Tag Archives: Kurt Baier

OPR VI.18 Jurisdictional Rights

At the end of Chapter 17 we saw that the argument from abstraction cannot provide the determinate moral rules that are needed for social coordination.  Members of the public are left with a set of optimal eligible interpretations of the abstract rights presented in Chapter 17.  In Chapter 18 we see how that set can be further narrowed.

Gaus begins with a discussion of the function of rights and an attack on the common taxonomy of choice vs. interest theories of rights.  Rather than give a theory of the necessary conditions of something being a right, Gaus is concerned with what he calls the jurisdictional function of rights.  Gaus’ concern with rights is practical; he is concerned with what rights do, not with giving a theory that specifies the necessary and sufficient conditions of rights.

In so many places in OPR, we have seen Gaus put aside the traditional metaphysical and epistemological concerns with reasons, morality, and responsibility to focus on the practical problems that arise from an attempt to make sense of individual reason and social morality.  The distinctiveness of Baier-Strawson view (which should really be just called the Gaus view) is primarily this focus on the essentially practical nature of the philosophical enterprise.

Gaus sees rights as a solution to the practical problem of the incommensurability of values.  How is it possible to find a collective choice or social agreement between persons when their fundamental values so often conflict?  In the last section we saw that one solution may be to abstract or idealize to find out what common standards we share, but as we have seen, this solution only has limited usefulness.  Another solution is to “partition the moral space” (372) so that each individual is the rightful decision maker in his or her own defined sphere.  In effect, why not privatize social morality in a publicly justified way so that not all value questions are open to social choice?  In each individual’s sphere, they are sovereign and others may not  override their decisions.

The contrast to what might be called the devolution of moral authority is what Gaus calls the centralizing response.  The centralizing response hold that when faced with evaluative diversity, the proper response is look to commonalities in values to try to regulate and organize social morality with an overarching standard.  The problem with this solution to the problem of diversity is that, as we saw in the last section, it is indeterminate.  In contrast, by devolving moral authority each individual has a determinate authority over a determinate sphere.  This solves the problem of seeking a common standard for the basis of public moral authority by relocating that authority in the rules of devolution rather than in the substantive claims of public moral authority itself.

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OPR IV.13 The Reasons One Has (Part 2)

As we saw on Monday, Gaus believes that the externalist view of having a reason carries with it serious problems.  Furthermore, the attempt to decrease the diversity of reasons that one has through idealization is beset by the twin problems of indeterminacy and path-dependence. Even with radical idealization of our cognitive faculties, we would still not necessarily, or even likely, end up sharing all of our reasons.  This leads Gaus to give up on the idea of full rationality as a possibility.

Once we give up on the idea of full rationality, we are led, Gaus argues, to theorize from the point of view of what John Pollock called real rationality.  Pollock distinguishes, helpfully, between justified and warranted choices.  Justified choices are the products of epistemically valid procedures of reasoning; warranted choices are the product of all possible relevant reasoning.  Gaus argues “in a world of less than perfect information and cognitive capacities, we need some concept to indicate when a person’s reasoning about the world is up to acceptable standards and when it is not.” (247)

This conception of justification cannot be equated with truth, however.  The fact that there is a reason does not necessarily mean that anyone actual person will necessarily be justified in acting on that reason.  One can be justified in having a reason, but what ultimately matters in terms of interpersonal justification is whether or not that reason is warranted.  One can be reasonably said to have a reason, however, if they do not have any defeaters that are accessible to them.  This standard is importantly not that there are no defeaters, there may be, but they are not accessible to a person that has done a reasonable amount of reflection and investigation.  Gaus argues that “the reasons you have must be accessible to you, and as a real rational agent in a world in which cognitive activity has significant costs, rationality does not demand one keep on with the quest to discover less and less accessible reasons.”  (253)

What counts as a respectable amount of deliberation is often vague and will vary with context.  Gaus compares what counts as a respectable amount of deliberation in a physics seminar to what counts for a baseball umpire.  Baseball umpires need to make calls quickly and, hence, deliberation must be very quick, understanding that there will be a certain amount of error.  Not so in a physics seminar.

Morality, after all, is not meant to be the esoteric doctrine of the epistemic elite.  We expect normal adults to be able to grasp and follow the rules of social morality.  Gaus claims that “normal moral agents have accessible undefeated reasons to affirm” the rules of social morality. (255) The idea that normal adults should be able to recognize their moral reasons sets a maximum limit on the epistemic demands of normal moral reasoning. But, we must be careful not to set the bar too low.  People do wrong and we often think it is because they did not take sufficient care or deliberation before they acted.  The thing to do is not always glaringly obvious.  After all, our conceptions of social morality are not static, we genuinely learn both from our own actions and from what others tell us.  The possibility of moral change, both progressive and regressive, occurs because finding out what reasons we have is often a social and collaborative venture.

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