Friday, 26 August 2011

The Wrongness of Prostitution

Recently I had a protracted dispute with two philosophers on Twitter over the moral status of prostitution. The conversation settled on this topic after an initial altercation concerning reality television but there's little doubt that the subject of prostitution is of much greater interest than reality television. Essentially my inter-locutors presented two alternative views of prostitution to the conception that it is morally wrong. On the one hand, the argument was ventured that dislike of prostitution is an aesthetic rather than a moral stance and, on the other, the argument was made that it is essentially not different to any other trade. The second of these arguments seems to me more worthy of consideration than the first, not least because it cuts to the core of the disagreement. The first argument can only really be responded to by showing that the reasons for objecting to prostitution are primarily moral rather than aesthetic ones. In this posting I want to list the reasons for considering prostitution morally objectionable at greater length than can be done in a set of tweets but should add that it is only as a moral question it is here being treated, not as a jurisprudential one though there are certainly important questions in the latter area. But there is here, as elsewhere, no simple move from moral to jurisprudential considerations. Finally, I should make clear that in presenting arguments concerning the wrongness of prostitution it is the trade as a whole that is being so considered, not simply, or even primarily, the acts of the prostitute alone. Acts of clients are just as much viewed here as wrong, perhaps, though I'll leave this open for the sake of the argument here, it is the clients who are engaging in acts that are much more wrong than the prostitutes themselves. Finally, gender matters are recognised in the discussion in the sense that the feminine article is preferred for the reference to the prostitute, not to deny that there are male prostitutes but they are rather less numerous.

As I brought out in a posting sometime ago Kant's arguments in the area of sexuality have a great deal in common with those of some contemporary feminists. This is particularly true with regard to his views of "objectification" and this matters here since one of the central arguments concerning prostitution is the view that what makes it "wrong" is that it involves objectification. In order to begin with an assessment of this claim it is first necessary to specify what the notion of "objectification" involves. In the Stanford Encyclopedia article on feminism and objectification a number of features are listed as involving objectification, seven from a study of Martha Nussbaum's and a further three from Rae Langton. They are:

1. A purely instrumental relation to the person is involved which treats the person in question as merely a "tool" for the other's use.
2. Denial of autonomy: a person who is objectified is treated in a way that denies their autonomy and self-determination.
3. The objectified person is treated as inert: meaning by this that their agency is denied.
4. They are viewed as fungible: that is, as inter-changeable with objects.
5. They are viewed as violable: meaning by this, that their person has no integral boundaries that cannot be crossed.
6. The person is treated as something that can be owned by another.
7. The person in question has no feelings that need be taken into account so we deny their subjectivity (correlate of viewing them as an object).
8. They are reduced to their body and identified only with their body.
9. They are reduced to their appearance so they are treated only in terms of how they look.
10. They are treated as if they had no capacity of speech (silenced).

Now it is clear from just looking at this list that not all of these characteristics apply to how the prostitute is related to and that some of them apply to wider relations than the one the prostitute is specially part of. This particularly applies to the last 3 characteristics listed (all taken from Rae Langton). Reduction to appearance, for example, applies to fashion models, film stars, body-builders, athletes and others. Reduction to body is a more subtle notion but surely the person of the athlete is, again, largely conflated with their body parts. Finally, silencing, whilst perhaps not applicable as a wide characteristic is not specific to prostitution and need not apply to it. So I think none of these three characteristics can be regarded as either necessary or sufficient ways of marking wrong-making aspects of prostitution.

Others that are listed apply to only certain types of prostitution.  Denial of autonomy is often part of prostitution and is part of the reason why prostitution is thought to involve exploitation frequently. In such cases it likely features alongside inertness but it could be argued the presence of these features are contingent elements of prostitution that relate to it being a trade engaged in by poor people often without their real consent being part of the transaction. Given that this is so the wrong-making characteristics here are part of a general pattern of injustice that need not apply to the prostitute's trade in principle.

So the real challenge of showing the wrongness of prostitution occurs with regard to the view that it is only contingent elements of the relationship that mark it as possessing wrong-making characteristics but that ideally it need possess no such elements. This would be the case, for example, if the prostitute operates without being coerced or exploited in the above indicated ways. In such an ideal case, which can be said to happen with what are euphemistically termed "high-class" prostitutes, the characteristics that are contingent appear not to be present.

So which characteristics remain and how do they suffice to render prostitution a trade unlike others in being wrong in principle? Again, they cannot include "ownership" if what is meant by that is that the prostitute can, as a whole, be sold (slavery). This is ruled out in such an ideal case and, in any case is wrong for its own reasons which are not specific to prostitution and would apply just as much to other cases.

What we are left with from our original list are instrumentality, fungibility, violability and denial of subjectivity, four characteristics of "objectification" that can be said to be wrong-making characteristics that, whilst perhaps not only applicable to prostitution could be said to be essential to it and its wrongness. Let's look at these criteria a bit more closely. Denial of subjectivity might be thought not to be essential in the sense that the ideal case being considered has assumed consent on the prostitute's part to a relationship that is not inherently exploitative. However what we can see by removing the characteristics that make the prostitutive relation exploitative is that it is not these exploitative elements that are conclusive in making prostitution deny the subjectivity of the prostitute.

The reason I make this claim is that the denial of the feelings of the prostitute, during the time of the transaction, is part of the point of the contract. The prostitute does not, during the period the contract defines, have lea-way to determine that at this point their feelings count. Should their feelings count at any stage of the relationship, count, that is, in such a way that they could, of themselves, determine what can and cannot happen now, then the prostitute will only have engaged in a partial transaction and the client would have grounds, if this is to be regarded simply as trade, to claim that they had not been delivered the product offered. And on those grounds they could sue for compensation. So it doesn't seem to me that denial of the subjectivity of the prostitute, at least during the period covered by the contract, can be removed from the relationship in question, even should we be speaking of an ideal transaction.

It is possible that the presence of denial of subjectivity is taken not to be essential to prostitution to some though I would require arguments for how the contract in question could possibly incorporate recognition, during the transaction, of subjectivity without violating delivery of service. The next element would be violability which is likely to be controversial in the same kind of way as denial of subjectivity and in this case I can concede part of the critic's case. The boundary of the prostitute is leaky in the sense that very different kinds of access to their body can be incorporated into distinct contracts such that it is not obvious how the prostitute can defend any part of their body from being included in the transaction. However it is the case that the prostitute in question could set guide-lines here such that certain types of act would never be regarded by her or him as permissible. In this sense violability is not necessarily an absolute characteristic of prostitution but perhaps only a relative one. I remain unconvinced, however, that this concession matters much since I am unclear as to how violability applies to other trades.

However the key characteristics that make prostitution wrong do nonetheless appear to reside in the first and fourth levels of objectification, namely, in viewing the person only instrumentally and purely fungibly. The instrumental characteristic alters the sexual relationship so that it involves nothing that requires reference, during the time of the transaction, to purposes that are those of the prostitute herself. So, during the time specified by the contract, the prostitute is put at the disposal of the client. This instrumental relation might be thought, however, not to be distinctive to the trade of prostitution. It might be argued that such instrumental relation is part of trade in general. However, if we look at other trades I don't find that this is so. So, to take an arbitrary example, it is true that a builder has purposes set for them by their client in the sense that they don't get to build things simply by virtue of their own wish to do so. They respond instead to the directives of their clients. However, whilst this is true, the manner and way the contract can be executed has a number of ways of being interpreted. The prostitute has no such lee-way of interpretation. What this suggests is that instrumentality is here understood in a relatively narrow sense in the prostitute's case and it is this which distinguishes her case from those of others.

Fungibility is, however, almost certainly the most serious problem with prostitution. The prostitute is treated as inter-changeable with things (such as sexual toys or inanimate objects). She is treated as on a par with these things in a relationship that would otherwise be expected to be intimate. This characterisation is quite different from what occurs in other trades since, whilst labour can often be replaced by operation of things, it is nonetheless not true that such fungibility is usually part of an intimate relationship between individuals.

These characterisations emerge from general consideration of the prostitute's trade. However, the fungible aspect with which I concluded also move us someway towards Kant's comments on sexual matters indicating the ways in which sexuality brings in matters of specific concern. Sexual relations are characterised, as Kant puts it, as involving someone becoming an object of appetite for someone else. In this respect there is something specific about sexuality that invites objectified relations. Kant thinks there is only a contractual solution to this problem in the form of monogamous marriage but that involves matters of jurisprudence that I've deliberately prescinded from here.

The point about fungibility in Kant's view is that the sexual relationship involves merely treating the person as a thing that can be related to for the purposes of satisfaction of an appetite. This is what specifically and clearly occurs in the prostitute relationship and is the point of the reference to the absence of intimacy (which reinforces my suggestion that the denial of subjectivity is not a separable part of the prostitution relation). For Kant the key question is one of respect for humanity and what is meant by respect for humanity is respect for rational capacity to set one's ends. 

The defenders of the prostitute contract as effectively being no different to other trades assert in response that the prostitute has adopted the rational choice of an end in choosing her trade. However the question is not whether the trade has been freely chosen, which we can grant in the ideal case, but whether such choice is a rational one. This is how Kant's universalisation test for the categorical imperative works by suggesting that there is a contradiction in a maxim that cannot be universalised and that this shows the wrongness of the activity in question. In relation to prostitution the question is best framed with regard to the notion of respect for humanity.

Respect for humanity is expressed in conduct that either preserves or enhances rational capacities. Does prostitution at least "preserve" such capacities? Not on the view I have suggested simply because it enshrines the contractual commitment of one of the parties to subordinate her rational capacities to the appetites of the other. Viewed in this way it cannot be universalised and is thus marked as wrong. So Kant's argument, as suggested above, focuses on instrumentality viewed in terms of fungibility. 

Widening the points above out, many feminists whilst generally agreeing with the Kantian analysis add the point that social subordination is an essential part of the prostitute's relation and that this again is distinct from other trades. So the prostitute is subordinate to the client, not least because the work in question cannot be reciprocated. This is effectively a combination of the point about fungibility with one about denial of subjectivity as the point about subordination is really part of a complaint about the lack of intimacy in a relation where we have a right to expect such intimacy.

Perhaps, in conclusion, the argument concerning prostitution does demonstrate a general problem with moral arguments since it might be thought that there is something intuitive at work here that is not shared between disputants and that this generally affects moral disputes. I suspect something of this sort might be true but that nonetheless listing of considerations might lead to clarity of argument in a general sense and at least make clearer which characteristics are properly disputed as having serious wrong-making force.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Responsibility to Protect Documents

Following previous postings on Libya I realised that not all readers of the blog may be aware of the doctrine of "responsibility to protect" or have accessed documents that could enable them to begin the process of thinking it through as a doctrine and assessing its application in Libya. There is a web-site specifically devoted to setting out the doctrine and discussing the ways it has been applied and it can be found here. It is evident that there needs to be substantive philosophical discussion of the ideas behind the framework of this conception and its means of being applied. So I would urge philosophers to look closely at the material available on this site in order to be able to participate more fully in the international debates that should follow the Libyan conflict.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Libya and R2P (II)

Some time ago, in one of my most popular postings in terms of page-views, I discussed the resolution for intervention in Libya. Now that it appears that Gadaffi is about to fall it is worth pointing to what this entails for the doctrine of R2P. In the conflict that is coming to a close the appeal to R2P was founded in the first instance on a manifest threat to the civilian population from the forces of Gadaffi's regime. Nonetheless, the intervention from NATO that followed the passage of the resolution clearly led to an alteration in the balance of forces and the eventual defeat of the government.

Sunny Hundal argues that the move that happened in the execution of the UN resolution represented "mission creep" whilst the folk over at Left Foot Forward, by contrast, focus on the difficulty of sustaining interventions in an era of cuts. Both these responses have some validity. It is true that R2P has  undergone a clear extension since the "protection" of civilians was understood here to mean that the government could no longer be trusted to act with a duty of care towards its own people. There are good reasons for thinking this was a correct verdict with regard to Gadaffi. However that does not, in itself, correct Hundal's point which is that the official original rationale for the mission was not the real operational meaning of it.

The argument that the intervention is one that it is hard to imagine being sustained in a climate of general budget cuts is a good one and points to one of many problems that afflict the austerity regimes now in place across the Western world. One of the most unpopular measures of the UK's coalition government has been its protection of the overseas aid budget and there are few on the "progressive" wing of politics who have argued for retention of a serious defence budget. 

There are four matters of importance that come out of this situation:

1. The need for a dimension of foreign policy that retains commitment to a humanitarian dimension.
2. The requirement of foreign policy and foreign aid to be inter-related on the grounds of a shared human rights agenda.
3. The need for an understanding that 1) and 2) are requirements that cannot be downgraded due to the impacts of "austerity".
4. For the future, and in this situation also, a need for the follow-through on the policy to be given high priority. This requires not abandoning the countries in question as the revolution comes to a close but rather seeing the "transition" as central to the success of the policy. Any good elements in the Iraq fiasco were wrecked by failure to attend to this and this should not happen either in Libya or elsewhere. Failure to attend to this will doom the case for humanitarian intervention.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Skorupski on Autonomy and Practical Reason

After outlining his general view of "Critical Philosophy" the next stage of the introduction to Skorupski's The Domain of Reasons concerns practical rather than theoretical claims. In making this practical turn, however, Skorupski remains in contact with Kantian themes, beginning with an account of the place of autonomy in his view of reason.

Skorupski's conception of practical agency requires a correlate to the epistemic notion of self-audit and is found in the view of an agent grasping, from a first-person insight, grounds for action. Skorupski also relates epistemic self-audit to recognition of what Parfit pictures as intentional objectivity regarding some form of such recognition as part of what provides us with a warranted reason for action. Skorupski puts this by saying that what one has reason to believe depends on the set of facts one apperceives.

If knowledge of such apperceiving of facts takes place at all then there must be a similar warranted apperception of norms. This latter gives Skorupski his picture of practical autonomy but what distinguishes it from the view of autonomy that is central to Kant is that it is not pictured primarily in relation to moral norms but practical norms of any kind (hence taking hypothetical imperatives to have the same relation to autonomy as categorical ones). 

Skorupski's general conception of reason allows for evaluative reasons to be distinct from epistemic ones but he does not join Kant in picturing reason as a general ability. One of the bases of Skorupski's departure from Kant here is that he is committed to a radical kind of pluralism about the different kinds of reason though he still thinks that reason relations have an epistemic and ontological unity which arises from our autonomous capacities. Given this latter point it is not that clear why Skorupski denies validity to a general claim about "reason".

When it comes to practical reason in general Skorupski builds out from the notion of "warrant" indicating that norms give warranted reasons for action only when combined with warranted beliefs about one's desires. In making this claim Skorupski builds in a kind of sentimentalism which is part of what he means by referring to "evaluative" reasons. On Skorupski's view what there is reason to do can depend on what there is reason to feel, something that invokes his idea of the "Bridge principle" which is stated by him as follows:

Bridge says that there is reason for x to do what the affective responses that there is reason for x to feel would characteristically dispose x to do (24).

Part of the point of this is apparently to reduce the "gap" between reason and sentiment that Kant introduces though a lot here depends on the nature of the feelings invoked. Kant is far from outlawing reference to feeling in practical evaluation despite the popular picture (one encouraged to a degree by the argument of Groundwork I). But feeling is nonetheless distinguished for Kant between practical and pathological, a distinction that can also be understood to refer to a difference between justified action by reference to feeling and unjustified action by reference to feeling (with the latter requiring the subordination of reason to "passion"). It remains to be seen whether anything like this distinction can be built into Skorupski's account of practical reason.

Skorupski distinguishes between two distinct kinds of sentimentalism making clear that he is not a sentimentalist with regard to practical reason as this would entail that the Bridge principle was the only principle of practical reason. A basic reason why Skorupski is not a sentimentalist with regard to practical reason is that he admits an important place for appeals to impartiality. Skorupski also understands the agent-neutrality that is involved in universalist forms of morality (including Kant's) as requiring a form of impartiality. However, whilst Skorupski thinks that the need for some kind of appeal to impartiality is a requirement for a full theory of practical reason he departs from Kant in terms of not taking the categorical imperative to be the foundation (or "supreme principle") of morality. In assuming that universalism is effectively the same as impartiality Skorupski also makes a large step towards equating the Kantian view of universality with a consequentalist one.

Skorupski's sentimentalism is partially justified by his account of blame where blame is understood as a sentiment that it is right to feel. So Skorupski, whilst denying sentimentalism concerning practical reason adopts it with regard to morality. Again this is partly due to his view that the type of impartial appraisal he wishes to allow for concerns a relation to the Good (rather than the Right). 

Skorupski's departures from Kant in the area of practical reason thus are partly due to a failure on Skorupski's part to see the place of feeling in Kant's view of practical reason and partly due to a simple conflation of universalisation with impartiality (and of the latter with an implicit consequentialism). But it is also true that Skorupski wishes to motivate a conception of feelings as having an immanent rationality that is specific to them, a rationality that is part of the sense of them as having an internal intentional objectivity. So Skorupski wishes to extend the area of spontaneity so that it encompasses feeling but doesn't see that so doing requires an internal relation of feeling to reason as he thinks of reason as always immanent to the area in question.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Skorupski and Critical Philosophy (II)

In my last posting on this topic I addressed the characterisation that Skorupski gives of the Kantian project of Critical Philosophy. I mentioned in that posting, however, that Skorupski also has a historical conception of the notion of "Critical Philosophy" that ensures that he sees the Kantian form of it as only a specially important version but not as identical with the idea of "Critical Philosophy". In this posting I will look at some of the implications of his broader conception of "Critical Philosophy" both in terms of how it leads him to respond to some trends within 20th-century philosophy and how it further elucidates the understanding of the rationale for viewing Skorupski's own project as being a form of "Critical Philosophy".

In viewing this wider sense of "Critical Philosophy" it is useful to look first at how Skorupski understands some tendencies of 20th-century thinking to belong under this heading. With regard to this area Skorupski views the projects of Wittgenstein and Carnap as representing forms of "Critical Philosophy". However the initial discussion of the view that these latter forms of thinking are versions of "Critical Philosophy" focuses much more on the Vienna Circle than on the work of Wittgenstein. 

Skorupski in characterising the Vienna Circle engages in some understandable broad generalisations. The Circle is correctly pictured as being an empiricist school of thinking but, whilst admitting that there is a sense in which the adoption of global realism can arise as a result of empiricism, Skorupski wishes to deny that this is what happened in the case of the Vienna Circle. 

Rather than taking the view that forms of intuitions and categories of the understanding are central to cognition the Vienna Circle argue instead for a form of conventionalism, a standpoint that allows them to concede a certain variation to what is required for cognition. Conventionalism also has the advantage, from Skorupski's point of view, of not requiring a 'joint-product' approach to objectivity since the conventions can define both the nature of objects and how they are understood to operate thus removing the alleged need to appeal to noumena.

However the Vienna Circle also escaped the Platonism of Frege by denying that "thoughts" in Frege's sense exist. This is the basis, indeed, of the "linguistic turn" in philosophy. On its basis it appeared that philosophy could be subsumed into a general project of logical syntactics or grammar (something that suggests a point not commented upon by Skorupski, namely, a relation to Leibniz, something explicit in the earlier work of Russell). So the basis of viewing the Circle as a form of "Critical Philosophy" is that it denies the cognition-independence of facts, one of the two key component parts of global realism.

The Circle's position, on Skorupski's characterisation, does not require the rejection of factualism but does involve a radical reinterpretation of it that views it very much in deflationary terms. Given the Circle's commitment to a form of scientism, however, it tended to non-cognitivism about a wide array of important areas, including aesthetics and ethics. Skorupski sketches reasons for why this need not have been the outcome of the view and traces the real problem with its conception in its commitment to verificationism. The verificationist view arises, allegedly like Kant's 'joint-product theory', from too strong a denial of cognition-independence of facts.

Due to this claim that the problem in both cases arises from too strong a denial of cognition-independence of facts it becomes evident that Skorupski's own form of "Critical Philosophy" will be aiming to do more to represent this feature of common cognitive claims than the earlier versions of the project of criticism were able to do. This is due to him being committed to the view that cognition-independence is rooted in common cognition in a way that he does not think factualism to be. The reason for this asymmetry is that Skorupski thinks that the contrast between factual and normative is central to  common cognition and thus that factualism is a deeply revisionist response to it.

The crippling scientism of the Vienna view is thus taken to reside precisely in its scientistic disinclination to take normativity seriously as something radically distinct from description and, in having this disinclination, the Vienna view departed from common cognition. Skorupski's general attempt now emerges as one that will, unlike the classic critical moves of Kant and Vienna, attempt to retain a sense of cognition-independence whilst denying factualism. This is what Skorupski terms, simply enough, the "Normative view".

On the "Normative view" some wholly normative propositions are a priori and no wholly normative propositions are factual. However Skorupski wishes to distinguish this view from an intuitionist one that ascribes the special property of normative propositions to some special kinds of facts thus again stating an opposition to an alternative view on the grounds of its implicit factualism (intuitionist factualism thus joining noumenal factualism). Similarly, and more obviously, there is a concern to deny reductive realism concerning normative propositions such as arises in contemporary naturalism.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Skorupski and Critical Philosophy (I)

Yesterday I started to look at Skorupski's new book The Domain of Reasons and lay out some considerations indicating the main view the book is arguing for and how it connects to the architectonic divisions of the work. In this posting I want to begin to address the ways that Skorupski introduces the distinction between his meta-normative view, 'cognitivist irrealism' and the standpoint of Critical Philosophy. As it turns out there is a complication in doing this as Skorupski has an historical conception of what "Critical Philosophy" consists in and, on this conception, the Kantian view of it is only one variant (albeit not just "any" one since it is due to Kant we have the very idea of "Critical Philosophy"). One problem with this historical conception is that it invites an evident reductive view of the scope and importance of Kant's achievement. In this posting I'm not going to address the wider elements of Skorupski's conception of "Critical Philosophy" but will leave that for a future posting. Here I am just going to concentrate on how Skorupski sets out, in his general introduction to the volume, his understanding of Kant's philosophy and thus differentiates himself from Kant.

Initially Skorupski follows the lead of the preface to the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason in viewing "Critical Philosophy" as arising as kind of via media between dogmatism and scepticism. Interestingly, and of importance for subsequent discussion in Skorupski's book, the nature of the distinction between these three positions is presented as concerned with the "warrants for belief". In relation to this question Skorupski also identifies an important component of Critical Philosophy being its "descriptive" relation to common sense conceptions of cognition (thus implicitly following Strawson's distinction between "descriptive" and "revisionary" forms of metaphysics).

Due to thinking of Critical Philosophy in this way Skorupski identifies an immediate problem with there being such a thing as "critical metaphysics" since the critical attitude emerges as one that should be deflationary. This indicates again that Skorupski tends to follow a form of analytical view of critical procedure that sees it as being required to provide transcendental arguments in favour of established conceptions. 

Whilst these elements of Skorupski's reading are inherited from previous analytical readings of Kant he does go on to provide an interesting independent reading of Kant's philosophy as a response to what is generally termed "transcendental realism" but which Skorupski identifies rather as "global realism". This notion of "global realism" is meant to capture in more general terms some sense of the pre-philosophical commitments that lead to "transcendental realism" and thus to capture in a way that is more intuitive for common sense what the clash between "transcendental realism" and "transcendental idealism" really amounts to.

Skorupski thus distinguishes "global realism" into two distinguishable claims. On the one hand there is "factualism" which involves the claim that asserting some proposition is equivalent to saying that a fact obtains and, on the other hand, there is "cognition independence" which is to state that facts are not dependent on cognition. Critical Philosophy is characterised, on Skorupski's view, by the statement that it is the combination of these two theses that renders knowledge impossible but it is also required, on this account, that the combination which is involved in global realism is not required for the claims of common cognition.

In order for the claims of global realism to be understood it is first necessary, however, to have some clarity about what could be meant by "facts" since both parts of the global realist view state a view about "facts". Skorupski follows the early modern tradition in philosophy here by distinguishing between nominal and substantial senses of fact taking the nominal sense as stating that a 'fact' is a true proposition and thus upholders of the nominal sense are Deflationists in the most general sense. It doesn't exactly follow from this as Skorupski seems to think that "no substantial notion of fact is being deployed" unless you think that there is a notion of fact that is credibly distinguishable from it which is what a full-blown Deflationist theory can deny.

The "substantial" notion of "fact" on Skorupski's view takes facts to be something different from propositions and he takes it to be the case that a "global realist" is committed to such a distinction which does seem to be required. It is due to this distinction being held that "factualism" can state a metaphysical view in the bold sense whereas the "factualist" statement would otherwise seem to assert a thin notion that best leads to Deflationism. Whilst the substantial notion of 'factualism' does not require commitment to a correspondence theory of truth, however, it is pretty clear it is not consistent with Deflationism but could, on Skorupski's view, fit any other theory of truth.

Cognition independence, by contrast to factualism, implies a clear form of cognitivism but not necessarily a realist commitment as factualism seems to indicate is naturally required. Cognition independence, in being in principle capable of being divorced from factualism might thus be thought to be the basis of Skorupski's cognitivism. Part of the point of commitment to cognition independence is also to ensure that Critical Philosophy is a form of descriptive rather than revisionary metaphysics.

Having set out this conception of "global realism" Skorupski begins his historical story of Critical Philosophy and opens it with his first pass at a characterisation of Kant's philosophy. After citing the passages  from the preface to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason often used to maintain the claim about Kant's alleged "Copernican revolution" Skorupski uses them to point to Kant indicating a problem with a simple commitment to cognition independence. It follows from the claim that objects have to conform to our intuition that the cognition of objects is not, in the most manifestly "realist" sense, one that is "independent" of cognition. Further, if factualism is understood to require commitment to things-in-themselves being the basis of cognition then Kant also rejects factualism.

However, Skorupski obviously also has to accept that there is a sense in which Kant accepts cognition independence since the whole point of the Critical endeavour is to demonstrate the objectivity of cognition. In order to understand how Kant is able to make this move whilst apparently rejecting both parts of "global realism" Skorupski refers to the transcendental distinction between phenomena and noumena but also understands this distinction as based upon what he terms a "joint-product theory" characterised in the following way:
"the phenomenal facts are joint products of the forms of our sensibility and things as they really are, with the former structuring the input received from the latter" (11).

This claim that transcendental idealism is a "joint-product theory" is not strictly speaking one that is without some support in The Critique of Pure Reason but it would be fair to say that there are few Kantians who accept that it is what Kant is really claiming. In committing Kant to this theory Skorupski is automatically rejecting the more deflationary views of transcendental idealism such as are held by Henry Allison and Graham Bird. Whilst there are certainly problems with these forms of transcendental idealism it is hardly fair to simply reject them out of hand and starkly require that transcendental idealism be understood to have to be committed to the "joint-product theory".

It is because Skorupski takes Kant to be committed to the 'joint-product theory' that he thinks there is a need to restate Critical Philosophy in a way that need not require the distinction between phenomena and noumena although it is not at all obvious that the transcendental distinction requires the view of affection that Skorupski ties it to. So Skorupski wishes to state a form of Critical Philosophy that does not require the transcendental distinction because he relates this distinction to the 'joint-product theory' although the two are logically distinct.

After having described his first way of distancing himself from Kant Skorupski goes on to look at another side of Kant's view, the side that emphasises reason as something distinct from sensibility. This element of Kant's view requires, states Skorupski, a firm rejection of factualism for a different reason than the 'joint-product theory'. One of the grounds for the claim that this emphasis on reason does not require the 'joint-product theory' is then adduced in an interpretation of the 'fact of reason' claim Kant makes in the Critique of Practical Reason. Skorupski understands the 'fact of reason' to be mandated, as a view that requires not "knowledge" of our noumenal nature but rather a view of the basis of the claim that requirements of reason apply to us.

On this view of the "fact of reason" it is not that imperatives apply to us as due to something being true (some "fact") but rather that requirements of practical reason apply to us as part of the cognition independence of reason's requirements understood in some other sense. Skorupski is not here clear in what other sense cognition independence of reason is meant to be understood but he next goes on to look at Kant's claim concerning the spontaneity of reason. This claim is grasped as requiring that there are pure judgments that are not grounded on any further facts (thus do not commit Kant to a form of "noumenal factualism").

Skorupski's version of Kantian Critical Philosophy thus sees it as combining two moves that enable it to resist global realism. On the one hand Kant is thought to embrace the 'joint-product theory' as a way of allowing for theoretical cognitivism but at the cost of embracing here a form of noumenal factualism. However the cost of Kant's commitment to the latter can be mitigated by seeing a parallel emphasis in Kant's accounts of theoretical and practical reason on an autonomous quality of reason that does not require even a noumenal form of factualism. It is the latter that Skorupski's form of Critical Philosophy will rescue from the grip of the former.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

John Skorupski and the Domain of Reasons

Due to the postings on this blog concerning Derek Parfit's magnum opus On What Matters being distributed on Twitter I was contacted by Constantine Sandis who suggested an alternative work to Parfit's that deals, in some respects, with similar questions. This alternative is provided by John Skorupski in his book The Domain of Reasons. It has to be said that whilst Skorupski's book is not as lengthy as Parfit's it is almost certainly as dense. In this posting I will only lay out the basic points made in the Introduction to Skorupski's book about the content of the claims he will make and how they relate to the structure of the work.

Skorupski opens the introduction by describing the book's concern as being to do with normativity and reasons, two topics of wide contemporary currency but also states that by the work's conclusion we will come to see it as ultimately addressing themes concerning the relations between self, thought, and world. Since the latter appear, at least plausibly, as metaphysical topics whilst the former appear, rather, parts of a theory of practical reason, it would seem that the work intends a kind of integration of theoretical and practical concerns with reason. The fourth part of the book, which is headed "normativity", is apparently where all this is meant to come together.

The project of the book, like that of Parfit's, is very ambitious and perhaps hard to imagine being achieved. So Skorupski, more modestly, indicates that his work hopes only to give a comprehensive solution "to which at least some people can give serious and settled assent". Even this may be rather too ambitious. 

The first section of the introduction sets out a general picture of the project of the whole work and in it Skorupski indicates that "normative" is intended primarily as a contrastive term to "descriptive" and that this is why investigation of it extends to epistemology as much as ethics and aesthetics. The basic concept of the work, as indicated in its title, is, however, the idea of a "reason" and thus in this respect its overall concern appears to mesh with the first part of On What Matters. Skorupski even suggests that thinking in general is no more than "sensitivity to reasons", a claim that ensures that the whole region of conceptuality is at issue for him in addressing reasons.

This basic claim stakes a view of the 'pervasiveness' of reasons but, least it be assumed that it commits Skorupski to an intellectualist conception, he is quick to include sentiments under the heading of reasons (thus implicitly demarcating his conception from a Humean one). If the pervasiveness claim is bought partly at the cost of apparently diluting what is specific to the notion of a "reason" it is also coupled with a claim concerning the 'primitiveness' of reasons to the effect that "a reason" is the basic normative concept. This primitiveness claim is what Skorupski terms the "Reasons thesis".

The "Reasons thesis" itself can be taken in stronger and weaker senses but the stronger sense - leading to the view that normative predicates can be reduced to reasons predicates - is not ultimately going to be supported by Skorupski. Rather, the weaker form of the thesis is what he will be supporting, the claim, basically, that the concept of a reason is the sole normative ingredient in any normative concept. 

Added to the pervasiveness thesis and the primitiveness thesis there is also a constitutive claim to the effect that what enables us to say that thought is occurring is that response to reasons is taking place. This includes the view of thinking that suggests a kind of apperceptive feature in thought or, as Skorupski puts it, that there is a capacity for epistemic self-audit. 

If these are the three major claims about reasons that Skorupski wishes to advance the question next concerns how the structure of the work supports them and the points involved in assuming that the argument concerning them leads us finally to views about the relations between self, thought, and world. The first part of the book concerns the "structure of normative concepts" and it is here that Skorupski promises the arguments concerning the "Reasons thesis" or the weak form of the primitiveness claim. The way I understand Skorupski's subsequent claims about the structure of the work is that the second and third parts of the book (concerning epistemic and evaluative and practical reasons) aim to show the case for the pervasiveness claim and that the fourth part (on the normative view) then concludes with an argument for the constitutive view.

Given that this is the overall structure of the book it follows that it is not Skorupski's primary purpose to advance theses in normative ethics (or normative epistemology either) so that any specific claims that the book contains about these areas will only be of second-order importance. However, despite this being apparently true, the third part of the book will present a number of substantive claims about the normative structure of practical reason. In this respect the third part of Skorupski's book is likely to contribute to controversies within the area of normative ethics in a way that the second part is unlikely to in the area of normative epistemology.

One of the reasons Skorupski gives for this difference between ethics and epistemology is that in the former area there is less agreement about the basic structure of reasons. Skorupski indicates early that he takes there to be an heterogeneity of sources of practical reasons. 

The concluding fourth part is meant to take us into the terrain of the broadest account of the metaphysics of reasons. This circles on the question of epistemic norms and reasons for taking epistemology to be a normative subject. 

Skorupski's general project is set up, in some respects like Parfit's, in opposition to non-cognitivism but, despite this, and unlike the case with Parfit, Skorupski does not wish to endorse realism. Cognitivism minus realism is a combination that already suggests a connection between Skorupski's project and the Kantian one and I'll explore more of the introductory ways in which Skorupski distinguishes his account from Kant's in future postings. 

The basic ground for Skorupski not being a realist is his simple commitment to the view that normative propositions do not represent states of affairs or, otherwise put, that they are starkly different from anything descriptive. So if this is so then propositions which concern reasons do not concern the world (which appears to reinstate a kind of Humean view despite the earlier claim that sentiments belong under the heading of reasons being non-Humean). 

Skorupski's ultimate position of cognitive irrealism is what he terms a "meta-normative" view and the support for it is provided in the fourth part of the volume. It is not directly entailed by the normative views provided earlier so it is in principle possible to accept the claims of pervasiveness and primitiveness without agreeing with the constitutive claim. The second part of the introduction begins to lay out the meta-normative claim's relation to the Kantian view and I will turn to this in the next posting on Skorupski.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Riots, the State of Nature and the Social Contract

The scenes of rioting in the UK over the last few days have been pretty awful, involving, as they have, widespread destruction of property and of some people's homes. The responses to the riots have had problems of their own, resting largely, as they have, on appeals for repressive state measures and ritual incantations of the need for re-moralising society. Amidst this fevered hubbub it has become apparent that the reflex responses of members of the public, as well as of the leading politicians in the country, are basically punitive in nature. 

To an extent these responses are understandable since it is true that threats to livelihoods, homes and basic physical security, do tend to panic people. And I am far from wanting to engage in extended responses here concerning the question of what drives people to engage in behaviour that puts such things at risk, though not because I think such discussion is otiose. Rather it is because, in the first instance, what strikes me as important here is to reflect on the question of what philosophically there is to say about what these riots reveal to us about social order and social cohesion.

In the first instance, what comes to mind is the way that these riots reveal the need for discussion of the notion of the "state of nature". This notion has been misunderstood as either a historical one or as being something that is only at the edges of political theory, something preliminary, as it were, to its real business. What disturbances of the sort we have witnessed have revealed, however, is how central to the task of political philosophy the discussion of the state of nature really is. It is not only that the riots reveal well how a state of nature can be re-created in advanced societies, even if only in a few streets and for a short time. It is, even more, that the problems that the social contract is meant to resolve, problems of assurance and the overcoming of isolation, are not conclusively solved in any of the societies in which we live which is why they remain beset by recurrences of reversion to the state of nature.

Hence it is not only false to think that the state of nature is an historically closed episode, it is also wrong to think that it is not of continuous relevance in the comprehension of the bases of social order. A state of nature is constituted whenever it is the case that there exists in a situation no conclusively established and reliably applicable authority. In this sense our societies, whilst based on social contracts for the most part, are riven with exceptions that place us either as individuals or members of groups, back into the state of nature. Once placed there we have the basic problems revealed again that require recourse to the social contract. In this sense the need for social order is much more basic than the ritual incantations of politicians, commentators and social theorists, suggest.

It is not merely a problem of appealing for 'parents to parent' or for measures that alleviate problems of poverty and neglect, it is also a problem of articulating both within the spaces governed by the social contract and those apertures through which authority disappears, the need for a regulation of behaviour that enables the formation and re-formation of ordered connections such that something like cohesion can be said to exist. The ritual noises that we hear on such occasions point to formations that allegedly threaten such order, whether what is meant here are loose morals or chasms of inequality. Such factors are not without interest in the overall understanding of social order but the basis of it is elsewhere. It is in the simple view that there is an interest in order existing and being maintained in a manner that supersedes that which can tie together a band of robbers. This case is far from simple and cannot be regarded as conclusively established  but that it requires to be made and re-made is the basic philosophical lesson that emerges from these disturbances, a lesson that is of more lasting interest and importance than either the disturbances themselves or the ritual denunciations that are made when they take place.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Rawls and Distributive Justice (III)

Sometime back I wrote a couple of postings about Rawls' 1967 pieces on distributive justice: the first one is here and the second here. The topics addressed in these pieces reappear in A Theory of Justice section 43 of Chapter V, the section immediately after the one in which Rawls discussed political economy.

In the version in Theory Rawls describes the "main problem" of distributive justice as being the choice of a social system. By a "social system" Rawls is referring to the way in which a basic structure is regulated and how its major institutions come together. The central conception of pure procedural justice has been the mechanism of regulation promoted by justice as fairness. Since the main point of the second part of Theory is to work through the understanding of institutions the setting of the principles of justice are here being displayed in such a way that the basic structure really does reflect their precepts.

In this section Rawls looks at the means by which 'background' institutions are reflective of the principles of justice both in terms of private ownership and in relation to more socialistic systems. In the first type of system we have a constitution that guarantees the priority of liberty and fair equality of opportunity applies. When looking at how the background institutions are to be governed so that these principles are reflected Rawls reaches for the theory of branches of government articulated by R.A. Musgrave. This theory is quite different to the classic ones of Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau or Kant since it does not concern the 'separation of powers' but rather an account of public finance.

On this theory of public finance government is seen as having four branches which don't neatly fit administrative categories but are instead descriptive of functions. The first function is allocation which concerns, in a market economy, keeping prices competitive and undercutting tendencies to prevent this. Allocation is also part of the business of ensuring efficiency is met in relation to social benefits and costs. 

By contrast to the allocation branch, the stabilization branch is concerned with bringing about "full employment" and works with the allocation branch in terms of ensuring market efficiency.

The "transfer branch" has responsibility for the social minimum which involves taking account of needs, something the competitive price system alone has no concern with. Competitive determination of total income alone would ignore the claims of need so it is rational to insure oneself against this alone setting the standards of living. The difference principle further mandates that these standards are addressed and it is the point of the transfer branch to see to this. Above the minimum the rest of income can be met by the price system assuming that the latter is efficiently governed. 

The last branch is the distribution branch. It concerns how distributive shares are provided by means of taxation and regulation of ownership of property. From here comes taxes that concern inheritance in order that the dispersal of property is consistent with fair value of equal liberties. This is one of the places where Rawls makes a 'luck egalitarian' point arguing that the distribution of intelligence is no more just in its distribution than that of wealth. Hence distribution of the goods accruing to those with a greater than average of the former have also to be governed by application of the difference principle.

One of the points of the discussion of the difference principle is, however, to suggest that the institutions of fair equality of opportunity are put at risk when inequalities of wealth exceed a certain limit. One of the effects of that happening is, further, that political liberties have less worth for many than is otherwise the case. If one part of the distribution branch is concerned with taxation and regulation of property the other part concerns raising revenue. The raising of revenue itself can be undertaken by different means since the taxation of consumption is as available to government as the taxation of income and has more chance of being progressive in application particularly if it includes exemptions for dependents. However, the precise questions of policy here are not specifically part of the theory of justice.

The two parts of the distribution branch relate to the two principles of justice as taxation of inheritance and income and regulation of property secure the institutions of equal liberty (at least in a property-owning democracy). Taxes are the means by which public goods are provided and this aspect of the distribution branch works with the transfer branch to meet the second principle of justice. There are questions here concerning how taxation is itself to be regulated involving precepts such as apply to ability to pay that arise from what Rawls terms "common sense" and indicate an intuitive element is here thought of as applicable though the question of the status of such precepts is not investigated in this section.

One of the points of the general description of the private property system described in the way Rawls has given is to prevent too restrictive an ownership of wealth, thus intending to mitigate the effects of capitalism that socialists complain of. However, after raising this point, Rawls refers to the notion of "liberal socialism" suggesting that it has two ways of meeting the principles of justice. The first would be to assume the means of production were publicly owned and thus that collective decisions were made about the general features of the economy. The "liberal" part of this notion is that it still allows firms to be engaged in competition with each other albeit with such competition only covering one of the functions of prices. 

The point of such remarks is to suggest that a place for the market does not entail that people are unmoved by altruistic concerns. In stating this Rawls does, however, recognise the automatic and impersonal character of market mechanisms and the way they abstract from individual decisions. One of the reasons is that the theory of justice is not intended to shape a basic structure that is entirely governed by altruism. 

Rawls entertains a possible further branch of government, the exchange branch, that is a special body that takes note of social interests and preferences for public goods and looks only at the latter separately from what is strictly mandated by the principles of justice. The description of this further branch does, however, take the discussion into technicalities that are less evidently of foundational constitutional significance. One of the reasons why this is so is that this further supposed branch does not arise out of the principles of justice themselves.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Mark Schroeder's Review of Parfit

Another person has managed to already review the whole of On What Matters and, unlike Simon Blackburn, has managed the considerable feat of addressing a number of its intellectual claims and, although disagreeing with the book on important matters, treated it with some considerable respect. This person, whose review is an admirable example of careful prose, is Mark Schroeder

Schroeder's review is published in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews and shows some considerable acuity in addressing the difficult question as to why Parfit chose to publish such a long and difficult to engage with book as On What Matters. Schroeder presents a compelling engagement with the "convergence thesis" in normative ethics that Parts 2 and 3 of the book are concerned with where Parfit seeks to reconcile Kantian, contractualist and consequentialist views of the terrain. Importantly, Schroeder points out that the convergence theory, whilst worth attention strictly within the limits of normative ethics itself also appears to presuppose views concerning reason that not all the normative theories in question do share and so is perhaps less convincing as a form of convergence than Parfit seems to think.

Schroeder also treats Part 6 of On What Matters to some engaged comment bringing out again why the accounts of normativity involved there are regarded by Parfit as part of the same project whilst also calling into question the commitments involved in assuming them to be part of the same project as the earlier account of normative ethics. Schroeder both expresses scepticism about the all-inclusive view of the terrain Parfit has attempted in the book whilst also showing, by deft connection back to Reasons and Persons how Parfit's view of 'moral progress' is the basis of this all-inclusive view. Schroeder also treats the comparisons that have been made between On What Matters and Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics to some careful attention indicating ways in which Sidgwick's version of a convergence thesis rests, in many respects, on different argumentative ground to Parfit's. 

Unfortunately Schroeder makes little comment on the first part of On What Matters with which I have been engaged thus far in the commentary on this blog though I think implications for its treatment of reasons is pretty clear from things Schroeder does say. This review of Schroeder's is almost a model of  what it means to disagree philosophically whilst indicating respect for the thinker in question. Perhaps Simon Blackburn will read it, one can only hope!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Simon Blackburn's Review of Parfit (II)

I discussed last month Simon Blackburn's review of Parfit in the form that Blackburn released it on his web-site, accompanied as it was by a statement that the Financial Times had apparently decided not to publish it after initially commissioning it. However, the review has now appeared in the Financial Times and can be accessed here (paywall). For those able to access it and compare it with Blackburn's original it is worth the effort of seeing what has happened to it in the meantime. As in the original so in the published form Blackburn disagrees with Parfit's rationalism and supports a form of the Humean sentimentalist theory. The 'support' offered for the latter is now buttressed with wider references to other authorities who agree with Blackburn but, of more concern, is the ease with which Blackburn associates rationalism with 'absolutism' and then having done this condemns it further as part of a 'colonial' or 'imperial' view. Following this habit of guilt by association Blackburn aligns Parfit with Tony Blair in a particularly gross example of distorting the relationship between philosophy and politics. This is surely unworthy of Blackburn and is hardly an apt way to introduce philosophical disputes to a general public. 

Blackburn's defence of the Humean view does now have the grace to include a consideration of Parfit's objectivist understanding of intentionality and provide a case against it so is in this respect an improvement on the version published previously on his web-site. Consideration of thought-experiments, something hardly unique to Parfit is still presented as a weird eccentricity, again something odd in a presentation of a philosophical work for a wide public. The peculiar attack on All Souls that marred the earlier version is at least mercifully missing but this 'review' is still not one that can be said to have seriously shown any respect or serious philosophical regard for a work that some at least have taken to be worth extended engagement and is really a poor form of public engagement for an intellectual of Blackburn's standing.

Rawls and Political Economy

The fifth chapter of A Theory of Justice is entitled 'Distributive Shares' and, just as the fourth chapter focused on the first principle of justice, so this chapter looks at the second principle. The point of the opening two sections of Chapter V is to look at the sense in which the principles of justice serve as part of the doctrine of political economy and it is these sections I'll look at in this posting.

The first of these sections, section 41, describes the general role principles of justice have in the assessment of political economy intending to show only that doctrines of political economy have to include a notion of the public good which ensures that there has to be a role within them for principles of justice. Since the 'basic structure' is the key notion of Rawls' conception of justice it follows that political economy is seen by him as part of what creates and fashions wants for all. Hence political economy is not viewed as a self-standing discipline but as part of the consideration of moral and political matters.

In making this point Rawls considers the objection that political economy is concerned only with existing wants whereas the contract view describes an ideal conception, an argument which understands the two to be in necessary opposition to each other. However, such a stark way of presenting the relationship between the contract view and political economy is understood by Rawls to rest upon seeing the contract view as incorporating perfectionist constraints. By contrast, Rawls' own view of the contract position involves only a commitment to primary social goods albeit in so doing does make anthropological commitments of a certain sort. But the point of the theory of primary goods is that they are meant only to apply to the most general rational wants and not to include specifics that are contentiously ideal in form. So the "theory of the good" assumed within the contract view is not taken by Rawls to define an ideal of the person.

In some respects this point is, however, odd given the conclusion of the previous chapter which described a 'Kantian interpretation' of 'justice as fairness'. Taking this interpretation to require viewing the original position as incorporating conditions of autonomy does seem to require an ideal view of the contracting parties. It is likely to be Rawls' contention that this view involves no substantive commitment to the sense of the 'good' of these parties and thus to include no more than the formal constraints of right. But it is still the case that the view of autonomy that structures the original position is one that not all would accept as an ideal in the initial situation so is a move 'from' the initial situation. Precisely the move between the initial situation and the original position was, indeed, a central part (on my interpretation at least) of the argument of Chapter III.

Rawls articulates in this section further reasons for taking the notion of 'stability' very seriously as it is a prime source of the way that the formal constraints of right are manifested. This does lead Rawls to admit that the principles of justice do define at least 'a partial ideal of the person' and that this ideal is one that social and economic arrangements have to be bound by. Indeed, it is part of the point of this to resist the other pole of the stark contrast between political economy and the contract doctrine. Just as Rawls wishes to mitigate this contrast from one side by down-playing to a certain extent the ideal character of the contract view by denying that it is perfectionist so also he has to prevent the contract view merely being seen to submit (as utilitarianism is often thought to) to existing wants. It is the ideal of the person that is involved in the contract view that prevents it from simply accepting existing wants.

It is due to this ideal of the person that the contract view represents that it requires certain institutional forms to be embedded in its conception of justice. In this respect, as Rawls himself argues, there is a clear sense in which 'justice as fairness' is in alliance with perfectionism against utilitarianism. Whilst utilitarianism does not have to meekly accept existing wants either, given its commitment to optimific states of affairs, it is still the case, on Rawls' view, that its choice of ideals depends importantly upon how existing desires continue into the future. Another way of putting this is that utilitarianism does not include an ideal of the person in its first principle and in this respect is quite unlike both 'justice as fairness' and perfectionism.

The two principles of justice are not intended to be dependent upon the contingencies of existing desires but, unlike perfectionism, it is also not the case that these principles are supposed to arise a priori. The point is only that the principles are meant to arise from the construction of the original position but this construction is not one in which all conceptions would have equal chances given the way that the construction is constrained by the forms of right. 

One of the oddities of how Rawls reflects back on the achievements of Chapter III at the beginning of Chapter V is that he now presents the methodology of the original position, in apparent accord with the idea of the 'Kantian interpretation' as, in an important sense, arising from a certain kind of individualism. The individualism in question is theoretical in the sense that the rationality of the contracting parties is modelled on the sense of what any one given reasoner would take to be rationally mandated. It is therefore meant to lead to a valuation of communal conditions but is not first framed in terms of how these conditions are meant to proceed. In presenting the issue in this way, Rawls may well mis-characterise his procedure since it rather appears that the appeal in the 'Kantian interpretation' to autonomy requires a sense of the mutuality of respect, something that cannot be modelled simply on the reasoning of one party.

In section 42 Rawls turns next to the question of distinct economic systems. However, as always, such systems are not considered from within economics but only from the principles of justice. Political economy is understood by Rawls to be concerned importantly with the public sector and with the regulation of property, taxation and the structure of markets. In presenting this view of political economy Rawls distinguishes between different elements of the public sector. The first element of it he considers concerns the ownership of the means of production. The classic distinction between socialistic and private-property arrangements concerns precisely this with the former viewing the public sector as the main or sole place in which ownership of the means of production takes place. By contrast, an ideally pictured private property system would appear to give the public sector a much smaller role in the ownership of means of production and perhaps circumscribe such public ownership only to generally agreed public goods such as apply to utilities and certain forms of transport.

If the ownership of the means of production is one element of the public sector the other that Rawls differentiates from it is the proportion of social resources devoted to public goods. In turning to this second element of the public sector Rawls concentrates on how such public goods have distinguishing characteristics that separates them from private goods properly considered. The characteristics in question are that public goods are indivisible in nature and they are public in quality. Indivisibility applies to the need that all elements of the public have to their supply. Since the need for them is thus general they cannot easily be parcelled into separable units of consumption.

Public goods can, on this conception of indivisibility, be understood to be have more or less of the characteristic of resistance to private consumption. In the case that is at the extreme end of the spectrum a public good has to be made completely and equally available to all. This would be 'full indivisibility' for the good over the society. The example Rawls provides of this is national defence against attack from outside. No part of the society can be denied provision of this good so it has the extreme characteristic of 'full indivisibility'.  Since public goods have, to varying degrees, this characteristic of indivisibility, they are not provided by means of market arrangements but require provision by means of politics. In the extreme case of 'full indivisibility' the distribution of the public good is also not something that is considered in the sense that it is supplied to all.

However the characteristics that are specific to public goods carry with them certain special problems. One is the problem of 'free-riders' that afflicts taxation. Essentially if a good is made generally available then the calculations of some is that it matters not if they pay for its up-keep since provision will not be affected thereby. It is precisely due to this problem that coercive force is required to ensure that payments for indivisible public goods is provided. This does, however, also point to the need for such coercion to be built into the social contract. It is interesting and instructive that it is only at this stage of his theory that Rawls arrives at the requirement for coercion whereas Kant, by contrast, explicated authorisation to use coercion as the second step in his theory of right immediately after the statement of the universal principle of right. This was done even before such questions as provision of public goods was considered. Rawls' own example of national defence shows that authorisation of use of coercion in the articulation of right must be foundational for a society to be said to exist at all and so its late arrival in Rawls' theory does have the peculiar consequence of almost leading to be overlooked something that is key to political theory.

If the response to the 'free-rider' problem is expressed by Rawls by appeal to the coercive need that arises from provision of indivisible public goods the next point he raises concerning them is the notion of externality. Indivisible goods have wide effects and even if the financial basis of their provision was limited within a society its formation could be a matter of indifference to no one. Such public harms as effect the environment also have to be understood as part of the costs of the provision of the public good that produces this effect. Indeed, market mechanisms are alone incapable of responding to such externalities which is why governments have to attend to them.

Rawls' reference to the 'state of nature' is also made in this context, a notion otherwise rarely referred to in his theory and which some commentators argue has been banished from it in favour of the construction of the original position. In truth the original position cannot be seen to have simply replaced the reference to the 'state of nature'. Consideration of externalities of harm is essentially calculation of what 'naturally' arises and has to be regulated. Part of the case for the contract is made through the regulation in question. In this sense Rawls' contractarianism is far from having dispensed with the reference to the 'state of nature'. 

Modern theories of rationality in terms of games theories replicate the problems of the 'state of nature' as Rawls' original accounting of the prisoner's dilemma testifies. In this situation the parties have been artificially isolated from each other and the problem is precisely how to ensure contractarian formations that promote the public good are to arise and this is nothing other than a restatement of the problem of the state of nature. Rawls terms this an 'isolation' problem and he distinguishes it from an 'assurance' one in which the latter is formulated through the question of how to effectively eliminate the free-rider question. Free-riders in a general sense are partaking of the 'benefits' of natural positioning whilst dependent upon social protection and the diminishment of the possibility of the former is required by others if they are to be assured of the point of their cooperation. But this is nothing other than the case for a sovereign power restated as an 'assurance' problem. What the distinction between 'isolation' and 'assurance' does point to is that the case for the contractual agreement is not equivalent to the case for the sovereign as the authority executive in relation to it and in this respect Rawls has added something at this point to the consideration of state of nature theory.

Having separated out the two elements of the public sector it becomes clear that the proportion of resources devoted to public goods is an analytically separable question from the ownership of the means of production. A private-property economy could allocate more or less resources to the purposes of public goods as could a socialist one. Further, the provision of public goods is not itself necessarily one that requires public providers. These are questions that Rawls leaves to 'political sociology' however and he does not consider them therefore foundational for the theory of justice.

This does not mean that Rawls has little to say about the role of market mechanisms. Rather, Rawls assumes that all regimes will use the market to ration out consumption goods since any other mechanism would be unnecessarily cumbersome. The difference between a market economy and a socialist one is not taken by him to reside there. Rather, in the free market the output of commodities is understood to be guided by 'kind and quantity' according to household preferences.  By contrast the 'kind and quantity' of such output would be guided, in a socialist economy, by either 'collective decisions' or the preferences of planners.

Rawls thus concedes to 'market socialists' the view that a market economy could be utilised in important respects within a socialist system, not least due to the greater efficiency of the market in allocation of resources. However, the failures of markets are also well noted by Rawls, not least with regard to the provision of public goods. However, market systems are consistent with equal liberties and fair equality of opportunity and do not require forced direction of labour. Further, they decentralise how economic power is manifested. 

The case for the 'consistency' of market arrangements with socialist institutions is made through a distinction between two separable functions of markets considered as operative in the determination of price. Price is taken by Rawls to have two functions. One is allocative and this he relates to economic efficiency. The other is distributive and Rawls connects this with how income is received by individuals. The allocative function of prices could be maintained through artificial rent attaching to the use of resources by state institutions and this is required if there is to be any efficiency in their use. But this function of pricing does not require distribution of the price charged to any owners. Distributive pricing is thus restricted under socialism but not allocative pricing.