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Fr. 859

January 17, 2019

Throughout his career, Rawls devoted considerable attention, like any good philosopher, to the necessary and sufficient conditions for justifying one’s moral and political judgments to others. In his early period, this took shape as the requirement that a group of persons could not have moral worth if they remained unmoved by the principles which fall out of the original position procedure:

The plurality of persons must construct among themselves the principles in accordance with which they are to decide between institutions, and the general characterization of the circumstances of this construction and the respective positions of persons within it are given by the analytic framework by which the two principles of justice were derived. Moreover, a necessary condition for the moral worth of the people of any society is that they be moved by the principles of such a construction, however hypothetical. (CP 95)

Cashed out in political terms, this would suggest that persons cannot exhibit political virtue if the two principles of justice are insufficient motivation for their political action. One further sees that Rawls’s thought that the outcomes of the original position procedure are bound up with the conditions for justification is no less present in those writings contemporaneous with A Theory of Justice. When it is a matter of considering the constraints under which persons arrive at criteria for judging their moral and political arrangements, it is unquestioned for Rawls that they begin with a procedure issuing in general standards rather than one beginning with the examination of particular cases:

Since these persons are conceived as engaging in their common practices, which are already established, there is no question of our supposing them to come together to deliberate as to how they will set up these practices for the first time. Yet we can imagine that from time to time they discuss with one another whether any of them has a legitimate complaint against their established institutions. This is only natural in any normal society. Now suppose that they have settled on doing this in the following way. They first try to arrive at the principles by which complaints and so practices themselves are to be judged. That is, they do not begin by complaining; they begin instead by establishing the criteria by which a complaint is to be counted legitimate (CP 200)

In addition to giving a glimpse into how Rawls’s envisions our recourse to the original position procedure – not a scenario for imagining new government but, instead, checks on existing institutions, this passage also makes clear that the author prefers a principle-driven as opposed to case-driven search for criteria. In a word, political justification must begin from abstract standards and general principles. At this stage in Rawls’s career, there is no indication of why participants in the procedure settle on doing things in this way. Regardless, this orientation is all the more pronounced in the post-Theory Dewey Lectures:

On the Kantian view that I shall present, conditions for justifying a conception of justice hold only when a basis is established for political reasoning and understanding within a public culture. The social role of a conception of justice is to enable all members of society to make mutually acceptable to one another their shared institutions and basic arrangements, by citing what are publicly recognized as sufficient reasons, as identified by that conception. (CP 305)

The basic idea here is that, in the absence of a public basis of comprehensible values, terms and reasons, there can be no justification of a political conception of justice and, consequently, no justification of the fundamental rights and freedoms, institutional arrangements, statues or social policy (what Rawls otherwise designates constitutional essentials and questions of basic justice). It is worth emphasizing that the author sees no other way of justifying institutions, statute and policy to one another.

This same idea receives still stronger formulation at the time of Rawls’s political turn. He writes of justification:

It should be observed that, on this view, justification is not regarded simply as valid argument from listed premises, even should these premises be true. Rather, justification is addressed to others who disagree with us, and therefore it must always proceed from some consensus, that is, from premises that we and others publicly recognize as true; or better, publicly recognize as acceptable to us for the purpose of establishing a working agreement on the fundamental questions of political justice. (CP 394)

That is to say, if one takes time to enumerate the different kinds of justification (much as Aristotle does the different kinds of argument in his Topics), this should bring us to admit that a judgment’s being politically justified is different in important ways from its being theoretically justified. An argument’s validity and its premises’ truth are not sufficient to guarantee that the conclusion is a politically justified judgment (though it may perhaps be necessary as one might suppose on Rawls’s behalf). Rather, because that argument is couched within a responsive interaction with others and responsive interaction is at least minimally moral, the argument and judgment must be such that others could accept them even if they would not do so as a matter of fact.

Put differently, for responsive interaction to be moral and respectful of others’ freedom and equality, it must proceed on the basis of values which all admit as germane to cooperation. Hence, one sees that the passage’s main idea reinforces that found in the preceding passage from the Dewey Lectures: in the absence of a public basis of values and reasons counterfactually acceptable to all, there can be no justification of a view of justice, institutions, statutes and policy.



Fr. 858

January 16, 2019

In Reasonable Disagreement, Christopher McMahon makes the following observation:

These points can be put in terms of the Habermasian idea that shared deliberation involves mutual perspective taking. Each person’ s perspective on the relevant reasons is made available to the rest. One’ s perspective on the relevant reasons is, however, determined by one’s personal history of judgment, and this will consist partly of the judgments one has made in situations one has actually experienced. So because of the limitations we face in translating experience into speech, it cannot be expected that the presentation of cases in speech will result in the full comprehension of the different perspectives of the members of the group. Mutual perspective taking through shared deliberation will inevitably be incomplete. (77)

Though interesting in its own right, the passage may also help make sense of what Rawls is trying to do with his frequent references to points of view or standpoints. More specifically, he might also be seen an advocate of mutual perspective taking in the sense that persons must approach constitutional essentials and matters of basic justice from a particular point of view which they share and that they are to attempt to justify own political directives for action on those essentials and matters in terms which can be made good to the other. Insofar as this involves persons’ taking up the same perspectives and attempting to understand one another’s manner of working through those perspectives, there may rightly be talk of shared perspective taking. This may prove all the more so when persons evoke both nonpublic and political reasons for their directives as the nonpublic reasons will give a glimpse into their comprehensive doctrine. That being said, some may worry that it is less mutual or reciprocal perspective taking than it is shared or interchangeable. After all, the perspectives are meant to constrain the person’s thinking to take a certain shape such that one’s thinking may be interpersonally transparent.


Fr. 857

January 15, 2019

Indeed, the analogy might be improved upon, though not perfected, in the following way:

Working in your backyard one day, you look into your neighbor’s yard and notice that many dogs have come into his yard, be it through the bushes, chainlink fence or even the open gate where your neighbor has posted a guard. Although some of the dogs look mean and a few rabid, most dogs look like normal dogs, and a significant percentage of them are mothers with puppies. Your neighbor seems to be fine with the presence of so many dogs, but you want the dogs to be taken back. You call the city and four exterminators. Although all of them assure you that there are solutions: making efforts to register and find homes for the dogs, improving the socioeconomic conditions which cause the dogs to flee, electronic surveillance and tagging for the dogs, etc. Moreover, they remind you that there are other unaccounted-for dogs in other yards and that the dogs in your neighbor’s yard are less likely to cause harm than your own dogs. Despite that, you reply that you do not care for their solutions and continue to insist that the dogs in your neighbor’s yard be taken back. So, you decide to try your luck on Craigslist and find a related listing. The man tells you that he has been a real estate agent and a local TV personality and has never worked as an exterminator but reassures you that, despite expectations, he is the only person who has a simple solution for the problem which is guaranteed to work: replace the neighbor’s bushes and patchy fence with a high wooden fence.  When you meet the would-be exterminator for the first time, there is cause for concern: he does not seem to know much about construction, he cannot tell a hammer from a hacksaw, he underestimates the construction costs, he takes long breaks to watch videos on his phone while commenting on the number of views and likes, he often loses focus, he makes inappropriate comments about both the dogs and your neighbors, he has not brought the issue up with your neighbor, he is not sure why the dogs are coming in the first place. Yet he reminds you that you want those dangerous dogs taken back at any price and that he has guaranteed that his simple solution will end the problem forever. He concludes by saying that he is the guy, that he is the best, that you can trust him on this one. Despite your better judgment and his Craiglist pedigree, you decide to trust him.

Naturally, the revised analogy is not perfect nor does it correct the other misleading statements contained in the original post and given as reasons why the analogy should lead the reader to a certain conclusion. Consider the following reasons:

  • This country became weak and bankrupt.
    • The US is neither militarily weak nor financially (or even morally) bankrupt. Even if they were, undermining traditional alliances and passing tax cuts are not the way to reverse those trends.
  • we are becoming a nation of victims
    • Undoubtedly, the conservative media are doing considerable work to lead their audience to the conclusion that they have been victimized in some way.
  • where we don’t even recognize the country we were born and raised in;
    • Clearly, the person literally recognizes the country where she was born and raised. Figuratively speaking, she is simply not looking closely enough.
  • And Trump is the only guy who seems to understand what the people want.
    • The people who want Trump’s solution represent, at most, a quarter of the US voting-age population. If a quarter is enough to speak as the voice of the people, then the people also want single-payer healthcare.
  • Trump may not be a saint, but we didn’t vote for a Pope.
    • The office to which Trump was elected still supposes certain qualifications and character traits, which are entirely distinct from those of a religious official.
  • We voted for a man who doesn’t have lobbyist money holding him back,
    • This is not to say that the president is uninfluenced by cashflow. One need only point to the ongoing emoluments lawsuit and his effusive praise for Saudi Arabia’s arms contract. There are other ways in which a person can be bought.
  • We all know that he has been very successful,
    • Given his starting assets, the man has been at most moderately successful.
  • he’s a good negotiator,
    • This statement is belied by his negotiations since the beginning of his presidency in which he sometimes gives things up for nothing or offers nothing in exchange for those things which he wants.
  • he has built a lot of things,
    • He has had a lot of things built by various contractors, none of which he has himself designed.
  • and he’s also not a politician, not a cowardly politician.
    • This, despite the fact, that he is supposed to do a politician’s job.
  • And he says he’ll fix it. And we believe him because he is too much of an egotist to be proven wrong or looked at and called a liar.
    • The fact that someone says that he will do something, has a high sense of self-worth or hates being called a liar does not at all guarantee that the thing will in fact be done.

Fr. 856

January 14, 2019

In political and moral debate, many people make their case not in terms of premise-conclusion inferences but, instead, analogical reasoning. That said, an analogy is only as good as its component parts and their congruence with the component parts of that which is being analogized.

I recently came across the following justification for one voter’s (somewhat conflicted) support for Trump’s immigration policy:

You’ve been on vacation for two weeks, you come home, and your basement is infested with raccoons. Hundreds of rabid, messy, mean raccoons have overtaken your basement. You want them gone immediately. You call the city and 4 different exterminators, but nobody can handle the job. BUT THERE IS THIS ONE GUY and he guarantees to get rid of them, so you hire him. You don’t care if the guy smells, you don’t care if the guy swears, you don’t care if he’s an alcoholic, you don’t care how many times he’s been married, you don’t care if he has a plumber’s crack, you simply want those raccoons gone! You want your problem fixed! HE’S THE GUY!!He’s the best!
Here’s why we want Trump. Yes he’s a bit of a jerk; yes he’s an egomaniac; but we don’t care. The country is a mess because politicians suck, the Republicans and Democrats can be two-faced and gutless, and illegals are everywhere. We want it all fixed! We don’t care that Trump is crude, we don’t care that he insults people, we don’t care that he has changed positions, we don’t care that he’s been married 3 times, we don’t care that he fights with Megyn Kelly and Rosie O’Donnell, we don’t care that he doesn’t know the name of some Muslim terrorist.
This country became weak and bankrupt, our enemies were making fun of us, we are being invaded by illegals, we are becoming a nation of victims where every Tom, Ricardo, and Hasid is a special group with special rights to a point where we don’t even recognize the country we were born and raised in; ” AND WE JUST WANT IT FIXED “. And Trump is the only guy who seems to understand what the people want.
We’re sick of politicians, sick of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and sick of illegals. We just want this thing fixed . Trump may not be a saint, but we didn’t vote for a Pope. We voted for a man who doesn’t have lobbyist money holding him back, a man who doesn’t have political correctness restraining him. We all know that he has been very successful, he’s a good negotiator, he has built a lot of things, and he’s also not a politician, not a cowardly politician. And he says he’ll fix it. And we believe him because he is too much of an egotist to be proven wrong or looked at and called a liar. Also, we don’t care if the guy has bad hair. We just want those raccoons gone, out of our house, NOW .
You are welcome to pass this on. Thousands of people who haven’t voted in 25 years seem to be getting involved. And the more people get this message, the more that will understand why Trump was elected. The crazy raccoons/dead beats (apply that term to whom it fits) HAVE TO GO!!
Amen and God Bless America

In order to evaluate the analogy, it is first necessary to set out the most important component parts of the situation being analogized:

  1. Migrants are of the same species as legal residents of the US.
  2. Certain migrants are crossing the US-Mexico border illegally.
  3. Upon crossing, some migrants seek US border authorities.
  4. Reasons pushing those migrants to cross the border may vary: threat of violence and disorder at home; improved economic situation; desire to harm others.
  5. International and US law allows for asylum, and illegal border crossing is a misdemeanor.
  6. Illegal immigration does not consist merely in illegal border crossings but in legal immigrants overstaying their visas.
  7. While extend physical obstacles at the border may be a partial solution for eliminating illegal border crossings, there is no one simple solution for eliminating them entirely, much less other forms of illegal immigration.
  8. A majority of persons residing in border-adjacent areas do not privilege extending physical obstacles over other possible solutions.
  9. US foreign policy is relatively unaltered under Trump, and it is unlikely that electing President Trump has changed enemy perceptions of the US
  10. Minority citizens are still confronted with structural disadvantages.

Setting out some of the most important facts being analogized allows one to see both where the analogy goes wrong and how it might be improved. First, the analogy goes wrong in a number of places:

  • The person in the analogy has left their place of residence only to return to a problem whereas the person writing has not returned their country of residence following a significant absence.
  • In the analogy, the person occupies the same space as the animals whereas
  • The analogy pits a human versus animals whereas the analogized situation confronts humans with humans.
  • In the analogy, the city and the four exterminators claim that they are unable to solve the problem whereas, in the real world, federal politicians do not deny that there are solutions.
  • The person hired in the analogy is capable of solving the problem with a single method which he has pioneered whereas Trump’s solution is, at best, a partial, already existing solution.

Accordingly, even allowing that the author may present migrants as of a different species than herself, the analogy is woefully inadequate as written. How might it be improved?


January 11, 2019

museum stalking
selected rooms
decked with
twelfth century
chromatic oak
heraldry beams
bestiary planks
stripped from noble
townhouse ceilings

Fr. 855

January 10, 2019

Ryan Muldoon’s 2016 Social Contract Theory for a Diverse World sets out a typology of perspectives from which one might attempt to justify a vision of political morality, the principles for organizing social cooperation and the schedule of concessions to be made. That typology is threefold:

  1. The View from Nowhere is that individual justificatory perspective favored by Rawls and Nagel. It aims at neutrality by abstracting from contingent, morally irrelevant features of our personal situations.

  2. The View from Somewhere is that individual justifactory perspective favored by relativists, broadly construed. It aims at accommodation by holding that justification is relative to the contingent, morally relevant features of our personal situations.

  3. The View from Everywhere is, roughly, a social justificatory perspective favored by Muldoon. It aims at a more complete problematization by setting perspectives up to bargain between their necessarily limited, partial representations of a higher-dimension object.

Persuasive though Muldoon’s own view is, I cannot help but wonder whether his typology suffers from a problem common in typologies, to wit, comprehensiveness. Is there not perhaps a fourth type which Muldoon has not set out and which may belie the overly rigid, non-interacting shape of perspectives (on a somewhat uncharitable reading)?

4. The View from Anywhere might be a social justificatory perspective aiming at reciprocity by constructing artificial perspectives sensitive to a person’s history of judgment and from which persons might arrive at a somewhat more complete representation of a higher-dimension object.

Would such a view represent a viable alternative to Muldoon’s three types, one for which he must then account or does it stand as mere bastardization of the Views from Nowhere and Everywhere?

Fr. 854

January 9, 2019

A simplified way to understand the differences between Rawls and Stout may be the following. Both Rawls and Stout recognize that the work of political justification from one person to another is rather complex and that, at some point in their exchange, persons will have to confront that complexity. After all, different persons have different beliefs, levels of intelligence, sympathies for particular kinds of argument, and so on. Rawls’s way of confronting such complexity is to frontload the task of political justification, that is, a multiperspectival, meticulously articulated argumentative process which any person, however situated, might work through to arrive at justified political judgments on a carefully delimited range of political subjects. By working through a well-designed, albeit unfamiliar process which sorts domain-relevant information, persons arrive at similar or commensurable outputs for which relatively little work is required to fit them to one another. In a word, Rawls places the difficult work before justification actually begins.

As for Stout, he takes the inverse approach and backloads complexity into the task of political justification. Rather than lay out a multiperspectival, highly articulated argument process which any person, whatever her situation, might appeal to in order to arrive at justified political judgments on a pre-defined range of subjects, the author simplifies the initial approach by allowing persons to appeal to whatever reasons they might have to support a given position. Consequently, the person works through a familiar, albeit potentially messy, thought process and exchange which may not issue in similar or commensurable outputs. This means that considerably more work – in the form of further reflection, argument and justification – will be required after the initial phase of justification to make those judgments fit one another. In short, Stout places the difficult work after justification actually begins.

Another way to understand the difference between these authors might take the form of an image. If we imagine that Rawls is trying to clarify and streamline the exchanges between persons in order to organize their cooperative endeavors, we might think of Rawls having selected and cut to size an immaculate crystal sphere which allows a person, no matter the angle or point on the circumference from which they view it, to see the same set of principles, ideals and reasons as any other person, whatever the angle or point. In contrast, Stout might be imagined as bringing persons together to contribute whatever materials they have on hand to build onto the small, shared core of a given question, materials which, though heterogeneous, will accrete over time into a commonly shaped, irregular sphere for different practices.