the unacceptable work of acceptability requirements

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

maybe bad reasons are just bad (political justification)

Consider:  

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

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.