Tag Archives: Coercion

Call for Emerging Scholar Workshop Participants: Workshop on Recent Trends in the Philosophy of Coercion

Call for Emerging Scholar Participants:  Workshop on Current Issues in Coercion

Applications are invited from current advanced doctoral students and recent PhD graduates/early career scholars to participate in a workshop on current issues in coercion, to be held on the campus of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, March 25-26, 2017.  This workshop occurs at the culmination of a SSHRC-funded project on “The Regulation of Coercion,” led by Scott Anderson of the University of British Columbia.  The workshop will feature the participation of and work by leading experts on coercion, including: read more...

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OPR VIII.23: The Justification of Coercive Laws

Overview of §23

I’m going to structure my discussion of this section a little differently. I’m also going to be a bit polemical about it. Perhaps this treatment will galvanize some discussion about this section, which I believe is rather significant for Gaus’ argument.

In the preface to the book, Gaus decries the tendency of political philosophers to turn into hedgehogs, each championing one among many potential political creeds (liberal egalitarianism, libertarianism, Marxism, communitarianism, etc.). Gaus then announces his attention to take a different, “foxier” path, one that does not endorse a particular political philosophy, but asks how we should think about the moral order—including the political order—in a world lacking reasonable agreement about many basic moral questions. In doing so, he eschews any desire to champion, hedgehog-style, any single political philosophy—including libertarianism, a philosophy with which he is prominently associated (p. xv). I distinctly remember reading this passage months ago and saying to myself, the philosopher doth protest too much. And lo and behold, many months later, I am not surprised to see that Gaus’ in-depth examination of the nature of morality is yielding libertarian political conclusions.

I should be clear here—I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Gaus attempting to defend libertarianism in this book. If something like reflective equilibrium is a legitimate method for producing valid moral claims, one would expect Gaus, a libertarian, to endorse a libertarian political system, and to argue that the moral situation in which we find ourselves today calls for libertarian principles. If his analysis of morality had yielded the conclusion that communism was the only acceptable economic system, one would expect Gaus to go over the argument seven or eight hundred times until he had found the problem with it. Again, let me repeat—there is nothing illegitimate about this as a method of argument. But it is a little disingenuous of Gaus to act as though he is merely following the argument where it goes, and the fact that it leads to pro-libertarian conclusions is just some sort of happy accident.

Technically, of course, Gaus’ argument does not unambiguously endorse any particular political order. But Gaus’ analysis of morality most definitely tilts in a libertarian-friendly direction. Reasonable people who aim to settle upon a political order, says Gaus, will consider which principles they could reasonably accept as the basis for such an order. They will do so on a principle-by-principle basis; they can do this, because Gaus eschews any efforts at evaluating competing political orders as a whole. Of course, Gaus says, they will endorse all the standard things that libertarians like to endorse—basic rights to life, liberty, and property. But will they endorse anything else? It should be clear that there will be a very serious obstacle to their doing so. Endowing the political order with any further powers will only be morally legitimate if every reasonable moral citizen would agree to such endowment. And there is an important class of people—libertarians like Gaus himself—who can be expected to object to any such expansions of state authority. In effect, libertarians can reasonably count upon other citizens endorsing a set of principles which, considered all by themselves, constitute the libertarian ideal point. Not surprisingly, libertarians will be reluctant to endorse any move away from this ideal point, and their endorsement is necessary in order for any such move to be legitimate.

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