiotic objections hold that commodifying certain goods and services is wrong because doing so expresses disrespect for the things in question. Layman claims instead that the problem is that such markets “embody” the “wrong norms” or the “wrong deliberative stance.” Given the length-requirements, we, at the moment, need to hear a lot more about the difference between “embodying” a norm, and expressing it. As far as we can (...) tell at the moment, we’re suspicious that he might be begging the question, or just re-describing semiotic objections in a more obscure way. (shrink)
Liberal states ought to accommodate conscientious tax resistance for the same reasons they should accommodate conscientious objection to fighting in war. Conscientious objection to fighting is nothing special.
In many democracies, voter turnout is low and getting lower. If the people choose not to govern themselves, should they be forced to do so? For Jason Brennan, compulsory voting is unjust and a petty violation of citizens' liberty. The median non-voter is less informed and rational, as well as more biased, than the median voter. According to Lisa Hill, compulsory voting is a reasonable imposition on personal liberty. Hill points to the discernible benefits of compulsory voting and argues that (...) high turnout elections are more democratically legitimate. The authors - both well-known for their work on voting and civic engagement - debate questions such as: • Do citizens have a duty to vote, and is it an enforceable duty? • Does compulsory voting violate citizens' liberty? If so, is this sufficient grounds to oppose it? Or is it a justifiable violation? Might it instead promote liberty on the whole? • Is low turnout a problem or a blessing? (shrink)