Public reason as solving a fundamental disagreement problem

One strand in the “public reason” approach to political justification, stated in a very general form, might go something like this: in the context of disagreement about which shared, public norms to codify and enforce, when actual consensus is not present, the obvious or evident nature of important, relevant objective reasons, the recognition of which would rationally tend to lead to consensus (this situation constituting a certain kind of hypothetical consensus) suffices to make for permission to enforce.  One way to characterize this general approach is by saying that there is a “disagreement problem” specific to the relevant context that is “solved” by taking steps toward consensus (with enough truth in it) on the matter as against simply seeking the truth. Here is a specific proposal along these lines, a first shot in the right direction with this kind of approach, to play with and evaluate: Continue reading

Acceptability: reason-giving vs. reasons

I have some questions about Estlund’s account of acceptability conditions on reasons (in public reasoning).  Here is the first one.

(1) Acceptability conditions make sense as conditions on the reasons that it is appropriate or permitted to give to each other (aside from whether they are good or true).  However, I think Estlund means for these conditions to apply to what reasons are appropriate even in private reasoning (when one is reasoning about when the state is permitted to coerce its citizens).  But why would the former imply the latter? Why should standards governing giving reasons to others speak to the appropriateness of a reason (distinct from its goodness or truth) in any kind of good reasoning? This seems almost like a category mistake of some kind.   Continue reading

what I should have said before about “nullified” non-consent…

One problem with Estlund’s argument (Ch. 1, p. 9) is that only the denial of consent, not mere non-consent, is an event that typically changes the landscape of relevant permission/obligation.  Let’s look at two cases. Suppose that the initial conditions are that we are allowed to touch each other on the shoulder in order to get the attention of person who would be touched. We now have two cases:

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From the anti-vigilante principle to authority (a good intuitive argument for authority)

In Ch. 8 of DEMOCRATIC AUTHORITY, David Estlund argues for a certain kind of political authority on a purely intuitive basis (as a run-up to a more-principled or intuition-vindicating defense of political authority).  His argument starts with the intuitive (and Lockean) anti-vigilante principle (AVP):

when there is a system that serves the purposes of judgment and punishment without private punishment, then private punishment is morally wrong  

The idea here is that the obligation not to engage in relevant sorts of private punishment (even when the public verdict is known to be wrong) is generated by the system of public justice forbidding private punishment or vigilante behavior.  Since forbidding-generated as well as command-generated obligation (to obey) suffices for authority, what we have here is a kind of political authority. (Notice that, despite my language here, the system need not be public in anything like the governmental sense. The system could be privately-run but dominant in a geographic area.) Continue reading

Justifying “ersatz authority”

Suppose there is something that, for all our sakes, desperately needs to get done by all of us, collectively, together (say if all of us, or any of us, are to remain alive for long).  Suppose you know this. And suppose you also know some other things. First, decisive action is required – there is no room here for taking lots of time to come up with a plan and execute it and no room for dispute or any committee-type process in the planning or execution.  Second, you know that your buddy Clem knows at least as much or more than anyone else about how to come up with and execute the right plan and, importantly, has a big “leadership presence” and is ready to take charge. Third, you know that, unless any given step in the planning or execution is terribly, terribly wrong, what is more important than getting any given step right is that each step is good enough – and gets done decisively.

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Nullified non-consent

In DEMOCRATIC AUTHORITY, David Estlund rightly points out that non-consent, as well as consent, can change the landscape of permissions and obligations.  If you ask to touch me (his case) and I say “No,” then you are not permitted touch me.  This could change a default prior condition in which, say, each is allowed to touch each other in a certain way.  However, he also claims that “[if] there were some conditions that nullified non-consent, the result would be morally equivalent to consent” (i.e., in my terms the landscape of permissions and obligations would be the same in the two cases) [p. 9].  But why think this?  This seems more likely to be true:  antecedent conditions of permission and obligation still hold.  This is the same as for nullifying conditions for consent:  if I consent to give you my car under the conditions of your threatening my life (nullifying condition for the agreement) then whatever permissions and obligations that were there prior remain (probably you are not permitted to use my car).  If this is right, then Estlund’s nifty “symmetry” argument for normative consent generating authority does not work.  It does not work to start with only the intuitive notions that consent can generate authority, that non-consent as well as consent has the relevant sort of “moral power,” and that if one then both should have moral-power-nullifying conditions.  This shortcut argument failing, the “long cut” of giving and explanatory account of why non-consent that one is morally obligated to consent to can generate authority (and under what conditions) seems unavoidable if we want a strong argument for obligatory non-consent generating authority.

Is authority based on reasons to obey or reasons to agree to obey?

The plane has crashed.  People are seriously injured, but you are not.  A stewardess, directing things, barks an order at you, “Go get the first aid kit from the overhead compartment!”.  Intuitively, you are obligated to follow her order, due to her issuing it, even if it is not the best order she could have made (maybe the first order of business should have been finding water or finding the radio to call for help).  In other words, something about the situation gives her authority over you (and the other passengers).    Continue reading

Estlund (and Brennan) on inherently fair procedure

Procedures can be fair, but not due to tending to produce results that are fair.  If two reasonable people are not agreed on who should get the last turkey sandwich, it would be fair to flip a coin to decide who gets the sandwich.  But this would not be because there is some “fair owner” of the sandwich that coin-flipping tends to get right. Similarly, it seems that democratic procedure is an inherently fair way to decide issues of state governance.

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