Stability, Autonomy, and the Foundations of Political Liberalism

Law and Philosophy, Forthcoming

An attractive form of social stability is realized when the members of a well-ordered society give that society’s organizing principles their free and reflective endorsement. However, many political philosophers are skeptical that there is any requirement to show that their principles would engender this kind of stability. This skepticism is at the root of a number of objections to political liberalism, since arguments for political liberalism often appeal to its ability to be stable in this way. The aim of this paper is to address skepticism about the stability condition by putting forward a novel defense of it. My defense builds on the claim that stable principles are necessary to secure the full autonomy of those who live under them.

Rawls's Conception of Autonomy

The Routledge Handbook of Autonomy, edited by Ben Colburn, Forthcoming

This chapter sets out John Rawls’s conception of autonomy and considers the role that it plays in his thought across A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism. I suggest that one distinctive but overlooked feature of this conception is that it takes seriously the threat to autonomy that arises from how individuals are shaped by their social and political institutions. After setting out this conception and tracing its connections to wider discussions of autonomy, I argue for two main conclusions. First, that despite appearances to the contrary, Rawls’s autonomy-based commitments are broadly speaking consistent across his two main works. Second, that these autonomy-based commitments are not in fact disbarred from playing a grounding role in Political Liberalism. On the contrary, I suggest that Rawls’s conception of autonomy motivates his aim of finding principles of justice that can be stable, and that this in turn illuminates his later commitment to a political liberalism.


A Framework for Analyzing Public Reason Theories
European Journal of Political Theory, OnlineFirst (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.