Monday, 31 October 2011

Parfit and Kant On Treating Persons As Ends

In my recent postings on Parfit I have concentrated on how he looks at the first part of Kant's formula of humanity, the part that he believes involves discussion of the notion of "rational consent". The first place where Parfit formulated this view was in his 2002 Tanner Lectures and I broke off from consideration of these lectures after this posting in order to track the development of the views first expressed there in subsequent drafts preparatory to the publication of On What Matters and, finally, in the chapter length-discussion in On What Matters that was the subject of my last posting on Parfit. 

I want now to open a series of postings that focuses both on how Parfit responds to the second part of Kant's formulation of humanity and how he sets out a general reading of the overall formula of humanity. This will require, firstly, a lengthier analysis of the first of Parfit's 2002 Tanner Lectures and subsequently an account of the further preparatory drafts leading up to On What Matters before we can return to the analysis of the next chapter of On What Matters. As previously, therefore, the next element of discussion of Parfit's encounter with Kant will be lengthy and textually complicated.

The second section of the first 2002 lecture opens with a report of the general complaint that using people is wrong. As Parfit explains, however, it is far from clear that, when the complaint is so simply made, that it is right since there appears nothing wrong in principle with using a friend as a dictionary or a loved one as a pillow. This is why, in Kant's formula, it is not treating people as a means that is condemned but treating them merely as a means and not also as ends in themselves. So it is not using people that is wrong as such but just using them.

The way to avoid just using someone is to act with regard to them in such a way that one's actions can reasonably be said to be constrained by some form of consideration for them or, put otherwise, if one can be said to be acting under some moral principle that constrains one's conduct with regard to them. Parfit construes the reference to "maxims" in Kant's formulations as an expression of what he calls "underlying policies and attitudes" and considers actions that are constrained in the appropriate way as expressions of such "policies and attitudes".

However, although Parfit appears to present action as expressive of such policies and attitudes and to take the Formula of Humanity to govern the way in which attitudes and policies can be appropriately formulated such that they are constrained in the right way he nonetheless is not thereby convinced that actions that treat someone as a mere means are thereby necessarily wrong. In other words, Parfit's first move appears to be one of viewing the Formula of Humanity as providing us, in its reference to not treating others merely as means, as giving us an appropriate guideline for the attitudes that underlie actions without thereby providing us with a means of assessing the right actions to perform.

The reason for the appearance of this split in Parfit's account is that the attitude expressed by someone in a situation may be wrong without the action that follows from the expressed attitude also being wrong. Since, however, it appeared that Parfit was presenting the reference to maxims as indicative of how to understand the policy that Kant was recommending it follows from his construal that this policy is not sufficiently comprehensive to determine the attitude we should have to the conduct that is produced by the adoption of the "wrong" attitude.

To make this point clearer Parfit refers to the example of someone who treats a coffee seller as a mere means. Such a person pays the coffee seller rather than stealing from them only because in many cases it would be too much trouble to steal from them. The person in question thus has an attitude towards the coffee seller that is worthy of moral condemnation but, unless they proceed to steal from the coffee seller, their action is not appropriately one that should be taken to worthy of moral condemnation (even if it is also not one that is worthy of moral praise as follows from Kant's examples in Groundwork I).

Generally we could say of the person with this bad attitude that they are acting in accordance with duty but not from duty just as is the case with the shopkeeper who only gives everyone the right change because this is generally in accord with their best interest and not because this is the right thing to do. So Parfit now formulates a "mere means principle" as indicating that there two ways in which treating someone as a "mere means" can be said to be wrong, either by "regarding" them merely as a means or by also harming them, without their consent, and thus acting in such a way that one treats them merely as a means. 

After having arrived at this formulation of the second part of the Formula of Humanity Parfit now combines it with his view of the first half of the Formula to produce the overall account of it as stating that we do not treat someone as a mere means if we adopt the Rational Consent principle as an appropriate constraint on our means of acting with regard to them. What this entails is subsequently set out by consideration of a set of thought experiments that bear close comparison to classic "trolley" problems but I will leave consideration of these to the next posting I do on Parfit.

Cosmopolitics and Globalisation

I've recently returned from a conference that was held in Bucharest on the theme of "Cosmopolitanism and Philosophy in a Cosmopolitan Sense" that was held at the New Europe College there and which Aron Zsolt Telegdi-Csetri and I co-organised. I normally try, subsequently to attending conferences, to offer outlines of the main papers given so that those who were not able to attend have some sense of what the conference covered. However, on this occasion, I think it is better to think through a central issue that was raised by the event and how this connects to some of the papers that were given.

The question I have in mind was raised by someone in a round table that was held towards the conclusion of the event and concerned the relationship between cosmopolitics and globalisation. Whilst I gave at the round table my own response to this question and will likely conclude this posting by repeating it, I also wanted to indicate how some of the speeches given here touched on this matter as the relationship between these terms strikes me as an important one.

The opening speech at this event was given by Garry Robson (Jagiellonian University Krakow) whose talk was a sociological analysis of the manifestations of globalisation here in the UK during the period of the last New Labour government. Robson's analysis revealed the growth of new forms of speech in London due to the presence there of an extremely large number of discrete language groups and also mentioned how, in 2006, there had been record levels of both immigration and emigration from the UK. Robson's analysis suggested that the New Labour government had been engaged in a kind of "top-down" process of social change of the country, something that could be thought of as supported by recent comments of ex-Premier Tony Blair. Robson's own view of the changes that apparent large movements of population have produced was less clear though the focus on the riots in the UK this summer suggested a view to the effect that these changes have some elements that are less than positive though little in Robson's paper indicated focus on the distinction between the contribution of migrants to the labour market (particularly migrants from Eastern Europe) by comparison with the flourishing of youth subcultures that may well be tapping into social discontent without necessarily themselves being causal agents of it.

Robson's paper was the first of the conference and focused clearly on a conception of "globalisation" though it also implied that questions of multi-culturalism and concerns around migration were in some way related to elite presentations of a notion of "cosmopolitics". A paper that was cast in similar vein to Robson's was that of Elena Trubina (Ural Federal University, Ekaterinburg) who focused on a similar kind of argument concerning the Russian Federation. Trubina's contribution appeared to fall into two parts, the first of which outlined a view of cosmopolitics derived from Martha Nussbaum and indicated some general problems it could be argued to have prior to moving into what appeared to be her real target, an analysis of social changes in Russia that she presented as forms of "neo-liberalism". Trubina spoke of how "zones" of prosperity and focused investment were being undertaken and how, within the privileged zones, a kind of rhetoric of "cosmopolitics" was used that enabled the elevation of some at the expense of others (with these others dubbed, by contrast, "parochial"). As with Robson, but, in a way, more strikingly, there appeared an easy conflation in Trubina's paper of concerns about effects of globalisation and responses to normative cosmopolitan notions.

Quite in contrast to these presentations was the one given by Garrett Brown (University of Sheffield). Brown's speech was a contribution from international political theory rather than the more sociological or socio-philosophical tones of Trubina and Robson. Brown summarised the ways in which the cosmopolitan model of reasoning within IR theory has come under pressure from a revival of realism and certain internal tensions of the theory itself. Reporting on joint research undertaken with David Held Brown articulated the case for the continuing relevance of cosmopolitan models of analysis to IR theory and suggested that there remain no real viable alternative models to it. If the contributions of Trubina and Robson raised problems about conflation of cosmopolitics and globalisation it remained somewhat unclear, at least to me, how the various sources of cosmopolitical thinking within the terms of IR theory come together and whether the combinations they produce are sufficient for a stable synthetic approach to the subject area. Nonetheless this contribution, quite unlike those of Trubina and Robson, took seriously the sense that there is a distinct space for normative contributions to political analysis.

Similar in this respect to Brown's paper was the contribution of Speranta Dumitru (Universite Paris Descartes) who suggested a basic problem with viewing global equality of opportunity as reasonably curtailed by focus on entitlements granted to national citizens. Tilting forcefully against the tendencies of the sociological contributions earlier Dumitru suggested that viewing it as correct that social entitlements should be grounded on national citizenship entailed that we viewed distinct persons as "separate but equal". Dumitru argued that such a view endorsed an unreflective bias for what she termed a "sederantist" view of persons in which those who remained in one place where granted privilege over those who moved around. In articulating a case for a global view of equality of opportunity Dumitru strikingly advanced a particular conception of cosmopolitical theory.

A specific session devoted to Kant's cosmopolitical ideal was the place where my own contribution to the conference was made. I gave a paper that focused specifically on Kant's conception of "cosmopolitan right" articulating a place for this notion within his overall theory of right. I disagreed with the view of Elizabeth Ellis that the conception of cosmopolitan right could be justified just by reference to the idea of provisional right that Kant mentions in the Doctrine of Right though I also suggested that provisional right is best understood in relation to the standard provided by the universal principle of right. The main point of my paper was to indicate, however, that the notion of cosmopolitan right is best seen as an alternative way of addressing international problems to those that arise within the province of international right and that it does this by means of a double-edged right to hospitality, a right that imposes serious constraints both on visitors to other lands and on the reception of such visitors. The paper concluded by articulating the view that it is the standard of enlightened reason that enables a Kantian riposte to colonialism.

By contrast Sorin Baiasu (Keele University) looked at a very specific question in Kant's treatment of cosmopolitan themes, namely his presentation of perpetual peace as the "highest political good". Baiasu advanced the importance of the distinction between two conceptions of the highest good, a view of it founded on the notion of the "complete" good by contrast to one founded only on the "supreme" good and suggested that many commentators by taking perpetual peace to be a "complete" good fundamentally misunderstood its place in Kant's theory. If viewed only as a "supreme" good it fitted better with the general intention of Kant's contribution and argued for a more modest understanding of Kant's teleological argument concerning nature than would arise from viewing it as a "complete" good.

In addition to these plenary contributions there were a number of shorter papers that addressed a range of themes from an account of aesthetic questions of assimilating different types of musical taste to analysis of the place of port cities as centres of cosmopolitan endeavour and papers that opened questions about the extent to which state sovereignty can be defended.

The recurrence of the contrast between cosmopolitics and globalisation in the round table session with which the conference concluded indicated an unresolved tension that was wider than a simple contrast between philosophical and non-philosophical contributions advanced. The analysis of "globalisation", I suggested in the round table discussion, is part of a socio-historical understanding that requires tools derived from economics, history, sociology and political theory. The processes that we name under its heading I would want to argue, are quite distinct from those that we should categorise under the heading of "cosmopolitics" and the reason I think this is that the latter names a distinctive notion of normative theory. It is true that there are many projects that pass themselves off as cosmopolitical and there is much to argue about concerning the relationship between these. However, what is common to them is that they are distinctly theoretical events, not, at least not in the first instance, descriptions of on-going empirical social processes. In this respect cosmopolitical theories are intended to guide events and articulate how they should develop according to the notions of the kinds of normative considerations they advance. By contrast, theories of globalisation describe empirical social events, often critically, but without necessarily having new normative guide-lines by which they can advance views of what should take place. The distinction between these notions is important and, in many respects, the tensions between the different contributions to this event, helped to focus on its importance.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Henry Allison and Kant's *Groundwork*

Henry E. Allison has recently added to his already extensive collection of works on Kant a new work, Kant's Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals: A Commentary (Oxford University Press, 2011). Given the importance of Allison generally as an interpreter of Kant and the significance of the Groundwork for the understanding of Kant's contribution to moral philosophy the publication of this work must count as a signal moment in Kantian studies. Since this work is so significant I intend to treat it as a matter of serious import for this blog and will be responding to it with the same kind of detailed reactions I have developed in previous postings in regard to both Derek Parfit and John Rawls.

In this posting I will confine my attention to the "Introduction" to Allison's commentary. Allison here instantly makes the claim that the "main reason" why the Groundwork is particularly crucial for both understanding Kant's contribution to moral philosophy and for a view of modern moral philosophy as a whole, consists in the articulation in this work of a distinction between ethics that is based on "autonomy" and that which, by contrast, has a grounding in something heteronomous. In making this claim Allison is self-consciously following in the wake of J.B. Schneewind's historical work on modern moral philosophy but complementing the latter by seeing the emphasis on autonomy as a practical complement to Kant's alleged "Copernican revolution" in philosophy. However, Allison does acknowledge the point that emphasis on "autonomy" in Kant is connected to Rousseau's political conception that freedom involves obedience to a law one prescribes to oneself. Despite mentioning this point, however, Allison does not connect this either to Kant's later characterisation of enlightened reason or to Kant's articulation of the supreme principle of right in the Doctrine of Right preferring only to see a shift from Rousseau's political vocabulary to Kant's moral one, something that is not comprehensively accurate however appropriate it might be to the context of the Groundwork alone.

Unlike Rawls, however, Allison does not think that the effect of the emphasis on autonomy in Kant's ethics can be well described by means of a view that the right has priority over the good. In eschewing this presentation Allison prefers instead the formulation that the Kantian view involves the priority of the moral law over the good. However, again, the main reason for this apparent change in formulation is due to a distrust of Rawls' own conception of justice as fairness whereas Allison wants to emphasise the Kantian contribution to moral philosophy, something that suggests there is little substantive of importance in the altered formulation. 

Allison admits to the fact that serious study of the Groundwork has led to an alteration of views on his own part though he says little initially to indicate in what ways this has taken place. Similarly, whilst conceding that the days are, in my view thankfully, long past, when it could be held that the Groundwork could be regarded as constituting the main fabric of Kant's contribution to moral theory, Allison only modifies this old view by addressing the Groundwork as the place where Kantian meta-ethics is formulated whereas even this claim is perhaps more sweeping than is warranted. However, Allison is surely on safer ground when he reports, as a generally accepted view, that the categorical imperative is no longer treated as a kind of algorithm for morality by means of which considerations of moral judgment can be swept aside.

If this general point about the categorical imperative is taken to be significant however, it is only negatively so and would still leave almost everything left unsaid concerning it. Amongst other questions, in interpreting the Groundwork it is clearly important to arrive at a view of how it presents, as Allison puts it, "the nature and function of the categorical imperative" as well as treatments of the various alleged "derivations" it is subjected to in the text of the work and the supposed "problems" connected to its "deduction" in the third part of the work and Allison promises that his book will offer his own views on these key topics.

In addition to these promises Allison also makes clear that, for him, it is important to come to a view on the development of Kant's views from the statements in the Critique of Pure Reason on ethical topics, statements often not sufficiently treated. The point in particular on which Allison lays emphasis is that the Critique of Pure Reason appears to suggest that it has provided all that is needed in order for the ground to be laid for a metaphysics of morals so that there must have been some kind of change of view on this topic between 1781 and 1784.

Similarly, Allison indicates that amongst other historical considerations that his commentary will treat are responses to some of the key external influences on Kant, notably, the Wolffian "practical philosophy" to which Kant refers at one point in the Groundwork and Christian Garve's notion of "popular moral philosophy". The second section of the Groundwork is one he will be particularly treating as a riposte to Garve's views.

Allison's general account of the structure of the Groundwork is in terms of the work's focus on two objectives, firstly, searching for and, secondly, establishing, the supreme principle of morality. Essentially Groundwork I and II are taken to be concerned with the first of these tasks (what are conventionally described as the "derivation" of the categorical imperative) whilst Groundwork III, by contrast, treats of the third (generally termed the "deduction" of the categorical imperative). Allison also anticipates his general argument by indicating that on the latter, his overall verdict has not changed since the publication of his seminal work Kant's Theory of Freedom since he continues, apparently, to adopt the view argued for there, to the effect that the argument of Groundwork III is a failure though it remains to be seen if the nature of his treatment of the reasons for this alleged "failure" have remained the same.

An aspect of the treatment offered that is certainly surprising is that Allison also aspires to take seriously an objection that could be made to the structure of the Groundwork but that has not often been pressed in recent years. This is to the effect that the argument of the second section of the work is "redundant" given that Kant has already arrived at a statement of the categorical imperative by the close of the first part of the Groundwork (hence completing the first task of the work) whilst the third part tackles the task of "establishing" the categorical imperative (thus dealing with the work's second objective). Once put like this the argument as to why Kant introduces what is perhaps the most complex and sustained argument, the argument of Groundwork II, can appear perplexing. Further, whilst, as I said, the argument to this effect has been little advanced in recent years, it is articulated in a work by A.R.C. Duncan (a work of broadly intuitionist persuasion from the late 1950's) and has not been provided, as Allison suggests, with any kind of comprehensive response. Providing such a response is part of the rationale for Allison's commentary which ensures that addressing how well it succeeds in responding to this "redundancy argument" is part of seeing whether the work generally succeeds in adding something substantive to the great volume of works that already exist on the Groundwork.

It is within Groundwork II that Kant presents a number of different formulas of the categorical imperative though it has been a subject of sustained dispute exactly how many are there given and what the relationship between them consists in. Allison indicates that it will be part of his argument that the formulas represent "successive stages in the complete construction of the concept of the categorical imperative" and that they correlate with a progressive analysis of the concept of rational agency. Since the conception of the relationship of the categorical imperative to a picture of rational agency surely is central to the viability of the offering of the categorical imperative as truly being the supreme principle of morality this point is certainly one that is centrally important.

Allison's conception of Groundwork III is to the effect that within it Kant aims to demonstrate that our wills possess a specific property, namely that of autonomy. Unlike the Groundwork, however, Allison's books is divided into four parts, not three. The first part concerns "preliminaries", namely an analysis of the "preface" to the Groundwork and a treatment of Kant's responses to the projects of Garve and Wolff. The second part is a reading of Groundwork I, carried out over three chapters, addressing the understanding of the good will, maxims and the three "propositions" of this first part. The third part treats Groundwork II, looking at rational agency, the universal law formulas, the formula of humanity and an account of autonomy. Finally, the fourth part is a reading of Groundwork III, looking at the moral law, the presupposition of freedom and the "deduction" of the categorical imperative. All told the commentary promises to be perhaps the most comprehensive provided in English to date and to set a standard that will require response from all others addressing Kant's moral philosophy.

Graham Bird Review Article in *Kant Studies Online*

There is now a review article by Graham Bird in Kant Studies Online which is in response to Leslie Stevenson's book Inspirations from Kant. You can read and freely download the piece here.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Rawls, Just Savings and Priority Principles

It is sometime now since I last blogged about Rawls.I left the discussion of Theory at that point where Rawls discussed properties of social systems. In this posting, by contrast, still following the logic of tracing the sections of Chapter V of the work (concerned with "distributive shares") I will look at sections 44-46. The first of these sections concerns the principle of "just savings", a principle that, in the last of the sections mentioned, is revealed to put in play a further principle of priority of the principle of equality of opportunity over the difference principle. The middle one of these sections, by contrast, has a more supplementary function in terms of giving reasons why considerations of which generation one belongs to should not be determinative for selection of principles and how this is not a point that violates democratic concern.

Section 44 is ostensibly concerned with "justice between generations" though anyone who has grappled with the questions that attach to this in works at least from Reasons and Persons onwards is highly unlikely to be satisfied with Rawls' treatment. However, if we look at what Rawls actually treats in this section we can see that, whilst much more limited in scope than much work concerned with "future generations", it does provide the basic outlines for a further clarification of one of the principles of justice in an illuminating fashion.

The real question set in the section is described well by Rawls as a concern with the "social system"'s capacity to meet the two principles of justice and this concerns, as he puts it here, an understanding of how the social minimum is set. After mentioning the "common sense" proposal that it be set so as to reach customary expectations, Rawls points out that this provides no guideline concerning when and where such expectations can be accepted as reasonable. By contrast, adoption of the difference principle indicates a means by which distribution can be governed. However, this applies not merely within a generation but also between them. This requires each generation to put aside "a suitable amount of real capital accumulation". And this is the means by which the question of justice between generations arises within the theory of justice.

Having set it out in this way Rawls proceeds to make a series of concessions concerning the need for intuitive guidance when thinking through these questions. So, as is almost instantly admitted, there are "no precise limits" on what the rate of savings should be. But this does not prevent there from being, as Rawls puts it here, "significant ethical constraints" governing the means by which savings are accumulated (note that he does not write of these as "political constraints"). Amongst these constraints are a number of reasons for not governing the mechanism of appropriation of savings by means of the principle of utility, not least because this principle tends to be excessively demanding on present generations.

By contrast to the principle of utility, the theory of justice as understood by Rawls is grounded on seeing the original position as the basis of an appropriate savings principle. Contrary to his earlier remarks in this section, however, Rawls appears not to take the basis of the savings principle to really be the difference principle after all, not least because there is no way to apply it retrospectively to previous generations and since the standing of each generation has to be somehow given place in the theory it might well seem that there has to be a different principle than the difference principle governing justice between generations.

Looked at from the standpoint of the original position there are two ways in which we can imagine the veil of ignorance applying to the question of generations. It is possible to view it from the perspective of present time entry which would favour present generations relative to previous ones or from a standpoint which adopts a principle we could wish any and every generation could have followed. Since, in principle, the veil of ignorance can be sufficiently thick for us not, in any case, to know which generation we belong to, the latter conception of the original position has the advantage for Rawls. And it is on this basis that the question of just savings is approached.

So when the question of savings is broached the means by which it is addressed are in terms of how much savings would be undertaken if we assumed that all other generations had followed the same criterion (a kind of universalisation procedure). Given this formulation the right principle of just savings would thus ensure a schedule was adopted that determined rates. This would affect the degree to which rates could be reasonably set as a wealthier society would have more to spare for savings than a poorer one. However, as noted earlier, the general conception of the level of such savings is left generally intuitive and the "strains of commitment" are invoked as one of the reasons why it would be correct to leave them intuitive. The general rationale for the savings in question also has to be constantly kept in view as one of ensuring that a material base "sufficient to establish effective just institutions within which the basic liberties can be realized". 

The features of the contract approach that are specific with regard to just savings are best captured by saying that it addresses from a standpoint of justice a problem that democratic theory generally has great difficulty comprehending. Given a view that democratic decisions are grounded on reference to present parties there appears no way of ensuring that demands of future generations have any way of being represented at all (and this partly underlines the fascinating difficulties Parfit encountered in Reasons and Persons final part). But the original position does have a way of representing them, as all parties to this position are equally virtual so that differences of generation should not be considered distinct in principle from other differences.

The reason why this equal representation of distinct generations meets a "democratic" demand according to Rawls is that the basic democratic demand is that "what touches all concerns all". Each generation passes on to the next a fair equivalent in real capital by means of just savings. Having pointed out this first element of the contract position Rawls goes on to indicate that the second element concerns the definition of the aim of accumulation that it has adopted which is that such accumulation should be concerned with the attainment and maintenance of just social arrangements. So the just savings principle is a kind of coordination between generations of the means by which these aims can be met. "The savings principle represents an interpretation, arrived at in the original position, of the previously accepted natural duty to uphold and to further just institutions." Finally, given the contract conception there is no special value placed on attaining great abundance since the good society is not now viewed primarily as one with a high material standard of living.

The just savings principle is next related by Rawls to his two principles of justice by means of the reference to the standpoint of the least advantaged in each generation. This requires that the difference principle is constrained by reference to the just savings principle. Once the veil of ignorance has been understood in the appropriately thick manner it has become possible to again see the relationship of the just savings principle to the difference principle but also to comprehend that the application of the difference principle at any given point of time is constrained by reference to the continuing operation of the general coordination between generations that the just savings principle represents.

It is this striking restraint that the just savings principle operates upon the difference principle that leads Rawls to consider in section 45 the introduction of some further remarks concerning "time preference" in order to further make clear the reasonableness of this restraint upon the difference principle. We should not prefer a lesser present to a greater future good simply because of the former's nearer temporal position (again, echoes here are clear of Reasons and Persons though the latter work does, of course, post-date Theory). The just savings principle cannot be distorted in application by loose preference for a given generation. This does not prevent us from assuming interest rates are an appropriate means by which just savings can be measured. But there are no grounds for giving the living a simple preference over those as yet unborn. Collective saving for the future is a public good.

However the questions of "democracy" are again here considered by reference to the actual preferences of a given public at a given present. It is often the case that the demands of such a public are taken to be constitutive of the demos. But Rawls articulates the claim of future generations as a restraint on this preference and indicates that a judiciary informed by principles of justice would reflect this. Further, the first sustained mention of civil disobedience in Theory concerns the appropriateness of resistance to a democratic legislature that overlooked its fiduciary care for future generations.

Section 46 turns next to other cases of the priority of justice now that the priorities that arise from a consideration of just savings have been elucidated. At this point Rawls considers the general conservative case that inequalities of wealth and authority that appear to violate the second principle of justice may be justified if they provide sufficiently large economic and social benefits. Keynes' suggestion that it is an argument of this sort that justifies capitalism is mentioned with the point made that this does not justify the condition of the poorest in the circumstances in question as right but only as preferable to the alternatives. The basic point about the inequalities mentioned by Keynes is that they violate the principle of fair equality of opportunity and more conservative positions such as those of Burke and Hegel are referred to here as indicating rationales for violation of this principle. However it has to be pointed out that this conservative case has to meet a very strong condition, namely, that of showing that elimination of inequalities would limit the opportunities of the disadvantaged in a more serious way than they are presently.

The consideration of these conservative positions is not mentioned here by Rawls in order to reply to them in a systematic sense but to indicate that some recognition of inequality of opportunity may well be built into a basic structure if failure to recognise it would have greater costs and in making this point Rawls refers, as he often does, to the social costs that arise from the simple existence of the structure of family arrangements. Further, recognition of the difference principle and the priority rules that follow from it do not require attainment of perfect equality of opportunity. 

Section 46 concludes with the important "final" statement of the two principles of justice for institutions which includes the formulations not just of the two principles but of their accompanying priority rules. The first principle is now stated in the following way: "Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all". This principle has altered little from earlier formulations and still bears important comparison with the supreme principle of right as stated by Kant in the Doctrine of Right. The second principle is stated, by contrast, in a more extensive manner than previous formulations allowed as follows:
"Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both: (a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, consistent with the just savings principle, and (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity." Notably the difference principle is now explicitly constrained by the just savings principles whilst the principle of fair equality of opportunity, by contrast, is left much as it was in previous formulations.

Finally Rawls states the two priority rules. The first priority rule concerns the priority of liberty or the priority of the first principle of justice over the second. Basic liberties can be restricted, according to the first priority rule, only for the sake of liberty. There are two cases which allow this: "(a) a less extensive liberty must strengthen the total system of liberties shared by all; (b) a less than equal liberty must be acceptable to those with the lesser liberty". The second priority rule concerns the priority of justice over efficiency and welfare but this also mandates that the principle of fair opportunity has priority over the difference principle. There are two cases in which these priorities are expressed: "(a) an inequality of opportunity must enhance the opportunities of those with the lesser opportunity; (b) an excessive rate of saving must on balance mitigate the burden of those bearing the hardship".

With the attainment of the final form of the principles of justice and their accompanying priority rules Rawls reaches a key turning point in Theory. It remains to be seen to what extent and in what way the structure of the rest of the work really belongs to the theory of justice and how it helps us to formulate a political reasoning that contributes to the aims of this theory.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Parfit, Humanity and Consent (IV)

After perusing the various drafts that went into the making of Parfit's account of consent in On What Matters, most recently in the pre-publication version, I want, in this posting, to simply lay out the structure and general content of Chapter 8 of volume 1, ostensibly concerned with the topic of "possible consent". When you look at the chapter as a whole and break down the movement of its argument there are some straightforwardly surprising characteristics of it.

So, for example, the Chapter opens, as the earlier drafts did, with a description of Kant's formula of humanity and, in particular, with the way that this formula is related to the discussion of false promising. It is by means of this connection that Parfit is enabled to focus less on the sense of Kant's formula itself as on the apparent reference to treating people in ways to which they could not possibly consent though the latter reference appears only in connection with this example of false promising and not when the three other  examples to which the formula is related are discussed. 

It is by means of this account of consent in the treatment of false promising that Parfit describes and criticises views of Christine Korsgaard and Onora O'Neill who, in being treated in such a concise manner, certainly have cause for complaint of Parfit's compressed conception of their readings. The point of Parfit's first section in this chapter is, however, not primarily one that arises from exegetical concerns. It is rather to stress problems with viewing the wrongness of coercion to lie mainly in the claim that it makes consent impossible since, as he correctly points out, certain types of coercion are precisely not generally regarded as wrong despite clearly being seen as examples of coercion. Hence when we object to coercion, it would seem, there is a ground for this objection that does not rest simply on its being coercion that is being exercised.

The second section of the chapter moves to clarify this point by focusing on what it is about consent that matters to moral claims on its behalf. Here Parfit repeats the claim of his earlier drafts that the wrong-making character of appeals to consent cannot reside, as some remarks of Korsgaard and O'Neill might lead us to think, on appeal to the "Choice-giving principle" that states simply that it is wrong not to give other people the power to choose how we shall treat them. Such a naive principle is, indeed, one that it would be hoped should not arise from any kind of careful Kantian thought since it would appear that, on its ground, we should simply, for example, buy anything that someone wants to sell to us. By contrast to this principle Parfit instead emphasises what he terms the "Consent principle" which states that it is wrong to treat people in ways to which they could not "rationally consent". This emphasis on "rational consent" does have the potential problem that it appears to build quite a bit of normativity into the general notion of reason but Parfit does not appear to follow Kant in understanding this to be a reference to the "end of acts". 

Parfit presents Kant's point in the following way: "Kant must mean that, when we are choosing how we shall treat other people, we ought always to act with some aim that these people would be able to share" (181). But this "being able to share" that Parfit refers to here is not simply a way of stating the conceivability of a shared end as it rather requires the rationality of this end to be acceptable to others. However, this rationality is not understood here by reference simply to the "end of acts" because this would not in itself include discussion of the means by which ends can be achieved. That Kant's account does, however, include some constraint on this is clear enough when we remember that the Formula of Humanity involves reference to treating others as ends in themselves but this part of the Formula is not included in the chapter in question as Parfit has, for the purposes of the argument of this chapter, deliberately foreshortened the formula.

The third section of the chapter concerns reasons to give consent and here Parfit dismisses Rawls' attempt to view the "Consent Principle" in terms derived from Kant's Formula of Universal Law. Oddly enough, however, one of Parfit's reasons for dismissing this view of Rawls appears to consist in the simple assertion that Kant was inconsistent! It is usual, in interpreting philosophers, not to adopt this view unless it is absolutely necessary to make the best of their positions but here Parfit seems to assume it rather breathtakingly easily. More importantly, in this section, Parfit fills out his understanding of consent by suggesting that it is consent in the act-affecting sense that Kant means and, further, this consent has to be understood as "informed". These additions lead Parfit to refine the "Consent Principle" and he then adds some conditions on its acceptability as he takes it to be the case that it should not require us to act in ways we normally condemn and nor should it rule out too many acts we usually assume to be required.

The fourth section of the chapter then proceeds to defend the "Consent Principle" from the charge that it is superfluous. In replying to this objection Parfit argues that there are two general aims a moral principle can have, firstly, that they provide a reliable criterion of wrongness by showing that acts of a certain kind are wrong and, secondly, they can be explanatory, describing one of the reasons why wrong acts can be said to be wrong. After enumerating these points Parfit goes on to claim that the Consent Principle, if correct, offers more than a reliable criterion of wrongness (and is thus explanatory). 

The fifth section of the chapter moves on to discussing "actual" consent pointing out, by using the example of rape, that reference to it is often crucial for us in determining the wrongness of acts. This section is surprisingly long and after agreeing with the need to include reference, in some sense, to "actual" consent, Parfit moves on to look at the objection that it is possible that the Consent Principle concedes too much to actual consent. In considering this objection Parfit is, in a sense, reprising the objections to Korsgaard and O'Neill with which he began his argument in the chapter except that now he saddles them with what he terms a "Veto Principle" as opposed to the absolute objection to coercion and deception he opened by presenting them as having. Just as the "Choice-giving" principle that led to such absolute positions was earlier exposed as false so now is this "veto principle" similarly rejected and it is argued that the Consent Principle need not imply the Veto principle which would give others the automatic right to object to anything to which they either do not or would in fact refuse consent. 

It is useful, despite the repetition it involves, that Parfit does discuss the "Veto Principle". It is useful because, until this point, he has not clarified sufficiently his earlier statement to the effect that coercion is not, despite appearances to the contrary, necessarily wrong. In amplifying now Parfit discusses the notion of "irreversible" consent. It is frequently not possible to give irreversible consent but we can give such consent to things that we might later regret having consented to without it being irrational that we have nonetheless given this "irreversible" consent. So, for example, the inevitable pain that might come from certain kinds of operation might well, during the experience of its being undergone, lead us to regret having consented to the operation without this making it irrational that we in fact gave "irreversible" consent earlier.

Parfit's next move is to replace the "Veto Principle" with appeal to what he terms the "Rights Principle" which instead claims that everyone has rights not to be treated in certain ways without their actual consent. So there are certain kinds of act that would be veto-covered as the earlier principle intended but which kinds of act might well be difficult to determine given the rebuttability of many claims. However Parfit does argue that the opportunity to refuse consent does arise from the Rights Principle.  But there is a restriction on the application of this Rights Principle since the opportunity to refuse consent "must be given by people who have sufficient understanding of the relevant facts". So it does not apply to infants, the mentally ill or those under the influence of seriously distorting drugs (including being drunk, a rather problematic exclusion I think). Further Parfit also attenuates the application of the principle by stating that influences distort judgments in various degrees with the result that decisions made under some types of influence may not be entirely over-ruled but can be given less weight (a provision that would require much care).

These points also lead to Parfit bringing in temporal considerations for the first time since he argues that present consent matters more than past consent which, in its turn, matter more than retroactive endorsement. The basis of this present bias is, however, simply grounded on the reference of present beliefs to acceptance of truth since we act on the assumption at present that the beliefs we have now are true. 

The penultimate section of the chapter concerns deontic beliefs which are introduced in order to discuss the sense that wrong-making characteristics do not only arise from reference to consent. Some acts, in principle, could be wrong even though there was general rational consent to them suggests Parfit (which partly defuses the earlier sense that quite a bit of normativity was built in to his sense of "reason"). Included here, for Parfit, would be voluntary euthanasia, cruelty to animals, and, potentially, suicide (interestingly, the last of these is the first example Kant gives of application of the Formula of Humanity). So we have beliefs about wrong-making characteristics being involved with certain types of act regardless of reference to consent in relation to them. The beliefs that are so held are described by Parfit as 'deontic' reasons. Having said this, it is less than obvious that this section provides a way of dealing with such claims seriously.

The final section of the chapter looks at extreme demands that might be thought to arise from the Consent Principle which repeats the problem about the intuitive acceptability of principles that Parfit made earlier in the chapter. Here Parfit considers a revision to the Consent Principle that might be thought to be needed to prevent it from demanding too much of us which brings in reference to not requiring that we bear too great a burden (though Parfit does not specify clearly enough how to understand what "too great" would be). Finally, Parfit is aware of the fact that the Formula of Humanity has only been partially treated in this chapter and indicates the need to treat, in the following chapter, the reference to not treating others merely as a means. However, whilst this recognition is good, it is odd to have Kant named again at the end of the chapter when he has been missing from it for a considerable number of sections and when the focus on consent in general has not been systematically justified as a correct response to his general argument in terms of the discussion of humanity. It is, after all, only with regard to one example out of four when discussing the formula of humanity that Kant even refers to consent. So the suggestion that "half" the sense of the formula has been caught in the chapter is certainly peculiar.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Nelson Potter, Kant and Respect

A little while ago I wrote about Nelson Potter's response to the argument of Groundwork I. However, one part of Potter's response to the argument that was not treated in this earlier posting concerns his "appendix" that addresses the role of "respect" in the discussion of Groundwork I. The "third proposition" of the argument of Groundwork I is that "duty is the necessity of an action from respect for the law" (Ak. 4: 400). Kant states that this proposition is "the conclusion" from the first two propositions of his argument. 

Potter presents the third proposition as a subjective account of the nature of action from duty. The key to it, however, is that it treats "respect", putatively something that could be regarded as a "feeling", as worthy of inclusion in a rational determination of moral action. In order to demonstrate this point it is necessary for Kant to provide an account of how the "feeling" of respect is something distinct from feelings generally considered since the latter have been treated, under the heading of "pathology", as unworthy of being part of a purely rational account of morality.

Now the argument of Kant here is one that distinguishes between "inclination" and "respect" and in doing so he views the former as attached to objects as the effects of actions. In doing so Kant is placing inclination in relation to passivity whereas respect, by contrast, is viewed as part of spontaneous willing. Similarly, Kant views inclination as something towards which I cannot have the "feeling" of respect. By contrast to the object related to as an effect to which inclination is tied, Kant emphasises the "ground" of my will as something that can be an object of respect. This "ground", however, is none other than "the mere law by itself". In other words respect attaches to the law as the third proposition stated. 

Potter analyses the claim in this argument and divides it into three parts. Firstly, he argues that taking the object of respect to be the ground of the determination of the will is equivalent to viewing its object as purely formal in nature. This is a point worth making, not least since Kant does not make it explicit in his compressed argument. Secondly, Potter argues that respect is an effect and not a cause of the law. This point is not stated by Kant here but Potter supports it on the ground that viewing respect as a cause of the law would entail that acting from the law was acting in response to a feeling. However, since Kant is indicating the special quality of the feeling of respect, as a feeling that is not a product of receptivity, it is less obvious than Potter suggests that Kant could not have viewed respect as part of what allows the law to act upon us (though seeing respect like this does require eschewing reference to causal vocabulary at all). Thirdly, Potter points out that the feeling of respect is "self-produced", precisely the point I have just used to put his second point into question.

What Kant specifically writes about respect in the footnote introduced into the argument of Groundwork I that concerns respect is that if we recognise something immediately as a law for us then we recognise it "with respect" and this latter recognition "signifies merely the consciousness of the subordination of my will to a law" (Ak. 4: 401n). So respect is a kind of recognition whereby a law is taken to have validity for us. This recognition involves the sense that the validity of the law requires our will's conformity to its command. So respect shows us the requirement that we act in accordance with that which we respect. It thus appears, from this statement that the action of respect is part of the means by which the law has efficacy for us, just as I suggested above.

Potter summarises the unique character of the "feeling" of respect in claiming that it is unique in "its cause, its object, and its effects in action". The cause of the appearance of the feeling is not due to the stimulus of sense and this marks out respect as a special feeling. The object of respect is the ground of the will, not the effect of the will. Finally, however, the relation of respect to the effect of the action of the will is mentioned by Potter though this appears merely to be his odd way of referring to the spontaneity of respect's appearance.

Potter indicates, however, that he is unsure what role the feeling of respect has in the determination of "moral value" or in Kant's moral philosophy generally. The reason why Potter is puzzled about these points is that respect is not something that is part of the content of the maxims of duty although it is, as he admits, part of our awareness of the moral law. Since Potter views respect as only derivative of the law, he also takes it to arise only after the formation of maxims. But this is not required to make sense of Kant's view as I have suggested. Rather, the formation of the law seems to require recognition of the need for the will to be subordinated to its command, that is, to recognise the validity of its demand upon us. Unless this validity is granted the command of the law will have no efficacy and respect is the means by which this validity is given. Potter effectively has to recognise this and states it as our awareness of being put under obligation. So another way of putting the point would be to say that the recognition that the law has put us under obligation in a certain way is to operate with respect with regard to the law.

Essentially despite raising difficulties concerning the formulations of Kant's view Potter does accept the necessity of respect and does so in terms of its belonging to the "subjective" side of morality's pull. What is missing from his analysis however is the development of this point in terms of the means by which the recognition that respect effects us concerns the way the law commands us, not merely the recognition that it command us.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Kantian Enlightenment in *Twin Cities*

A new e-journal has been launched, the Twin Cities Review of Political Philosophy and I was invited to contribute a piece on Kant's view of enlightenment. It is included as part of a response to the general view of enlightenment and is contrasted with a piece on Foucault's view of the topic. My piece is available here.  The journal is a bold new venture which focuses primarily on publication of undergraduate pieces in philosophy and the supplementary pieces otherwise included have a primarily pedagogic intent. Check out the whole first issue and seriously think of following!