Sunday, April 24, 2005


A defence of democracy can fall into one of three catagories:

liberty: democracy embodies the liberty of its citizens better than any other kind of society. Government and Law are neccesary to solve interraction problems, but these are restrictions upon citiziens. Only when the gov't and law are self-imposed are the citizens free.

equality: democarctic decision making embodies the equality of citizens. each has an equal chance to have a say in decision making, and no other system can offer this.

instrumentalist: democracy is good no because of any intrinsic properties it has but because democracies just tend to produce the best terms of association for a society. reliability and stability, A dictatorship could be ok if it had the same effects.

Christiano argues against the three manifestations of the liberty argument: the direct view, the epistemic view, and the constitutive view:

The Direct View

When I vote for a law I express my preference for the law I wish to live under. If that law is enacted I will be living under my own rule. We may ask of this theory what about those who find themselves ina minority.. are they constrained? Keith Graham points out that democracy maximises the number of people self-governing (ie. the majority), but given this we have to ask why a little political freedom can’t be traded off for more extensive freedoms in other areas. The other argument that direct view philosophers use is to say that by voting one consents to the outcome, and is therefore self-governed. Though this may be the case for some, it isn’t for all – one may reasonably withhold such consent deliberately and still vote. SEE ARTICLES BELOW ON THIS ACCOUNT.

The Epistemic View

Democratic Participation is a process of discovering one’s own will. Everyone wills the common good…what is the common good? Democracy shows us what it is. It is not, however, clear that we do all have a desire to see the common good, or that the common good we desire is one with respect to all people. That democracy is the best way to find out what the common good is relies upon the claim that individuals have roughly equal competence at working the best answer out, and that each individual has a greater than 50% chance of choosing the right option. Link to jury theories.

The Constructive View

The argument here is similar to that above, with the addition that the claim that the results of a democratic process are legitimate because that is what they are, not because of the outcome chosen. If, however, only agreement confers legitimacy, rather than any independent quality of the decision, there is less focus on the need to get the right answer. And, of course, we have to ask why democracy is so special that it confers legitimacy (without getting a circular answer).

Skinner's reply.

Cristiano concluses that the liberty defence fails. Skinner attempts to defend it under the direct approach by saying that the state is neccesary for ensuring negative libery, and that this requires people to act ina certain way. There is no guarantee that people will act in that certain way, as they are irrational, so they have to be directed to act appropriately by the law. 'Unless we place our duties before our rights we will find our rights themseLves undermined'.

Saturday, April 23, 2005


We should note that if a system is democratic then there must be some way in which the views of people are taken into consideration. Barry defines democracy thus: democracy is a method of determining the content of laws such that the preferences of the citizens have some formal connection with the outcome in which each counts equally.

Majority rule is one such way, though as we have seen there is always the problem of minorities, both occasional and persistent. There are two other ways suggested in the literature. firstly comes direct democracy with a demand for unanimity, and second comes deliberative democracy. The latter we shall explore later in the course, the former I discuss below.

The idea of direct democracy is that one votes on each issue, like a series of referenda. This leaves us the question of who sets the questions (agenda setters), but more seriously we have to wonder whether such unanimity is feasible. Possibly in homogenous small societies. It is a serious issue though: by effectively giving each person a veto over our decisions nothing is likely to get done. Direct democracy may agree proceedings for dealing with disputes, but these agreements themselves may be subejct to dispute, and could always be overridden by a single veto anyway.

Friday, April 22, 2005


The pause in entries over the past week is the result of the need to concentrate on an essay for the Global Justice course. I am now tackling revision of the Democratic Theory course.

The majority decision rule: "where the electorate are divided, take a vote; give to each man one vote, and let the group as a whole be committed by the preponderance of voices." Wolff lists reasons to support a majority decision rule and goes through them in turn picking holes:

1. A. Its has been proven to work over many years. R. We may find flourishing under dictatorial or monarchical regimes too, and the virtues of democracy would be purely relative to these other regimes. The citizens of the US are as much subjects of an alien power as Russians under Stalin? We have as much reason to obey stalin as a democracy, provided Stalin does good things.

2. A. we may agree to abide by the decision of the majority. R. In doing so we give up our autonomy, binding themselves, potentially, to laws that they vigourously reject. What reason can the minority have to obey the majority?

3. A. We may abide by the higher principle that everyone should have an equal chance to get his preferences the law. R. If this were the case we would also have to abide by a system of drawing lots.. besides, due to uneven distribution of preferences it appears that some people are more likely to get their preferences even on a fair lucky dip. Such a system of lots, howveer much better than democracy at providing equal chance to get their preferences the law, also violates principles of autonomy. Autonomous indidivuals are capable of agreement and solving disputes, there is always hope for concord.

The answer to the question will depend greatly upon what we want from a decision making principle, and what the alternatives are availible. We may judge it by characterists that Stalin doesn't have, but other democartic regimes do.

Barrty presents an argument in defence of majority rule from the angle of stability. Pragmatic answer, but powerful to deal with number 1. I argue that we don't give ourselves up by agreeing to number 2, we can reserve the right to object at any time.

Miller provides further arguments against the decision principle - the rules are arbitaray because its unclear which system of voting best reflects people's vews - and there is always opportunity for manipulation of elections through strategic voting. What is really needed, argues miller, is to chose which system of decision making to use depending upon the circumstances.

Can Majority rule be rescued?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Continuing with the theme of this week's revision: in what respect is a person to be counted as equal or unequal? Nussbaum summarises the capability approach thus: ‘We ask not only about the person’s satisfaction with what she does, but about what she does, and what she is in a position to do (what her opportunities and liberties are.) And we ask not just about the resources that are sitting around, but about how those do or do not go to work, enabling [the person] to function in a fully human way’. A person's capability, by this view, is set of vectors of functionings - their choices about what to do and become. The capability approach fits inbetween the equality of resources and the equality of welfare sides of the debate, taking into account the key points from both.

The way I read it one may be either an equalitarian, a sufficientarian or a prioritarian and decide whether to chose resources, welfare or capability as the metric.

Sen provides a further argument against using welfare as a metric - people adjust their expectations when in poverty/wealth, thsi is unfair to those under-resourced.

The cases that Sen gives in ‘Development as Freedom’ do point strongly towards the fact that poverty is not simply a matter of income. He gives the example of the African American community in the US much of which lives in poverty yet compared to the people in the Indian state of Kerela they are very wealthy. In Kerela, however, where healthcare and education are good these relatively poor people have much greater capability. Resources should go to those with low capability not those with low resources. Pogge argues, however, that it is possible to account for this within a resourcist perspective by recognising that a component of any income is the income of others around.

Sen also argues that environmental diversity can be taken into account by the capability account. Pogge replies that the resourcist can do this too by taking one’s situation into account with one’s income. Thus, for example, a deduction from one’s income when working in Alaska would be the cost of warm clothes. I disagree with Pogge here, I feel that it’s an assumption that we need warm clothes in Alaska, we may not: this kind of half-baked specificity gets us nowhere.

Sen’s point is that his theory is able to look at individuals specifically, whereas resourcists have to make do with a clumsy guess at what most people are like. Pogge tries to claim that resourcism isn’t so clumsy and can give extra resources to some people in particular cases, but the way does this (eg. with pregnant women he give them more by accounting for the baby’s resources too) involves other assumptions.

Pogge admits that the capability approach would be adopted in the original position. (but, we should note, he doesn’t accept the original position).

Resourcism is insensitive in that it takes no notice of specific people: 'Resourcists seek an institutional order under which the distributive pattern of resource access satisfies their preferred criterion. They pay no attention to how this distribution correlates with the distribution of natural features.' He claims, however, that resourcism is actually sensitive to equalling out natural inequality if it is prioritarian in that there are rewards for hard work (rewards that those who like hard work find it easier to capture), but these rewards are designed to maximize the lowest income (often fetched by those who follow their desire to take it easy). In a Rawlsian society, the productive contribution of reluctant workers — choosing to work more slowly and/or in lower-paying jobs — will generally be more highly rewarded than equivalent productive contributions by those who like hard work. This will work as long as the ‘society’ is of equal size as the population about which Sen talks about is the same…

Pogge’s attack on Sen lies in the practicalities. The capability approach relies upon vertical (not horizontal) inequality judgements. Some people will have to be told that they are deficient, and that’s not nice, though those who are deficient but still with adequate resources wouldn’t be credited in a sufficientarian system. People will receive ‘dear loser’ letters from the state.

I don’t buy Pogge’s attack on the capability approach. It makes sense to look at poverty in terms of the capability approach, and were we to combine it with a prioritarian or sufficientarian model (yet to be read up on!) I’m sure we’d reach an effective way of meeting the needs that we have for a distribution of resources. I’m still deeply dissatisfied by the way these papers don’t try show how their theories match and tie in with their underlying values, such as liberty and respect.

Monday, April 11, 2005


Having seen how Cohen (in 'On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice') believes that Dworkin has made the distinction between option ankd brute luck inacurately he goes further and argues against equality of opportunity for welfare (EOW) and for 'equality of access to advantage' (EAA). He does this on the basis of the Jude case: Jude is poor but is not underdone in welfare terms. His preferences change and he needs more resources to stay at the same welfare level, but still fewer resouces than most.

For Dworkin and equality of resources his welfare is irelevant and so he would get the same both before and after his preferences changed. EOW would argue that he has to be kept poor for it was his choice to cultivate his new preference. EAA would argue that he should get the additional resources, and this, Cohen claims, is what our intuitions tell us should occur.

I am realy not sure by this Jude example. It seems completely out of order to force people to sacrifice welfare if they wish to change their preferences (in cases where they view welfare as something different to how the state defines it). On that basis alone I wouldn't want to withold increased resources from Jude. This said his increasing his resources will damage others and reduce their resources: indeed he will dammage others as much as Louis might (we could say).

At root however I am trying to make the most of a bad situation. Equality is trumped by other values (weak equalisandum), that is a FACT, and I should very much like to clear up what those other matters are and refer to equality within the context of those values. It doesn't make sense to keep discussing equality independent of such values as we can always appeal back to what those values are in order to keep a theory alive. This debate is approaching the matter from the wrong angle.



Any explication of equality of resources as a metric on which the egalitarian is to base his distribution of resources needs to work its way through the knotty problem of separating option luck from brute luck.

OPTION LUCK: When circumstances affecting our lives come about as a result of choices that we have made.
BRUTE LUCK: The converse, when circumstances our of our control affect our lives.

Where one begins and one ends is certainly impossible to figure out in real life, and is tricky even conceptually. For instance: If a person makes a bad investment and loses all their wealth is this a case of option luck or brute luck, afterall, isn't their choice to gamble just an unluckly part of their characteristics? Likewsie the lazy worker may say that its not their fault that they are lazy.

In the case of Louis, the chap with expensive tastes, can we not argue that in the case of another Louis (lets call him Louis XVII) his tastes are not a matter of option luck, and thus that it would be quite wrong to deny him he additional resources. Such an intrinstic need for expensive goods may be considered a handicap!

For Dworkin, however, whether what I like is liked by anyone else or not (and hence whether it is expensive or not) isn't a matter we need concern ourselves over.

Thus issue one swyas us away from equality of resources back towards taking someone's individual position into more account.


Cohen summarises Dworkin's arguments again equality of welfare as 'offensive tastes' and 'expensive tastes'. The first can be avoided by making equality of welfare a 'weak equalisandum' claim, by which he means that he doesn't envisage it as untrumpable by other values. Smart move, but it does confuse the issue slightly as we have to bear in mind exactly what and when we allow to trump equality. With respect to the second argument Cohen conceeds, but claims that the appropriate move is not to emigrate to the island of equality of resources but to cling on to equality of welfare through 'equality of opportunity for welfare' which excludes those expensive tastes concerns.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


If I'm going to accept any metric for the distribution of goods among folk then it is simply going to have to match my intuitions. Equality of Welfare's plausibility in doing so is effectively killed off by Dworkin's discussion of the case of Louis.

Louis has tastes x at time t, but sees that his life at time t+1 would have greater value if he had set of tastes y. He sets out to cultivate such tastes. If tastes y are more expensive than tastes x equality of welfare will require a re-distribution from others to Louis in order for him to stay at the same welfare level. (Louis, clearly, views his welfare in a different way to how the state defines it, otherwise he wouldn't bother to change his tastes as his welfare would remain the same (another argument against equality of welfare there as a stifler of experimentation and hope)).

Dworkin argues that its simply unfair that others be asked to suffer in order to feed Louis' expensive 'y' tastes. By invoking the concept of 'unfair' and 'fair distribution', however, renders the theory of equality of welfare trumped by some other distrubution metric.
It is neccesary to invoke the idea of fairnes to explain the difference between the case of Louis who choses to develop his tastes and that of Jude who's requirement of more resources comes through education initially denied. The moral difference between these cases can't be met by the equality of welfare theory.

PERSONAL NOTE: Now the General Election has been called I'm finding it hard to balance political campaigning and revision. Campaigning is a stressy business, but keeps the adreneline going at least.

Saturday, April 09, 2005


Folk may be equal in one respect, yet grossly unequal in another. It is neccesary to state, therefore, exactly what we mean by the term. This is the mission of Dworkin's pair of papers; the first of which I have read today.

Equality of Welfare: distribution or transfer of goods until no futher such allocation will leave folk more equal in welfare. In order to make any sense of this its neccesary to decide what is meant by 'welfare', and Dworkin does a hatchet job on both the 'success' and the 'conscious state' theories of welfare in both their broad and narrow incarnations.

The arguments he arrays against equality of welfare are powerful indeed. It would be wrong quite wrong to distribute resouces to someone on account for their wishing to ethnicly cleanse and the community denying them the opportunity to do so. Yet this is a consequence of a broad form of the success account of welfare. Similarly it would be wrong to distrbute to someone simply because their tastes are more expensive than other's. (we shall i'm sure return to the question of what is, and isn't, relevent when discussion one's moral predicament).

I don't see how any theory based upon the core value of equality can be acceptible and I find it perverse to wish that the resources that a rich person has available be reduced simply so as to make them identical with those of a poor person AND FOR NO OTHER REASON.

At root, however, a scheme of equality of welfare must do two things: 1.remove the impact of decisions that a person makes through their life and 2. make others look closely at one's life and judge it next to others according to need of resources. Neither of these I like.

I'm sure I'll have more coherent thoughts on this paper tomorrow.