Author Archives: Marcus Arvan

Rightness as Fairness: A Moral and Political Theory – now available

This is just a quick announcement that my new book, Rightness as Fairness: A Moral and Political Theory is now available from Palgrave MacMillan and Amazon.  Here is a brief overview:

This book argues that moral and political philosophy should be based on seven scientific principles of theory selection. It then argues that a new comprehensive moral and political theory—Rightness as Fairness—satisfies those principles more successfully than existing theories. Chapter 1 explicates the seven principles of theory-selection, arguing that moral philosophy must conform them to be truth-apt. Chapter 2 argues those principles jointly support founding moral philosophy in known facts of empirical moral psychology: specifically, our capacities for mental time-travel and modal imagination. Chapter 2 then shows that these capacities present human decisionmakers with a problem of diachronic rationality that includes but generalizes beyond, L.A. Paul’s problem of transformative experience: a problem that I call “the problem of possible future selves.” Chapter 3 then argues that a new principle of rationality—the Categorical-Instrumental Imperative—is the only rational solution to this problem, as it requires our present and future selves to forge and uphold a recursive, bi-directional contract with each another given mutual recognition of the problem. Chapter 4 then shows that the Categorical-Instrumental Imperative has three identical formulations analogous but superior to Immanuel Kant’s various formulations of his ‘categorical imperative.’ Chapter 5 shows that these unified formulas jointly entail a particular test of moral principles: a Moral Original Position similar to John Rawls’ famous ‘original position’, but which avoids a variety of problems with Rawls’ model. Chapter 6 then shows that the Moral Original Position generates Four Principles of Fairness, which can then be combined into a single principle of moral rightness: Rightness as Fairness. This new conception of rightness is shown to reconcile four dominant moral frameworks (deontology, consequentialism, virtue ethics, and contractualism), as well as entail a new method of moral decisionmaking for applied ethics: a method of “principled fair negotiation” according to which applied ethical issues cannot be wholly resolved through principled debate, but must instead be resolved by actual negotiation and compromise. This method is then argued to generate novel, nuanced analyses of a variety of applied moral issues, including trolley cases, torture, and the ethical treatment of nonhuman animals. Chapter 7 then shows that Rightness as Fairness reconciles three leading political frameworks—libertarianism, egalitarianism, and communitarianism—showing how all three embody legitimate moral ideals that can, and should, be fairly negotiated against each other to settle the scope, and nature, of domestic, international, and global justice on an ongoing, iterated basis. Finally, Chapter 8 argues that Rightness as Fairness satisfies all seven of the principles of theory-selected defended in Chapter 1 more successfully than rival theories. read more...

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Final CFP: 3rd Annual Philosophers’ Cocoon Philosophy Conference

This is just a quick reminder that the August 1st submission deadline for the 3rd Annual Philosophers’ Cocoon Philosophy Conference (November 7th-8th at the University of Tampa) is fast approaching! For the full CFP, see here.

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CFP: 3rd Annual Philosophers’ Cocoon Philosophy Conference

I am pleased to announce this call-for-papers for the 3rd Annual Philosophers’ Cocoon Philosophy Conference (PCPC), which will be held at University of Tampa on Saturday November 14th and Sunday November 15th, 2015. It would be great to have some submissions by Public Reason readers or contributors. For the full CFP, please see here!

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“First Steps Toward a Nonideal Theory of Justice” out now!

I would like to announce the publication of my article, “First Steps Toward a Nonideal Theory of Justice, which just came out in Ethics and Global Politics. Here’s its abstract:

Theorists have long debated whether John Rawls’ conception of justice as fairness can be extended to nonideal (i.e. unjust) social and political conditions, and if so, what the proper way of extending it is. This paper argues that in order to properly extend justice as fairness to nonideal conditions, Rawls’ most famous innovation—the original position—must be reconceived in the form of a ‘nonideal original position’. I begin by providing a new analysis of the ideal/nonideal theory distinction within Rawls’ theoretical framework. I then systematically construct a nonideal original position, showing that although its parties must have Rawls’ principles of ideal justice and priority relations as background aims, the parties should be entirely free to weigh those aims against whatever burdens and benefits they might face under nonideal conditions. Next, I show that the parties ought to aim to secure for themselves a special class of nonideal primary goods: all-purpose goods similar to Rawls’ original primary goods, but which in this case are all-purpose goods individuals might use to (a) promote Rawlsian ideals under nonideal conditions, (b) weigh Rawls’ principles of ideal justice and priority relations against whatever burdens and benefits they might face under nonideal conditions, and (c) effectively pursue their most favored weighting thereof. Finally, I defend a provisional list of nonideal primary goods, and briefly speculate on how the parties to the nonideal original position might deliberate to principles of nonideal justice for distributing them. read more...

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“A Better, Dual Theory of Human Rights”

Readers interested in human rights theory and practice may find my new article, “A Better, Dual Theory of Human Rights” (which just appeared in The Philosophical Forum) of interest. Here is the abstract:

Human rights theory and practice have long been stuck in a rut. Although disagreement is the norm in philosophy and social-political practice, the sheer depth and breadth of disagreement about human rights is truly unusual. Human rights theorists and practitioners disagree – wildly in many cases – over just about every issue: what human rights are, what they are for, how many of them there are, how they are justified, what human interests or capacities they are supposed to protect, what they require of persons and institutions, etc. Disagreement about human rights is so profound, in fact, that several prominent theorists have remarked that the very concept of a “human right” appears nearly criterionless. In my 2012 article, “Reconceptualizing Human Rights”, I diagnosed the root cause of these problems. Theorists and practitioners have incorrectly supposed that the concept of “human right” picks out a single, unified class of moral entitlements. However, the concept actually refers to two fundamentally different types of moral entitlements: (A) international human rights, which are universal human moral entitlements to coercive international protections, and (B) domestic human rights, which are universal human moral entitlements to coercive domestic protections. Accordingly, I argue, an adequate “theory of human rights” must be a dual theory. The present paper provides the first such theory. First, I show that almost every justification given for “human rights” in the literature – such as the notion of a “minimally decent human life”, “urgent human interests”, and “human needs” – suffers from at least one of two fatal problems. Second, I show that after some revisions, James Griffin’s conception of “personhood” provides a compelling justificatory ground for international human rights. Third, I show that the account entails that there are very few international human rights – far fewer than existing human rights theories and practices suggest. Fourth, I show that there are reasons to find my very short list of international human rights compelling: “human rights justifications” for coercive international and foreign policy actions over the past several have consistently overstepped what can be morally justified, and my account reveals precisely how existing human rights theories and practices have failed to adequately grapple with these moral hazards. Finally, I outline an account of domestic human rights which fits well with many existing human rights beliefs and practices, vindicating those beliefs and practices, but only at a domestic level. read more...

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First Steps Toward a Nonideal Theory of Justice

I am happy to announce that my article “First Steps Toward a Nonideal Theory of Justice” has been accepted for publication at Ethics & Global Politics. Here is the abstract:

Theorists have long debated whether John Rawls’ conception of justice as fairness can be extended to nonideal (i.e. unjust) social and political conditions, and if so, what the proper way of extending it is. This paper argues that in order to properly extend justice as fairness to nonideal conditions, Rawls’ most famous innovation – the original position – must be reconceived in the form of a “nonideal original position.” I then systematically construct a nonideal original position, showing that although its parties must have Rawls’ principles of ideal justice and priority relations as background aims, the parties should be otherwise entirely free to weigh those aims against whatever burdens and benefits they might face under nonideal conditions. Next, I show that the parties ought to aim to secure for themselves a special class of “nonideal primary goods”: all-purpose goods similar to Rawls’ original primary goods, but which in this case are all-purpose goods individuals might use to (A) promote Rawlsian ideals under nonideal conditions, (B) weigh Rawls’ principles of ideal justice and priority relations against whatever burdens and benefits they might face under nonideal conditions, and (C) effectively pursue their most favored weighting thereof. Finally, I defend a provisional list of nonideal primary goods, and briefly speculate on how the parties to the nonideal original position might deliberate to principles of nonideal justice for distributing them. read more...

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