In the Wake of Dobbs

For whatever reason, PoT has not, in the eight years of its existence, focused much on abortion or related issues. But we’ve run a few relevant posts, all written by yours truly. Most, I suppose, nibble at the edges of relatively peripheral issues; few are directly relevant to the recent overturning of Roe vs. Wade through Dobbs vs. Jackson. Still, for whatever it’s worth, I thought I’d dig a few out of the vaults. 

In 2015, in the wake of the mass shooting at an abortion clinic in Colorado Springs, I wrote a pair of posts on whether opponents of abortion were logically or morally obliged to engage in vigilante violence in order to oppose abortion. Jason Brennan had argued that they were; I argued that they weren’t. Continue reading

The Right to Boycott

As many readers of this blog will remember, earlier this year, we had a months-long discussion of the pros and cons of “cancellation” and related topics, initiated in part by this long post of mine in December, and this long rejoinder by David Potts a few weeks later. Feel free to click the “cancel culture” tag to follow some of the preceding and subsequent discussion, which eventually petered out (at least on my end) less through any dearth of topics left to discuss, or desire to discuss them, than from the lack of time to pursue the discussion to a proper conclusion. That said, I thought that the discussion was a useful airing-out of some contentious issues.    Continue reading

A FUNDAMENTAL RESPECT IN WHICH SCANLON SEEMS TO BE WRONG ABOUT MORAL WRONGNESS (AND WHAT THE CORRECT APPROACH MIGHT BE)

I think Scanlon’s main thing, his account of moral wrongness, asserts an implausible explanatory relationship. Arguably, it says something like this: morally wrong actions are those actions that would be disallowed according to a principle of public, collective disallowing (“discouraging”) that, if followed, would not result in anyone being wronged (mistreated, abused, etc.). 

This is funny at least because morally wrong actions that are wrongings of persons seem to be morally wrong because the actions themselves are wrongings of persons. Why should something like [the public, collective disallowing of an action] not being a wronging of a person be relevant to the disallowed action being morally wrong?

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Scanlon and “Justifiability to Others”

T. M. (“Tim”) Scanlon is best known for his advocacy, especially in his book What We Owe to Each Other (1998), of the moral theory of contractualism. Contractualism is broadly the idea that morality is based on a social agreement or “contract.” It can in principle refer to any contract-based moral theory, within a certain range to be described in a moment, but in practice it refers to Scanlon’s theory unless the context makes clear that something else is meant. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) article on “Contractualism” by Elizabeth Ashford and Tim Mulgan says that contractualism is distinguished from contractarianism by being grounded in the equal moral status of persons. Contractarianism, especially of the sort identified with Hobbes and Gauthier and Buchanan, tries to derive morality from an agreement that individuals make based on their own self-interest. A contractarian theory imagines people forming an agreement which each sees as maximizing his own personal self-interest and nothing else, and in particular without regard to the interests of anyone else. By contrast, contractualism imagines that people are deciding mutually agreed-upon principles from a position in which each person accepts every other person as a rational autonomous agent of equal moral importance with himself. Scanlon claims (5) that this conception of the social contract can be traced back to Rousseau.

The key concept of contractualism seems to be justifiability to others. In what follows, I shall explain what “justifiability to others” means in Scanlon’s contractualism and why I think it lies at the root of a serious deficiency of the theory.

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Germany, Ukraine, and Habermas: An American Perspective

A decade ago, on one of his visits to the United States, I urged Jürgen Habermas to support the idea of a global democratic alliance that could replace the discredited United Nations Security Council and form a sufficient counterweight to rising threats from Russia and China. This idea, which is developed in my book, A League of Democracies, is based on the hopes of many reformers in the “Atlanticist” movement before the deep compromises of the UN Charter. But it also follows from the logic of Habermas’s own work on democratic theory, together with the central findings of game theory, which imply the need for reliable solidarity and cost-sharing among able nations for paramount goals such as securing the most basic human rights from the manifold threats of absolute tyranny. Continue reading

New Blogger: John Davenport

I’m pleased to announce the addition of a new blogger to Policy of Truth, John Davenport, Professor of Philosophy and Director of Peace and Justice Studies at Fordham University. John and I first met at Notre Dame in the 1990s, where we were both graduate students in philosophy; he was also an occasional visitor at the Felician Ethics conferences I used to organize when I was at Felician University, and he’s a fellow New Jerseyan to boot. He has wide-ranging interests in the history of philosophy, in ethics, in political philosophy, and the philosophy of religion (click the preceding link for details). His first post, forthcoming in a few days, is a defense of intervention in the Russo-Ukrainian war. I’m a bit bogged down in the MacIntyre conference right now, but I have John’s post in hand, and will be posting it at first opportunity. (I decided not to subject him without guidance to WordPress’s “block editor.”)

Welcome, John, and we’re looking forward to your participation and contributions!

resenting you, rationally

Suppose I believe that you have insulted me unprovoked and I have some, but not sufficient, reason for this belief (we’ll be setting aside entirely whether you have actually insulted me unprovoked and hence whether my resenting you for what you have done would be correct). In a certain familiar sense, it is not rational for me to resent you for what you have done (there is more rational support for the not-resenting than for the resenting). This is the same sense in which I am not justified in believing Q if, though I believe that P and that P implies Q, I’m not justified in having one or both of these beliefs.

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ISME 2022: “Cross-Cultural Encounters”

David Potts’s recent post on Alasdair MacIntyre induces me to advertise the forthcoming fifteenth annual Summer Conference of the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry, which takes place next week (June 15-17th) in Mugla, Turkey, in association with the Department of Philosophy at Mugla Sitki Kocman University. For those unable to travel to Turkey on such short notice, there’s an online component as well. I’ll be giving a version of a paper I’ve previously posted here, “Teaching Machiavelli in Palestine” (online, alas; Thursday night afternoon Eastern Time). The conference is free and accessible to all, but requires registration. This year’s theme is “Cross-Cultural Encounters,” an important one in MacIntyre’s work.

I’ve attended maybe three or four of ISME’s conferences in the past, and have always found them worthwhile: indeed, I’m taking three days of PTO from work next week to attend the whole of this year’s conference. Though I don’t see anything on David’s topic, the program otherwise looks spectacular; I hope to see some PoT people there.

PS. From the conference organizer, Peter Wicks:

The in-person sessions held at Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University will also be available to watch online. Some will be livestreamed while others will be made available after the session has taken place. I will add the appropriate links to watch the in-person sessions to the online schedule when they become available.

MacIntyre, Individualism, and Modern Moral Philosophy

In 1981, Alasdair MacIntyre published the book that would make him famous (in the small world of professional philosophy): After Virtue. I read it soon after it was published, and it was way over my head. The book promoted the importance of history of philosophy, Greek philosophy in particular, and virtue ethics. Indeed, I believe it was a major stimulus to the revival of virtue ethics in analytic philosophy that took place soon thereafter. I recall it having the status of an “it book.” Still, the book’s main argument was abstract and somewhat obscure, so that although I was eager to be persuaded, I was left feeling that I mainly just didn’t understand it very well. I also figured it was my fault, because I didn’t know enough to comprehend the historical argument.

I still have my original copy of After Virtue, full of my marginal comments and handwritten notes shoved between the pages. But I haven’t reviewed any of it now. Instead, this post is stimulated by my happening upon a brief passage at the end of MacIntyre’s discussion of Joseph Butler in his 1966 book, A Short History of Ethics. This passage presents what seems to me a précis of the argument of After Virtue. It may be that this is not fair. To the extent that it isn’t, then obviously the comments and criticisms I make here will be inapplicable to the argument of After Virtue. That’s all right: the argument given in A Short History of Ethics is interesting in itself and worth commenting on. That will be my task in what follows.

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why (and in what sense) is there always reason to object when there is reason to resent?

Here’s a puzzle. Or at least something that we might want to have a good explanation of. Intuitively, one having reason to have some particular type of attitude (including some particular type of moral, reactive attitude) is tightly, necessarily or essentially connected to one having reason to do things that one tends to do when one has the attitude (or that tend to “go along with” having the attitude). For example, when I have reason to resent you for how you have treated me, I have reason to object to you (or the community at large) for your treating me this way (and also: complain, protest, resist, demand apology, demand compensation, etc.). Plausibly, if it is appropriate for me to resent, then necessarily it is appropriate (in some related way) for me to object (even if, all things considered, I have more reason to refrain from objecting than to object); and, conversely, if it is appropriate for me to object (in the requisite way), then necessarily it is appropriate for me to resent. Yet: we have two distinct responses here, PHI-ing and PSI-ing and, if this is all the information we have, we should suppose that having reason to PHI and having reason to PSI are not connected in any necessary or essential (or even systematic but conceptually or metaphysically contingent) way. Why does having reason to resent have anything at all to do with having reason to object?

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