Friday, 30 July 2010

Humanity, Law and Partiality

When responding in an earlier posting to some arguments of Robert Nozick I indicated some problems with the suggestion he makes to the effect that it is individuals who are picked out by Kant's formula of humanity. This, I suggested, was not as obvious as Nozick seemed to think. An argument for a different posting would concern the degree to which the formula of humanity is, in any case, relevant at all to the discussion of Kantian political theory. But in this posting I want to try to examine the way in which the construction of rationality in the formula of humanity is such as to point away from individuality if, by individuality, we mean a specific and partial attention to given persons as particulars.

The formula of humanity itself makes clear when it is stated that it is precisely not intended to distinguish between persons:

"So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means" (Ak. 4: 429).

The point here is that humanity, whether it is found in oneself or in any one else should always be treated as an end, due to its status as an end-in-itself. Since this is so the specific possession of it in a given individual cannot be the point. This is the source of an argument against Kant since the partiality that is at work in personal relationships may seem thus ruled out. I don't think that this is so but don't want to argue this question in this particular posting. Instead, I simply want to point to the formulation as ruling out the understanding that what is specifically of interest to Kant in the formula of humanity can be some special status ascribed to individuals. The point of the formula of humanity seems to be precisely to argue against such a view.

Implications drawn out from the formula of humanity concern the nature of law. So Kant later argues that we are subject only to laws given by ourselves which are nonetheless universal. When formulating this point Kant also makes clear the ground of the respect attaching to humanity stating that it is the possible giving of universal law that is the proper object of respect and that "the dignity of humanity consists just in this capacity to give universal law, though with the condition of also itself being subject to this very lawgiving" (Ak. 4: 440).

This claim is the basis of Kant's cleavage between moral theories grounded on autonomy and those that are in their basis heteronomous. Only the former give the true inner ground of morality according to him so any theory that based morality on something else would fall into the area of the dialectic of morality. If there are grounds then for partiality, and I will suggest in a later posting that there are, such grounds are not formulated and could not be formulated by taking individuality as a prime moral value where this value was taken from the formula of humanity. So Nozick's attempt to suggest otherwise is not faithful to Kant.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Rawls on Ideal and Non-Ideal Theory (II)

In my previous posting on this topic I began the process of examining how Rawls describes the distinction between ideal and non-ideal theory noting how the distinction arose initially in A Theory of Justice and how it was subsequently amplified in The Law of Peoples. I mentioned in this posting the latitude given to intuition by Rawls, a latitude that has something to do with Rawls complicated (and relatively under-explored) relationship with Henry Sigdwick. However, whilst this topic would itself be worth considerable discussion I propose now to look at the way in which this distinction is related by Rawls to his lexical ranking of principles. 

Before looking at the question of lexical ranking, however, it is as well to remember the basis of non-ideal theory. If ideal theory is defined by Rawls as concerned with conditions of strict compliance then, naturally enough, non-ideal theory looks at non-compliance in certain respects but there are two kinds of non-compliance defined. One concerns "natural limitations and historical contingencies", the other how to "meet" injustice. Our duty is to remove, as far as possible, conditions of injustice but this is where intuition has a role. The lexical ordering of principles defines a way in which such intuitive judgment is guided. When this is done a further methodological device is invoked by Rawls in section 39 of Theory: that of the "representative equal citizen" (or, as he was once termed in British jurisprudence, "the man on the Clapham omnibus"). The reason for invocation of the notion of this representative is to apply the idea of the "common interest" where the common interest is a means of describing conditions that are to the advantage of all.

When this notion is applied to Rawls' general principles of justice some interesting results emerge with regard to how non-ideal theory is envisaged. So, for example, if we connect these notions to the general principle of liberty, then, states Rawls, there are ways that this principle can be legitimately restricted. So freedom of thought has to be exercised in a sense that is consistent with public order and this relationship is one that is part of what Rawls terms "the permanent conditions of human life" so this balance is one that is part of the area of non-ideal theory that concerns natural limitations. By contrast, if we look at other restrictions on liberty we can see how those connect with the other element of non-ideal theory. One way the principle of liberty gets restricted concerns the degree of tolerance given to those who lack tolerance themselves. This is part not of adjustment to natural limitations but instead to the principles for "meeting" injustice, or, as Rawls also describes this part, to the "partial compliance" part of non-ideal theory.

After outlining the relationship of non-ideal theory to the principle of liberty Rawls next turns to how it relates to the principle of equality. The restriction of application of the principle of equality occurs when unequal situations are allowed to arise and governed by some kind of rule. In some situations, for example, as envisaged in part by Kant in the Doctrine of Right, a division is allowed between active and passive citizens with the former having a larger role granted to them in public life than the latter. This inequality is not one that leads to systematic devaluation of those in the passive class since, as in Kant's own case, it can be fitted with a general argument against serfdom and slavery. Since the latter are ruled out on some appeal to the basic condition of liberty there is some sense in which this basic condition can be defended even though the application of it in principle permits unequal standing of citizens. So, in some sense, Kant gave priority to liberty over equality in relation to the standing of citizens (as well as in other respects) and Rawls agrees with this asserting the lexical priority of liberty over equality.

Rawls' own two principles are stated in section 11 of Theory and are worth citing:

First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive scheme of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for others. Second: social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone's advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all.
When they are laid out it is evident that, whilst the principle of the lexical priority of liberty is similar in Theory to the one provided in the Doctrine of Right that the application of it is different. The second part of Rawls' second principle makes clear that the inequality permitted is not one of distinction between active and passive citizens since there should be a basis for anyone being able to hold any position. (It would be worth, on a different occasion, looking at the problems Kant would have with a similar declaration despite being often close to it.)

The second part of the second principle is often described as an "equal opportunity" principle whilst the first part is the Difference Principle. The second principle is lexically derivative of the first principle but, whilst both can be restricted, the ground of the restriction must be one that can be generally justified to and for those who are disadvantaged by its application. The point of including the discussion of the lexical priority of the principles is made clearer by Rawls in his late piece Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. In this late work Rawls suggests that the idea of the well-ordered society described in ideal theory should be able to provide guidelines for non-ideal theory including the problem of how to "deal with" ( or "meet" as he put in Theory) injustice. This requires, as we have uncovered, indicating the way in which injustice arises "naturally" in some sense as opposed to how it is part of real non-compliance. But this further needs to be understood by means of the lexical priority of the principles of justice since otherwise the degree of the real non-compliance would be entirely left to intuition. With the lexical priority added this intuitive element begins to be governed by a specific type of rule. In some subsequent postings I'll begin to probe the implications of these conceptions for how non-ideal theory gets laid out by Rawls.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Philosophy and Representation

I noticed today a call for papers for a forthcoming conference on the topic of "Under-Represented Groups in Philosophy", a conference supported by the Mind Association and the Aristotelian Society and organised by the British Philosophical Association in association with the Society for Women in Philosophy. Such a group of luminaries addressing a topic of such intrinsic interest is a matter of note. In the discussion of the rationale for the conference particular attention is paid to the way in which women are a minority within philosophy, something clearly true and which has been a topic of philosophical concern in recent years, particularly with the arrival of the area of "feminist philosophy". In addition the positions of ethnic and racial minorities are mentioned, those of disabled people and even those from working class backgrounds.

A notable omission from the list of "excluded" or "under-represented" groups is lesbian and gay people. On noticing this I contacted the conference organiser who sent out the CFP, Jules Holroyd, to ask her why it was the case and she replied she was unsure whether or not lesbian and gay people are "under-represented" in philosophy or how to discover this. In one sense Holroyd is right since one can see that it is intrinsically difficult to say how many people fall into the category of being lesbian or gay. It is, in senses not applicable to the other categories listed, a mutable notion. However, it is surely undeniable that not only the majority of philosophers behave and identify themselves consistently in ways that show them to be heterosexual. Since this is so and since those who do so relate to themselves are not clearly in a good position to address the way philosophical and academic structures relate to gay experience one would have thought there is a prima facie case to address here.

Putting the problem in terms of "under-representation" ensures that certain minorities are, as often, excluded. Stating this is not to attack the idea of the conference but it is to note the way that its way of being circumscribed has exclusionary implications of its own.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Australian Thoughts

I've just returned from a couple of weeks in Australia. I saw quite a lot of Sydney and journeyed also to Tasmania. It is dangerous generally to attempt to discuss a country that one has only visited briefly and that in holiday mode but, just for this once, I feel moved to try to at least give some quick impressions, mindful that this is all they are.

Australia struck me as a place in which there is an unusual degree of direct and friendly communication. By and large anywhere you go people will speak to you and do their best to deal with you. In these respects the impression I received was pleasantly preferable to the UK. There were two areas where this pleasant impression was diluted though. One concerned gay life there. Sydney is famous as a city that hosts a month long Mardi Gras, in February of each year. During this period it appears a very gay city. During the rest of the year, as I discovered, there is really only part of one street that is mainly gay and that is far from secure. In the shops there and in conversations with people it became clear that there is quite a bit of violence directed against gay people in Sydney and the presence on the city streets of gay life is less than in Manchester.

The other area in which I received a less pleasant impression of Australia was its politics. A general election is currently underway there. The governing Labor Party underwent a kind of coup recently with the previous Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, being toppled from within and replaced by Julia Gillard. The circumstances surrounding this concerned the attempt to impose a mining tax, something that led to a slump in the government's popularity and serious opposition from an unlikely alliance of trade unions and mining corporations. The toppling of Rudd was based on placating this opposition, something that simultaneously ensured that the Labor Party lost quite a bit of "green" support. The tax was not entirely abandoned but it was significantly reduced.

Since these events generally made the Labor Party look less than an ideal group to be governing the country I wondered, whilst there, about the opposition. Not only did everyone I meet suggest that the opposition was even less desirable than the governing Labor Party but exposure to them through the news media tended to confirm this. For reasons that are certainly obscure to an outsider the opposition is not defined by one party but by a coalition of two, the Liberal Party and the National Party though the politician featured most from this grouping is the leader of the Liberal Party, known less than affectionately as the "Mad Monk", Tony Abbott. Abbott gained his label due to indicating earlier in his life that he wished to be a Catholic prelate, something that still marks him given pronouncements on virginity made more recently. Abbott's party, despite its name, is a conservative party of a fairly classic type and, despite Labor's problems, is making little impact in the election due to the fact that Abbott himself has described climate change as "crap", hardly indicative of an attitude that will help the country deal with such clear problems as the water supply.

Stepping back from the figures and parties the dominant issues in the campaign are not reassuring. One of the few areas were the opposition has made any impact is with regard to the question of immigration and asylum seekers. The fact that the country, at a population of a mere 22 million, clearly needs an influx of workers and also needs to navigate its relationship with Asia, are factors neither side seems to wish to address. Other questions of apparent concern to the parties are similarly dealt with in a peculiar way. The labour market in Australia is fairly heavily regulated, in some respects clearly far too much so. Yet, despite the fact that such regulation requires young workers to have shifts of at least 3 hours, a regulation that makes it difficult for them to even hold paper rounds, Abbott makes no play with this instead indicating he will change nothing. Abbott also appears an ignoramus on the economy suggesting that Australia has a large debt which, on international comparisons is utterly untrue. The economy is generally in reasonable shape, the main problem being instead one of how to ensure that it develops and adapts. On this neither side seems to have much to say.

Generally then the Australian political scene appears pretty miserable with the re-election of Labor looking pretty certain and only good in being preferable to the other side. How a massive country with such a small population can develop in the region remains unaddressed and apparently incapable of being addressed. None of this augurs well for Australia's future despite the pleasant demeanour of its people.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Holiday: Back soon

Just a quick note to explain lack of postings: on holiday and will be back soon! In the interim, one good point of news is that the UK government have decided to delay "impact assessment" for at least 12 months given the "lack of consensus" over how to apply it in the REF. It would be better news if they abandoned it altogether!!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Deontological Side-Constraints

In my previous postings on the notion of deontology I neglected to discuss one use of it in moral theory that has been influential. This is the understanding of deontology not purely as a thesis concerning independent value but rather as one specifying constraints on action. This understanding of deontology is used, for example, by Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State and Utopia.

Utilitarians are typically taken not to have a clear theory of justice since notions that are usually taken to be important by those who want a theory of justice are regarded as fungible for utilitarians. Nozick gives an example of this when he discusses the idea of a "utilitarianism of rights". Such a form of utilitarianism would involve commitment to the notion that non-violation of rights is an ultimate goal but a consequence of this could be that a particular violation of rights in relation to a given person was itself taken to be worthwhile in principle due to the way this would safeguard rights in general. So, when a mob rushes through a town to lynch a man they think is guilty of a certain offence it might safeguard rights generally to sacrifice him.

In reply to this view Nozick develops, and is one of the first to develop, a view of deontology that works by reference to a notion of constraints. The suggestion here is that such an understanding of rights is distinct from building rights into a theory as an outcome as it was precisely building it into the outcomes that produced the paradox of the utilitarianism of rights. In response to this idea you could either indirectly promote rights rather than taking them as your direct object or you can specify them as distinct from any notion of outcome. If we take the latter view then rights are a side-constraint on any form of moral accounting we may wish to adopt.

However, whilst this argument thus far appears clear enough there are two additional steps required for it to point in the direction Nozick wishes. Firstly, the notion of rights as such a side-constraint is somewhat vacuous without a specification of the bearers of such rights. Who are they? Individuals on Nozick's view and he uses two ideas to connect the conception of individuals as bearers of rights to the notion of rights as side-constraints. The first idea is the invocation of Kant's formula of humanity understood as a reference to the specific quality of each given individual. This is further supplemented by use of John Rawls' argument that the separateness of persons has to be given due weight in moral theory.

There are a number of problems with the argument when it is presented as fully as this. Firstly, the Rawlsian link is a weak one tested against the utilitarian since there can be given arguments to the effect that the principle of the separateness of persons begs the question against utilitarianism. Secondly, the understanding of the formula of humanity as a formula intended primarily to safeguard individuals has odd aspects to it since the notion of humanity in question appears not to feature reference to any notion of particularity. Finally, even if deontological considerations are to be presented in terms of binding side-constraints on other actions it is still not as obvious as Nozick's argument suggests that rights would have this absolute standing that fitted them to fill the side-constraint in question. 

Of the three possible objections I have mentioned to Nozick's argument the one that matters most in response to his overall libertarian theory is the one that indicates some problem with identifying the humanity formula as one that is concerned principally with individuals. However, this is the one that, further investigation of the humanity formula will suggest, can be most readily pressed against Nozick. This is due not just to the way the humanity formula has a generality to it that Nozick seems to miss but also to its connection with Kantian moral psychology. Expect more on this in further postings.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Philosophy and Authority

In an article in the New York Times'  philosophy blog The Stone Nancy Bauer opens the question of the authority of philosophy. The reason Bauer is prompted to do this is due to an earlier piece she contributed to the same blog in which she discussed Lady Gaga. The problem seems to be that, in discussing questions concerning Lady Gaga, Bauer was viewed by a number of readers as having crossed the line concerning questions that philosophers had any right to adjudicate.

I am not going to here attempt to either defend Bauer or venture any view in this posting on Lady Gaga. However, it is worth looking at the general question of what type of authority is supposed to accrue to the views of philosophers and on what occasions. The column to which Bauer is a contributor has not been without controversy from the start. Brian Leiter, in response to the launching of The Stone, argued against the way it had been established, on the grounds that the chosen moderator of it, Professor Simon Critchley,
Simon CritchleyImage via Wikipedia
 is someone with limited professional standing (on Leiter's view). Leiter also got considerable support for this view from some other philosophers.

Both the problem with Bauer's column and the controversy concerning Critchley's moderation of it indicate the precarious nature of philosophical authority. In Bauer's case the problems with her original column, in the view of some readers, seem to have been two-fold, namely, that it concerned pop culture and that it lacked social scientific structure, the latter meaning lack of reference to ascertainable "facts" over which there could be dispute. The argument concerning Critchley's moderation, by contrast, concerned whether he had sufficient standing within philosophy to occupy such a high profile role. When the two controversies are put together it becomes evident that the challenges to philosophical authority occur on two levels, one level being against philosophy from something that deems itself "external" to philosophy and the other from within philosophy aiming at preserving, in some sense, the integrity of the discipline.

The second set of questions are themselves philosophically interesting even if the interest of them is often diminished by the polemical way they are framed. Gillian Rose, in her book, The Broken Middle, focused closely on the difficulty of philosophical authority, using the example of Kierkegaard in particular as exemplary of this. Whilst it would be peculiar to compare Critchley to Kierkegaard it would be correct to say that part of the problem with his work for the likes of Leiter is that it invokes in its own style a difficulty with its own mode of operation. 

If philosophical authority was easily established and clearly won then there would surely be something lost for philosophy. It must be preferable for philosophers to remain open to further questioning, including self-questioning, if there is to be a case for philosophy itself. The respondents to Bauer were right to think that philosophy cannot establish its right to be heard in the manner of a social science. This is not because philosophers aren't capable, like anyone else, of paying attention to empirical data. It is rather because the nature of such data seems to philosophers, qua philosophers, to require an interrogation that cannot itself be confined to arguments concerning different measurements of data or only on evaluations that have been pre-decided. The nature of evaluation itself and the meaning of what it is to mean are central to philosophy. Perhaps in allowing the probing of these topics to be so clearly and manifestly fronted The Stone is performing a service?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Report on 3rd Critique Workshop in Amsterdam

I've recently returned from Amsterdam where I was speaking at two-day event on the Critique of Judgment that was launched to commemorate the first Dutch translation of the work. It was an interesting event if also one whose basis was somewhat surprising. The majority of responses to the Critique of Judgment are concentrated on the first half of the work, the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment. However, this conference focused more on the generic nature of reflective judgment on the one hand and teleology on the other.

My own paper was focused on the relationship between the regulative principles discussed in the Appendix to the Transcendental Dialectic of the Critique of Pure Reason and the specific principle of reflective judgment as described in the two introductions Kant wrote for the Critique of Judgment. There has been some attention to this question in recent years, particularly in a debate between Reinhard Brandt and Rolf-Peter Horstmann. Whereas Horstmann argues that there is a serious disconnect between the two works, Brandt, by contrast, suggests a certain development occurs between them that has to be traced and after which more can be said in favour of the principle of reflective judgment. However, by contrast to both, I spent sometime in this paper laying out the different levels of discussion at work in the Appendix to the Transcendental Dialectic, bringing out that the notion of hypothetical judgment has to be distinguished there from reflective principles on the one hand and reflective ideas on the other. The overall point of the paper was to present a more sustained and differentiated view of Kant's treatments of systematicity.

The second paper was given by one of the organisers of the event, Dennis Schulting. This paper was mainly a reply to the work of Beatrice Longuenesse who, in her book, Kant and the Capacity to Judge concentrated on presenting a view of judgment largely derived from Kant's lectures on logic. The argument in question argues for an understanding of concept formation through the processes of reflection, abstraction and comparison. In reply Schulting presented a case for viewing concentration on this as leading to a type of Lockean notion of concepts that neglects the transcendental role of the categories. The link to the Critique of Judgment concerns the way the distinction between reflective and determinative judgment is viewed by Longuenesse.

The next paper was the only sustained engagement with questions derived from the specific treatment of aesthetic judgment. This was by Bart Vandenabeele who discussed the idea of the artistic sublime. The connection between the analysis of art and the idea of the sublime is rare in responses to this work and in elucidating it Vandenabeele certainly added to understanding of it. His analysis presented the view that there are two ways in which the mathematical sublime cannot be connected to art, in terms of what he termed a "matterist" in contrast to a "mannerist" sublime. There was no corresponding analysis of the dynamical sublime from which he prescinded due to the greater connection of this aspect of the sublime to Kant's moral theory.

Ido Geiger next presented a careful reading of the argument of the analytic of teleological judgment and some of the bases of Kant's identification of a special problem with organisms. The exclusive concentration on the argument of the analytic was very unusual given the general tendency to rush towards the dialectic where there certainly is more "action" but Geiger's analysis was certainly welcome.

Jacco Verburgt concentrated on the argument of the methodology of teleological judgment where Kant revises his response to the moral argument for the existence of God from the position presented in the Critique of Practical Reason. Whereas the second critique thinks of the discussion of theology entirely through the connection to the component elements of the summum bonum the discussion in the third critique, by contrast, is based on the distinction between two types of teleology, ethical teleology and physical teleology. Verburgt presented an argument for thinking that the argument of the third critique is itself one that needs further supplementation in terms of a revised summum bonum as is provided in Kant's subsequent work on religion.

Ernst-Otto Onnasch, by contrast to others speaking, focused on the relationship between the Critique of Judgment and the Opus Postumum arguing that the former stays at the level only of a possible organism whilst the latter develops the sense of actual organisms. Further, the argument suggested that the sense of purposiveness in cognition identified in the third critique was one Kant came to see was necessary even to comprehend natural science in general. This contribution, whilst controversial, served to further open the question of the kind of systematic status the Critique of Judgment has.

The conference ended with a round-table session at which three speakers identified questions concerned with the contemporary standing of the Critique of Judgment. All told the event certainly justified the specific focus on the third critique, not least in relation to the central problems of purposive cognition and its connection to systematic questions of Kantian philosophy.