Working Papers

Territorial Jurisdiction: A Functionalist Account

[TBC] 

A Defense of the Stability Condition

Must principles of political morality be stable? This question has significant and far-reaching implications for political philosophy, because principles that are developed with the aim of securing stability will inevitably be quite different from those developed without this condition in mind. Many philosophers are skeptical that principles of political morality must be stable, however. This skepticism is, I suspect, often at the root of objections to John Rawls’s political liberalism, a view that was explicitly developed to be stable. The aim of this paper is to put forward a novel defense of the stability condition. This defense takes as its starting point the suggestion that stable principles are necessary in order to secure the political autonomy of those who live under them. I argue that this autonomy-based defense of the stability condition is ultimately incomplete. However, this incompleteness can be rectified by a supplementary argument, which I set out and defend, that establishes that the principles that secure political autonomy are the principles that we have most reason to accept.

Publications

 

A Framework for Analyzing Public Reason Theories
European Journal of Political Theory, Forthcoming (with Paul Billingham)

Proponents of public reason views hold that the exercise of political power ought to be acceptable to all reasonable citizens. This paper elucidates the common structure shared by all public reason views, first by identifying a set of questions that all such views must answer and, second, by showing that the answers to these questions stand in a particular relationship to each other. In particular, we show that what we call the ‘rationale question’ is fundamental. This fact, and the common structure more generally, is often overlooked or distorted within the literature. As a result, we argue, several prominent argumentative moves made by both critics and defenders of public reason are unsuccessful. Our overall conclusion is that discussions of public reason views would be more fruitful if they made consistent use of the common structure we identify.

Liberal Perfectionism, Moral Integrity, and Self-Respect

American Journal of Jurisprudence 63, 2018, pp. 63-79 (with Paul Billingham)

This paper presents a dilemma for Matthew Kramer’s view, as defended in his Liberalism with Excellence. A central aim of that book is to critique existing liberal perfectionist theories, which he labels ‘edificatory’, and to defend a different such theory, which he calls ‘aspirational’. Edificatory perfectionism holds that governments ought to promote citizens’ well-being directly by inducing them to live lives that are more wholesome, cultivated, or autonomous. Aspirational perfectionism, meanwhile, holds that governments ought to promote the conditions under which every citizen can be warranted in harbouring a strong sense of self-respect, by promoting the occurrence of outstanding achievements within society. We first argue that Kramer’s two central arguments against edificatory perfectionism, which appeal to the value of freedom and to moral integrity, fail to establish the impermissibility of edificatory policies. His critique could be salvaged by holding that the ambit of legitimate government activity is limited to the provision and distribution of primary goods. However, we argue, second, that Kramer’s own aspirational perfectionism also runs afoul of this restriction, because his conception of warranted self-respect is not a primary good. Kramer is thus faced with a choice between upholding his objections to edificatory perfectionism and maintaining the coherence of his aspirational perfectionism.

Public Justification and the Reactive Attitudes

Politics, Philosophy & Economics 17, 2018, pp. 97-113

A distinctive position in contemporary political philosophy is occupied by those who defend the principle of public justification. This principle states that the moral or political rules that govern our common life must be in some sense justifiable to all reasonable citizens. In this article, I evaluate Gerald Gaus’s defence of this principle, which holds that it is presupposed by our moral reactive attitudes of resentment and indignation. He argues, echoing P.F. Strawson in ‘Freedom and Resentment’, that these attitudes are so deep a part of us that we are unable to rationally reject them. I examine and reject this defence of the principle. Considering the nature of our commitment to the moral reactive attitudes, I argue that those attitudes need not be grounded in a commitment to public justification. The availability of alternative grounds for these attitudes shows, contra Gaus, that we can rationally reject the principle of public justification while maintaining a wholehearted commitment to the reactive attitudes.

Dissertation

Expressing our Fallibility: A Conception of Public Reason

This thesis is about the reasonable agreement principle, a principle which holds that the exercise of political power must be acceptable to all reasonable citizens in order to be morally legitimate. Though this principle has become popular in contemporary political philosophy, it has been formulated and defended in a variety of often conflicting ways. I argue first that a successful defence of the principle will have to meet three conditions. First, it must explain who reasonable citizens are. Second, it must offer a compelling a rationale for tying the legitimacy of the exercise of political power to what these citizens accept. Third, it must show that the rules or principles that would be acceptable to reasonable citizens are not implausible. In the first part of the thesis, I examine some of the most significant ways in which the principle has been formulated and defended, and argue that none meets these three conditions. In the second part of the thesis, I develop an account of the reasonable agreement principle which can meet these three conditions. I argue that reasonable citizens should be understood as agents in circumstances where their powers of moral judgment operate free of distortions, offer an account of what these circumstances consist in, and suggest that a compelling rationale for the principle can be given when they are understood in this way. I then go on to consider what citizens in such circumstances would accept, arguing that they would accept principles of political morality that express a commitment to the fact that they are fallible choosers of their final ends.