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Reply to Ed

I don’t think you are following my argument closely enough. You come at it with respect to the conflict between rich and poor. Fine.  I assume then that you accept the first part of the argument against egoism and that we are imagining the rich and poor to be arguing within morality. It is here that I assume that we are using a libertarian morality, one that the rich usually feel very comfortable with.  Using that morality, I expose a conflict between the liberty of the rich and the liberty of the poor that needs resolving within morality.  I claim that the only way to resolve this conflict that both sides can reasonably accept (and libertarians are committed to just such a resolution) would favor the liberty of the poor enough to provide a right to welfare. So what is the reasonable argument that the poor should accept that would not have that conclusion?

3 Responses to “Reply to Ed”

  1. Ed Manier says:

    Under the circumstances you stipulate, I would have thought the more pressing question would be “What is the reasonable argument that the rich should accept that would have that conclusion?”

    Let me stipulate that the “rich” or “most advantaged” have read Rawls’ “A Theory of Justice.”

    Rawls, as I’m sure you know much better than I, does not require equal sharing, but only that level of sharing by which the application of a utilitarian calculus does not worsen, but does improve the status of the least advantaged members of society.

    I’m sure that my reading of both your work and Rawls’ does not reach the “expert” level, and I fear that I have spent much more time with Rawls. I will appreciate your patient reply.

    • James says:

      The relevant argument must be reasonable to the rich AND the poor not just the rich.

      Concerning your appeal to Rawls here, I am not sure as philosophers we should be arguing by appealing to authorities. Rather, we should let arguments stand on their own merits. Still, it is interesting to note that Rawls and I are probably not far apart here. This is because Rawls spent most of his efforts trying to devise a provisionally just scheme for one well-endowed society, realizing that his conclusions would have to be amended when questions of distant peoples and future generations were taken into in account. Rawls very late in his career began to take up the question of distant peoples, and most political philosophers think he did a rather poor job on this issue. Rqwls barely mentioned the topic of future generations. My more substantial move to equality does depend on the future generations issue. So there is reason to think that if Rawls too had faced this question, he would have moved toward my conclusion. Since appeals to authority seem to be legit here, I actually had some personal conversations with Rawls that might bear out this conclusion. One way to think about Rawls’s theory, one that he used himself, is to compare it to theory about falling objects in vacuum. That gives you certain results. Later, when you take into account complicating factors, friction etc, different results emerge.

  2. Ed Manier says:

    Heaven fore fend! Me? Appeal to authority? Never, never, never!!

    But I beg for patience with my aging brain and low social status which, along with a raging Oedipus complex, always seem to interfere with my efforts to kiss anyone’s ring. I’ve never been in the same room with John Rawls. My loss.

    But some names are place holders for some ideas, right?

    In any case, I am to understand that your moves are more substantial than Rawls’ — sic transit authority….

    My question is simply this: “Are you actually saying that the most advantaged people in a society, whether in or out of the “original position” or behind the “veil of ignorance,” would simply accept the argument that the least advantaged have a right to steal from them in order to satisfy their most basic needs?”

    I plead for the revelation of the hidden premises that might lead them to that conclusion. At present, the most advantaged persons in Indiana have passed laws requiring the least advantaged to spend up to 24 months in state prison for stealing a bottle of mouthwash or a carton of milk from Walmart.

    … oops! another material fallacy … appeal to the mob, or the aristocracy, or something like that…

    But there is a movement afoot to legislate a threshold for felony theft in Indiana. The proposed threshold is $750. Whose basic needs would that cover?

    I have nine grandchildren, ages 4 to 28; no great grandchildren for now. I am willing to include the grandkids perspectives and those of their grandchildren in this discussion. But exactly why should that concession lead me to accept the conclusion that all distinctions of most and least advantaged should be eradicated in a truly just society?

    The line “… and all shall have prizes!” is from Alice in Wonderland.

    Finally, I am very familiar with the role of idealization in the development of scientific theories, and hereby issue licenses to you and to Rawls to employ that device.

    But what does that buy any of us, as humble surrogates for the least advantaged in our society?