Another issue from Derek’s TCJ, Part 1

1.1(3) (part 1, para. 1, line 3 of Derek Bowman’s “The Circumstances of Justice” 

We owe (or are due) things from each other and there are general principles (of justice) that specify just what it is that we owe to each other.  That the verb here is ‘specify’ suggests a normative, explanatory role:  the general principles explain why each of us owes it to each other to refrain from PHI-ing, but not to refrain from PSI-ing (or perhaps why each of us owes it to each other to refrain from PHI-ing in certain circumstances but not others).  However, one of several to-me controversial things that Rawls’ characterization of justice suggests is that these general principles do not do this work, but rather some slightly different work – the work of justifying the adoption (perhaps the public adoption) of a prescriptive norm (or a nested set of prescriptive norms with a certain structure).  That might go something like this:  each of us is to refrain from PHI-ing with respect to each other person (and all of us is to stand ready to enforce the prescription to refrain from PHI-ing by demanding that potential rule-breakers don’t break the rule and by punishing actual rule-breakers).  On this second way in which the general principles might work, they do something like specify conclusive reasons to construct a particular social practice.  

We need both sorts of guidance.  We need to know what, more specifically, we owe to each other in respect of different types of actions or circumstances; and, for various reasons, we may need direction in properly publicly codifying/precisifying and enforcing some or all of these more-specific principles (and formulating and enforcing even more specific ones).  I propose, then, that there are two different sorts of these general principles (that Rawls calls principles of justice):  general principles that justify more specific principles of first-order action and principles that justify the public codification/precisification/formulation and enforcement of specific first-order principles.

Here’s a toy model of how this might go in the case of respecting the agency of persons, a particular respect in which we do this, and what is required to come to an appropriate agreement on (and enforce) specific public rules.  Start with the very general principle of being appropriately allowing or respectful of the agency of other fully functional, adult human beings.  This might justify the more-specific principle (and liberal ideal) of allowing others to act on their beliefs and plans, in a broad range of cases (just which cases would have to be filled in) even when their relevant instrumental beliefs are false or their values or ideals objectively suspect.  But if we are to come to an explicit agreement on the content of such a principle and adequately incentivize compliance (perhaps even if we were ideally rational we would come to different formulations that make equal rational sense from our individual standpoints), we need some guidance regarding how to codify/precisify and enforce it.  Presumably, what will be important here, in addition to achieving the ends at stake in the sorta-specific first-order rule or principle, will be what is required to have a readily-known, readily-understood, readily-enforced specific version of such a rule or principle.  I take good laws to meet this sort of requirement, but informally-enforced moral principles of who owes whom what might work and be justified in the same way.

On the face of it, Rawls stresses the second sort of principle or reasons (that tell us what norms to codify and enforce).  I think it is for this reason that Rawls is sometimes characterized as a “constructivist” about justice.  But I think it would be a mistake to ignore the first sort of principle or reasons.  Maybe Rawls does not; maybe he says things about this element but calls it something other than a principle of justice?  In any case, we can, at one extreme, imagine a theorist who holds that these sorts of general principles (of justice) work with instrumental or circumstantial descriptive information to yield their appropriate applications in ranges of circumstances.  For such a theorist, questions of codification and enforcement are not the important or foundational questions (of justice) and this is not a trivial stipulation regarding how to use our words (like ‘justice’).  On the other hand, at the other extreme, we might imagine a version of Rawls who is a pure “constructivist,” holding that fundamental principles of justice, one and all, give us guidance in codification and enforcement (that, I suppose, would be their job).  On this approach, even if it is part of justice that these rather than those sorts of general principles are to be codified/precisified and enforced, if we are concerned only with this element (and not at all about public codification/precisification and enforcement) then what we are concerned with is not justice (or at least not justice-proper).  And this would not be meant to reflect mere linguistic stipulation about how to use ‘justice’.

I know this is (yet more) pretty fine-grained analysis of relevant background issues raised in the first paragraph of the first part of Derek’s paper (actually, the first sentence of this first paragraph; don’t wonder why a start reading things and never finish!).  But does this seem correct and to get at fundamental distinctions for effectively approaching issues of who owes whom what and why (or justice)?  (I’m not concerned, not here, with whether or not justice concerns what we owe each other generally or something more specific like what we owe each other with respect to the distribution of social advantages in society, with respect to being reliable reciprocater, etc.   Whether or not justice is this broad, I am concerns with interpersonal obligations and correlative claims – what we owe each other, what this is, and what explains, justifies and provides content to these things.)

9 thoughts on “Another issue from Derek’s TCJ, Part 1

  1. We somehow need to persuade or compel Derek to come talk about this, because I’m certain that he knows the most about Rawls of all of us, but I’ll have a stab at it in the meantime.

    I’m not clear on just what the difference between the two kinds of principles is supposed to be. The first sort are supposed to specify what we owe to each other, as a matter of justice, to do or refrain from doing, where specifying includes explaining why it is those particular things we owe to each other. The second sort are supposed to specify conclusive reasons that we have to adopt a certain social practice. But what would the relevant features of that social practice be other than the pattern of duties and rights embodied in the practice? Is the difference between these two kinds of principles supposed to be that the first, but not the second, explain why we owe whatever it is that we supposedly owe each other? Or is there supposed to be an important difference between supposing that “each of us owes it to each other to refrain from PHI-ing” and supposing that “each of us is to refrain from PHI-ing with respect to each other person”? Or is the crucial difference that the second kind of principle is supposed to include reasons why each of us “is to stand ready to enforce the prescription to refrain from PHI-ing by demanding that potential rule-breakers don’t break the rule and by punishing actual rule-breakers”? Or some combination of these?

    One concern you seem to have is about principles of different levels of specification, but I’m not sure why principles of different levels of specification should be regarded as different kinds of principles. By itself, Rawls’ difference principle — that differences in the distribution of the primary goods are justified only if those differences benefit members of the society made least well-off by them more than they would be benefitted by equality — does not tell us exactly what kinds of laws or policies to adopt. But once we take further relevant considerations into account, we can, in principle anyway, arrive at a more concrete specification of the laws or policies required by or at least permitted by the difference principle. The difference principle by itself doesn’t tell me what I owe to others in a sufficiently informative way as to be action-guiding in the absence of further considerations; but neither does it specify conclusive reasons to adopt a certain social practice, and for precisely the same reason, viz. that in the absence of further considerations it is too vague to yield anything sufficiently determinate to be regarded as a social practice, let alone a certain social practice. But supposing that we account for the relevant considerations and thereby produce a more determinate account of what practices or patterns of rights and duties will satisfy the principle, the principle would still play a crucial role in explaining why it is those practices or patterns of rights and duties, and not some others, that we are supposed to recognize. Those practices, and the pattern of rights and duties they are supposed to embody, will probably also be of various levels of generality, each requiring some further specification in light of more determinate considerations in order to yield concrete action-guiding results. But this is just a difference in the generality with which the principles specify rights and duties, isn’t it? Why regard them as different in kind? It can’t be that because while the various more specific principles are explained by the difference principle, the difference principle is not explained by any further principles, because the difference principle is supposed to be explained by its being the object of choice from the Original Position, and the notion that we should embrace principles of justice on the grounds that they are the object of choice from the Original Position is in turn explained by further considerations about the nature of justice itself (prominently including claims about the Circumstances of Justice) and by the importance of justice so construed for the expression of our rational nature. Not all of these principles or claims would be aptly seen as mere specifications of the principles or claims that are supposed to justify them, and in that respect we might want to draw a distinction of kind between them. But aside from (a) the relations of explanatory / justificatory priority and posteriority, (b) the difference between being solely a specification of a more general principle to a more determinate set of circumstances and being justified or explained in some other way (a means, a necessary condition, a constraint, whatever), and (c) what the principles are about, there don’t appear to be any obvious differences in kind, at least not differences that would answer to the distinction you’ve sketched out here.

    I’m fairly sure that my difficulty here is just that I don’t understand the distinction you’re drawing between the two kinds of principles. But perhaps I’m also missing something else, and the cases I’ve just described as not yielding important differences in kind do yield such differences. I think I would understand it if the difference were supposed to be between principles governing what we owe to each other quite generally and principles governing the social division of primary goods. But you say that’s not what you’re getting at. So I’m confused.

    (And, as I feel I should add in light of recent events, I really do mean that I’m confused, not that I think this is all crap but would like to express it politely).


    • Thanks for the feedback, David. What I say may not be perfectly clear! I’ll say a couple of things now and more later when I have time to think about it more.

      (1) I’m not really that concerned with Rawls. For this reason, and because the Rawls-interpretation academic-industrial complex is scary, I should have made clear that the characterization of justice from Rawls that Derek relates in his paper is just a prompt for getting at questions that might very well turn out to be orthogonal to Rawls’ (and Hume’s) central concerns at this level of abstraction.

      (2) To whatever extent they are justified by reference to the same ends of significance or value to the agent, the action of refraining from PHI-ing (where PHI-ing is interfering with the benign plans of others in some particular way) is distinct from the various actions that constitute helping achieve or maintain some or all of: (a) a common public understanding of PHI-ing (or perhaps something that constitutes a slightly-more-specific way of PHI-ing), (b) a common, public understanding that folks are to refrain from PHI-ing and (c) a common, public understanding that folks are to stand ready to do their part in enforcing compliance with regard to folks refraining from PHI-ing. And so the reasons are different (since reasons essentially reference responses, in this case actions). That, in thinking about Hume’s conventionalism and Rawls’ characterization of principles of justice as assigning rights and duties (what I would assume to be conventional rights and duties and hence the relevant social practices), was my jumping off point. Does this help?

      (3) A still-different important reason in the same ballpark is one’s reason to abide by a good-enough conventional requirement, like a good-enough law, in part because the conventional requirement – the public expectation of compliance and likely moralized reaction to non-compliance – exists. Plausibly, this sort of reason exists relative to the significance or value to one of being in a (moral) relation to others that includes or requires comporting with their actual reactions, expectations, etc. when these reactions and expectations meet certain requirements of objective propriety (or perhaps reasonableness). It is a shortcoming of Hume’s view of this sort of “artificial” justice that the reasons for compliance do not concern compliance actually achieving any (descriptively moral) state of inherent significance or value to the agent. This is a requirement for reasons of compliance with any rule, conventional or not, being non-instrumental. And this, in turn, is a requirement for these sorts of reasons to be formally deontic (such that one has nearly-always-conclusive reason, at each decision point, to achieve compliance-in-that-instance).

      (4) As far as the substantive issues that I’m trying to address go, it might be better to talk about the relevant states of inherent significance or value to agents – rather than the general (normative) principles – relative to which we have our familiar strong reason or reasons not interfere with the benign plans of others. And relative to which we have reasons to do our part to achieve and maintain a common, public understanding of just which sorts of actions constitute such interference, general expectation that others not interfere with the plans of others in these ways and general standing readiness to do one’s part to enforce compliance and punish non-compliance with this first-order publicly-defined rule.

      (5) It would have been better for me to abstract as much as possible from the whole more versus less specific principles question. Though I think that the most general moral principles (reasons, states of inherent significance or value to the agent) are special, I think I can make most of my points by simply distinguishing reasons to comply with first-order rules (like that of not interfering with the benign plans of others) and associated institution-achieving-and-maintaining reasons.

      More anon and apologies for not (yet) being able to sort through and address your helpful, probing questions more directly…


      • That helps a lot, yes. I do wonder, though, whether it’s quite right to think that the reasons for not phi-ing must be different in kind from the reasons for contributing to public understanding of phi-ing, that people shouldn’t phi, and that people should be willing to act so as to discourage or prevent others from phi-ing. These certainly can come apart, but when we’re thinking about justice it seems as though at least very often we will have the same reasons to do all of these things; the same considerations that tell in favor of our not phi-ing will also tell in favor of our contributing to social practices of which not-phing is an important part. In other words, there may be a difference here, but not obviously an important one. So while I think I now understand the difference you mean, I don’t think I see just what work recognizing the difference is supposed to do. That might become clear if we think about what it would be like to recognize reasons not to phi but not reasons to contribute to social practices of which not phi-ing is a prominent part. I see how that would work in contexts not so tightly connected to justice — I have reasons to do lots of things, like running three miles a day, without thereby having reason to contribute to a general social practice in which those things are done. But at least when it comes to general norms of justice, the two seem quite naturally to come together precisely because norms of justice are norms for mutually beneficial social co-operation. No?

        I’ve not really reflected on this much until now, though, so I might be overlooking some straightforward reasons why the two would come apart in many instances. Or perhaps it’s just because I tend to think of justice in the way I do that these seem to go together.

        It helps to see that this distinction is not necessarily tied up with the difference in levels of specification or with the issue you address in your (3). I agree that these reasons for abiding by the good-enough are important; I’m not sure why, though, such reasons need to be non-instrumental (if that is indeed what you meant). I see why the sort of reasons you point toward would at least not be merely instrumental. But why not suppose that among the reasons we have for abiding by the good-enough are instrumental reasons? I think the considerations that prompt Aristotle to endorse abiding by the good-enough-but-not-great are largely instrumental: refusing to abide by them will not bring about any improvement, even sub-optimal peaceful relations with your neighbors are better than war; etc.

        No apologies necessary, by the way. I just hope that, rather than missing the point entirely, my confused questions help you to clarify things.


  2. Glad that helped answer, or at least indirectly address, your initial questions…

    Thanks again, David – your questions are again insightful and helpful. Here are some points that I think address your concerns…

    (1) It seems plausible that the relevant item of intrinsic significance or value to the agent in avoiding acting in certain ways (the morally wrong ones) is something like this: not instantiating the (wrong) action-type (say, the action-type of interfering with the benign plans of others). Acting or not acting in this way is not generally at stake in the basic public-norm-promoting actions of objecting to be mistreated in this respect, expressing outrage at someone else being treated this way, etc.

    (One way for the reason here to count as deontic is for the state to have intrinsic significance or value specifically in virtue of the agent anticipating (and dreading) sanction if the action-type is instantiated (the sanction could come from the immediately affected party, from third parties, from society at large, from oneself). (The idea is that, as the pleasure of running is to the intrinsic significance or value to one of running, so something like seeing an action-type as sanction-worthy and dreading possible sanction – or something like this – is to compliance or avoiding instantiating that action-type.) This sort of intrinsic reason would be distinct from instrumental reasons to comply with the same principles or rules (reasons that are only conditionally sufficient to recommend compliance – you might not get caught, you might be able to keep in secret, etc.). Though these two sorts of reasons for complying with moral rules generally line up in the same direction, they can come apart in interesting ways.)

    (2) What about the public-norm-promoting attitudes and actions of objecting when thus abused and being outraged and expressing outrage at someone else being thus wronged? What of intrinsic significance or value to the agent is promoted or achieved in responding in these ways? Of course, this norm is probably part of a public system of norms that is useful. But what is more important is that our reactive attitudes make states like [reacting in this way when that sort of thing happens] of intrinsic significance or value to the agent. This sort of thing is different from what we have in [1] above.

    (3) Another sort of normative theorizing, related to the topic of [2] above, focuses on what our public norms should look like (what fundamental ways of being moral they realize, what other important things they are instrumental to). At this level of theorizing, we are concerned with making sure we are realizing relevant fundamental moral ways of being in our rules, but also that we are producing and assuring access to the goods of cooperation in an efficient and fair way. We are not concerned with the decision-making of individual agents (e.g., whether they have sufficient reason to comply, though it is perhaps often assumed that they do). This is the level at which Rawls is theorizing. He is concerned primarily with justifying regimes of public rules, not with questions of individual decision-making with regard to promoting regimes of rules in general (or this as against that this or that public regime of rules). (I thank Derek Bowman for a discussion this morning that helped me distinguish the sort of justification of [2] from the sort of justification here in [3].)

    (4) As a formal matter, deontic reasons of rule-compliance could be strong instrumental reasons. Maybe God will punish me, with perfect reliability and super-harshly, if I do not refrain from PHI-ing at each decision-point. (I’m supposing that what is of intrinsic significance or value here is avoiding being punished or sanctioned.) Or maybe the world is arranged such that lots and lots of bad things will reliably happen to me for each time that I fail to comply with the rule. But I think that our actual deontic reasons are intrinsic (and in way indicated, via sanction-sensitivity and our imagining/anticipating sanction). Due to the necessary connection to our reactive, moral attitudes (and due to these being necessarily correlated with associated normative reasons), it is hard for me to see how the right or relevant kinds of reasons for objecting and expressing moral outrage could be instrumental. I suppose my reasons for taking this stance are grounded in some theory that not everyone accepts. It is hard for me to separate the brute intuition from the explanatory/justificatory reasons, here, though. I do think there are good instrumental reasons, concerning the promotion of general compliance and the benefits that this in turn brings about, to object when one is wronged and express moral outage when others are wronged. Maybe instrumental reasons are more relevant to other public-norm-promoting actions. That my showing up for jury duty (instead of dragging my feet or trying to get out of it) promotes a just legal system (something of intrinsic significance or value to me) is a good instrumental reason for me to show up for jury duty. That this legal system also facilitates the promotion or achievement of all sorts of other things of intrinsic significance or value to me is another good reason for me to show up for jury duty.


    • Hmmm, I think you see a lot more intrinsic value in the world than I do. I’m not sure if that’s because you’re working with a broader notion of ‘intrinsic value,’ though. I find it decidedly odd, for instance, to think that not instantiating a wrong action-type would have intrinsic value in any of the senses with which I would ordinarily be prepared to use that language; at least, I find it odd to suppose that not instantiating a given action type would have intrinsic value for no other reason than that given type of action is wrong. If ‘intrinsic’ value is supposed to contrast with ‘instrumental value,’ then the value of not instantiating a given action type would depend on why that action type is supposed to be one that it is wrong for me to instantiate. But it would seem that for most of the things I have reason not to do, that reason is that doing so deprives me or someone else of some good. But if that is so, it wouldn’t follow that acting in such a way as to deprive myself or someone else of that good is more than instrumentally valuable, since its value lies ultimately in the good that I’m not depriving myself or others of, and the relationship between my not depriving myself or someone else of that good and the good I’m not depriving people of seems purely instrumental. So too, if ‘intrinsic’ is supposed to contrast with ‘extrinsic’, the non-intrinsic value of not acting in such a way would seem even clearer, since what gives not acting in that way value is something extrinsic to not acting that way. And if ‘intrinsic’ means ‘choiceworthy for its own sake and not for the sake of something else,’ then the matter is perhaps even clearer still. Of course, there might be other reasons why not acting in such-and-such a way, in addition to being instrumentally or extrinsically valuable, or chosen for the sake of something else, somehow is of intrinsic, non-instrumental value and worth choosing for its own sake — perhaps acting reasonably is itself intrinsically good for me even when the primary reasons I have to act or not act in such-and-such a way are instrumental or otherwise depend on goods that are only extrinsically related to my acting in that way. I’m at least broadly sympathetic to that idea, though I’m not sure just what kind of resources would be required to sustain it.

      I admit, though, that at this point I am so confused about how various philosophers use the term that I may either be seeing ambiguity where there isn’t much or just needlessly confusing matters. I think many people mean nothing more by ‘intrinsic’ than ‘non-instrumental,’ and so tend to count as intrinsically valuable things that I am inclined to regard otherwise because we need to appeal to something else to explain their value. Hence your idea that things become intrinsically valuable via sensitivity to possible sanction strikes me at first sight as potentially incoherent. But perhaps all you mean by ‘intrinsic’ is ‘non-instrumental’? If so, though, I’d wonder just how you distinguish instrumental from intrinsic value. You seem to associate instrumental value / reasons with conditional value / reasons, but that strikes me as a possible mistake, depending on just what we suppose has value and why. I’d ordinarily suppose, for instance, that having nice philosophical discussions like these is good for its own sake such that I have non-instrumental reasons to do so, but I wouldn’t be inclined to regard having nice philosophical discussions like these as unconditionally valuable or the reasons I have to do so as unconditional; similarly, it is at least plausible that a virtue like moderation or self-control is of solely or at least primarily instrumental value, and yet not valuable only conditionally, because there are no conditions in which my being capable of moderation and self-control could be a bad thing. Quite generally, I think the relationship between conditional and instrumental value is wholly contingent, though of course depending on what we think has value and why they could conceivably overlap perfectly.

      Asking you to offer an account of intrinsic and instrumental value and related things might be asking you to go rather too far afield from your current concerns, though. Maybe if I manage to get my act together and leave myself enough time after classes start, I’ll write something up about it and we can see where our ideas converge or diverge.


  3. Those are good points, David. I think that I could have (and should have) made my point without bringing in so much framing theoretical machinery! In terms of reasons, there are different reasons for (or different things achieved or promoted by) instantiating some first-order pattern of action, for taking measures to publicly codify and enforce compliance with such a pattern of action, for complying with such public principles or rules once they are in place. It seems like an account of “what we owe each other” (or, identically or more specifically, justice) should have something to say about each of these things. But I’m afraid you are right that my attempt to account for the differences between these different reasons or different sorts of things at stake was not very clear. I was trying to frame, or explain, the difference in reasons by reference to what is, formally considered, a difference in relevant outcomes or ends.

    (Reasons are reasons to respond to particular sorts of things in particular sorts of ways. Formally, we can “teleologize” them by treating instantiations of the response-pattern as items of significance or value. ‘Significance or value’ is a descriptor meant to maintain neutrality between desire-based and non-desire-based views of the relevant status of the end-state.)

    (It probably would have been better to leave the intrinsic/instrumental reasons/value/significance stuff out of it. We might analyze or explain one having intrinsic reason to PHI in response to C in terms of PHI-ing-in-response-to-C having intrinsic significance or value for the agent – as I did and as is perhaps suggested by the above “teleological” framing of reasons. Alternatively, we might analyze having intrinsic reason to PHI in response to C in terms of what (of significance or value) the state of being intrinsically motivated to PHI realizes or promotes. In which case, one has intrinsic reason to PHI in response to C in virtue of being intrinsically motivated to PHI in response to C – and this state having some normative or evaluative status (and the normative “buck” gets passed along – the Hume versus Kant or Hume versus Ross battles get fought in a different arena). Though my discussion reflected the first kind of model for explaining having intrinsic reason to PHI in response to C – not just a formally teleological framing of reasons – I’m often or in many sorts of cases more attracted to the second explanatory model.)

    (Finally, I was also concerned with what is at stake for one in exhibiting reactive attitudes and expressing them via lodging objections, meting out punishments, etc. Our motivation, and good reasoning, here is not keyed to achieving public codification and enforcement – even though our having reactive attitudes, and the rational response that they demand and tend to engender is absolutely crucial for realizing such public moral and political orders (otherwise, there is no realistic way of achieving anything approaching adequate compliance with good first-order patterns of behavior). I speculated that the relevant item of significance or value here was simply exhibiting the relevant pattern of response: at each instance of potential reaction, reacting with outrage when someone abuses another person (or when one is cognizant of this). I’m not sure this idea – that reflects the first explanatory model referenced above – is right, but it was my way of cashing out the “closer in” reasons we have for having and expressing reactive attitudes to the familiar sorts of basic things in the familiar ways. I wonder how one might apply the second sort of explanatory model to these reasons (and whether this is the right model for explaining them).)


    • I have nothing substantive to say in response to that right now. I just want you to know how much it endears you to me that you just wrote a comment the majority of which was contained in parentheses. You and I might have very different philosophical views, but that is something I relate to more than you know. Sometimes I think that most of my thoughts are initially parenthetical.

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  4. Ha! And thanks! This is one surprisingly appropriate way of exhibiting the intellectual virtue (in the extreme, vice) of starting out with one thought and then having too damned many related thoughts that seem at least clear and relevant enough to mention…


  5. Finally, in preparation for getting Derek some comments, I revised the material that we have been discussing here, David (that may or may not ever make its way to Derek directly, since he really cares about me understanding what he is doing and giving him specific advice to help get his paper published – and this is more me trying to figure out the best, or my own, framework for understanding the relevant issues).

    So below is what is hopefully a clearer version of some of the key good points from the post and our discussion above (all bad points omitted!). No response necessary, but I think this may address some of your questions/issues/objections (on the original topic) more cogently and directly than anything that I have produced here so far…

    We owe (or are due) things from each other and there are general principles or reasons (of justice) that specify just what it is that we owe to each other. That the verb here is ‘specify’ suggests a normative, explanatory role: the general principles or reasons explain why each of us owes it to others to perform some specific action, PHI. However, Rawls’ characterization suggests something more particular, a kind of indirect way of grounding certain reasons in more-basic reasons. For Rawls, the more-specific normative claims are mediated by conventions (say, conventional prescriptions or commands) that give them content. And justice is concerned primarily with justifying these conventions or saying why good-enough general adherence to them results in conditions that provide conclusive evaluative or normative force relative to alternative social conditions. (That we have, or most often have, conclusive reason to obey such rules once they are codified and adequate general compliance achieved, does not seem to be Rawls’ main ball of wax.) In other words, for Rawls, the relevant or important antecedent reasons – called principles of justice and considered to include general sorts of normative-claim-type elements – are reasons to construct this rather than that social practice (constituted by norms specifying distinctively interpersonal obligations and claims – or prescribing, commanding, or advising in relevant ways). One thing to take out of this picture is that there are three distinctive normative elements in this picture: (a) conventions-of-justice antecedent reasons, that, whether or not they include reasons of brute claim-responsiveness or the like, are what Rawls (and Derek in his set-up) calls “principles of justice”, (b) reasons for any given person to have this as against that codified and adequately-enforced system of putative interpersonal obligations claims or relevant prescriptions, commands, etc. in place and (c) reasons, conditional on a specific and good-enough set of such conventions being in place, to obey those prescriptions, commands, etc.

    A comprehensive theory should address all three of these reasons. The view that the most interesting of these is the second (or [b]) should not be taken to remove [a] or [c] from consideration as a topic of justice (however one wishes to stipulate or precisify in using ‘justice’ to say things like “justice is a conventional virtue”). One relevant substantive issue, in focusing on [b] as against [a] is whether the convention-antecedent reasons do, or do not, include moral reasons – however general – of claim-responsiveness (if the claim has the right content) or the like. Plausibly, there are such reasons (or corresponding states of intrinsic or non-instrumental significance or value) and they carry through to helping determine which alternatives in [b] and [c] are better or worse than others. For example, it might be that adequate general adherence to one conventional system of obligation/claim type rules or prescriptions as against another better realizes respect for persons (say, along some given dimension of respect for persons). And similarly for whether one has sufficient reason to obey some established moral or legal prescription that, though not ideally realizing respect for persons, realizes it pretty well.

    And now some more parenthetical thoughts for David!

    (Though Rawls’ account is highly moralized in certain ways, it is not clear to me that he is clear in specifying the relevant sorts of claim-y or claim-responsive-y antecedent reasons (and correlated states of significance or value) that not only justify conventions of justice but are of justice themselves. Nor, to my limited understanding, is he clear about the relation between these antecedent moral reasons (of the justice-y sort) and justifying this as against that conventional system of justice. Of course, this is the entire point of his work – what I’m saying is that, at a certain level of generality, it is not clear to me how it all goes.)

    (If Rawls includes something like claim-responsiveness (to claims with the right content) and related claim-sensitive reasons in his antecedent reasons (principles of justice), then his view is not conventionalist in the same way that Hume’s is. For Hume, but not for Rawls, reasons to be claim-responsive are part of the normative base, not something derived from achieving other ends that are not ends of claim-responsiveness. And: we might understand the idea that there are circumstances of justice as the idea that, whether or not we have basic reasons of claim-responsiveness (to the right sorts of claims) that favor this as against that conventional obligation/claim or system of obligation/claim over relevant alternatives, we have conclusive reason to codify some system of enforced prescriptions (that embody the broadly correct content) only if the circumstances are right (broadly, on the Humean/Rawlsian picture, only if having a system of cooperation is sufficiently preferable to other arrangements (only if cooperation is necessary) and only if the on-going instrumental costs of maintaining that system are not too high (only if cooperation is possible).)

    (On this conception of the circumstances of (conventional) justice, the circumstances seem to be both descriptive and normative. The ends – and associated relevant descriptive, instrumental circumstances – that would be competing or allied with (a) reasons to be claim-responsive to others (in a certain familiar if hard to capture way), (b) reasons to care about and promote such claim-responsiveness third-personally and (c) any other relevant-claim-sensitivity-involving reasons are relevant not only in their motivational aspect but also in their normative aspect. Does this jibe with the traditional understanding of the circumstances of justice or no? The flavor of the non-instrumental circumstances in the traditional accounts strike me as motivational (concerned with things like the motivational barriers to achieving conventional justice) not normative (concerning reasons that are allied to or competing with those of justice). Maybe I should ask Derek about this.)

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