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October 03, 2012


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This is interesting Antti. One point though:
"what makes a state democratic is, roughly, that decisions about how to use the powers of the state to promote the common good and implement people’s rights are made in a way that is reliably sensitive to everyone’s publicly defensible political preferences"

Here, you suggest that the relevant preferences a liberal democracy ought to respect are *publicly defensible political preferences*. But later you suggest that the state ought to respect my preference for megajumbo coke. I'm not entirely sure whether this preference is publicly defensible, but it's surely very doubtful that this is a political preference. What am I missing?

Interesting stuff Antti.

You claim that the burden on benefactors is disrespectful if the beneficiaries are given something that they take to be of value but that it not of *actual* value, and then suggest that to figure out when impositions on benefactors are justified (respectful) the state would need to settle on what is actually good for potential beneficiaries. This seems to be your core objection to the Pragmatic view.

Why couldn't the pragmatist resist this line of argument as follows:

The truth that is close to your claim is that the burden on benefactors is disrespectful if the beneficiaries are given something that the beneficiaries, but not the benefactors, *take* to be of value. And while you rightly insist that the state must, on pain of being respectful, pay attention to the burdened, not just the beneficiaries, it need not take a stand on what is actually valuable; it need only concern itself with what the benefited *and burdened* value.

I think this objection shows you need to defend an assumption of your argument, but reflection on cases makes it hard to decide between your view and the "both parties" pragmatist well-being view towards which I am pointing.

It is hard to know what to say, e.g. about (i) cases in which the beneficiary is actually benefited but the burdened don't, and perhaps can't be brought to, recognize the relevant values and (ii) cases in which in which the burdened and beneficiaries share a false view of what is good. I lean towards thinking state interference in the former cases is disrespectful (at least sometimes), and that would favor the pragmatic view over yours. But I am less clear about what to say in the cases of the second type.

Thanks for the comments, guys!

Alex, I admit my one-line theory of democracy isn't very sophisticated, and you're right about the preference being unpolitical. But I don't think it's implausible to assume that the people who prefer the megajumbo drink also prefer it to be legally available to them. (Though the two kinds of preference could come apart.) I guess I'd take a preference to be publicly indefensible if it was for a policy that's a non-starter, such as a policy that undermines the freedom or equality of citizens or violates their rights. But again, that's very sketchy, to be sure.

Brad, that's an interesting suggestion. I did consider a similar line. The reasoning that led me to reject it was something like this. We're talking about whether you have a right to get something from me, or at least whether it's right for the state to force me to give you something or constrain my options. Insofar as such use of power is justified, it is justified by the fact that you're actually benefited. Similarly, you don't have the right to get what I regard as good, but only what actually is (assuming such positive rights exist in the first place).

Would it be disrespectful towards me to constrain my options to serve a purpose who value I can't be brought to see? That's not a trivial question. Maybe respecting me requires only treating me in ways permitted by norms I could rationally will to govern everyone. In that case, assuming that such norms call for me to benefit you, it's not disrespectful to force me to do something I don't actually will, given that I'm irrational. If respecting me requires giving a veto to what I actually will or value, then it is disrespectful. But then it's also disrespectful toward me to stop me from taking what's yours or violating some other right, if that's what I actually will or what accords with me actual values. And that seems wrong. So I'm inclined to think the benefactor's values aren't decisive, though respect might require at least trying to convince me that what I'm asked to contribute to is genuinely good for the beneficiary.

Hi Antti,

That makes sense, but I am still inclined to think, along broadly Rawlsian lines, that respect requires us to respect some irrational values - roughly those that involve false evaluative assumptions but which are (i) held blamelessly and (ii) subject to reasonable disagreement in the relevant context. Of course unpacking those conditions is a nightmare. But take this example. Assume some Theistic view is true and that therefore public funding of prayer centers will benefit many people. I want to claim it would be disrespectful to tax me to pay for this because I blamelessly doubt God exists and the relevant theistic view is subject to reasonable disagreement.

I am not sure how to diffuse your argument (in the last comment) on the basis of this view, or whether one case, but I will think about it!

I just wanted to say how much Dan and I appreciate your considering our paper so thoughtfully. As you know, the paper is a draft (we're on revision #23 now!) and Dan and I have tried to respond to your objection in the most recent version. We hope to respond here eventually, but we'd like to reply with one voice rather than two and it takes us a while to coordinate. In any case, we'll send you the finished version, which should be soon, and I'm sure you'll have a rebuttal!

- Valerie


this is very interesting. I don't know if this helps, but it seems to me that there is connection between the Shmuck objection and the debates about multiculturalism.

I take it that, if you are multiculturalist, then you believe that there are group-differentiated rights. Some of these rights are positive entitlements for additional support for pursuing the given conception of good life within the minority (minorities can be small here). Conversely, the multiculturalist has to accept that the money needs to come from somewhere - others can justifiedly be coerced to support the minority way of life with its conflicting conception of wellbeing (which might even be false). The Shmuck objection, in effect, claims that such coercion could perhaps be paternalistic and at least requires in any case figuring out what wellbeing is (which gets us to Genuine Welfarism).

So, if you are a multiculturalist, you better have a response to the Shmuck objection.

This lead me to think about how multiculturalists might respond to Aino. Now, it does not seem to me that all responses to Aino would have to be based on conceptions of a good life. I take it that a liberal like Kymlicka could offer a freedom and non-wellbeing based (or well-being neutral) justification for coercing Aino to support Benjamin's conception of a good life.

You could say that it is important for individuals (even if not necessarily good for them) to be able to endorse their way of life and to be able to revise their conceptions of a good life. This goes for Aino too. This requires being able to make informed choices between different ways of life. And, in order to have meaningful choices, we must have alternative ways of living a life that are actually lived by others. And, so in order to have such alternatives (such as Benjamin's) that are important for Aino's freedom too, we can coerce individual's like Aino to support them.

Now, making this response to Aino does not require taking a stand for what is good life or what wellbeing consists of beyond saying that it is important for inviduals to be free (even if they might lack wellbeing under freedom).There might be a hint of paternalism here, but I'm not sure about this.

I don't know if anyone will read this, but I'd like to belatedly respond to some of the comments above. (Sorry for taking so long - been caught up in other projects.)

Brad: Thanks for pressing the point. What you say seems right to me. I suppose my primary goal here was to argue for the necessity of actual benefit to beneficiaries. Maybe it's not sufficient. I'm inclined to agree that as long as there's reasonable disagreement about prudential value, coercing a disagreeing potential benefactor is wrong. This, of course, only sharpens the original dilemma I set out.

Valerie: I look forward to #24!

Jussi: Thanks for the suggestion and link to the multiculturalism debates. I think you're right there are parallels. Two quick thoughts. First, it's strictly speaking consistent with my argument that it's permissible to force Aino to support Benjamin's pursuit of what he misguidedly considers to be the good life for him, as long as the ground isn't Benjamin's well-being.

Second, it is a little bit scary thought that Aino's freedom could be enhanced by forcing her to support a way of life that she doesn't want to support (and may be right not to value)! Maybe it enhances my freedom a little bit that there are actual Scientologists out there. Still, I would not be happy to be taxed to support their chosen way of life, even if that was necessary for them to go on living the way they want.


thanks Antti. I agree that it is consistent with your argument that it's permissible to force Aino on non-wellbeing grounds. Yet, when you wrote:

"The main point is that if we’re going to promote well-being at cost to someone, we need to do our best to ensure that we’re really making people better off."

this strikes to me to be false if we want to take multiculturalism seriously. Also, given that you took a liberal society as a premise and presumably that the citizens of this society accept a liberal ethos, it is interesting that the non-wellbeing based justification in Kymlicka's case is the liberty of liberals itself.

About the second point, well, I am not sure it is scary. It does seem reasonable to me that there needs to be a decent number of meaningful alternative ways of life around in order for us to be genuinely free to endorse our own way of life. I grant that it is one problem in Kymlicka's view how many of these ways we need for being free. And, I assume that there can be some constraint on these alternatives that they must be reasonable as many liberals often emphasise. This probably deals with the Scientology case.

Thanks again, Jussi. I don't disagree that the availability of models of alternative ways of life is freedom-enhancing, at least other things being equal. (Though I have my doubts about how important it is that someone actually leads a life you might want to lead.) It's just the bit that you can be forced to contribute to them in the name of freedom that is scary from a liberal perspective. I mean, Berlin freaked out at the thought that you could be forced to do what your true self would want in the name of freedom. I'm more sympathetic to Pettit and the like when it comes to understanding freedom, but still, being forced to contribute to what someone else happens to value for herself in the name of your own freedom does strike me as a fundamentally anti-liberal notion. (As far as this point goes, I don't think it matters if the others are reasonable.)

There may be other grounds for doing the same that are acceptable from a certain kind of liberal perspective - perhaps we owe everybody some support for the exercise and development of their autonomy - but there's an Orwellian ring to the suggestion that it's to make you more free.

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