The unconscionability doctrine in contract law enables a court to decline to enforce a contract whose terms are seriously one-sided, exploitative, or otherwise manifestly unfair. It is often criticized for being paternalist. The essay argues that the characterization of unconscionability doctrine as paternalist reflects common but misleading thought about paternalism and obscures more important issues about autonomy and social connection. The defense responds to another criticism: that unconscionability doctrine is an inappropriate, because economically inefficient, egalitarian tool. The final part discusses (...) more interesting but neglected questions about the scope of accommodation necessary to support fully meaningful autonomous activity. (shrink)
The power to promise is morally fundamental and does not, at its foundation, derive from moral principles that govern our use of conventions. Of course, many features of promising have conventional components—including which words, gestures, or conditions of silence create commitments. What is really at issue between conventionalists and nonconventionalists is whether the basic moral relation of promissory commitment derives from the moral principles that govern our use of social conventions. Other nonconventionalist accounts make problematic concessions to the conventionalist's core (...) instincts, including embracing: the view that binding promises must involve the promisee's belief that performance will occur; the view that through the promise, the promisee and promisor create a shared end; and the tendency to take promises between strangers, rather than intimates, as the prototypes to which a satisfactory account must answer. I argue against these positions and then pursue an account that finds its motivation in their rejection. My main claim is: the power to make promises, and other related forms of commitment, is an integral part of the ability to engage in special relationships in a morally good way. The argument proceeds by examining what would be missing, morally, from intimate relationships if we lacked this power. (shrink)
Standard, familiar models portray harms and benefits as symmetrical. Usually, harm is portrayed as involving a worsening of one's situation, and benefits as involving an improvement. Yet morally, the aversion, prevention, and relief of harms seem, at least presumptively, to matter more than the provision, protection, and maintenance of comparable and often greater benefits. Standard models of harms and benefits have difficulty acknowledging this priority, much less explaining it. They also fail to identify harm accurately and reliably. In this paper, (...) I develop these problems, argue that we should reconsider our commitment to the standard models, and then merely gesture at the direction in which we might locate a superior approach, one that better accounts for the moral significance of harm and its relation to autonomy rights. (shrink)
Legal domains concerned with deception often recognize and regulate cases of negligent deception. The philosophical discussion of deception should follow suit, shifting from an exclusive focus on deception-as-wrongful-manipulation to a broader panorama that includes negligent deception and contemplates cases in which negligent deception may be wrong even when intentional deception about the same information may be permissible. Interesting philosophical questions then arise about what distinguishes negligent deception from mere misunderstandings and mistakes. Those questions require further thought about how relationships involve (...) epistemic cooperation and interdependence, and when such relationships generate responsibility for others’ mental contents. (shrink)
I’m grateful to Professors Langton and Owens for their probing comments and to Mind for providing the occasion for this exchange. Both Langton and Owens helpfully push me to tackle interesting problems that I did not wrestle with in the book. I am game to try to answer them, but some of my responses are tentative and roughly hewn, offered more in the spirit of exploratory conversation than firm conviction.
In this article, I reply to eight critics of my book Speech Matters: On Lying, Morality, and the Law. The topics include lying, promising, reciprocity, free speech, and the testimonial duties of institutions.