Monthly Archives: February 2008

Estlund Reading Group Chapter 7

(I’ve switched the last two posts around, so that David E’s response to the chapter 6 discussion is now beneath David L’s chapter 7 discussion. Please don’t overlook the former. SCM)

In chapter VII, ‘Authority and Normative Consent,’ Estlund takes up the challenge of justifying one agent’s authority over another. X enjoys a morally justified claim to authority over Y if and only if the mere fact that X instructs Y to f provides Y with a (prima facie or defeasible) moral duty to f. Estlund seeks to offer a novel justification for authority, which he labels normative consent. On this view, if an agent acts wrongly in refusing to consent to another’s authority, then that refusal is void and the situation is as it would have been had the agent consented to the other’s authority. For example, if for some reason I act wrongly in refusing to consent to your determining how I should spend my afternoon, then my failure to consent is null and the situation is as if I had consented – or in other words, I have a duty to acknowledge your authority by spending my afternoon as you direct me to do.

I focus here on the three main tasks Estlund undertakes in this chapter: (1) making the case for normative consent as a (but not necessarily the only) genuine source of authority; (2) a defense of normative consent against some objections likely to be made to it; and (3) a brief description of how a normative consent argument for authority might encompass (and so improve?) some other arguments for authority extant in the literature on political obligation.

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Response to Comments on Chapter 6

Daniel gives a very nice summary of the chapter and raises a few questions. First, he wonders whether the fact that democratic procedures might generate trust, and so compliance, is an epistemic or non-epistemic reason in its favor. Before taking that up, however, I want to quibble with his description of the options. He says that I’m mainly distinguishing between values intrinsic to a collective decision procedure on one hand, and consequentialist considerations on the other. That might not be the best way to put it, since while my theory brings in non-procedural values, it is not consequentialist. (I should say, I’m using “consequentialist,” to contrast with “deontological,” not in the broader way that some use it so that virtually any normative theory could receive a consequentialist formulation. On the latter use, there’s no interesting question about whether there is a consequentialist theory of democracy, since there would be no contrast class.) On my view, democracy is not recommended on the basis of its maximizing good consequences. It is recommended because (and when) the laws that are passed are legitimate and authoritative. They are legitimate and authoritative owing, in certain ways, to the decision procedure’s having some tendency to produce just or correct outcomes. That part is instrumental in a certain sense, but not necessarily consequentialist. The accounts of authority, legitimacy, and justice could all be deontological for all I’ve said. I’m not suggesting that Daniel misunderstood this, but my view is always at risk of being misunderstood to be consequentialist, and so I’m at pains to use that term advisedly. (I address the issue at pp. 164-167, in Chapter IX.)

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2008 UNCG Philosophy Department Symposium: Ethical Perspectives on Risk

UNCG: 29 February – 2 March 2008

The UNCG Philosophy Department will be hosting a conference on ethics and risk February 29th to March 2nd. Details – including titles for the papers to be presented and a list of participants – are available at I realize that this notice is likely too late for anyone with an interest in ethics and risk to make arrangements to attend the conference, and I apologize for not publicizing it here sooner. Nevertheless, I thought some might find it useful to learn of work currently being done on this subject. If you would like to attend and are able to do so, however, please let me know. read more...

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Estlund Reading Group Chapter 6

This chapter, as I read it, has four main articulations. First, Estlund sums up the basis case for epistemic proceduralism, on the basis of the arguments of the foregoing chapters. Second, he considers and rejects a final form of procedural theory, termed rational deliberative proceduralism, which views the value of procedures as residing in their being reason-generating. Third, Estlund spells out the kind of normative authority that epistemic proceduralism does, and does not possess. Fourth, he elaborates on what it might mean for a procedure to be accurate with respect to the justice of a policy proposal.I will focus on the first three articulations. I will raise some questions, but also highlight what I take to be some philosophical IOUs that Estlund takes out in this chapter.

I take this to be a pivotal chapter in the book in the following sense: it is here that he moves from the critical case against correctness theories and pure procedural ones, and towards the statement of his positive cas for epistemic proceduralism. This chapter provides us with the main structural features of the view, and provides us with a sense of the burden of argument that it must take up to be vindicated. Some of my questions will attempt to show just how demanding that burden is.

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Response to Comments on Chapter 5

The main issue that has come up in this week’s comments concerns my rejection of fair proceduralism. My argument against it was that procedural fairness can’t prefer a fair democratic procedure to a random selection of outcomes, since both are equally fair. The question arising now is whether, nevertheless, there isn’t something that can be said for fair democratic procedures favoring them over random procedure, but without bringing in any epistemic features.

One idea is that either the idea of fairness or the idea of equality incorporates a concern for more rather than less of the distributed power, as opposed to caring only for an equal distribution. I doubt that either of these concepts includes such a thing. A coin flip (which gives each person zero expected influence or power) is sometimes a perfectly fair way to decide something even if voting (which increases each person’s expected influence above zero) is available. As for equality, it is patently satisfied by a random procedure since all equally have no influence. Christiano argues that we would only care about an equal distribution of something if we also cared about having more rather than less of it. First, this doesn’t show that equality includes that second concern. We might (or might not) just have two concerns: equality of x, and more of x. Second, the concern for an equal share of procedural power looks like a counterexample to the claim that we never have the concern for equal distribution without also wanting more of the distributed thing. It seems perfectly comprehensible to be satisfied with a random procedure in some context, but to insist that if anyone is to have power or influence all should have it equally. Suppose the question is which of several designs should be chosen for the new public fountain. I might be happy to have this decided randomly. So I don’t care about having any influence. However, I would object if some were given a vote in the matter while I was not. I want equal influence but I don’t care if any of us has any. So it is not true, as a general matter, that to value an equal distribution of x entails positively valuing more x over less. So I think neither the idea of fairness nor the idea of equal distribution can favor voting over a random procedure.

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Suggestions about Socrates

I’ve just started working on a paper about Socrates and heroism, looking at the speeches and deeds of the Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. Given that something on the order of a million books and articles have been written about Socrates, I thought I would write a short note here to see if there were any suggestions for readings I absolutely must not miss. I’ve found a number of very good articles (highlights include Greenberg (1965), Weinrib (1982), and Zuckert (1984)) and a couple of good books (Ahrensdorf (1995) and Hobbs (2000), in particular). But where else should I be looking? Thanks in advance! read more...

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