permissibility and sorta-consent-y nonconsent doing the work

Suppose that a constructed system of deontic norms is still under construction:  there are various good candidate actions for being impermissible that we have not yet settled on as impermissible (perhaps this matter is in dispute and that there are such disputes is part of how we get impermissibility norms that are sensitive to relevant agents and their aims).  We might, and standard deontic logical systems do, stipulate that, in such cases, permissibility is the default. So such candidates for being impermissible would be permissible (until made impermissible). More generally, as a conceptual matter, permissibility is simply non-impermissibility.  What is being demarcated is something like the distinction between the social or personal normative standards that constitutes impermissibility and the sheer absence of such. And there are probably good reasons for conceptualizing things this way, having to do with how deontic rule-governed systems function and reliably achieve their aims.

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boogie-nights Ronnie and Portmore’s “teleological conception of practical reasons” (TCR)

I’m reading some bits of Doug Portmore’s book, Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality.  According to Portmore’s “teleological conception of practical reasons” (TCR) — Chapter Three — all practical reasons are a function of reasons to desire outcomes:  if X has reason to perform A this is because X has reason to desire the possible world (or set of possible worlds) in which X performs A. Moreover, because reasons to desire outcomes can be agent-relative but desirability or fitting-desire is a function of agent-neutral reasons, such a view is not a “desirability-based” or “value-based” theory of practical reasons (that then passes the normative buck to objective desire-fittingness, in particular agent-neutral reasons of fitting desire).

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the work of requirements (as against reasons)

It is popular, in some perhaps many circles of analytic philosophy, to analyze various normative and evaluative properties in terms of normative reasons.  There are, I think, two essential elements to this strategy. First, it seeks to explain the candidate normative or evaluative property (this thing being valuable or good for or valuable to one or that thing being what one ought to do) in terms of this putatively more basic normative valence of relevant actions or responses (reasons, an agent X having reason to A).  Second, this valence is pro tanto in that it does not, in itself, render a verdict on whether the action or response that it attaches to is to be done (in this way, it is partial, non-determinative, non-verdictive, non-ought-making).  Thus the explanatory work of reasons (X having reason to A) is done via reasons “weighing” (or having “weight”) for and against the action or response in question, one side ultimately having more “weight” (except when the two sides are equally-balanced).

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moral address vs. access-to-reasons approaches to a “justify to” necessary condition on state legitimacy

My recent presentation at the NASSP annual conference, “Justifying-To As Moral Address,” I distinguished between “access to reasons” and “moral address” views of a general sort of necessary condition for state legitimacy (or permission to coerce).  In the presentation, I interpreted Bernard Williams’ view of state legitimacy as a version of the second view. And also argued that there are reasons to think that the moral-address-focused approach, while distinctive, needs to appeal to a reasons-access condition in order to get its permission-generating work done.

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on Bernard Williams’ BLD (second installment)

So far (from points [1]-[3]), it looks like BLD essentially involves the following things (content-wise): (i) the state offering or being in a good position to offer, to each under its power, a justification of its power and (ii) the justification or justifications being such that the interests of each person under the power of the state are adequately addressed (however we are to fill in ‘adequately’).

(4) BW (pp. 4-5):  BW considers the case of a coercive state regime in which some, but not all, of those under its power are “radically disadvantaged” (RD) in that they have more to reasonably have much more to fear than others with respect to “coercion, pain, torture, humiliation, suffering, death.”  Assuming that the RD are aware of their situation, the state is not in a position to offer them the right sort of justification of its power. Apparently, this is because the state has failed them in the primary task of politics (PT) and they know this.

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Bernard Williams’ “basic legitimation demand” (BLD) — some thoughts

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

conscience-violating reasons: from the ethics of discourse to good reasoning

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

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)


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