Thursday, 31 March 2011

Greenwich the Latest University to Attack Philosophy

Hot on the heels of the recent fight at Keele University it now appears that the University of Greenwich has decided to close philosophy provision. The staff who teach philosophy there are a small and committed group, all of whom are known to me personally. They have established a Facebook Group and a petition in their defence. The attempt to close the BA in Philosophy at Greenwich should be resisted as should all attempts to remove or diminish philosophy provision.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Justice As Reciprocity (II)

In the last posting I did on this topic the focus on methodological devices was prominent. Rawls reaches the conclusion, however, that there is a close relationship between the principles of justice and the sense of justice. And from this connection he states some key points, including the argument that justice is "the first moral virtue" as it arises from the concept of morality being related to self-interested persons in similar situations. Effectively, if it is possible at all to transcend the bounds of rational self-interest then this is the concept that we reach when we do so.

From the "conjectural derivation" as Rawls here terms the "original position" we have an assured root of both justice and fairness in reciprocity. Reciprocity is connected to the notion of free peoples relating to each other in a situation where no one possesses moral authority over another and we find ourselves engaged in some kind of mutual endeavour. Interestingly connected to this stress on reciprocity is the sense that just principles are ones that require people to be able to affirm them when they openly face one another. So Rawls builds in a publicity constraint on the principles that can be understood as ones of justice.

This publicity constraint is one that enables communicative relations between people and without it there can only be relations between people based on force. After building in this publicity constraint Rawls distinguishes fairness and justice from each other in order to be able to connect them back together. Fairness, on Rawls' view, applies to practices where there is either a competition between people or a cooperative activity in which they have no compulsion to participate. This is why the notion of fairness applies particularly to games and yet also to trade and bargaining. Justice, by contrast, applies to practices in which there is no choice whether or not one participates. There is, that is, an element of necessity in justice which applies to institutions that are generally pervasive or to practices which, if limited in application, are nonetheless ones that have no optional character for those involved in them.

Judging practices by reference to mutual acknowledgement of principles is to engage in applying the principle of reciprocity to their justification. So if one is engaged in a practice that we can acknowledge as satisfying the principle of reciprocity and so we can accept that its rules are either fair or just then we have no grounds of complaint with regard to it. So, for example, if the rules in question limit our sphere of activity in some important respects, then we have a right to expect that others will acknowledge in their own turn the same kinds of limits. If the practice is understood to be just or fair then there is a basic sense in which we all benefit from participation in it.

When one has thus acknowledged the practice in question as satisfying in this way the principle of reciprocity then it becomes the case that one has a "prima facie" obligation to abide by its rules. This obligation is what Rawls earlier referred to as the duty of fair play. Rawls admits, however, that in terming political obligation the duty of fair play he is extending the use of "fair" here beyond ordinary usage which only relates to acting in accordance with the spirit of a practice. But Rawls regards it as a not "unnatural extension" to incorporate the general obligation to abide by the rules in question as part of the duty of fair play as it requires that expecting the benefits of a practice to accrue to one does mean agreeing to the basis of that practice.

This point involves familiar considerations of "free-riding" that arose already in Rawls' earlier paper on justice as fairness. The interesting point about listing fair play as a prima facie duty is that in so doing Rawls deliberately adopts the language of W.D. Ross' intuitionism (though without referring to Ross). The justification of the general duty of fair play is clear in relation to the earlier mentioned publicity constraint since it meshes with this constraint in a natural way. Rawls further indicates that the recognition of the duty of fair play is not only closely meshed with the publicity constraint but that it is also an essential part of the recognition of another as a person. "To recognize another as a person one must respond to him and act towards him in certain ways; and these ways are intimately connected with the various prima facie duties." In making this point Rawls explicitly attempts to take the notion of prima facie duties away from intuitionist views and incorporate it instead in a basic act of recognition.

This point about recognition is used further in relating fairness to justice in terms of the earlier distinction between voluntary and involuntary engagement of practices. If fairness applies to practices in which one engages voluntarily then it is obvious that no one willingly agrees to play in a game that is stacked against them. So in relating the notion of fair practices to justice we effectively act as if practices that were carried out necessarily had in them the freedom we express in situations of choice. 

Having reached this point in the analysis Rawls turns next to a comparison between this notion of justice as reciprocity and the utilitarian view. The utilitarian view is taken to be in clear conflict with the notion of justice Rawls has advanced due to the over-riding concern of utilitarians being with efficiency in which administrators are concerned with rules that have little relation to justice. Utilitarian calculation is concerned with preferences and interests so that it engages in abstraction from the separation of persons. 

Rawls presses the case about the difference by considering the case of slavery. Utilitarian calculations concerning it have to begin with the interests of all concerned and, whilst they may well produce from this analysis, a condemnation of slavery, there is a fault at the root of such a conception as it does not relate to the slave-holder and slave in terms of reciprocity. If one has reciprocity at the root then you cannot regard the slave-holder's interests as in way relevant in making out the injustice of the institution that he perpetrates. This does not mean that it could never be treated as provisionally excusable but it could only be related to as such if there was an advance in the reciprocal understanding involved in it on what had previously been established and not at all with regard to interests of a slave-holder. 

The principles of justice that Rawls has specified could never select slavery as a bearable system and these principles have special weight in determining the character of reciprocity. Following on the earlier stress on the notion of recognition Rawls subsequently points out that all the elements of justice as reciprocity are involved in Kant's formula of humanity as an end in itself. The general point of the argument, however, and this is importantly different from where Rawls ends up in Political Liberalism, is to show the moral roots of the conception of justice that is being justified.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The AHRC and the "Big Society" (II)

There remains a bit more to add on this question even after yesterday's posting. Firstly, I forgot to add the point that Professor Bob Brecher has resigned his membership of the AHRC's Peer Review College in protest against the way the theme of the "Big Society" has become an integral part of one of its priority research areas. Secondly, there is now a petition that can be signed in protest against the AHRC's decision to include reference to the "Big Society" in a key priority research area. Thirdly, there are also two postings on this topic that bear looking at: a) Iain Pears dissects this decision on the AHRC's part in relation to the so-called "Haldane Principle"; b) James Sumner uncovers the history of this story carefully bringing out that everyone should have started making a fuss about this a little earlier.

Monday, 28 March 2011

The AHRC and the "Big Society"

I was somewhat surprised to find that the Observer reported yesterday on the news that the Arts and Humanities Research Council has been designating research into the "big society" a priority area. I was surprised because I didn't think this was new news, not least because it was discussed (albeit briefly) on this blog some days ago. However, I was even more surprised to read that the AHRC has replied to the Observer story by posting, on the main news list for philosophers in the UK, Philos-L, an apparent "denial" of the story.

The denial was issued by no less a person than Professor Rick Rylance, the Chief Executive of the AHRC though it is interesting to note precisely what Professor Rylance chose to deny from the Observer story. What Professor Rylance focuses on is the idea that the AHRC either was pressured to accept the "big society" idea as a priority research area or that it developed it in response to Tory election slogans from last year. Instead, the idea arose from within the AHRC itself and was something that, whilst relevant to the agenda of the current government, was not apparently commissioned by it. It is, though, true, as you can see by checking the AHRC's own site, that the focus on the "big society" and the using of the language of the "big society" is something explicit in the council's own description of one of its key priority research areas. That focus on such a notion can be defended by Professor Rylance is somewhat bizarre. Further it is explicitly stated in documentation of the area that there is a link not just with the language of government policy but with the explicit idea of it:

Radical new policies on the „Big Society‟ & localism at the heart of the new Coalition Government‟s strategy in England represent a major „social experiment‟ and research opportunity, have created urgent new needs for research to inform policy and require a step change in research engagement with local communities and groups, the third sector and local government.

So the substance of Professor Rylance's argument with the Observer story appears to boil down to the point that the AHRC thought of focusing on this idea of the "big society" before the government did but is happy to assert a link to it quite explicitly now it is government policy. And who is supposed to be satisfied with this as a response?

That no one is satisfied is apparent from the discussion of this same story that was run in the Times Higher where this time the defence is that the idea of the way this research priority area has been defined is due to needing to speak to government in a language it "understands". Such language has also defined here the specific nature and sense of the enquiry in question as is clear from the citation above. That the AHRC itself chose to make itself such a tool of government rather than requiring "pressure" from them makes the situation worse rather than better.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Dennis Schulting in *Kant Studies Online*

Kant Studies Online has published a review article by Dennis Schulting of Scott Stapleford's book Kant's Transcendental Arguments and it can be accessed and freely downloaded here.

Justice As Reciprocity (I)

In 1971, the same year as the publication of A Theory of Justice, and presumably written as Theory was being completed, Rawls published a paper entitled "Justice As Reciprocity". One of the points of the paper is to distinguish between "justice" and "fairness" in order that the point of having a conception of justice as fairness can be more easily understood. A second point is to contrast Rawls' view of justice with the utilitarian conception with which he has multiplied problems ever since the writing of "Outline of A Decision Procedure for Ethics" in 1951.

The title of the paper is meant to bring out the core element that is shared between the conceptions of "justice" and "fairness", the notion of "reciprocity". As was suggested in earlier work the notion of "justice" itself is primarily conceived of as involving the elimination of arbitrary distinctions and the establishment of an equilibrium between competing claims. However for the sense of this conception to be really made manifest it is required that two specific principles be set out. These principles are the familiar ones of equal rights to the most extensive liberty compatible with like liberty for all and the combination of the difference principle with the principle of equality of opportunity (or openness of offices to talents). The principle of equal liberty is itself then determined as requiring the conception that similar cases be treated similarly, a point that shows this principle is meant to be understood as generalizable. This understanding of the sense of equality implied in the first principle is combined with a notion of impartial administration and with the definition and initial specification of the practices to which it applies.

The second principle, which combines together two separable points about equality, concerns "benefits and burdens" that arise from occupancy of offices and Rawls here stresses in quite an emphatic manner that such inequalities as relate to offices have to work to the advantage of every person. Both principles have to be looked at from a general point of view, such as is supposed by the notion of the "representative man".

When Rawls goes on to invoke the basis of these principles by mentioning his "conjectural account" of their derivation he does so, as is again explicitly stated, to show that they are based on the "constraints of morality" in relation to the circumstances of justice. The veil of ignorance is invoked though not named as such and under its guise the need for generalizable principles becomes clear. Not only is this so but Rawls characteristically assumes a relationship between impartiality and morality when stating that acknowledgement of principles as applying as much to one's own case as that of others is "an essential aspect of having a morality". 

The constraints on the difference principle are clearly referred to since it is recognized as plausible that inequalities can meet its condition so that: "the immediate gain which equality would allow can be considered as intelligently invested in view of its future return".  This rather striking use of language is used to suggest a general incentive exists to have inequalities recognized in light of their tendency to promote the general conditions that are most favourable.

Rawls goes on to indicate that the view of justice implied in the "construction" he has given has similarities with game theory though he distinguishes it from game theory as he denies that the "construction" supposes a general theory of motivation. Nor does the "construction" suppose individual strategies though Rawls admits that a "special and general manner" of gaming is still supposed in a formal way in the "construction" he has given.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Rawls and the Justification of Civil Disobedience

In his 1969 paper "The Justification of Civil Disobedience" Rawls describes a fairly narrow conception of what civil disobedience is and how it can be justified. It is, however, an account that connects integrally to the general view of justice developed up to this point. Firstly, the theory only applies to "legally established democratic authority" and secondly it is developed from the social contract positions elaborated in the earlier papers.

The general social contract doctrine is here reaffirmed in terms of a notion of duty as it is taken to be a duty to support and uphold just and efficient institutions. This implies a broader ethical theory at the back of Rawls' view though he is, as always, careful not to draw this out too much. After restating the case for the original position and the veil of ignorance Rawls cuts to the key question of the grounds of obligation for compliance with "unjust" laws. The earlier duty mentioned is restated as the "principle of fairness", the principle that specifies that, given our willingness to accept the benefits of just institutions, so also should we bear the cost of compliance with them.

How does this principle of fairness relate to an obligation to obey unjust laws? Restating the original position a second time Rawls brings out from it the need for the principles of liberty and equality. Subsequently he turns to processes which allow for procedural decisions about "justice" but admits: "we cannot frame a procedure which guarantees that only just and effective legislation is enacted" (180). Democratic constitutions build in a form of majority rule and it is possible the majority is mistaken in its commitment to some course of action or legislation. It is not an unconditional commitment that anyone makes to follow the demands of the constitution so there could be grounds for disobeying the laws framed even given the principle of fairness.

Rawls characterizes civil disobedience as a public, nonviolent and conscientious act contrary to law "usually done with the intent to bring about a change in the policies or laws of the government". Oddly, despite being mentioned first in this description, the public element is least emphasized in Rawls' account though it is crucial in the sense that an act that was not performed with the sense of creating a general impact would hardly count. It must also, though, be an act carried out in the light of day, that is, it must be one that others are directly aware of. The conscientious character is manifested in terms of describing an act motivated by moral principles that define a view of the public good. Now, crucial to this conception of the public good is the sense that it is a view that is not merely idiosyncratic but rather appeals to a sense of justice in the majority of the community. The general point expressed by the act of civil disobedience is that something has gone deeply wrong in the application of the shared principles of justice. This is why the one acting in the way specified declares to the community generally that the ties of community have been severely damaged, a point requiring the committing of the act in question.

The publicity of the act is also manifested in the sense that the one carrying it out expects and invites the constituted authorities to execute the penalties prescribed. So the civilly disobedient act is public in these different senses: i) it is a direct address to others that others are expected to notice; ii) it appeals to principles of justice manifestly held by the community at large and emphasizes this; iii) it invites and expects punishment from the attested authorities as a means of fulfilling both the first two conditions. The last point is described by Rawls as a "bond given to make good one's sincerity" and is required in terms of the stability of systems of justice. Conscientious non-compliance has to meet the force of punishment as without such meeting the general system of justice would not fulfil conditions of stability.

The civilly disobedient act, as characterized by Rawls, is a primarily political act even though ethical and religious doctrines have often been cited in the support of such actions. They are primarily political acts as they rest principally upon appeals to the common principles of justice.

The justification given for civil disobedience on this conception is four-fold. The first element is that there is not a "normal" means to address the wrong complained of. Political parties and constituted authorities are not interested in the question which is why there is an appeal to something that is not "normal" involved. This requirement could be said to be that the injustice complained of is one that the majority and the institutions they support show indifference to. We might term this a complacency requirement. The second condition is that civil disobedience should arise only with regard to fundamentals such as relate to the substantial principles of justice as specified in the principle of equal liberty and equal opportunity. Notably, the second principle of justice is only here invoked in terms of equality of opportunity and not in relation to the difference principle. The reason given is that violations of the difference principle are a much more controversial matter and they are also taken to be less fundamental. So the second requirement appears to circumscribe civil disobedience in such a way that it is not legitimately understood to be something that can be undertaken when we have "only" social grievances.

The third element is a generality requirement: if we invoke the right to civil disobedience in a situation we are concerned with then we have to grant the right to others in similar situations. This generality requirement is again tied to questions of stability as Rawls takes it to be the case that granting civil disobedience to have this general condition shows the security of the basic principles of justice for all. The final element is distinct from these three as it concerns not the conditions under which the appeal to civil disobedience can be granted as having sense but rather the conditions under which it can be assumed to be efficacious. That is, granted you have a case in relation to the criteria listed to commit acts of a civilly disobedient nature, should you do so? This question is partly tactical, in the sense of whether acting in this way will best help to attain your ends. But it is also partly the case that the act, even if justified in relation to the standards given, may be one that produces counter-productive results and that possibility also has to weigh on one's judgment. So the final criteria concerns conditions of judgment.

Rawls closes the article by considering some objections to the view given. The first is that it relies too much on the existence of a sense of justice in others. Certainly, as was indicated in the fourth criteria, if such a sense of justice has generally decayed then it is hardly rational to engage in it even if it is justified. It is, though, also true that in a constitutional democracy some form of attachment to the principles of justice is a given for its stability and so appeal to this always has some place in the system. Separately, it could be thought that the doctrine of civil disobedience grants too much ground to subjective conceptions of rightness and fairness as anyone here has the right to judge what laws breach the bonds of social cooperation. However, Rawls' reply to this is a good one since he points out that it is factually true that it is, ultimately, left to each one of us to consider such a matter. No theory of a constitutional democracy can fail to recognise this.

Related articles

Monday, 21 March 2011

Rawls on Fair Equality and Stability

In his 1968 paper "Distributive Justice: Some Addenda" Rawls moves further towards the outline of A Theory of Justice in some key respects. The two principles of justice are now stated in the same form as they appear in the book with the second principle being given the lion's share of the coverage. Whilst previously the second principle was stated in terms that stressed that inequality was arbitrary unless it worked out to everyone's advantage and this was coupled with a statement concerning openness to offices the new principle is given in a slightly different two-stage way. The new principle states that inequalities have to be arranged so that it can be "reasonably expected" that they will work out to everyone's advantage whilst it remains coupled to a statement of openness to offices. Whilst Rawls himself focuses on the point concerning "everyone's advantage" it is the reference to reasonable expectation that is new and which already points in the direction of a need for an account of what could be meant by the notion of "reasonable". 

Some parts of this paper restate points that Rawls has by now made familiar such as the invocation of the "veil of ignorance" and its connection to the "original position" though he also here adds that the parties in this position are not individuals but, rather, "family heads", a specification presumably meant to show their representative function but which has some implications not here discussed (what of those not in families, do they not have distinguishable interests?).

Similarly Rawls again makes clear his commitment to the notion of the "basic structure" of society and the associated generality of the question being asked in his account of distributive justice. The notion of the "representative man" is again focused particularly on the least favoured income class as was the case in the 1968 paper on distributive justice. The notion of "primary goods" makes an appearance in the paper with the notion of self-respect identified as a particularly pertinent example of such a good.

The examination of the second principle is undertaken with regard to certain possible systems, and this is undertaken by rendering the principle of openness to offices by means of Pareto optimality. By contrast the notion of the mutual advantage garnered from inequalities is termed the "difference principle", the term first used by Rawls in the 1968 paper on distributive justice.

Having distinguished and specified the two parts of the second principle of justice Rawls next relates some interpretations of the principle in question that will produce certain types of social system and assesses the outcome that such systems will produce through the notion of "stability". The first such system examined is that of "natural liberty" in which the part that speaks of openness to offices is understood to mean that equality requires careers open to talents and this is combined with Pareto optimality. This produces, Rawls assumes, roughly a free market system although it does not automatically require that the means of production are privately owned. Pareto optimality is not itself tied to any particular distribution though in the system of natural liberty it is assumed to be best satisfied by a competitive market economy. The "difference principle" is here understood to require only formal equality of opportunity and this ensures that the initial distribution of assets is "strongly influenced by natural and social contingencies". This fact alone is held to count against the system of natural liberty.

By contrast to the system of natural liberty we can invoke the notion of "liberal equality" in which the principle of openness to offices is changed and rendered as equal opportunity "under similar conditions". When we render the notion of openness to offices in this way we arrive, states Rawls, at the principle of fair equality of opportunity. We are not dealing with equal opportunity in a merely formal sense but adding to the view of it that there should be a fair chance to attain opportunities.

So liberal equality seeks to reduce the effect of the natural and social contingencies that were taken to have the decisive weight under a system of merely "natural" liberty. This requires that there are in-built constraints in the social system that seek to prevent excessive concentration of wealth and to maintain equal educational opportunities.

However, whilst Rawls prefers liberal equality to the system of natural liberty he still objects to it on the grounds that the resulting distribution of wealth and income is based primarily on the natural distribution of abilities and talents. This elevates liberal equality into a meritocratic system in opposition to the dependence of the system of natural liberty on historical accidents. However, as Rawls points out, the extent to which natural capacities develop is itself affected by all kinds of social conditions, conditions he generally summarizes as those of the "natural lottery".

This is why the first part of the second principle, the part generally termed the "difference principle" is assumed instead to require that higher expectations of those better situated are treated as just "if and only if" they work as part of a scheme which improves the lot of the least advantaged members of society. This suggestion that all differences in wealth and income should work for the good of the least favoured is what leads to the term "difference principle". It is also taken to work with Pareto optimality in defining a situation that can be seen to be the most efficient one. Rawls terms this condition "democratic equality" by distinction to "liberal equality".

The difference principle is subsequently justified by reference to a number of principles that it is argued to harmonize with. To begin with it is taken to harmonize with the principle of redress or the view that undeserved inequalities require compensation. So the difference principle compensates for the unequal distribution of natural talents and in doing so "the callous aspects of a meritocratic regime are avoided", showing again the importance of the distinction between liberal and democratic equality.

Rawls also suggests that the difference principle connects to the principle of fraternity where this latter is understood to mean "not wanting to have greater advantages unless this is for the benefit of others who are less well off". If understood in this way the revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity are all given a place with the first recognised in the first principle of justice, the second specified in terms of fair equality of opportunity and the third in the difference principle. Rawls also suggests a link between the difference principle and the Kantian principle of the kingdom of ends. The difference principle rules out even the view that others should be treated as means to one another's welfare as it will not permit the sacrifice of some to others that naturally emerges as an interpretation of the utilitarian view.

Rawls also takes the difference principle to relate to the principle of reciprocity or mutual benefit and this point then gives the final point to this article which is to show the system of democratic equality is the most stable of those assessed. By stability, Rawls means a system that tends to generate its own support by promoting a sense of justice that corresponds to the social order. The means by which such stability is promoted is by means of public affirmation of the two principles of justice and the way in which they make manifest a form of respect that citizens have for one another as moral persons.

The discussion of stability and its connection to publicity is given far too briefly here and yet the interconnection of the notions seems one of the strongest argumentative suggestions that the essay gives for the superiority of democratic equality over the other systems mentioned. The failure of Rawls to follow this argument further and make it the centre of the article is intriguing and suggests some questions in terms of thinking more about the justification of the difference principle.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Rawls and Distributive Justice (II)

The 1967 paper on distributive justice that I began to discuss in the previous posting continues by asking how the institutions of a constitutional democracy can be arranged so that the two principles of justice are approximately satisfied. To do this would require, as Rawls explicitly states, arranging a regulation of the economy. Some of these arrangements are pretty familiar such as provision for equal educational opportunities for all though this is left undecided between subsidy of private education and operating a public school system. The general regulation of the economy is one that requires viewing the government as divided between four branches.

These branches of government don't overlap with the usual divisions that are applied to government. The branch that keeps the economy competitive is termed the "allocation" branch which, amongst other things, sets suitable taxes. By contrast, the stabilization branch strives to maintain full employment and these two branches are meant to fit together to preserve the "efficiency" of the economy which relates to the Pareto element of Rawls' discussion.

However, this is certainly only a preliminary part of the discussion, not least because, on Rawls' view, the market alone cannot be trusted to relate to "need". This is why the next branch mentioned is the distributive one. That concerns total income, not merely wages, but also what he terms "transfers" between different elements of the population. This includes inheritance and gift taxes and the general aim concerns equality of opportunity. The distribution branch is effectively discussed in two different ways as it is meant to include the costs of public goods as well as general equality of opportunity.

Subsequently Rawls refers to even more specific notions of a general policy kind including the notion of "just savings" that is meant to relate to inter-generational justice but is perhaps unfit to respond to some of the serious questions that have since been raised about this question in subsequent philosophy. 

The overall result of Rawls' analysis is to arrive at the view of a well-ordered society. However the peculiarity of the discussion is that it appears in some general sense to become here quite specific in terms of some of the policy matters recommended whilst being insufficient to meet the requirements of policy thinkers. So the essay's second part is less obvious as a piece of political philosophy than the first part but the detail of some of the questions clearly requires further working through as well as up-dating in relation to subsequent philosophical work (particularly in inter-generational terms).

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Rawls and Distributive Justice (I)

In the series of postings I have been doing on Rawls I've been gradually working through the chapters of his Collected Papers but intend to disrupt this when we get to the point that A Theory of Justice is published. But I've now reached his 1967 paper on "Distributive Justice" which seems to me to be worth more than one posting and is, in any case followed by another paper of "addenda" to the original.

In this 1967 paper Rawls introduces the notion of the "veil of ignorance" for the first time, some 4 years after he first described the "original position". The first interesting thing about this paper is the way the first sentence describes human society as "a more or less self-sufficient association" thereby implicitly aligning political life in general with the notion of association. It's also worthy of note that Rawls points out instantly that society, is characterized as much by conflict as identity of interests and that it is this that requires some kind of equilibrium point to be aimed at. 

After making these opening points Rawls quickly dispatches utilitarianism as a possible standard for social arrangements, not least because a loss of freedom for some is not made right by a general sum of advantages for others. This prompts him to specifically present his own doctrine, by contrast to the utilitarian one, as contractarian. It is after this that Rawls discusses original agreement and mentions the "veil of ignorance" for the first time. However, despite invoking this notion, Rawls makes as yet little use of it, mentioning for example that he will not here attempt to show that his two principles of justice would be chosen in the original position (thus the "veil of ignorance" lacks, as yet, methodological significance).

The two principles of justice that Rawls subsequently introduces are, however, themselves more detailed than previously though the principle of liberty continues to have a clear connection to Kant's supreme principle of right. The second principle is more detailed and reads as follows:

inequalities as defined by the institutional structure or fostered by it are arbitrary unless it is reasonable to expect that they will work out to everyone's advantage and provided that the positions and offices to which they attach or from which they may be gained are open to all

This second principle clearly comes in two parts with the second part being one of openness to talents. The notion that inequalities are only to be tolerated if they are to the advantage of the "representative man" opens some significant questions.

Rawls is clearly aware of this and mentions at this point Hume's influential critique of social contract theory which was to the effect that criteria of the kind invoked in the second principle turn out not to be meaningful since, it is quite conceivable, that even slaves are "better off" in some sense than they would be in a state of nature. Rawls also mentions the emptiness of assessing social outcomes on the grounds of efficiency alone as appears occurs on Pareto optimality criteria. So justice has to be clearly distinguished from efficiency.

In responding to these points Rawls makes a key modification of the second principle in favour not of the "representative man" in some general sense but rather in relation to the "least advantaged" and in so doing he describes, for the first time, the first part of the second principle as the "difference principle". It is the "most unfortunate representative man" to whom we have to justify inequalities now. By this means Rawls aims to meet the standards of efficiency in the sense of attaining a sense of Pareto optimality and marrying it to the standard of justice.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Libya and R2P

The surprising result of debates at the UN has been the passing of a resolution that permits all "necessary action" to protect people who are being attacked by the Gaddaffi regime in Libya. This has followed a period of inaction which appeared likely to result in a victory for the regime over the uprising. Such a result would have ensured that a state that has become viewed as a clear "pariah" would not only have survived but done so on the backs of the slaughter of the population of Benghazi and others.

The policy of liberal intervention was discredited after the debacle in Iraq and may have been part of the reason why President Obama took sometime coming behind the view that was pushed by France and the UK. However, there are other parallels that need to be borne in mind and which show the correctness of the resolution reached. Firstly, the fact of the second Gulf War itself is based largely on the failure of the resolution of the first one. When President Bush senior failed to support the Kurdish and Marsh Arab uprisings in 1991 he not only ensured the continuance of Saddam Hussein's regime but did so on the basis of Hussein murdering his opponents. Similarly, irresolution in Bosnia in the 1990s created the basis for the Serbian slaughter of civilians in Srebnica, something prevented in Kosovo later as the lesson was learned of the need to intervene in the Balkans. Sierra Leone and Rwanda also point to reasons for thinking there remains a case for liberal intervention.

The defeat of Gaddaffi is something that should be taken to be a goal worth achieving. The UN has recognised in recent years the doctrine of a "responsibility to protect" (R2P) and this is the core of the resolution that was passed. Anyone who thinks war is a "good" thing is clearly crazy but in this situation the prima facie case is clearly for intervention as the failure to intervene would most assuredly have been tragic.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Thomas Teufel in *Kant Studies Online*

The latest article published in Kant Studies Online has now appeared and is by Thomas Teufel of Baruch College, CUNY. The piece is entitled:

"Kant's Sensationist Conception of Particularity in the Critique of the (Reflecting) Power of Judgment"

and it is available here.

Rawls, Fair Play and Legal Obligation

In his 1964 paper entitled "Legal Obligation and the Duty of Fair Play" Rawls investigates the question of the relationship between law and morality. The question is investigated from the standpoint of the claim that the moral obligation to obey the law "is a special case of the prima facie duty of fair play".

In making this claim Rawls rules out the suggestion that legal obligation could be grounded on a specific principle of its own, not least because, he states, no one wishes to argue this. This point is made rather swiftly and seems to indicate that Rawls could conceive of no form of jurisprudence that attempted to find legal obligation to be of independent standing.

The next point that is raised is the sense of "obligation" that is implied in claiming that there is a moral obligation to obey the law and Rawls claims that the sense of obligation in question is one connected to institutional rules but this apparently vacuous claim is grounded on a specific sense of an "institution" as something that is related to what he termed an "association" in the previous paper on the sense of justice. It is characterised, in other words, by "voluntary acts" in which obligations arise from others. This does imply the slightly odd view that legal obligations have been entered into voluntarily by us and indicates a kind of precedence of moral obligation in relation to law, an impression that is furthered by Rawls stating that crimes of violence are wrong "independently of there being a legal system", something surely true but which shows that law requires assent of a kind to moral principles to gain a footing in the first place. (The later debate with Habermas will partly concern this question.)

In looking further at the special questions arising from thinking about the law Rawls fills in details of a legal system that fits the bill of having a clear and, in a wide sense of the term, "voluntary", hold on us. The first point is that such a system has to satisfy the rule of law meaning that under its reign there are clear and public criteria and that "similar cases are treated similarly". The feature of the rule of law is central to the form of law rather than to specific legal contents. But Rawls also supposes that the legal order that claims such "voluntary" consent also belongs to a democratic system in the sense of ensuring equal citizenship, basic freedoms and general equality of the suffrage.

The discussion subsequently moves on to the question of how the moral obligation to obey the law works given that it appears to imply that we have obligations to obey laws we might think are unjust and even that obeying them will not produce good "overall". One of the points Rawls makes in looking at these apparent problems is that voting, as a basis for law-making, has no characteristics in itself that ensures the best decisions (or even good ones) will be made. It simply decides which policy will be put into effect. So constitutions create mechanisms by which conflicting views are brought to a resolution, one which need not at all settle the dispute in question. The invocation of the duty of "fair play" concerns precisely the basis for following the law in such a situation as we have an obligation not towards legislators but rather towards other citizens and it is the other citizens who have a basis for indignation if we do not follow the law. But this does require that the general constitutional procedures are themselves just.

It is to specify the basis for viewing such a constitution as just that Rawls subsequently proceeds and these bases turn out, perhaps unsurprisingly, to include adoption of his principles of equal liberty and the acceptance that inequality is arbitrary unless it can be shown to be to everyone's advantage. Under such conditions even a law that is unjust still mandates an obligation that it be followed. Noticeably, Rawls' conditions here are stricter than those Kant appears to adopt when discussing the problems with any claimed "right" to revolution in the Doctrine of Right. Kant's account is part of a general argument concerning the nature of right but it does not require anything like the second principle Rawls adopts.

Rawls next looks at the problem with viewing laws from the standpoint of net overall good rather than in terms of a general moral obligation to obey the law. The basic point of this discussion is to bring out problems with basing a system of justice on the principle of utility. Rawls states that unjust institutions cannot be identified by the principle of utility and that the obligation to obey the law cannot be overridden by this principle. However, Rawls confesses that to establish this claim would require "a deeper argument based on an analysis of the concept of right" and he does not give such an argument, a sense in which the argument of the essay does not reach the level of Kant's Doctrine of Right. Rather than provide such an account of the concept of right Rawls reverts back to the general point that to attribute to justice an absolute weight is to interpret the concept of right by means of the sense of justice as grounded in an initial position of equality (thus invoking the original position).

The general question of the obligation to obey the law is settled for Rawls by a series of tests including those that would look at the justice of the constitution, the depth of the injustice the law enacted, whether those enacting it wish the injustice to result and whether we can realistically hope to repeal the law. This already looks towards questions concerned with civil disobedience but these questions aren't here taken further.

The legal system generally is looked at in this essay as a system of social cooperation that requires equilibrium between conflicting claims. The essay seems thus to be something of an intermediate stage in Rawls' thinking as we need more detail yet of both the general conception of the social/legal system and of the means by which civil disobedience is to be understood.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Rawls on Stability and the Sense of Justice

In the same year of 1963 that Rawls first introduced the notion of the "original position", he also sets out an account of moral psychology in his paper called "The Sense of Justice". This paper opens with a citation from Rousseau's Emile indicating that the sense of justice is not formed by the understanding alone but is "a true sentiment of the heart enlightened by reason". In response to this, and following the pattern of the "analytic construction" that was used in his account of the original position, Rawls provides in this piece a "psychological construction". This is developed in relation to two questions, namely to whom is justice owed and what is it that accounts for us doing what justice requires?

Prior to laying out the "psychological construction" in detail Rawls first indicates that questions of justice arise in situations where people who have no position of authority in relation to each other have to settle or acknowledge the rules of the institutions they participate in and determine shares in benefits and burdens. This leads to stating the two principles of equal rights to the most extensive liberty compatible with like liberty for all and that inequalities are treated as arbitrary unless it is reasonable to expect they will work to everyone's advantage. The former principle is very Kantian in formulation. Explicating the principles leads Rawls to restate the "analytic construction" of the original position again.

After going through the "analytic construction" Rawls returns to instances in which the principle of equality applies, indicating that they relate to institutions as part of the definition of them. This is slightly odd since the definition Rawls earlier gave of institutions only specified that they were "publicly recognized systems of rules" which doesn't seem to imply the principle of equality unless there is a presumed analytic link between publicity and equality. The second level at which the principle of equality is said to operate is in terms of the structure of an institution or social system and this requires seeing them as bound by the two principles derived from the "analytic construction". This neatly erases the difference between the principle concerning inequality and that concerning liberty since the latter included the notion of "equal liberty" but that seems rather too neat a move. Finally, the principle of equality is said to apply to the original position itself and that point is what is used to indicate the need for a general account of moral psychology as it presupposes a view of how cognition relates to morality (or a principle of practical reason).

Rawls' second question concerning what accounts for the fact that we and others do what justice requires indicates a need to find a view of how action takes place that is not, on Rawls' view, purely understood through the concept of rationality though what he seems to mean by this is that is it is not grasped by theoretical reason. Having placed these preliminary points in place we move on to the "psychological construction" which is described by Rawls as being something that is not to be taken empirically though it is to be thought of as "reasonably plausible".

The "psychological construction" is grounded on an idealisation of Piaget's view of the development of guilt in children where Piaget distinguished between authority guilt, association guilt and principle guilt though again the place given here to guilt is said by Rawls to be only "a matter of convenience". This use of guilt has, it should be said, rather large overtones, since it is, after all, central to Christian morality in particular. Authority guilt is characterized easily in relation to positions of children who basically accept that there are people - parents - in constituted places of authority whose injunctions are meant to be obeyed and so authority guilt is what is felt when we do not obey. This requires elaboration of a notion of rational self-love which requires taking seriously someone who, whilst in authority over you, nonetheless manifests some serious care for you. It does, however, assume that the one authority is exercised over does not possess serious standards of their own and is thus rightly governed by judgments they are incapable of making themselves.

The second form of guilt, association guilt, relates not to the standards of authority figures but rather peers with whom one has formed bonds of relation such as friendship and mutual trust. Breaking bond with these others produces association guilt. It is with regard to this that Rawls first makes manifest the whole point of this discussion is to enable thought about the "stability" of just relations since if others will not follow bonds or are generally thought likely not to then this loosens the whole association. Intimations of game theory are clearly present at this point of Rawls' analysis as becomes clear when he uses the discussion to interpret Hobbes:

One way of interpreting the Hobbesian sovereign is as an agency added to unstable forms of cooperation in such a way that it is no longer to anyone's advantage not to do his part given that others will do theirs. (104)

Friendship and mutual trust are seen, on this pattern as kinds of games of which the Hobbesian social contract is a supreme example.

The third form of guilt, principle guilt, requires separating ourselves from ties to others of any particular specified type and seeing how injury of anonymous others still produces in us feelings of guilt. This is taken to arise from the schemes of cooperation having been extended beyond their point of origin (a kind of Rawlsian "genealogy"). It requires then we accept and make explicit general principles of justice. If everyone in a system is known to have such feelings of justice then we have a situation that Rawls terms "stable".

The whole account relies, as Rawls himself states, on the notion of "moral feeling" but, whilst this notion can be found in Kant, Rawls has not referred at all to Kant in expounding it and his next move is, rather, Wittgensteinian in general flavour as he now speaks of characteristic linguistic expressions, behaviour manifestations and sensations that accompany moral feelings rather than trying to give any kind of transcendental account of moral feeling.

The account that follows of why we act on our duty of justice in particular cases is thus one that assumes the idealised anthropological account to broadly hold. Rawls sketches the idea of someone who does not feel a sense of justice but it is evident that this idea is merely a limit-case and not one that he takes seriously as something that could really arise.

The final discussion of who the obligation of justice is owed to revisits again the original position in order to describe such a situation as a "natural lottery". Finally Rawls effectively identifies the sense of justice with Kant's notion of a good will which is done in a preemptory way. The general argument has been intended to show that the capacity for a sense of justice is the key aspect of moral personality in the theory of justice but it is fairly evident that the argument of this piece is less than convincing.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Recognition of Sarah Hutton

Over at New APPS Eric Schliesser has nominated Sarah Hutton as the week's most "under-rated" philosopher. Sarah was, some years ago now, a lecturer of mine who co-taught me a course on Renaissance literature and I still remember the rhythms of her talk. She also addressed a seminar in Manchester recently at my invitation and it is good to see that someone is rating her work in this way. 

Bradley Manning and Kant

It appears, from a recent news story, that Bradley Manning, the person officially believed to be responsible for leaking documents to Wikileaks, has been reading Kant whilst in prison. The story suggests that Manning requested copies of both the Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of Pure Reason as reading matter. No reports have yet emerged concerning either why he asked for them or what he has got from reading them.

The perusal of the Critique of Practical Reason will no doubt have confirmed to him that the moral basis of action is not one grounded on external factors but requires a notion of universalisation to be included in it. This may well be something that he will want to include in any defence he makes of his actions though it would be something of a stretch to see how the whole Wikileaks episode relates to the foundations of moral philosophy through the formulation of a supreme principle. Perhaps he should instead try the Metaphysics of Morals as there he will discover reflections on both casuistry and basic questions about the nature of civil society and its relationship to the state.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Impact of "Impact" on Humanities

There is a very good posting over at EAS Manchester addressing the ways in which the implementation of the Browne report will harm higher education in general and humanities in particular. It is useful to pull out from this posting the following crucial points that can sometimes get lost or receive insufficient emphasis:

1.The Arts and Humanities Research Council is directing funding for research into areas that have been determined for it by central government which includes research on the government idea of the so-called "Big Society".

2. The British Academy has ended the small grants scheme that was particularly heavily used in research in fine art.

3. There is increasing pressure to push humanities research that is connected to business, something that will ensure the marginalisation of research in all kinds of areas. In philosophy, it impacts on everyone who is not engaged in applied ethics programmes and even they will be pushed in a very specific direction.

4. There is virtually no support within the universities for the very notion of "impact", something on which the government is silent as it is has generally been in response to the criticisms that have been made of the Browne report's de-emphasis of humanities research in general.

It is clearly the case that humanities research, if carried out anywhere other than a select elite of institutions, will be increasingly difficult to sustain. Under these pressures, it is perhaps unsurprising that many of us are determined either to leave the university to pursue research elsewhere or are desperately trying to make it into the few places that will still deserve the name of "university".