PHIL 410A SOCIAL PHILOSOPHY (5 Credits)

Talbott [W-Course]

 

The central focus of the course will be on liberty, especially on the question of whether the preservation of some sort of liberty rights has or ought to have priority over other social values. The course will begin with a review of three different theories of liberty rights: a natural rights account (Judith Jarvis Thomson), a utilitarian account (J.S. Mill), and a social contract account (John Rawls). The course will then consider questions concerning the justification of restrictions, especially paternalist restrictions, on individual liberty. Among the issues to be discussed are: limits on freedom of expression; laws prohibiting suicide and assisted suicide; laws prohibiting contracts of indentured servitude (temporary or permanent slavery); and laws prohibiting use of certain drugs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Requirements: In-class assignments; one 5-7 page paper, a midterm exam, and a 10-15 page term paper. Students are required to submit drafts of their papers for peer review, and to make written comments on other students' drafts. Prerequisites: One previous course in philosophy or the permission of the instructor. The course is suitable for non-majors. [W-Course] Meets I&S Requirement. No freshmen.

 

TEXTS: J. S. Mill, On Liberty; John Rawls, Political Liberalism; J.J. Thomson, The Realm of Rights; and photocopied materials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMPORTANT TERMINOLOGY

 

A particular use of a term is NORMATIVE when the term is used in a way that has ACTION-GUIDING [PRESCRIPTIVE/ PROSCRIPTIVE] force. Some terms commonly used normatively are: ought; duty; obligation; right; wrong; permissible; and forbidden. When applied to actions, appropriate and inappropriate are typically normative. [Note that not all NORMATIVE uses are MORAL uses. For example, ought can be used in a NON-MORAL, PRUDENTIAL sense, as in: One ought to eat nutritious foods.]

 

When a term is used normatively, we will call it (in that particular use) a NORMATIVE TERM.

NORMATIVE MORAL TERMS are NORMATIVE TERMS with MORAL ACTION-GUIDING force.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A use of a term is EVALUATIVE when the term is used to express approval or disapproval. Some terms commonly used evaluatively are: good; bad; excellent; and awful. When a term is used evaluatively, we will call it (in that particular use) an EVALUATIVE TERM.

[Note that EVALUATIVE TERMS can express moral approval or disapproval, but can also express other types of non-moral approval or disapproval (e.g., The statement that apples taste good is a non-moral evaluative statement).]

 

PURELY DESCRIPTIVE TERMS are terms that are used in a way that is NOT NORMATIVE and NOT EVALUATIVE. [Note that almost any term CAN be used normatively or evaluatively, but many terms typically are not. Can you think of an example?]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PURELY DESCRIPTIVE STATEMENTS are statements that contain only PURELY DESCRIPTIVE terms (no NORMATIVE or EVALUATIVE terms). [Normative/Evaluative statements can contain SOME Purely Descriptive terms, but Purely Descriptive statements cannot contain ANY Normative/Evaluative terms.]

 

NORMATIVE/EVALUATIVE STATEMENTS are statements that include at least one NORMATIVE/EVALUATIVE TERM. For example, moral statements about what one ought or ought not to do (e.g., the statement that one ought not to steal or the statement that one ought to tell the truth) are NORMATIVE, because they contain the NORMATIVE term ought. [Note that not all normative statements are moral. See above, for an example of a normative prudential statement.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWO PARADIGMS FOR MORAL REASONING

 

1. TOP-DOWN REASONING:

 

Reasoning from Moral Norms or Principles and other Acceptable Premises to a Moral Judgment about a Particular Case (a Particular Moral Judgment).

For religious traditions with an infallible moral authority, all moral reasoning is Top-Down. Enlightenment philosophers assumed that all reasoning was Top-Down, from infallible premises. I refer to this model of reasoning as the Proof Paradigm.

 

2. BOTTOM-UP REASONING:

 

Begin with judgments about particular cases. Find the moral norms or principles that best explain our particular moral judgments about actual and hypothetical cases.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An example from the U.S. DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE:

 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AN EXAMPLE TO ILLUSTRATE THE CONTRAST BETWEEN TOP-DOWN AND BOTTOM-UP REASONING

 

PREMISES: P1. It is always wrong to kill another person. (This is a Moral Norm.)

P2. I am a person.

P3. If you shoot me, I will (probably) die.

 

CONCLUSION: PMJ1. It is wrong for you to shoot me now (This is a Particular Moral Judgment).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A SECOND EXAMPLE

 

PREMISES: P1. It is always wrong to kill another person. (Moral Norm)

P2. I am a person.

P3. If you shoot me, I will (probably) die.

P4. I am trying to kill you.

 

CONCLUSION: PMJ2. It is wrong for you to shoot me now (even though I am trying to kill you). (Particular Moral Judgment)

 

Let PMJ2' be the judgment that it is not wrong for you to shoot me now if I am trying to kill you. If you accept PMJ2', you must reject one of the premises of the above derivation. The premise that seems to need revision is the moral norm P1.

 

 

EQUILIBRIUM REASONING: Allows for reasoning to go in both directions, top-down and bottom-up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berlins Two Concepts of Liberty/Freedom

 

1. Negative Liberty: no interference by other people (in one's acts)

 

2. Positive Liberty: Rational Autonomy

 

Be careful. Do not confuse Berlins concept with the popular concept of positive liberty that measures liberty by the number of available options one has. A person can have full positive liberty with no options to choose from. So long as I am able to choose rationally, I have positive liberty. Negative liberty includes the freedom to make mistakes.

 

The model of freedom from irrationality: Mathematical truth

Comte: If we do not allow free thinking in chemistry or biology, why should we allow it in morals or politics?

 

Negative freedom is the freedom of the empirical self to act on its desires without interference from others. Positive freedom is the freedom of the Rationally Autonomous Self to act in accordance with Reason.

 

 

 

A PRIORI vs. A POSTERIORI

 

Historically, the advocates of liberty as Rational Autonomy typically assumed a Rationalist epistemology (e.g., Rousseau and Kant) and the advocates of liberty as negative freedom typically assumed an Empiricist epistemology (e.g., Locke and Hume). Rationalists tend to answer philosophical questions a priori (using direct rational insight with no need to learn from experience) and Empiricists tend to answer such questions a posteriori (i.e., on the basis of experience).

 

Berlin assumes that an objective metaphysics for morality requires a rationalist epistemology. He overlooks the possibility of objective moral truth arrived at by a fallible, quasi-empirical process. Mill's "permanent possibility of error."

 

One of the themes of this course will be the advantages of the a posteriori approach over the a priori approach for understanding the importance of negative liberty. We will not assume that this approach requires us to give up the conception of morality as objective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Subject of This Course: Theories of (Moral) Rights as Rights to Negative Liberty = Rights to NON-INTERFERENCE (by other people) in one's PROTECTED SPHERE.

 

Hobbesian Libertarianism

 

A. Hobbesian Negative Liberty: Everyone has a right to maximal negative liberty. Result: the "war of all against all" (no PROTECTED SPHERE)

 

Main Insight: It is necessary to limit negative freedom in order to guarantee to everyone some less than maximal but more than minimal sphere of equal negative freedom (i.e., a PROTECTED SPHERE OF EQUAL LIBERTY).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THEORIES OF NEGATIVE LIBERTY

 

A. A theory of this kind must tell us two things:

(1) What is inside the PROTECTED SPHERE?

(2) What counts as INTERFERENCE (or what counts as impermissible interference) in one's protected sphere?

 

B. In addition, we also would like the theory to EXPLAIN the source of such rights--that is, to answer the question: What is the basis for rights to negative liberty? This question will become clearer as the course proceeds. But note that we distinguish this from attempting to give an a priori PROOF that we have such rights.

 

C. Finally, can a theory of negative liberty distinguish between justified and unjustified paternalism? Corresponding to the difference between negative and positive liberty, is there a kind of negative autonomy that can substitute for Rational Autonomy in determinations of justifiable paternalism?

 

Rights to negative liberty are not knowable a priori. Theories of negative liberty are the result of lots of experience and bottom-up rather than top-down reasoning.

 

 

 

 

 

THREE TYPES OF THEORIES OF THE NATURE AND EXPLANATION/JUSTIFICATION OF RIGHTS TO A PROTECTED SPHERE OF EQUAL NEGATIVE LIBERTY

 

I. Thomson as Representative of NATURAL RIGHTS (including LIBERTARIAN) Theories

 

II. Mill and Feinberg as Representative of UTILITARIAN (and thus CONSEQUENTIALIST) Theories.

 

III. Rawls and Scanlon as Representative of SOCIAL CONTRACT Theories.