Monthly Archives: November 2008

CFP: Spring 2009 Political Philosophy Podcast Symposium

Spring 2009 PPPS CFP: 19 December 2009

I’m extending the deadline for submissions for the Spring 2009 podcast symposium until Friday 19 December — SCM.

Continuing with the format that we have experimented with this semester, I’d like to invite submissions for the next Political Philosophy Podcast Symposium to be held over the Spring semester of 2009. Please submit a 300-500 word abstract of a paper, in a pdf file and prepared for blind review, to admin at by Friday 19 December 2009. As with this semester’s symposium, a committee of members of the website, not including myself, will choose between the abstracts.


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How can I teach Kant–without too much Kant?

Hi all,

I just joined Public Reason (having met Simon at a conference) and am looking forward to participating.  I’ve already seen lots of terrific material, and realize that I should have joined long ago.

I have what may seem a strange problem.  I’ll be teaching an undergraduate lecture course in Political Ethics next Spring quarter, as I have in the past.  This is a conceptual rather than a practical course, it covers not bribes and whistleblowing, but the basic theoretical works relevant to political ethics issues (though we will treat a few actual cases).  We’ll be reading Pitkin on representation, Machiavelli’s Prince, Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation”–and a bit of moral philosophy on an introductory level: utilitarianism, deontology, Bernard Williams on integrity and personal projects and shooting one to save ten, that sort of thing.  While the course is nominally upper level, there are no prerequisites (UCLA’s bureaucracy won’t allow it), and UCLA has no core requirements in moral and political philosophy such that I can count on students’ knowing some.   Nor is this a course for philosophy (or political theory) majors.  The students are political science or public policy majors interested in the substantive issues, not in ethical theory.


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PPPS: “Making Space for Rosa Parks: Democratic Authorship as Political Autonomy”

Hi.  I’m Paul Gowder, a Ph.D. candidate in Stanford’s Political Science department.  This paper arose out of another paper that I have in progress.  The other paper, a critique of Rawls’s idea of public reason and an attempt to develop a broadly proceduralist alternative that can meet the stability and justification concerns driving the original idea without constraining democratic debate, was foundering on the rocks of my inability to articulate a normative principle to ground the fundamental objection to that kind of constraint.  This paper is my first, preliminary, attempt to make some sense of the intuition behind that objection — the idea of the value of citizen moral advocacy, qua citizen moral advocacy, in a democracy.


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Judicial Review and the Value Theory of Democracy: A Response to Corey Brettschneider chapter 7

CB argues for a value theory of democracy as an alternative to procedural and epistemic theories. The three core values which underlie democracy are: equality of interests, political autonomy and reciprocity. These values are implicit in the practices and institutions of contemporary democracies. They are central to democracy because they facilitate and sustain the idea of democratic citizens as free, equal and reasonable rulers. These values are understood to be not merely important and central values for a just state but central to democratic governance. A careful articulation of these values reveals that these values require respect for both majoritarian procedures – procedures which guarantee meaningful participation in decision-making — and an effective protection of substantive rights. Much of CB’s book is devoted to an examination of the conclusions which follow from the value theory of democracy. CB identifies what substantive rights individuals have and establishes the ways in which the three core values identified by him support these rights.

The question addressed by chapter 7 is what institutional structures reflect best the core values and how these institutions ought to operate. Such an institutional structure ought to respect people’s autonomy by protecting participation, protecting equality of interests and instantiating reciprocity. Determining what the ideal institutional structure is requires examining hard cases, namely cases in which the decisions generated by majoritarian procedures (and, by virtue of this fact, decisions that are congenial to some of the democratic core values) are incompatible with the substantive rights (whose protection is also congenial to the core values). When majoritarian procedures yield decisions which violate substantive rights there is always an inevitable loss to democracy. If such decisions are allowed to stand, substantive rights are violated to the detriment of the core values; if, on the other hand, these decisions are overruled by the courts, majoritarian procedures are defied to the detriment of the core values. CB believes that given such conflicts the right decision is the decision which minimizes the aggregate or overall loss to the core values. Determining what the right decision is requires therefore comparing or balancing the loss to core values resulting from an anti-majoritarian rights-respecting decision and the loss to core values resulting from a majoritarian rights-violating decision.

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PPPS: “Unhappy Families: Three Ways of Thinking About Imperfect Political Regimes”

I got the idea for this paper while teaching a course on dictatorships and revolutions. The course had little political philosophy content (by design), but we did talk about whether democratic regimes are always to be preferred to non-democratic regimes, and I had a section on “transitional justice” at the end of the trimester. Teaching the course  crystallized a certain dissatisfaction with the emphasis of much recent political theory on questions about the justification of constitutional democracy. The problem was not that I had any objections to the justification of constitutional democracy, but that such discussions seemed to be of little help in evaluating the many kinds of political regimes that actually exist in the world today, and which can be imperfect in a bewildering variety of ways. As a native of Venezuela, I also wondered whether the emphasis of recent political theory on democracy obscured more than it illuminated the ways in which political regimes promote or fail to promote certain values and interests.


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Brettschneider Reading Group, Chapter 6

In Chapter Six, Corey Brettschneider sets out to argue that citizens of ideal democracies are entitled to basic “welfare guarantees.”  In the two previous chapters, he has argued that democratic citizens are owed certain “negative rights” against state interference; here, he shifts his attention to what he calls the “positive rights of individuals to be given some particular good by the state” (114).  The argument of the chapter develops in three steps.  First, Brettschneider argues that private property in its modern form depends, for its very existence, on state coercion.  Second, he argues that private property must therefore be justifiable to all citizens (using the canons of justification he has defended so far in the book).  Third, he holds that any plausible justification of property must involve a guarantee of welfare rights to citizens.

Brettschneider begins by arguing that private property is best understood as a “bundle of rights” that fall into two categories: “vertical” and “horizontal” rights.  Vertical rights describe the owner’s relationship to the property itself and include her right to use, trade, destroy, and conserve that property.  Horizontal rights, on the other hand, describe the relationship between the property owner and other people.  The most basic of these horizontal rights is the right to exclude others, to prevent non-owners from exercising any control over one’s own property.  This right to exclude, says Brettschneider, requires the power of coercion.

Does this power of coercion necessarily implicate the state? Brettschneider acknowledges that there is some disagreement between liberals and libertarians on this question.  It is conceivable, he grants, to argue that owners could exercise such coercion themselves, or contract with others to provide it.   Such is not, however, the case in contemporary societies, where property ownership depends on state enforcement.  The duty to respect others’ property, and the corresponding right to exclude, are now enforced by law.  They must therefore be justified publicly.

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