Category Archives: Articles

PPPS: “Torture Lite and the Normalisation of Torture”

Hi everybody,

The paper I am presenting for this podcast symposium is part of an ongoing research interest of mine in how torture becomes institutionalized in military forces that are (in theory at least) committed to the prohibition against torture. I am particularly interested in how the processes of rationalization and normalization contribute to the use of torture, and how language, training, and torture methods effect the moral attitudes of those involved in the authorization and use of torture.

I was inspired to write this paper after noticing that the term “torture lite” was turning up quite frequently in the public debate about torture, used both by those who argue against torture and by those arguing that torture might sometimes be justified. I was interested in how the use of this phrase (and similar phrases such as “enhanced interrogation”) shaped the debate about torture, and in whether this term does pick out a set of torture techniques that are generally or always less severe than more violent torture methods. In particular, I began to wonder how the techniques described as torture lite (for example, extended sleep deprivation, forced standing, noise bombardment, isolation, and manipulation of heat and cold) shaped torturers’ (and others’) moral perception of what is being done to the victims and who is responsible for it. It struck me that so-called torture lite techniques share certain features that tend to mask the effects of these methods on the victims and minimize the torturer’s role in causing the victims’ suffering, and that this might play an important role in making such forms of torture seem more palatable to liberal democracies than would otherwise be the case. read more...

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PPPS: “The Roles of Religious Conviction in a Publicly Justified Polity”

Hi everyone. My name is Kevin Vallier. I’m a fourth year graduate student at the University of Arizona. My primary work is in political philosophy, but I have strong interests in ethics, philosophy of economics and philosophy of religion. I’m currently writing my dissertation. In short, I’m attempting to give a justificatory liberal account of the role of religion in politics. The article I’m reading to you in many ways form the template for my dissertation.

I of course wrote this article with my dissertation advisor and world-class political philosopher Jerry Gaus. The article was originally an invitation to Jerry to write an article that would be part of a symposium on public reason and religion in Philosophy and Social Criticism. Jerry and I had been talking about these issues for nearly a year, so he was magnanimous enough to invite me to be a co-author. read more...

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2009 Berger Prize

Public Reason member David Reidy, with co-author Jeppe von Platz, has been awarded the 2009 Berger Prize by the APA Committee on Law and Philosophy for “The Structural Variety of Historical Injustices,” Journal of Social Philosophy, v. 37.3, pgs. 360-376, 2006. Reidy worked with von Platz on the paper while the latter was a graduate student at Tennessee. von Platz is now completing his Ph.D. at Penn. The paper will be discussed at a special session of the APA Pacific Division Meeting in the spring. Criticisms of or reactions to the paper are welcome (send to dreidy[at], as preparation for the spring session will no doubt require some rethinking. (For those interested in historical injustice and reparations, the JSP issue in which this paper appears is an excellent special issue devoted to the topic and edited by Kok-Chor Tan and Rahul Kumar.) read more...

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Polluting the Polls: When Citizens Should Not Vote

Lately, I’ve been wondering what it means to be a good citizen.  I’ve been working to develop a liberal theory of civic virtue that is, I think, properly purged of certain republican ideas.  That is, I think civic virtue for liberals is exercised primarily in non-political arenas, via activities we wouldn’t normally think of as expressing civic virtue.  More on that some other time.  As a piece of this broader project, I have a paper coming out in The Australasian Journal of Philosophy on the ethics of voting by this title.

Here’s the abstract:  Just because one has the right to vote does not mean just any vote is right.  Citizens should not vote badly.  This duty to avoid voting badly is grounded in a general duty not to engage in collectively harmful activities when the personal cost of restraint is low.  Good governance is a public good.  Bad governance is a public bad.  We should not be contributing to public bads when the benefit to ourselves is low.  Many democratic theorists agree that we shouldn’t vote badly, but that’s because they think we should vote well.  This demands too much of citizens.

So, in summary, on my view, citizens don’t in general have an obligation to vote, but if they do vote, they should vote well.  What I do in the paper is outline broadly what it means to vote badly, explain why I think you ought not to do it, and then answer various objections.

An outline of the argument is: 1.One has an obligation not to engage in collectively harmful activities when refraining from such activities does not impose significant personal costs.  2. Voting badly is to engage in a collectively harmful activity, while abstaining imposes low personal costs. 3. Therefore, one should not vote badly.

Some of the worries about this argument that I respond to are (among others): A.  If good governance is a public good as I say, shouldn’t everyone who benefits from this good contribute to it? B.  Don’t individual bad votes have incredibly low expected disutility, and if so, why bother prohibit bad voting? C. Does this position imply epistocracy (Estlund’s term, meaning the rule of those who know better) or something like it?  D. Is this view self-effacing? E.  What if citizens are good at judging character, even if they are bad at judging policies?

So, if people are interested, I’ll be writing more about this in the next few days.  Feel free to email me at Jason_brennan [at] if you’d like a copy.  (I’ve got to make a final few revisions over the next few weeks anyways, so any comments would of course be welcome.)

[Update: I’ve added a bloggingheads video of Jason and blogger Will Wilkinson (Cato Institute) on this paper below the fold — SCM]

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Journal of Moral Philosophy news

Today, we have learned the news that the Journal of Moral Philosophy will be a quarterly publication from 2009. This is a major change that I have been hoping to achieve for some time. The JMP was launched in April 2004 and since this time we have published three issues per year. I am particularly delighted that we will be able to publish accepted work more quickly and provide more articles, review articles, discussion pieces, and book reviews to our readers.

At present, the JMP continues to be strong. We receive over 120 submissions per year minimum and our acceptance rate remains 10%. The majority of papers accepted are accepted after revisions. We currently use three referees for submissions and more than 80% of submissions are reviewed in two months or less.

The latest issue of the Journal of Moral Philosophy is now available. Please note that we have moved to Brill and our new website can be found here. (Our previously site with SAGE Publications is here.) All issues of the JMP can be downloaded from IngentaConnect here.

The contents are as follows:

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Reasonable Rejection and Redundancy

A paper due out any month now in the Journal of Political Philosophy by Tamra Frei has got me thinking about the redundancy objection to Scanlon’s contractualism. I haven’t followed this debate closely, but I understand that some rather sophisticated responses to the objection have been offered on Scanlon’s behalf, with Michael Ridge’s receiving much of Frei’s attention. So I may be a bit out of my comfort zone here. Nevertheless, Frei’s response, which is rather simple by comparison, strikes me as both successful and rather plausible as an interpretation of Scanlon. I also think her argument can be bolstered by pointing to a couple passages she unfortunately does not discuss. However, if this response does succeed, there will be some reason to avoid the common practice of using the language of reasonable rejection to describe Rawls’s political liberalism. I’ll touch on this at the end of the post.

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