I’ll be making a series of posts on Bernard Williams’ essay “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory.” (David R. and Derek B. and I have read and discussed this recently.) My purpose is pretty narrow: to get some idea of the content (and normative status) of what BW calls the basic legitimation demand (BLD). According to BW, when a state, in addition to adequately solving the “Hobbesian” problem of providing basic security (“the first political question”), meets BLD, it is legitimate (it comes to be permitted to make and enforce laws within some range of possible laws).
Of note, in contrast to Rawls’ liberal principle of legitimacy, BLD is supposed to apply generally – not just to liberal states or to states in conditions that are ripe for liberal constitutional democracy. According to BW, at least in principle and in some historical contexts, non-liberal states can be legitimate and BLD is meant to explain how this could be (or is or was) so. I don’t think Rawls denies this, but neither does he formulate or justify a general principle for state legitimacy. I’m interested in BW’s attempt at doing so. I have some thoughts. Continue reading
The following is an attempt at pulling the “disagreement” thread (as against the “respect for conscience” thread) of political liberalism. And doing so at what I take to be a general, fundamental starting point. Let’s see what I’ve got!
(I) When a group of people are trying to come to a collective decision together, they often aim, not at making the objectively (or rationally) best decision but rather at making the objectively (or rationally) best decision that is also acceptable to all (except those who are wicked or foolish in a way that is relevant to the decision at hand, acceptability thus being qualified acceptability or acceptability for qualified individuals). In this way, we often aim not at what is (objectively or rationally) best but rather at what is “consensus-best.” Continue reading
Here’s another interpretation of how (what Estlund characterizes as) the central thesis of political liberalism might go.
The reasons that favor permission to coerce A but that are not acceptable to A (due to their violating A’s conscience), unlike the other good reasons that favor it being permitted to coerce A, are not part of (they are irrelevant to) one being in a position to make a good case to A that would also be acceptable to A. The screening-off here would not be part of what determines the shape of the relevant good reasoning about the relevant permission to coerce itself, but it would determine the reasons or bits of reasoning (that are part of one’s good reasoning) that factor into meeting the condition that is crucial for the permission to exist (the condition of one at least being in a position to make an acceptable case to A, if not actually making it). Continue reading
Suppose we are considering whether it is okay for the government, in pursuit of legitimate public aims, to require one to bake a cake for a gay wedding when this goes against one’s religious convictions. If a pretty strong version of religious tolerance is true, then the answer is no. And the same circumstance affects the shape of good reasoning toward the relevant conclusion in the following way: reasons like ‘this guy would be forced to act against his religious convictions if this proposal were implemented’ and ‘this guy has a religious conviction according to which it is a sin to be involved, in any way, in any marriage that is not between a man and a woman’ are to be given controlling weight, decisively weighing against the conclusion that it is okay for the government to thus coerce. (This would be a fact about good reasoning, which we might well do privately, not a fact about how we should treat each other in deliberating together about what to do collectively.) Continue reading
Religious Tolerance: Governments are morally forbidden from (i) enforcing religious tenets on their citizens that are not the religious tenets of those citizens (or requiring of them sworn allegiance to such tenets) and (ii) forcing its citizens to say or do things that contradict their religious tenets (if they have such).
On this view, the truth or falsity of some of our conclusions about permissible government coercion depend on whether or not people have religious beliefs according to which what they would be coerced into doing would be a sin. And the landscape of relevant or good reasons is similarly relativized to such religious belief, at least in this way: that one would be forced to commit something that one views as a sin comes to be a controlling reason against a proposed law, at least generally outweighing what would otherwise — from a neutral or objective or apart-from-what-religious-beliefs-people-have perspective — be sufficient or decisive reasons in favor of the law. Continue reading
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
Here are some elements of my attempt to put acceptability/unacceptability conditions in a broader context.
(1) The broad relevant “circumstance” of acceptability/unacceptability conditions is that of collective decision-making. Continue reading
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
Here is a quick argument for non-voluntary (and hence non-consent-based) normative authority. No doubt this needs some tightening-up or is otherwise flawed. And I have to do a lot more reading about the various “fair play” approaches to political authority (and authority generally). But right now, something like this seems pretty compelling to me.
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: