Thursday, 28 June 2012

Constructivism and Common Sense

I've been reading and thinking about constructivism today mainly as a response of some sort to it will have to feature in work I am currently pursuing. Whilst doing so, however, a question arose for me in relation to how constructivism is understood by Onora O'Neill in her criticism of Rawls. This question concerned the priority she gives, in her criticism of Rawls, to the notion of "reflective equilibrium".

The essay of O'Neill's I'm referring to is one that appears in Samuel Freeman's edited collection on Rawls. In this piece O'Neill concentrates on the way in which the constructive procedure in Rawls works looking at the range of what can be constructed according to Rawls, the justification he offers of the constructive procedure and, most importantly for her critique, the address of Rawls' construction. The view offered by her of these topics ranges across Rawls' work, moving from Theory to Political Liberalism

In O'Neill's picture of Theory the key notion is "reflective equilibrium" which is taken to provide a coherentist test of "our considered judgments" and to rely on a conception of the reasonable that is explicitly discussed in Rawls' later notion of "Kantian constructivism". O'Neill subsequently refers to this notion of "reflective equilibrium" when she draws out that "Kantian constructivism" appeals to an idealised Kantian view of the person and rests its appeal to this notion on reference to "our moral experience". Part of what enables this appeal for O'Neill is Rawls' reliance upon a coherentist justification of practical reason in his view of "Kantian constructivism". Her view of Rawls' later "political" turn is that what happens is that the conception of practical reason as rested on a generic coherence is replaced by a closed appeal to "public reason" where the resources of public reason are simply derived from the common conceptions of a democratic culture much as the earlier appeal was to "our moral experience".

In contrast to Rawls' later political turn O'Neill sets out a view of Kantian reason as something that cannot be anchored in a given public culture but accessible in principle to anyone including "outsiders" to the culture of the West that produced Kant's own philosophy. So O'Neill's first move is to depict the appeal to "public reason" Rawls makes as a fatal concession to relativism. The point in doing so is to widen the view of what is to count as public reason suggesting that reasoning is not "completely" public when it rests on appeals to particular properties and beliefs which can appear merely arbitrary to anyone outside the original community that rests on them. In contrast to this view O'Neill states that we need justifications of claims that can be satisfied only in terms of what can be followed in principle by anyone. This is part of what motivates O'Neill's general view that the categorical imperative is not merely the supreme principle of morality but also the supreme principle of reason.

An implication of O'Neill's argument is that reason is "cosmopolitan" for Kant and does not rest on "bounded societies" as political institutions are incapable of conferring justification. This is why O'Neill argues that Kant's view of the construction of ethical principles is more demanding than the "Kantian constructivism" described by Rawls as Kant requires justification to be capable of "aiming to reach all others without restriction". This is why practical reason itself is something that O'Neill argues is capable of construction by Kant as it was not by Rawls.

Having rehearsed O'Neill's critique of Rawls I now want to suggest that there is a central problem with her view that does not apply to Rawls' constructivism and suggests a reason for thinking that Rawls' appeal to "reflective equilibrium" and to "our moral experience" may be less alien to Kant than O'Neill's arguments would lead one to suppose. The first problem that can be posed with O'Neill's view is that it is unclear from her general picture of reason how the process of public reason is to be carried out. She argues that public reason is incomplete if it involves appeal to particular beliefs held by some and thereby appears to take the reference to universal law to require abandonment of commitment to any given prior beliefs and to provide us with a  de novo conception of justification. It is partly due to following a view like this however that the procedure of trying to justify the Kantian appeal to universal laws off the ground gets involved in terrible tangles. The notoriously involved difficulties in providing justifications of universalised maxims that are morally permissible arises from thinking that we need to provide an account for maxims that no one normally takes to need justification at all. Necessarily any and every type of maxim has to be looked at in terms of its permissibility if the point of appeal to universal law is to provide us with a means of assessing morality without bringing in previously agreed moral data.

Moreover, the point of appeal to public reason on O'Neill's view appears to be to arrive at a standard for what can be shown to be acceptable so that the procedure of public reason is itself the arbiter of what we agree can be done. This makes the arrival at universal agreement the ground for permissibility rather than the possibility of convergence being shown to be based upon salient factors that allow the agreement to hold. This seems to put the burden of justification in the wrong place. A second but related point concerns how the standards of public reason on a neutrally determined view of universal reason are to be set out. This point concerns not the kind of consideration that Rawls was interested in with reference to "pluralism" but rather deep problems with reasoning with some who appear to be committed to principles that are deeply antithetical to universality. Racist views for example are directly in contradiction to appeal to universality and would have to be dealt with as providing non-public reason in some sense but if this is not to be stipulative through moral content (as clearly is impossible on O'Neill's view) this has to require a structural notion of formal public reasoning to rule out certain types of reasoning from the start. 

In order to rule out appeal to certain kinds of reasons as non-public there have to be ways of showing to those who adopt these reasons a basis for agreement on their behalf to a standard of reasoning that rules out appeals to their favoured principles. The means that O'Neill appears to favour is by reference to a view of agency that requires us to see the agency of others as intertwined with our own in an important way. So she refers in Towards Justice and Virtue to activity as inclusive of plurality, connection and finitude. What is meant by these notions is that we have to relate to others as independent sources of activity (plurality) who there is a real possibility we will affect by acting (connection) and that these others are limited enough to be vulnerable to our actions (finitude). Conversely we are reciprocally related to them in the same way. So rules of action should generally take these characteristics into account. It is likely that the point of these descriptors is to give a basic notion of moral standing to O'Neill but the problem is that the notion has itself to be constructed in terms of "public reasons" and there are problems with doing so. The basic sense that we would expect from her general view is that the reasons in question would have a neutral status and not require any one to adopt specific beliefs in the sense that she criticises Rawls for requiring. If that is right, however, then the notion of plurality only points to a constraint on my action if I independently have reasons to regard others as having standing as it does not itself provide them with such standing. The fact that I am connected to others and vulnerable to them provides some general prudential constraints on action but, again, is insufficient to give others serious moral standing. The only one of these three criteria that really has the significance that it would provide a reason for morally taking others seriously is the criteria of vulnerability but if I interpret it from a first-person perspective it only grounds a prudential one and requiring as a matter of reason that I see it more broadly is not to follow the basic constructivist rule.

If O'Neill's view of public reason is one that just draws on generic criteria like these it is not going to get off the ground and it requires some additional elements to be taken seriously as a guide for a normative conception of public reason. Such further elements are available if we make the appeal to common sense that Rawls makes with his notion of "reflective equilibrium" and for which O'Neill criticises him. The ability to appeal to "common sense" as a means of understanding conditions of action is part of what is at work in Rawls' discussion of such things as the "circumstances of justice" and the "strains of commitment", both of which build into practical reason the basis for the coherence requirements that O'Neill dislikes. Without them, however, she has to fall back on a generic conception of public reason that is either too thin to build anything from or to implicitly rely on normative commitments that she has not constructively justified. Either way it seems less obvious than O'Neill may think that cosmopolitan conceptions of reason can get by without appeal to some views of pre-conceived moral standards.

Not only is this so but Kant's own procedure seems not to mirror the generic requirements of practical reason that O'Neill presents. Not only does the first part of Kant's Groundwork proceed from data of common human reason but the examples of how to test maxims that are supplied by Kant in this work presuppose the normative existence of practices. This is evident in the way Kant discusses promises, suicide, the cultivation of talents and benevolence. In each case Kant proceeds from a pre-existent conception of moral views and provides a means for understanding, by reference to them, reasons for thinking certain types of maxims are impermissible. The maxims in question do not arise as de novo tests but as ones that have pertinence against the background of a set of practices which give them the sense that they have. Perhaps thus Rawls' reference to "reflective equilibrium" is rather more Kantian than O'Neill's allegedly "cosmopolitan" view of reason.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Kostas Sargentis in *Kant Studies Online*

A new article has been published in Kant Studies Online. It is by Kostas Sargentis and it concerns the topic of "Moral Motivation in Kant". It can be freely accessed and down-loaded here.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Rawls on Congruence and Justification

The last 2 sections of Chapter IX of A Theory of Justice are also the last 2 sections of the whole book. In this posting I will treat them both in turn. Section 86, entitled "the good of the sense of justice" is intended to complete the argument for the view that there is a reasonable expectation that, in a well-ordered society, there would be congruence between justice and the specific conceptions of the good that are adopted by individuals. Since this argument concerning congruence was also motivated at the beginning of Chapter IX as the rationale for the whole argument of this chapter section 86 essentially completes the general purpose of the chapter. The concluding section 87 is meant not to add to this argument but, rather, to offer a general overall summary of the way in which the theory of justice as fairness has been "justified" in the book as a whole.

Section 86 opens with Rawls stating that the completion of the congruence argument basically requires an overall view of the notion of the well-ordered society. In this society the two moral powers of persons - the capacity for a sense of justice and the ability to pursue a particular conception of the good - are congruent with each other or so is the assumption and the argument of the chapter, which is completed here, is intended to show the reasons for taking this to be the case. The central reason for being concerned with the congruence between the two moral powers in the well-ordered society is that such congruence is assumed to be the basis of the stability of it. This does not require reviewing again the rationality of the selection of the principles of justice within the original position as we take for granted by this stage that this selection has been justified. The problem is, rather, "whether the regulative desire to adopt the standpoint of justice belongs to a person's own good" when we view the latter in the light of Rawls' "thin" theory of the good. When we arrive at this point we are no longer behind the veil of ignorance as the "thin" theory can be fully specified.

The justification of the view that it is rational for someone, merely following the thin theory of the good, to accept the claim of the sense of justice to be regulative of their conception of the good, is not equivalent to justification of the sense of justice to an egoist. Nor does Rawls aim to show that, in a well-ordered society, even an egoist would act from a sense of justice. Rawls is instead assuming that there does exist amongst the members of the well-ordered society a settled desire to act from the sense of justice and then raising the question of whether this desire is one that is consistent with the good of these people. This question presupposes only the "thin" theory of the good as anything wider would involve wider presuppositions. So the question concerns only those with a moral psychology that is already, at least in one of its relevant aspects, as we would ideally wish it to be.

Now this does not mean that the question has been so carefully curtailed as to be of little interest. So Rawls is not assuming for example that everyone simply does things due to motivation by pure conscientiousness. It is conceivable, even assuming that there is a settled desire to act from the sense of justice, that this settled desire is one that runs up against formidable resistance when acting upon it appears to cut against some key element of that persons' view of the good. Then the question may arise for them what to do and not be one that they simply take to have an obvious answer. 

Having stated the problem in this way Rawls proceeds to describe the elements of the "grounds of congruence". The first element is that the principles of justice are public, a point he consistently stresses. Since this is so the consideration of acting in a way that does not conform to the principles of justice is one in which we think of ourselves as prepared to act as free riders upon the public good. Given that the settled disposition to act from a sense of justice is one that is given reinforcement by the publicly acknowledged justification of the principles of justice the consideration of acting in such a way is sure to have psychic cost. Not only is this the case but failure to act from the sense of justice is something whose public effect we would have to acknowledge as impacting upon the way the institutions we have accepted to have a public basis would run. The importance of this consideration is that such institutions are also supported publicly by those with whom we are close. This point gives strong grounds for preserving our sense of justice.

Another element of the grounds of congruence is the way that the participation in the public good of the well-ordered society satisfies the Aristotelian Principle. The well-ordered society is one that realises to a pre-eminent degree the forms of human activity and the way in which the cooperation of persons safeguards the well-being of each one of us. To really share in the goods of this society we must acknowledge the principles that regulate activities. A final reason underpinning congruence is bound up with the Kantian conception of the person which states that acting justly is something we want to do inasmuch as we are free and equal rational beings. 

Assuming that the reference to publicity, the Aristotelian Principle and the Kantian conception of the person provide the chief reasons within the "thin" theory of the good to underpin congruence we can now ask whether these reasons are decisive in motivating members of the well-ordered society to generally act in accordance with their sense of justice. It appears that this leads us to a question about how to balance contrary principles. But an element that has not yet been considered is what it is that acting from the sense of justice really requires of us. The congruence between it and our conception of the good depends upon the content of the specific notion of right that has determined the sense of justice taking the form it does. So the good of justice is, we are clear, not akin to that provided by classical utilitarianism which required us to sacrifice our interests when this would be necessary for the greater good of all. The reason why the principles of justice defended by Rawls does not have this stringency is due to the priority of the first principle of justice. It would be hazardous to freedom to accept the stringent requirements defended by writers such as Sidgwick. This is already a point in favour of the view that it is possible to act in accordance with the sense of justice as Rawls conceives it as such a sense of justice is not so stringent and out of keeping with the demands of common sense as the view of Sidgwick.

This does not mean that there are not possible costs to following our sense of justice in action. Certain things will be ruled out for us as possible actions if we follow it. This point is defended by Rawls by an extended comparison between acting from the sense of justice and acting from a view of love of others. The Kantian conception of the person underpins this point and shows grounds for giving first priority to our sense of justice. The principles of justice meet the conditions of finality, they are regulative of our behaviour and acting in accordance with other things is constrained by the claims of the principles of justice. The Kantian conception of the person points to the way that our freedom is best expressed by acting from the sense of justice. Acting against the sense of justice is therefore sure to produce feelings of guilt and shame and set for us a demanding standard of consistency. 

It is possible that there are some persons, even in a well-ordered society, who do not take the affirmation of the sense of justice to be a good. For such people the thin theory of the good has proved insufficient to ground a regulative sentiment in favour of the sense of justice. The question of how to respond to such people requires recourse to partial compliance theory. We have seen that the principles of right are collectively rational and that affirmation of the sense of justice is a collective asset. Given this it is rational to authorise the measures required to maintain just institutions. The nature of those who have not found it part of their good to affirm the sense of justice is unfortunate for them and it is not required to provide sufficient reasons further to convince them. It would be true, however, if there were many such people that this would be an element of instability within the society and the degree to which such persons were present would effect the degree to which penal devices might be required within it. So long as there is no more stable conception of justice than the one Rawls has defined this point does not count against it.

In concluding the congruence argument Rawls specifies in more detail his definition of goodness. In a well-ordered society it is the case that behaving in a way that manifests a definite acceptance of the requirements of the sense of justice is good for each person within it. A well-ordered society is also a "good" society as it satisfies the principles of justice and enables a stable pattern to develop by which individuals come to affirm the sense of justice as regulative of their view of the good.

The final section of Chapter IX and of the book as a whole is mainly intended to address the question of what type of justification the work has produced for Rawls' theory. It is not a justification by reference to the view that there are self-evident principles, hence it is not a rationalist justification. It is also not a justification by means of reference to non-moral properties that are argued, by introducing appeals to common sense and science, to have some important normative significance. So it is also not a view that is broadly "realist" or "naturalist" and nor does it draw upon the justificatory strategies that would be appropriate for such views. 

The three parts of the work are intended to make a unified argument by showing first the essentials of the structure of the view, then applying them to the examination of institutions and finally showing that the view is psychologically feasible. The first part of the argument proceeded by reasonable stipulations concerning choice. The second part related these stipulations to the ways that common sense comprehends the institutions required for our common way of life. The third part looked at questions of stability and congruence. 

Rawls considers possible objections to the structure of justification his argument displays. It might be thought that Rawls' theory is grounded on a simple empirical appeal to agreement or that it depends on an unreasonably restrictive view of feasible conceptions in the choice situation. The response to the first part of this objection is that Rawls' theory proceeds from commonly held views. Now as to the charge that it is unreasonably restrictive in its consideration of alternatives it is less clear that leading candidates widely recognised are not all considered. This does not mean that all views are included and the basis of assessment of other views would require presentation of them and consideration of whether or how they related to views that have been looked at. The list considered is though one that arises from the history of moral philosophy. 

The original position is intended to bring together reasonable constraints into a single conception so that the selection of principles of justice can proceed. The selection of these constraints is not arbitrary. Ordering and finality seem obvious criteria within the choice situation for example. Publicity, by contrast, ensures that the process of justification within the situation is one that can appeal to all parties involved and to be endorsed by all as something that is not chosen for special reasons by some part of the group using esoteric methods of choice. The original position is thus intended to be a kind of "constrained minimum" set of conditions. Each part of the conditions is reasonable taken singly and put together provide a criteria of right independent of the presumed good of any member of the situation. Disinterested motivation is assumed with regard to the parties and this asks little of the parties given the veil of ignorance. Part of what arises from assuming it is an obvious rational basis for freedom of conscience and convergence then on the priority of liberty.

The Kantian components of the theory are related now by Rawls to the way the theory is justified. The general conception of rational choice defines the way that autonomy and the moral law are to be understood as it does also provide a way of grasping the good of community. One thing that emerges clearly here however is that the Kantian conception of the person is part of the "Archimedean point" by means of which the basic structure of society can be judged. This occurs by means of the use of the original position to first determine the content of justice and the later reference back to what has emerged from it as the basis of our sense of justice. The original choice situation is one that allows for the interests that define parties to include determinate attachments. But the principles of justice are not derived from particular principles such as respect for persons. Rather the principles of justice are such as to give a basis for interpretation of such principles. The theory of justice is thus intended to give a rendering of Kantian ideas. 

Once the original position is presented as the basis of the choice situation it provides a way that the social world can always be grasped and responded to. It is an objective situation that recognises autonomous decision. It is akin, says Rawls in his stirring conclusion, to seeing our situation sub specie aeternitatis. "Purity of heart, if one could attain it, would be to see clearly and to act with grace and self-command from this point of view."

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Rawls on Hedonism and Social Choice

Sections 83-5 of A Theory of Justice present the culminating consideration of the problems Rawls takes to afflict teleological theories of practical reason, at least when these theories tend towards hedonistic formulation. The reasons for viewing teleological theories in terms of the convergence upon hedonism are made clear within this discussion, a discussion that draws upon Rawls' earlier account of practical reason and which culminates in a basic set of reasons for thinking of social choice in the manner favoured by his own contract doctrine. In this posting I will go through the argument of these sections in order to show how the point of them is to defend and further articulate the grounds for the methodological choice of giving the right priority over the good.

Section 83 opens by stating that the general theme Rawls wishes to approach is one that he is going to deal with in an apparently roundabout way. The general theme with which he is concerned has to do with the way that just institutions frame the choice of rational plans and enable the incorporation of recognition of different conceptions of the good. In order to show this the roundabout argument has to deal with the reasons why a different methodological approach within normative theory has been preferred, the one that bases itself upon hedonism. The point, though Rawls is not here explicit about this, is to demonstrate that the flaws in the hedonistic approach provide in their turn a form of indirect argument for his own view.

In approaching the topic of hedonism Rawls begins with a discussion of a general picture of what is meant by describing someone as "happy". Rawls' earlier account of practical reason involved the notion of a "rational plan" that, if drawn up and executed under favourable conditions, can be mainly successfully executed. Essentially if a rational plan is one that is capable of going well and we have good reason to think this will continue then we can be said to be "happy". This entails that the notion of happiness includes both the plan itself as something whose success is capable of being understood by others in addition to the one who has adopted it and the states of mind of the one who is attempting to carry the plan out. So there can be views of happiness that stress one of these two elements more than the other (a division, we could say, between "objective" and "subjective" views of happiness). In terms of Rawls' own view the original position was understood to be governed by the general condition that the parties within it were ones who had true views and so the subjective and objective components of happiness would be taken to broadly coincide.

Rawls next looks at other elements of the notion of happiness as indicated by philosophers who have addressed it. So Aristotle, for example, describes happiness as something chosen for its own sake. This is not meant to rule out the view that a rational plan has sub-parts that are chosen for more or less instrumental reasons in regard to the master goal. But the whole plan would, so to speak, have the property Aristotle describes as being central to happiness. So the activity of following the plan would appear to be self-contained. Happiness is also self-sufficient in the sense that no reasons additional are required for adoption of it as a goal. This also can be translated into the view that some people have special standing in how they have succeeded in living happy lives, a standing that is as important if not more important than the basic claim for happiness itself. 

Now one wrinkle that emerges at this point is that, even assuming that the general account of happiness in terms of rational plans is an adequate one, there is a mis-match between following the plan and "pursuing" happiness. Even if following the plan and having things go well is the basic way we are going to understand the meaning of what it is to be "happy" it does not follow that in following the plan we are thereby "pursuing" happiness. One reason for this point is that happiness is not itself an aim in following the plan as following the plan is undertaken with the aim of achieving its goals, not of becoming happy. Happiness is not something separable from following the plan, it is not a specific goal of it either. Further, if we assume that following the rational plan is something we do under the constraints of right that define the original position we can also see the structural parallel between the way Rawls has here discussed "happiness" and Kant's general claim that happiness is something we have to be "worthy" of. It is the constraints of right that define what we could choose as generic goals that would meet the standards of justice, as, for Kant, it was the setting of material aims within formal constraints that determined worthiness to be happy.

Given these constraints, as specified by the original position, there can be seen to be a place for happiness in Rawls' own theory but it is a clearly subordinate one in the same way as it is for Kant. Secondly, the pursuit of happiness is something that is understood through the prism of the rational plan as really involving the pursuit of some end that is itself taken to provide the basic orientational rationale of the plan and happiness in a way then drops out of consideration. At this point, however, we may now ask a question that will allow us to begin to move towards considering what pulls people towards hedonistic views of motivation. The first step arises when we ask the question of how to choose among plans in a rational way. Rawls' own view is that essentially this requires recourse to deliberative rationality in terms of principles of rational choice. However, we could take an alternative route and analyse our aims. There appears to be a problem when we do this since there is at least an element of what we might term "purely preferential choice" where it is not at all obvious why we should choose some things over others.

If there is no ready standard of comparison between aims and aims conflict, as they often do, we may feel the need for a more objective standard to appeal to, moving us from a subjective to an objective view of deliberation. The simplest way to specify this will take us directly towards the standpoint of hedonism as the simplest way is to take there to be what Rawls terms "a single dominant end". Assuming such an end exists then all subordinate ends will be able to be related to this in more or less direct ways by means of counting principles. And then deliberative rationality would turn out to be a sophisticated process of instrumental reasoning in which there is general convergence. 

Such a view of deliberative rationality in terms of dominant ends would aim to provide a method of choice that can always be followed in order to make rational decisions. So it would be a process of deliberation that would include a first-person procedure that was generally applicable and guaranteed to lead to the best (most optimal) result. Now the next question concerns what the dominant end would have to consist in. Given what we have uncovered about the structure of rational plans it would be odd to make happiness itself the dominant end since, as we have seen, happiness is attained by achieving aims set into an overall rational plan and is not itself an independent aim separable from the plan itself. This is why Rawls terms happiness not a dominant end but rather an "inclusive" one in the sense that the whole plan specifies what it would be to attain the desired state of happiness. 

If happiness does not itself appear the likely dominant end then even less fitting for such a role is a personal objective such as attaining power since any given purely personal objective such as this would surely have to modified by reference to generally accepted common sense standards of morality to have any appearance of sanity. As an example of failure to meet such a standard Rawls refers to the ways that Ignatius Loyola and Thomas Aquinas appear to present impersonal conceptions of goodness that fail to meet the standards of reference to common sense. If such views are, as Rawls, claims, "extreme" then the question arises as to how their extremity is arrived at. Rawls indicates that it occurs by means of the dominant end adopted in such cases being vague and ambiguous. Human goods are basically heterogeneous and there is something about adopting a homogeneous view of the good that is standardly distorting of the structure of aspiration. This strikes us as crazy and as disfiguring the self.

Now the doctrine of hedonism strictly speaking is defined by Rawls in a non-standard way as an attempt to provide a sustainable treatment of a dominant-end conception of deliberation. As we have seen so far the convergence upon the notion of a dominant-end is meant to provide a way of resolving the indeterminacy of choice by providing an objective standard for it. The dominant end provides the overall means of assessing standards. Now if we additionally assume that pleasure is just agreeable feeling and sensation the dominant end of pleasure then pursuit of such sensation can become the dominant conception of the good. One of the ways we arrive at this view is by rejecting the outcome that was arrived at by thinkers such as Loyola and Aquinas and attempting to maintain a hold upon the requirement of justification towards common sense. In this form of hedonism we find the convergence upon sensation to be something we can see has general approval and, furthermore, has, in the first-personal case, an appearance of infallibility. 

Having got this far it next becomes the general method that we select things in our rational plan according to the balance of pleasure over pain. Counting principles now appear relatively easy. The procedure becomes one of maximisation and with Sidgwick we take pleasure to be our single rational end. This does mean that pleasure is understood to have the capacity to be measured in terms of intensity and duration but the advantage of focusing upon it is we meet our standard of finding a first-person procedure as we indicated was required for a dominant end view. However this view, whilst appearing to adopt an objective process of choice is not based on viewing any particular goals as being objective. The point of this is to attempt by adopting this kind of neutrality between aims to avoid the charge of distortion of aims that we saw applied to the views of Loyola and Aquinas. 

However it is also clear when we have laid the view of hedonism out like this that it does not offer what Rawls terms a "reasonable" dominant end. In making this claim Rawls points to the failure of hedonism so defined to provide us with a sufficiently definite aim. Taking the preference for sensation as having over-riding importance is something that turns out to be as unreasonable as adopting the love of God to be such. Not only does it still appear that we have here a view that is unbalanced but there are problems of priority within the prosecution of the aims set by hedonism. After all, given the disparity between intensity and duration of pleasures, which should have priority? The plurality of pleasures also simply repeats the problem that led us to seek an objective standard to begin with.

So there would appear to be no way, within hedonistic theories, to assume a result that can seriously accord with common sense after all. Realising a rational plan of life is a merely inclusive end and the adoption of a dominant-end view is the taking of a wrong turning. It is a turning that occurs within teleological theories of value and it arises due to the problem of ambiguity with regard to the good being transferred over to the right. The right is not something that should be understood merely as an object of preference and the teleological theorist, recognising this, tries to determine the good as something objective in order to frame the right by means of it but instead transfers to the right the indeterminacy that attaches to the notions of the good. The object of this type of theory is to arrive at, as Rawls puts it, "an interpersonal currency". Whilst teleological theories do not have to be hedonistic the tendency in this direction is a result of the drive towards objectivity considered in the light of the priority being given to the good rather than the right.

Rawls' point in considering hedonism has been to show a basic problem with the teleological approach towards the theory of value. We should not, as Rawls puts it, "attempt to give form to our life by first looking to the good independently defined". It is not aims as selected by reference to an independent conception of the good that should be prior in the assessment of our own nature. It is instead the principles that would govern the background conditions under which aims can be formed and pursued. As Rawls puts this, "the self is prior to the ends which are affirmed by it" and there is no way to escape the requirements of deliberative rationality.

The conclusion of the discussion of hedonism is that there is not one dominant aim by reference to which all our choices can be reasonably assessed. Pursuit of such an aim is self-defeating and leaves us prey, after all, to the vagaries of intuitionism. The attempt to avoid this by appeal to hedonism is to no avail. So if there is no dominant end how is a rational plan after all to be identified? Rawls' answer is by means of deliberative rationality as defined by the full theory of the good. In section 85 he outlines this full theory in more detail than has occurred up to this point in Theory. This is by means of an account of "moral personality". On Rawls' view moral personality consists in two capacities: a conception of the good and a sense of justice. The realisation of the conception of the good is in terms of a rational plan of life whilst the realisation of the sense of justice is in terms of a regulative desire to act in accordance with the right. Following a Kantian procedure of assessment of moral psychology the latter has priority over the former.

Moral persons have ends that they have chosen and their fundamental preference is for conditions that enable them to arrive at a plan of life that express their nature as free and equal rational persons. The coherence of the plan that they adopt determines the unity of the person and their unity is founded on higher-order "desires" to follow the principles of rational choice as constrained by the sense of justice. It is in the picture of the moral agent that the real difference between Rawls' account and that of teleological theorists becomes apparent. A dominant-end view takes the person to be essentially indifferent to all aspects of themselves except in terms of how they are outlets for pleasant experiences. The view becomes even more "objective" when it frees the reference to such experiences even from the confines of a particular self and makes benevolence a general aim. Then maximisation frees itself from the confines of the self and the self essentially disintegrates as a unit as the social whole's aggregate "good" becomes rationally preferred to all else. This occurs with classical utilitarianism.

By contrast the priority of the right in the Kantian interpretation of justice as fairness is quite different in its approach to the self. Moral personality is taken to be a fundamental aspect of the self and dominant-end conceptions are rejected. On this view maximisation has no hold as a procedure. Final ends are, instead, viewed as irreducibly plural and the problem is only how to ensure rational cooperation so that the best conditions for all being to each pursue their own view(s) of the good can be met. The priority of the right, however, constrains the acceptable boundaries and shape of the conceptions of the good. The essential unity of the self thus has its basis in the reference to the priority of the right. Given the priority of the right the indeterminacy of the good is not the problem it is for teleological theories. One reason is that the preferential elements in the conceptions of the good are precisely constrained by the form of the right. There need be no standard above the priority of the right except by reference to the processes of deliberative rationality. The principles of justice have a definite content and the argument by which we arrived at them was justified only by the thin theory of the good and the idea of primary goods. Once we have the principles of justice the priority of the right guarantees the precedence of these principles.

The principles of justice have absolute precedence in the governing of social institutions and set fundamental structural features that constrain every citizens' notions of the good. Relations of justice that conform to principles that would have been assented to by all are best fitted to express the nature of each. This does not mean that the principles of justice express a dominant-end conception themselves. This is because there is no independent conception of the good that is socially recognised. The notion guiding the conception of justice as fairness is thus "the original position and its Kantian interpretation", not a dominant-end conception of the good. This contrast is central to the notion that Rawls has provided an alternative to the utilitarian view of rational choice.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Rawls' Grounds for the Priority of Liberty

The argument concerning the priority of liberty in A Theory of Justice is presented in a few places. In section 39 it was "defined" and in section 46 it was related to other cases of priority. In presenting the reasons for the principles of justice in section 26 the account of liberty that was presented was also one in which the swopping of lesser for greater liberty was shown not to be a reasonable outcome for the acceptance of contracting parties within the original position. In section 82 as Rawls moves towards the conclusion of the whole book he brings together and summarises the arguments for the priority of liberty in a well-ordered society as seen from the point of view of the original position. In this posting I am going to concentrate on how the arguments given in the latter do more than just demonstrate the grounds for the priority of liberty. The arguments also show that the suggestion made by Parfit that Rawls' account of the deliberative rationality that Rawls is articulating is desire-based and shows, to the contrary, that the recognition of interests by Rawls is one that is intrinsically normatively grounded.

The argument of section 82 opens by referring to the way the conception of the well-ordered society is a notion that requires regulation by a public conception of justice. If there is a well-ordered society then the members of it all view each other as free and equal moral persons. Now, in describing what is meant in determining each other as free and equal moral persons, Rawls refers to "the fundamental aims and interests" in the name of which each of them thinks it possible to make legitimate claims on each other. The way to understand these "aims and interests" is central to replying to the suggestion of Parfit that Rawls' moral psychology is essentially desire-based and to show in detail why this is not the case. One of the ways it becomes obvious that the account of "aims and interests" Rawls is drawing on here is not a desire-based moral psychology is that he explicitly and openly says that a right to equal respect and consideration is central to determining the principles by which the basic structure of their society is to be governed. Alongside this point about a right to equal respect is the sense of justice that would normally govern the conduct of all the members of the well-ordered society.

The original position itself is specified as governed by the constraints of right as these constraints determine the form an acceptable set of principles can take. Amongst the constraints of right that would thereby define the form of a well-ordered society is that the conception of justice that governed it should be a publicly justifiable one. It is within the constraint of such publicity that we comprehend the notion of the members of it as free and equal moral persons as this way of viewing the person (what we can generally term a "Kantian" conception of persons) are ones to whom principles of justice are publicly accessible and justifiable. The original position embodied principles of reciprocity and equality as further elements of the constraints of right and it is in the context of recognition of these principles that Rawls indicates that a basic rationale for the priority of liberty is that fundamental aims and interests of all persons are protected by it. So a first sense given to the understanding of these "aims and interests" is in terms of equal reciprocal relations between persons.

Now the way that these "aims and interests" are recognised tells one a great deal about how they are understood. The first "interest" Rawls here mentions is that which people have in religion. Religious interests are recognised in terms of equal liberty of conscience for all contracting parties. The general nature of the religious interest is recognised only since no one would be aware, under the veil of ignorance, of possessing any particular religious belief. An "aim" of persons is clearly to defend any given religious belief that they may possess since they, as particular persons, will hold to some definite religion. The "strains of commitment" of the original position will be such that contracting parties will see the point of giving precedence to liberty. 

Having given first a "religious" interest and specifying the concomitant "aim" that goes with it Rawls secondly looks at how "higher-order interests" in general shape and regulate the social institutions that will themselves shape other "interests". The recognition of the contracting parties as "free" persons is reflected in the understanding that they each have of an "interest" in having the ability to adopt, revise and alter, their conceptions of the good. This is another basis for recognition of the priority of liberty. The basic structure thus should be governed by the account of autonomy and objectivity that Rawls earlier provided.

The arrival at the principles of justice as a result of deliberation within the original position occurs by means not just of the constraints of right that govern the position but also by means of the way that persons within this position are moved by a "certain hierarchy of interests". The highest-order interests and fundamental aims of the parties are reflected in the priority given to liberty and the means that enable them to "advance their other desires and ends" is explicitly stated to have a subordinate place. Not only is this so, but, as we shall see, in the sense meant by desire-based theories of reasons, Rawls does not recognise "desires" here as having any real role at all. There are, for example, "interests" in liberty which have a real objective in terms of establishing basic liberties but this is not the kind of "interest" that is invoked by desire-based theories of deliberative rationality. The kind of "interest" involved in liberty is, as Rawls puts it, a "higher-order" one as it regulates all the ways that "interests" can be expressed within a well-ordered society.

This point is supplemented by the argument concerning the kinds of attitudes and feelings that would be generated within a well-ordered society, the argument that included the previous account of envy. The point of the account of envy was to respond to the kind of objection to the well-ordered society that suggests that within it there could be a form of competitive/comparative relation between persons that would be socially destructive. In other words, a more equal society might make people more obsessed with their relative share of social wealth. Against this view Rawls wishes to show that the well-ordered society would lead, rather, to people taking less interest in relative positions. The presence of envy would have less sway, at least in a destructive sense. This is not due to a lack of concern with status since recognition of self-respect as a basic primary good ensures instead that relating to others as worthy of respect is something central within the society. But the basis for self-respect is grounded not on relative share of income but instead on the public recognition of the equality of rights. Since there is such equality of rights there is no incentive to politically seek other ways of having status understood as central to worth that is non-public in form. 

One of the reasons why this argument is thought to hold by Rawls is due to the symmetrical reason why no one would wish to be publicly inferior as that would be damaging to self-esteem. Similarly attempting to reach a non-public form of self-esteem has the difficulty that it indicates a view of others as inferior to oneself, a conception that has no public endorsement and would rather lead to a general aversion to the one wishing to find expression for their view. Public attitudes of mutual respect have an essential place in maintaining a political balance between persons and in assuring everyone of their own worth and the acceptance of equal liberties is a central way in which this is expressed.

The distribution of material means in the well-ordered society is taken care of by principles of pure procedural justice and the good of social union is maintained by supporting the primary good of self-respect. The application of the difference principle allows for what was previously determined as excusable envy and this helps to show the grounds for the priority of liberty. The public knowledge of the facts about each other reflected in the general recognition of the Kantian conception of the person is both based in the culture of the well-ordered society and furthered by its institutional arrangements. The reasoning that led to the principles of justice and that can support it is of a form that is publicly available.

Notable in the whole argument of section 82 is that the interests that are recognised as decisive in it are not ones that are reflective of "desires" in the sense indicated in "desire-based" views of reasons. So, for example, they are not desires simply taken as given or as reflective of mere natural facts. They are rather civilly understood desires and desires that fundamentally reflect interests in recognition of aspects of personhood that are enshrined in the Kantian conception of the person. So not only does section 82 summarise and complete the arguments for the priority of liberty but it confirms that Rawls' general moral psychology is not a desire-based one.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Rawls on Envy and Equality

Two sections of Chapter IX of A Theory of Justice take up the apparently provincial question of how to respond to socially destructive psychological propensities with envy being used as the specific case for the general question. The point of this posting will not just be to critically reconstruct the argument of these sections but also to use them to answer the question of why Rawls bothers to expend space on an argument that might strike some as not particularly significant. 

The introduction of this question marks a shift in the general strategy of the argument of Theory. Within the original position Rawls assumed that there were not operative destructive psychological propensities as something like envy was taken not to motivate a rational person. This was part of the general removal of special contingent psychological circumstances from the specific choice situation defined in the original position. In making this move Rawls correctly followed the Kantian interpretation of justice as fairness although, in so doing, he certainly simplified the situation within the original position. But part of the point in adopting such simplified assumptions is that there is no evident moral value in any special psychological states and we wished there to arrive at a situation in which contingencies that lacked moral value were eliminated. 

However when introducing the question of envy Rawls strikes a new note admitting here that such psychological states as this do exist and have, in some sense, to be dealt with as part of the theory of justice. What is his justification for undertaking an examination of such a question? It is that the general discussion of justice has two separate parts. The first part, which involved the discussion of the original position, proceeding on the assumptions of aiming to clarify rational discussion of justice without introduction of contingencies that lacked moral value. The second part, in which envy comes on the scene as a topic to be discussed, asks now whether the well-ordered society is one that will encourage feelings such as envy to develop and in so doing will create circumstances that are not favourable to its survival. So the discussion of envy is a special case of a general problem of the stability of the well-ordered society. Should this society really be subject to problems in terms of its possible encouragement of destructive propensities that destabilise it then it could yet be the case that the justificatory force of the earlier arguments given could yet have to be revised.

In looking specifically at envy Rawls has to make some distinctions concerning the way it is to be understood. In doing so he distinguishes between two forms of envy: looking at what he terms "general" envy as opposed to "particular" envy. General envy has social force in terms of the kinds of goods some possess as against the particular items they have. So general envy focuses on something like the opportunities possessed by some as opposed to others. Particular envy, by contrast, is well expressed in rivalry and competition where something specific is fought over. To understand the latter it is necessary to have a conception of the kinds of things that can be fought over just as to grasp the former it is necessary to understand what types of opportunities provoke general envy. The comprehension of such questions is focused for Rawls by his notion of primary goods which includes a sense of opportunities, liberties, income and wealth. 

On this basis Rawls arrives at a general definition of envy as "the propensity to view with hostility the greater good of others even though their being more fortunate than we are does not detract from our advantages". In understanding envy in this way Rawls is pointing to the way that the comparative sense involved in it is one that is operative regardless of any specific material disadvantage suffered by the one possessed of envy. Such disadvantage may afflict them (particularly in the case of particular envy) but it is not a necessary feature of envy and even if it is given it may not be a disadvantage in practice (i.e. may not prevent the envied person achieving anything they wish to). Further envy is such that deprivation of the goods in question from the person envied may even be to the disadvantage of the one possessed by envy and yet still be desired by the latter. The other problem provoked by envy is that discovery of its existence by the one envied may provoke them to jealous clinging to their advantages in such a way that they feel obliged to protect themselves against others. So envy provokes a kind of arms race between the one envied and the one suffering envy and this is the reason why Kant discussed envy as a vice.

This does not mean that there cannot be such a thing as "benign envy" as when we describe someone as having an enviable situation as they possess something we take to be good without wishing to deprive them of it or feeling we are in any sense worse off by them possessing it. We are, in such a benign case, agreeing with the one possessing the valued thing that it is indeed valuable. Slightly differently there can be an emulative type of envy in which we engage in competition with someone for something, such as a kind of status, without either of us thereby falling into the destructive spiral described above. It is the case that emulative envy is liable to become destructive under some conditions but it is not necessarily a destructive feeling.

Rawls is careful to argue that there is nothing intrinsically moral about envy. What is meant by this claim is that there does not exist a moral principle that can be cited as a justification for envy. In saying this Rawls distinguishes envy from resentment as resentment is taken by him to be a moral feeling. When resentment is expressed it is, according to Rawls, a response to unjust situations or wrongful conduct and thus refers to an injury suffered. Rawls also distinguishes envy from other non-moral feelings that might be thought related to it, such as jealously. Rawls describes jealously, however, in a somewhat odd way as he relies on the sense of it that is used when we say that someone is "jealous" of their possessions rather than when we say that someone is jealous of the way someone else than themselves is receiving the lions' share of glory for something. Because Rawls thinks of jealously in this way he takes it to be the "reverse" of envy rather than being, as it may often be, simply a different kind of way of experiencing a very similar response to something.

More interesting than the contrast between envy and jealously is the one that Rawls mentions between envy and spite where the latter is characterised as the inclination to deny someone else a benefit one does not need and perhaps cannot even use oneself. The latter is, like envy, a kind of vice in being a trait that is socially detrimental. This does not mean that envy is never "excusable" since if someone feels that they lack self-respect and it would be unreasonable to expect them not to feel this then envy of others might be a response to be expected from them.

Having given this general discussion of envy Rawls turns next to the likelihood of it endangering the stability of the well-ordered society. In doing so Rawls claims that the root of envy is a lack of self-confidence in our own worth combined with a sense of an inability to alter matters. Three conditions are listed by Rawls as likely to encourage envy in a destructive way. The first is that the psychological condition just mentioned prevails and the second is that social circumstances occur in which the discrepancy between oneself and others is made painfully visible to one. The third is that there is no constructive alternative open to the one who experiences the feelings in question. 

The listing of these circumstances is meant to provide the means to assess the construction of the well-ordered society. In such a society self-esteem is taken to be a primary good and circumstances of arranging for its cultivation are general. So publicly all are treated as equal and everyone possesses the same basic rights. A common sense of justice prevails and instills civic relations between persons. Part of this is that no assumes that the better off are thereby morally preferable to anyone else. So the less fortunate are not taken to be inferior in any central sense and this should enable them to bear better the circumstances in which they are placed than in other forms of society.

The absolute and relative differences between members of society are to be less than in other societies as the spread of income and wealth should not be excessive in practice given the background institutions of the society. Natural duties are honoured in practice which will include the diminution of conspicuous display of social differences by means of wealth. So the liability to envy is unlikely to be strongly evoked. Finally, there will be constructive alternatives to envy within such a society. So there are no specific reasons to think that there would be troublesome conditions of envy within the well-ordered society.

The second part of Rawls' discussion of envy has a different focus than the first part. Having assessed the reasons for thinking that envy is not a problem for the well-ordered society Rawls next looks at the arguments for taking envy to be bound up with demands for a more egalitarian order. Conservative writers often present demands of this sort as motivated by envy but Rawls points out that this cannot be said to be the ground of the principles of justice. These principles are justified by means of a procedure that allows no scope for such feelings as envy and whilst it is possible that some who argue for these principles feel resentment that is quite different for the reasons given. The principles are justified by reference to criteria of universality and generality not by means of special circumstances.

Rawls also rejects other types of arguments that relate demands for justice to envy such as the ones given by Freud. Freud's arguments can be responded to on the grounds of Rawls' earlier account of the morality of authority as certainly requiring first of all inculcation of principles based on the simple standing of the one making them but as requiring, in a well-ordered society, development into the basis of character in such a way that they are autonomously justified. 

The specific discussion of envy is brief and what it does is show a basis for thinking that the account of moral sentiments is provided in order to show the means by which positive feelings can be developed. The presence of negative feelings is facilitated and encouraged by conditions that breed them so Rawls' argument is meant to show that the change of such conditions is the ground for hope that destructive motivations would also thereby reduce. To the critic who alleges that Rawls has not dealt seriously enough with the topic it is possible to respond by pointing out that the general account of moral psychology he has provided can be backed up further by a Kantian conception of the person. Such a conception, when reinforced by conditions that positively affirm it, permits the hope that emotions could develop on grounds that are different in connection with background conditions that are.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Parfit on Contractualist Consequentialism

In my previous posting I objected to the account Parfit gives of the "veil of ignorance" and in the posting prior to this I advanced an account of deliberative rationality that challenged the view articulated by Parfit. Both of these postings were responses to part of the argument presented in the third of Parfit's 2002 Tanner Lectures. However the arguments discussed in the previous two postings were essentially negative in import for Parfit, ways of clearing the way for the view of contractualism that he wishes to present within this third lecture. The argument that is presented here is for something that has not previously been identified as a possible contender in the area of moral theory, a notion of contractualism that is consequentialist. In this posting I aim to do two things: both present the considerations that enable Parfit to arrive at the understanding that it is possible to reconcile consequentialism with contractualism and also to show why the combined view that thereby arises is unsustainable. So my purpose here is both reconstructive of Parfit's argument and critical of its import. This ensures that this posting will be more than usually involved.

After replying to Rawls in the first two parts of this third lecture Parfit returns to his original account of the basic notion of contractualism in his view, the notion of 'rational agreement', a notion that requires unanimity. In doing so he contrasts the idea of such agreement as understood on the minimal view of David Gauthier with what he terms "Kant's Contractualist Formula", the derivation of which I treated previously. Now, in contrasting these two views at this point, Parfit points a methodological contrast between them based on the fact that the Gauthier type formula requires adoption of principles that everyone would choose whilst, on Parfit's construal "Kant's Contractualist Formula" (or KCF) only requires adopting principles that each reasoner could see as required themselves. (Notice that the contrast between them is thus structurally similar to that between the two versions of the veil of ignorance treated in my previous posting.) So rather than conducting one thought-experiment in which we try to find principles for all of us there are many thought-experiments, basically one each in which we use reference to an understanding of moral belief in order to reach the principles that everyone would accept if rational.

Now in justifying KCF over the Gauthier type formula Parfit appeals to certain safeguards that contractualists are concerned should be in place. One of these is to eliminate inequalities of bargaining power (something Gautheir's formula does not do for reasons that Rawls provides). There is no requirement for each of us to choose principles just on the grounds that others will choose them as we first ask if they are reasonable to us. A second concern that is meant to be met is that we should avoid the outcome where some are viewed as capable of bearing burdens for the sake of others (as often arises from utilitarian conceptions). This second concern is what Parfit terms the contractualists' "protective aim". Again Parfit argues that a Gauthier type view cannot achieve this as the aim of reaching unanimous agreement gives those who possess unequal power an advantage (though, notably, only if we accept the "equal chances" view of the veil of ignorance). Parfit again misunderstands Rawls' view here since he takes Rawls to adopt a self-interest conception of rationality although he had previously indicated he knew this to be false.

KCF neither requires unanimous agreement nor has a veil of ignorance and these characteristics of it are meant to show that it achieves the "protective aim" of contractualism better than previous alternatives considered. Further, its failure to guarantee unanimity means that should it achieve it then this would be all the more impressive. However KCF does imply a particular view of reasons which Parfit elaborates as a "wide value-based" conception as opposed to desire-based theories. The value-based conception is, however, one in which "we have strong reasons to care about our own well-being, and in a temporally neutral way". However, least one voice the view that this implies an egoistic conception, Parfit is quick to point out that it is part of KCF to assume that we can rationally care as much about some other things as well as this, including here the well-being of others and "justice" (although he takes no time here to define this latter notion). So when we adopt KCF we take with it this view of reasons. I'll return subsequently to the point that if we see KCF as involving this view of reasons then we will have grasped KCF in such a way that it precisely is not, despite Parfit's arguments to the contrary, really a contractualist conception at all.

However before we move on to the reasons why I take this to the case it is important to next follow the claims that Parfit makes that enables him to arrive at the conclusion that KCF is both contractualist and consequentialist. The first point to be introduced is the criteria that Parfit gives for KCF succeeding in meeting the problem that contractualism aims to address. This is that it must meet a 'uniqueness condition', such that, there is some relevant principle, and only one principle, that everyone could rationally choose. In illustrating a way that a principle could meet such a condition Parfit gives an example in which there exists a quantity of unowned goods that no one has a special claim on and the distribution of which would have the same total sum of benefits however it was done. In such a case, says Parfit, we can all see that a basic principle of equal shares applies. It is notable that the example of application is a distributive one of some set of resources and not, for example, of a criteria that would define rights or liberties. Such an example already implies a definite conception of what type of thing we should be concerned with when aiming for a notion of unanimity.

A wrinkle that is worth observation in terms of how Parfit justifies the appeal to equal shares is that there is a difference, on his view, between consenting to acts and choosing principles. So we might consent to an unequal share, taking less for ourselves in order to aid others. However this is quite different to adopting a principle that some (whether ourselves or others) should as a matter of course have unequal shares since that principle is not one we could rationally accept. (On the basis of the wide value-based conception of reasons.) This argument is used also to show that the type of principle we should end up with is not act utilitarianism since act utilitarianism could state that it is permissible to give some no benefits at all since the net effects would not thereby be affected.

Having reached this point in his argument Parfit turns next to a further connection between moral beliefs and beliefs about reasons suggesting that our moral beliefs may partly depend on our beliefs about reasons. There are two ways that this connection is perceived by him to go. On the one hand we might hold a view, such as contractualism, which determines the understanding of the rightness of acts by reference to the relationship of such acts to principles that everyone could rationally accept. On the other hand, we might find that moral beliefs depend in some way on our non-moral beliefs about the kinds of things that are good or bad. Now the second sort of relationship between moral and non-moral beliefs turns out to be the one that Parfit exploits and he does so at the expense of the first sort of relation. An example of this second sort of relation concerns our general understanding of hedonic states. The point that Parfit makes about these states is that our reaction to them involves us in accepting that there are certain actions that are good or bad to perform and that this understanding reflects what he terms a "reason-involving" sense of goodness and badness. 

In claiming that we have a "reason-involving" response to hedonic states Parfit takes himself to be in disagreement with Kant given that Kant does not take inclinations to be themselves reason-giving. Parfit views this as a claim to the effect that whilst hedonic states may not be the ground of a moral claim they still could be the ground of a reason-giving claim and that Kant ignores the latter. This, however, is an odd reading of Kant since Kant claims not that there may not be reasons to relate to hedonic states in certain ways but that these reasons are part of the formulation of maxims and it is the endorsement of the maxims that provides the reasons in question, not simple experience of the hedonic states alone. Putting this in Parfit's terms it is not that the hedonic states are themselves "reason-involving" in the sense that the mere experience of them produces a reason to respond in a given way. It is rather that we take the states, in conjunction with maxims in which they feature, to provide grounds for appropriate actions. And this is quite different from the way Parfit puts the case as the way he puts it suggests that it is the experience of the states simpliciter that is reason-involving and that is what Kant denies.

Parfit takes hedonic states to be "reason-involving" as he assumes that there are person-relative reasons always to avoid painful states. I have denied this claim even though it seems true intuitively. The reason I deny it is simply that the painful state is not itself motivationally sufficient for action as it has to be related to other considerations that are prevailing at the time it is experienced. Parfit's claim could be reformulated as saying that pain is something we avoid cateris paribus but the conditions involved remain important and indicate that the response to pain is not one we normally assume to be simply permissive of actions following a certain pattern (say, of avoidance). Further Parfit moves swiftly from the claim that the response to hedonic states has this person-relative sense to the more general claim that painful states are impersonally bad. It is important to note that there are counter-intuitive aspects to Parfit's claim here just as I have indicated there are to the way I denied his claim concerning person-relative reasons. The counter-intuitive sense of his claim becomes apparent in the following sentence: "If more people suffer, that would be worse, even though it may not be worse for any of these people". 

In a claim like the one just cited it becomes apparent that Parfit conceives of hedonic states in an aggregative fashion so that the more they point one way or another en masse the worse or better the general situation is. This is to view hedonic states, however, in complete abstraction from the experience had of them as Parfit confesses when he agrees that the "worse" outcome on his view may not be worse for anyone. This indicates that the "non-moral" sense of badness that he has is radically impersonal since its assessment of badness is not one that refers to criteria of what is bad for persons. This "non-moral" claim is, however, one that it is not obvious should be accepted as a serious criteria of goodness and badness by persons. Parfit sloughs over this point passing from the acceptance that the "non-moral" sense of goodness and badness he is advocating is impersonal to the quite different claim that it is agent-neutral. It is not at all evident that a seriously agent-neutral claim is one that has to be impersonal. After all if we think of the "mere means" criteria of the Formula of Humanity we refer to an agent-neutral claim as it specifies a way of relating to persons generally regardless of who they are but it is not thereby "impersonal".

Parfit's conception of agent-neutrality is of a form of reason that is a "reason for everyone" and this applies to the application of the Formula of Humanity but it does not apply to his kind of "non-moral" form of goodness since the latter is in fact a reason for no one which is precisely implied by the notion of its impersonality. Each of us has, Parfit implies, reasons to prevent or relieve pain, whether of oneself or others. But this is untrue not merely because it is not always possible to do so but also because the pain experienced may not be, in the given case, a "worse" state for the person in question. This is directly admitted by Parfit and since it is so it follows that the response to pain does not have the over-riding "non-moral" value Parfit claims it has. Not only is this so but if we adopted a different standard, from the "mere means" criteria of the Formula of Humanity, for example, we would have an agent-neutral way of responding to others that was not impersonal and which would be a general guide to conduct.

Now if the first point of difficulty with Parfit's view concerns the way in which he slides from 'agent-neutral' reasons to "impersonal" ones the second problem arises from the conception of how to weight the reasons that his "impersonal" view has led us to consider. Parfit states that this should be in terms of outcomes so that the best "impartial" reason for preferring something is if the features it has give everyone "the strongest impartial outcome-given reasons to prefer this outcome". At this point it appears we have simply specified a consequentialist view and so one may wonder what happened to the apparent contractualist procedure. Parfit is sensitive to this point and agrees that the impartial outcome-given reasons should not be assumed to be the only impartial reasons. Further Parfit also accepts that some other types of impartial reasons might outweigh on given occasions impartial outcome-given reasons. However whilst Parfit refers here to rights as other sources of impartial reasons he gives no general account of rights and nor does he provide any lexical procedure for describing the relationship between rights and impartial outcome-given reasons. 

The view thus far is described by Parfit as "semi-consequentialist" since it gives some weight to impartial outcome-given reasons but not necessarily over-riding weight as yet. Consequentialism generally does give over-riding weight to such reasons as Parfit agrees in specifying act-consequentialism as the view that acts are right just in case they make things go best in terms of impartial outcome-given reasons. Parfit is clearly no more willing to endorse this view than he was act utilitarianism but this leaves him open to the attractions of rule consequentialism in which acts will be right if they are permitted by one of the principles whose acceptance would make things go best in an impartial reason-giving sense. Since this conception is related to the "wide value-based" view of reasons it is a form of consequentialism that Parfit feels able to term a reason-consequentialism. 

At this point the basic problem emerges with some clarity. Contractualism involves the conception that we aim to develop a view that understands that as right which we can all rationally accept. However Parfit understands this claim by means of the consequentialist idea that was already expressed in his value-based conception of reasons to the effect that we have strong reasons to care about considerations of well-being and subsequently moves from this to the understanding of impartial reasons in terms of impersonal outcomes that no one in particular ever has some reason to want. This ensures that his conception is one that presents as a reason we should all rationally accept a consideration that no one of us has any reason to endorse. And that hardly meets the contractualist criteria.

Parfit's claim that contractualists and consequentialists are "climbing the same mountain on different sides" is essentially built on the claim that the consequentialist appeal to impartial outcome-based reasons will coincide with contractualist appeals to what everyone has a rational basis for choosing but in doing so it overlooks that the former presents for the latter reasons that no one has any particular reason to endorse. Not only is this so but there is a further problem involved in the relationship between these theories. This problem was expressed by Rawls in section 5 of A Theory of Justice where Rawls contrasted two methods of moral reasoning. On one of them "the good is defined independently from the right, and then the right is defined as that which maximises the good". This is the means by which consequentialism works. It has an independent conception of the good, as Parfit claims here when he speaks of hedonic criteria as providing a "non-moral" standard of goodness. This methodology contrasts with the other one that Rawls speaks of and which he follows Kant in preferring. This is outlined by Kant as indicating that it is only by means of and through the moral law that we arrive at a view of the good. So the good is not then independently defined but viewed rather through the prism of the right.

This second type of relationship is implied in contractualism which views the good not as an independent variable but as something that is arrived at by means of right reasoning. On the contractualist conception the right is that which we would all rationally want and the good emerges as that which is constrained by appeal to this notion of the right and thus becomes manifest to us by means of it. This methodology is quite distinct from that of consequentialism and is directly opposed to it. Not only is this so but correctly seeing the right as prior to the good in the way that Rawls and Kant direct us to implies that there is always a basis of lexical priority between the "moral" and the "non-moral" goods since the nature of what can be permissibly classed under the latter is defined by the former. 

Parfit cites Rawls' account of the way that consequentialist theories involve giving the good priority over the right and appears to agree with Rawls that this indicates a problem with such theories. However the reason Parfit gives for rejecting the claimed priority of the good is not Rawls' reason and it is also not a good reason. Parfit states that if consequentialism requires us to take the good as prior to the right then this implies that the right is trivially defined so that we end up with tautological claims. This is not the way Rawls understands the point. Instead Rawls' point is that taking the good to be prior to the right ensures that the independently defined good is one that is given over-riding priority in considerations that inevitably require abstraction from the nature of reference to persons. This is precisely what we have seen follows also from Parfit's view. Parfit attempts to avoid this by stating that whether the right or the good is made prior you end up with trivial claims but this is simply false. On the one hand you produce a claim that there is an impartial reason-involving good which is grasped in an outcome-based way (as in his view) whilst on the other hand you arrive at a conception of law and right that defines and describes what can be taken to be good (as on Rawls and Kant's view). And the difference between these two is anything but trivial.

The development of Parfit's own view is one that he sets up as involving a criteria that he thinks does mitigate its general consequentialist thrust when he introduces criteria of distribution of benefits and burdens that is meant to favour an egalitarian conception. So the goodness of outcomes is then taken not in a bluntly aggregative sense but in a way that relates this aggregation to the way the benefits and burdens are distributed. Rawls considered such a view in section 5 of Theory and determined that it would no longer be "teleological" in a classical sense as it would now take distribution to be an independent variable. Taking it to be so implies a notion of right (through distribution) that is meant to apply to the impartial outcome-based reasons and to provide a way of assessing different outcomes. Notably it does not affect the understanding of agent-neutral goods as impersonal goods however so it remains in its basic orientation a theory that is still based on the priority of the good over the right. Simply accepting that not all distribution is equal so that there is some form of distribution that is morally preferable to others and thus endorsing an egalitarian principle is not in itself sufficient to dilute the general consequentialist thrust of the theory. The nature of what is good and the form of right in relation to this good remain broadly consequentialist with only the balancing of distribution taken to be one that has a basis for preference that is not blunt. But the rationale for the preference for equality is not evident and the goods distributed are still essentially understood in a way that abstracts from consideration of the good of persons.

In the next posting I am going to conclude assessment of the third of Parfit's 2002 lectures by coming back to how the conclusion of his argument relies on his assessment of KCF and what this tells us about the kind of reading of Kant that Parfit has undertaken in his work.