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Kevin Vallier
Bowling Green, OH
Political philosopher at Bowling Green State University
Interests: Political philosophy, normative ethics, political economy, philosophy of religion
Recent Activity
Political liberalism, public reason and surrounding issues remain hot topics, along with the egalitarianism vs. prioritarianism vs. sufficientarianism debate. I have some evidence - the distribution of abstracts for the first Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy workshop here: (20 abstracts for sufficiency/priority/equality, 18 for political liberalism/public reason). Importantly, of the 180 abstracts submitted, only 3 covered global justice. I think we probably hit peak global justice work a few years ago. If you include law professors who work in political philosophy, I'd also add the "Is religious special?" debate. I'm sure Brian will agree!
Pete, I also read Kenworthy's piece and I think he'd respond to the fiscal responsibility worries by repeating what he said in the article: we must raise taxes dramatically. There are "public choice" worries here: if we use the government to give us free goodies, we might also use the government to make sure our in-group doesn't pay for them. But I think that is what he would say.
Eric, thanks for the thoughtful overview. I was shocked that the authors didn't so much as cite Kuhn. I haven't read the paper, nor will I probably have time, so let me ask you something about it: from what you've said, the authors seem to think that the *point* of economic theorizing is to create models that practitioners would use. Do they say as much? Or do they merely say that is one point of economic modeling? If they do say as much, that's a terrible shame. Suppose Hayek (in his more skeptical rather than more rationalistic moments) is right and it's practically impossible to translate models into practical policy. Would the authors be committed to saying that economics is pointless? I'd like to think science is worthwhile even if it doesn't help policy wonks.
I'll say a bit more about what I have in mind as the alternative. We can see it if we focus a bit on Cohen's criticisms of Rawls's constructivism. According to Cohen (and let's assume he's correct for the moment), Rawls formulates political principles based on empirical facts, like moderate scarcity or certain features of human moral psychology. But the *real* normative principles can't be fact-sensitive in this way because they must *derive* their normativity from some logically prior principle that is itself fact-insensitive (basically a regress argument; one any constructivist would happily block by accepting a fact-sensitive moral principle as brute). In the Rawlsian case, some moral principles depend on contingent empirical facts for their truth, even if they are not the *ultimate* normative principles. Rawls's two principles, for example, are supposed to be fact-sensitive in this way, dependent on a whole host of contingent empirical facts. So that's the alternative, I think: stuff in the orbit of constructivist approaches in normative ethics and political philosophy. For what it is worth, one reason I don't think Cohen's criticism of constructivism is sound partly because I think you can be a constructivist in political philosophy but hold that there are fact-insensitive moral principles that specify the relevance of facts about human nature (a reply like the one you offer). I think any Rawlsian, especially a political liberal, should respond in this way.
Is there a reason University of Notre Dame press is not on the list? I've heard good things, but its omission from the list suggests that I should have heard a lot more bad than good. BL COMMENT: Just an oversight, it could have been on there.
While Rawls does not abandon Justice as Fairness in Political Liberalism, he does allow that a family of liberal political conceptions of justice can achieve legitimacy even if they are not fully just. These conceptions must have a number of core features but can differ from Justice as Fairness in a vast number of respects. Its worth rereading Lecture 1, Sec. 1 to get a feel for how loose Rawls got (its only seven pages). Jerry Gaus has argued that Rawls grappled with disagreement and indeterminacy in the theory of justice his entire philosophical career. In the 50s, Rawls recognized that we could all agree on rules that took us to the Pareto frontier, but that it was unclear how to justify landing on a particular point on the frontier. The Difference Principle is supposed to provide a justification for picking such a point (there's a neat graph in Justice as Fairness: A Restatement on the matter. But in the end, Rawls had to partly abandon the massive TJ apparatus meant to generate determinacy and agreement due to the fact of reasonable pluralism. Rawls still maintained that Justice as Fairness is the most reasonable and most fully just of a family of reasonable liberal conceptions, but that's the most that can be said. In The Order of Public Reason, Gaus argues that if there are multiple reasonable liberal conceptions of justice, then surely we can disagree about how to rank them. If so, we run into an Arrovian problem: members of the public might have jointly inconsistent rankings of these conceptions of justice (or in Gaus's case, the more finely grained unit of laws) such that there is no social ranking of principles and policies with respect to some issue. In some ways, solving that problem is the animating problem of Gaus's book. He moves as far as one can in the direction of reasonable pluralism, articulates a number of challenges in doing so, and then attempts to solve them.
Pete, thanks for interacting with my post. But note that I'm not talking about *economics* but *economists*. The post was partly inspired by talking to some of your students at APEE last year who were both consequentialists and subjectivists about value. So I'm not making the claim that the subjective theory of value as employed by economists makes any metaethical assumptions, but rather that assumptions are made about the way that economists employ it.
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Feb 27, 2012