In Starving for Virtue? Eudaimonism and Public Reason versus Rothbardianism, Kevin V. continues to defend the compatibility of public-reason liberalism with eudaimonism. I continue to dissent.
Death Before Dishonour
Lets start with my biggest gripe. Kevin quotes (or almost quotes he changes my eudaimonist to eudaemonist) (no, thats not my biggest gripe) my remark that from a eudaimonist perspective … it is more in ones self-interest to die justly than to live unjustly better to suffer as a decent person than to survive as a predator.
Kevin find this troubling, on the grounds that, as he reads it, it apparently implies that if a Rothbardian society left a non-trivial number of people in a position where they could only regularly meet their basic needs by taking a small fraction of the holdings of the very richest members of society, the needy should choose to suffer because such great suffering is required by virtue.
Here I feel as though the entire content of my initial post is being ignored. After all, the question of the likely regular results of a system of rights is part of what goes into the determination of that systems legitimacy in the first place, since the content of justice is informed by benevolence and prudence. So whatever suffering the principles of justice demand is suffering that has already passed a consequentialist test. Kevins counterfactual, then, in effect asks us to forget the initial consequentialist test and impose a new one at this second stage, and to treat its failing the second test as being still quite as possible as if there had been no initial test. Its as though Kevin really wants to argue with an orthodox Rothbardian instead of with me. Note the wording: if a Rothbardian society …. [emphasis added] But how on earth could that be the appropriate counterfactual?
My position is this: if a just society required people to starve, then they should choose to starve. I dont think that should be controversial; it seems close to being a tautology. But the question of whether a Rothbardian society would require people to starve is relevant (not the sole relevant factor, but a weighty one) to determining whether, and to what extent, justice is Rothbardian.
I feel a bit as though I had said The butler is the murderer, therefore he should be arrested, and Kevin had replied, You say the butler should be arrested; that commits you to saying that he should be arrested even if hes not the murderer how troubling!
Yes, this is in effect my double-counting objection, to which Kevin replies by doubling down, or more precisely tripling down: then I demand we triple-count, he says. How this insistence that the deck be stacked in favour of his own position doesnt count as sectarian Im not sure.
In any case, adding more weight to the consequentialist side isnt going to make that much difference. For even if we applied a solely consequentialist standard, leaving all deontic considerations out of account entirely, wed still get for the sorts of reasons Hume discusses in his seditious bigot passage a fairly firm version of the NAP. That version would of course be less firm than the one I favour, which in turn is less firm than the one that a purely deontic approach with no admixture of consequentialist considerations would yield. Still, a purely consequentialist account and a purely deontological account are both going to generate versions of the NAP, and in effect all thats left to the eudaimonist is to work out a reconciliation bill between the two.
Kevin writes: Roderick expects us to reconceive the ordinary notion of a benefit so completely that the needy non-Rothbardian does not benefit from taking a small portion of a mega-rich persons holdings. But again, thats not my claim. And given that I said explicitly in my initial post that the NAP in extreme circumstances can allow compensated taking rather than forbidding taking entirely, I dont know why Kevin interprets me otherwise. I do not claim a) that the needy cannot benefit from taking without consent. What I do claim is that b) the needy cannot benefit from unjust taking without consent. When taking is unjust and when its not will depend on circumstances; sometimes theres good news for the needy (you get to steal a loaf of bread) and sometimes there isnt (you dont get to kick the other guy out of the lifeboat).
As for Kevins reluctance to countenance the possibility of radical reconceptions of benefit, I think that possibility is always on the table once you accept eudaimonism. After all, a central theme running from Socrates through Plato and Aristotle to Cicero and the Stoics and Scholastics is that it is more in ones self-interest to suffer injustice than to commit it; thats the point of Gyges Ring, the Choice of Herakles, and all that. The more radical eudaimonists (e.g. the Stoics) held that suffering injustice is no harm at all; the more moderate eudaimonists (e.g. Aristotle) held only that it is a smaller harm than committing injustice. Soul of moderation that I am, I agree with Aristotle against the Stoics; but even the Aristotelean thesis is radically counterintuitive by common-sense standards. (It is nevertheless, I think, dialectically implied by common-sense standards.) A eudaimonism that abandoned the Aristotelean thesis would be a eudaimonism that abandoned the reciprocal determination of justice and prudence, which is to say, no eudaimonism at all. Those who cant face the reconceiving-of-benefit heat need to decide whether they really want to be in the eudaimonist kitchen.
E Pluribus Unum
Kevin writes: One of the most curious claims in Rodericks post is the seeming denial of reasonable pluralism. I find this one of the most curious claims in Kevins post. After all, the claim that Kevin makes for reasonable pluralism here is that some rational and reasonable people have sufficient reason from their own point of view to reject the NAP. [emphasis added] And the claim of mine that he takes to disagree with this is my denial that rejecting NAP is ordinarily a purely reasonable or innocent mistake. [emphasis added again] Just as Kevins some grants the existence of culpable dissent, so my ordinarily grants the existence of non-culpable dissent. So plainly Kevin and I agree that the rejection of NAP is not always culpable. We disagree about how likely it is to be culpable in practice, but thats another question. Why Kevin later says that Roderick implausibly denies that one can reasonably reject the NAP, having already quoted the passage that shows I dont deny this, I cannot imagine.
I think we also disagree about what it is for something to be a vice. To clarify: I do not think a vice always has to be culpable. If one has a settled disposition to act in accordance with the wrong principles of justice, then one suffers from the vice of injustice, even if one does so innocently. The same point applies to other virtues; people raised in either an unusually macho or an unusually timid cultural milieu may non-culpably form mistaken notions of what courage requires, but their lack of culpability does not transform their rash or cowardly states of character into the virtue of courage. (Though I also think lack of culpability is less common here than Kevin supposes.)
Im not sure why Kevin gives such weight to the fact that many smart, thoughtful and careful people in the world reject NAP. Throughout most of history, many smart, thoughtful and careful people in the world have likewise accepted slavery, male supremacy, and the like. I suspect our descendants will look back at our generation with something like the same mixed emotions that we have when we look back at Aristotle, Cicero, and Jefferson, brilliant and conscientious people who behaved in ways that would today put them on a par with Ariel Castro. (I think their context makes them less culpable than Castro but decidedly culpable all the same.) Most smart, thoughtful, and careful people nowadays seem to view with complacency the practice of, e.g., throwing people into rape rooms for using the wrong herb; I dont think this complacency is innocent, but even if it were, its seriously screwed up and undeserving of respect.
I also dont quite know what it could mean especially in a eudaimonist context, where the mean determines the optimum, and departures therefrom are vicious to say that we could have sufficient reason to accept principles that we recognise as being less than fully just. If a principle is less than fully just, then it is unjust. The only sense I can make of this idea is if justice were being thought of not as a matter of deontic side-constraints but instead as a goal to be maximised, so you try to get as much of it as you can, and sometimes you fall short. But Kevin rejects this interpretation, leaving me guessing as to what he has in mind instead.
Kevin writes: contra Roderick, I do think we have a sufficiently clear grasp of the nature of justice and legitimacy, and the common good despite our plural views about the good, and thus do not need to secure rational consensus on the nature of the good life to determine the proper principles of justice and thank goodness for that, since were this not so, we would have no way to cooperate on moral terms without first agreeing on … the right conception of the good.
Kevin here seems to me to be blurring the lines between what I take to be three importantly different questions:
- a) How much agreement on the nature of the good is required in order to determine the content of justice with full specificity?
- b) How much agreement on the nature of the good is required in order to determine the content of justice in broad outline?
- c) How much agreement on the nature of the good is required in order to establish terms of cooperation that will in practice be broadly just?
I think the amount of agreement required for (a) is much higher than for (b), which in turn is much higher than for (c). Hence I want to resist what I take to be Kevins suggestion that if we set the bar high for (a), we have to set it equally high for (b) and (c) as well.
Sauce for the Goose
I dont quite follow Kevins response to my Libby/Colin case. Kevin says that the NAP is way more restrictive than a PJP, since all that a PJP rules out is when either side insists on imposing her favorite sectarian rule on others who have sufficient reason to reject it. This supposedly mild restriction, if interpreted literally, seems to me to be an annihilating blow to any coherent resolution of the conflict.
Justice is about the legitimate use of force. People who disagree about justice thereby disagree about when its legitimate to use force. If disagreements about justice can be reasonable, then ipso facto people can reasonably use force against other people who reasonably disagree with them in which case, farewell to PJP. On the other hand, if we insist on PJP, and so insist that its unreasonable to use force against those who reasonably disagree, we are thereby insisting that its unreasonable for the disagreeing parties to act on their conceptions of justice which means in turn that we have abandoned the idea that the disagreement is reasonable (since we can hardly say that it is reasonable to believe that doing X is justified, but unreasonable to do X). Far from being a sensible response to reasonable pluralism, PJP is inconsistent with reasonable pluralism about justice.
Now one way to reply to this objection is to insist that reasonable pluralism applies only to disagreements about the good, not to disagreements about justice. But this would surely be special pleading; all the reasons for granting reasonable disagreements about the good apply just as much to justice (especially, but not only, if we accept reciprocal determination). And if we grant that there are reasonable disagreements about justice, we have thereby granted what the public-reason approach is at pains to deny. Reasonable disagreements about justice → reasonable disagreements about rights-claims → reasonable disagreements about which claims are legitimately enforceable → reasonableness of the belief that one may legitimately enforce ones claims against those who reasonably reject them → reasonableness of enforcing ones claims against those who reasonably reject them. One can embrace reasonable pluralism or PJP, but not both.
Public Reason As Victim Disarmament
Kevin thinks that his acknowledgment of a right to self-defense against innocent threats doesnt imply, as I take it to imply, that its sometimes okay to coerce people on the basis of norms they reasonably and innocently reject. The reason, he says, is that rights to bodily integrity are easy to justify. Im baffled by this response. The whole point at issue is the content of the right to bodily integrity. After all, the enforcement of rights including property claims (of any sort, Rothbardian or Rawlsian or Gausian or whatever) generally involves impinging on bodily integrity; so not all impinging on bodily integrity is prohibited. And if the threat is innocent, then evidently the aggressor and the defender do not agree as to whether this is one of the prohibited cases.
One could, of course, have a rule saying that one is never allowed to attack someones bodily integrity except in response to aggression specifically against bodily integrity. Such a rule would avoid my objection. But the rule is not a promising one. As Ive written elsewhere:
Imagine a world in which people freely expropriate other peoples possessions; nobody initiates force directly against another persons body, but subject to that constraint, people regularly grab any external resource they can get their hands on, regardless of who has made or been using the resource. Any conception of aggression according to which the world so described is free of aggression is not a plausible one.
And if one does grant the legitimacy of using force against others bodies in defense of property-claims of placing a thief under arrest, for example then Kevins appeal to the special character of bodily integrity seems like a non sequitur. Either public reason allows the use of bodily force against innocent transgressors of property claims, or it doesnt. If it does, then the public-reason objection to Rothbardian property claims fails. If it doesnt, then it demands that the correct go defenseless against the mistaken and makes any property regime difficult to enforce.
I would go further, of course, and say that the fact that enforcement of property claims must sometimes impinge on bodily integrity implies that we cannot justify any property claims at all unless we acknowledge such claims as being extensions of the right to bodily integrity in which case their stringency will be correspondingly enhanced.
Kevin writes: We cannot live in moral relations with absolutely everyone ever. But at least public reason liberals try. But that is precisely what I deny. If public reason liberals are prepared to violate the NAP prepared, e.g., to treat other peoples labour (or the products of that labour, which I think Nozick was right to treat as being on a par) as being at their disposal then living in moral relations with other people is exactly whats being abandoned.
Quick Postscript on Matts and Jasons Latest; or, Toontowns Not Bad, Its Just Drawn that Way
Matts discussion leaves it unclear (at least to me) whether or not he distinguishes between two different theses: a) that the NAP should be applied in a nuanced, context-sensitive, consequence-sensitive way; and b) that the NAP should be, if not rejected, then at least downgraded to a mere defeasible presumption or rule of thumb.
Certainly Bill Bradford did not distinguish them, as Matts quotation from Ethan O. Waters illustrates. But for reasons Ive explained earlier, I do distinguish them, accepting (a) but not (b).
Jason begins by offering two examples of cartoon libertarianism a) the view that any risk I impose upon you without your consent is wrong and violates your rights, and b) the view that distribution licensed by the Rawlsian difference principle involves unjust aggression against innocent people and their property. This is an odd pair of examples; for a) is something that virtually no libertarian holds, while b) is something that almost every libertarian holds. Hence I worry that the concept of cartoon libertarianism is what Rand would call a package deal, serving to conflate obviously silly positions with positions that Jason merely happens to disagree with.
Jason goes on to offer a list of symptoms of cartoon libertarianism. Many of the symptoms are described so tendentiously that they essentially have cartoonishness built into them like using dogmatically in the definition. (If you reason dogmatically, you may be dogmatic! Whoa!) Its certainly fair to take libertarians to task for dismissive caricaturing of their opponents; but doing this is a way that itself amounts to dismissive caricaturing seems rather to defeat ones point.