What is this blog about?

What is this blog about?

I am a political philosopher. My 'political philosophy' is a form of 'liberal egalitarianism.' So in this blog I reflect on various issues in political philosophy and politics (especially Canadian and American politics) from a liberal egalitarian perspective.

If you are curious about what I mean by 'liberal egalitarianism,' my views are strongly influenced by the conception of justice advanced by John Rawls. (So I sometimes refer to myself as a 'Rawlsian,' even though I disagree with Rawls on some matters.)

Astonishingly, I am paid to write and teach moral and political philosophy. I somehow manage to do this despite my akratic nature. Here is my faculty profile.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Political Utopias: Contemporary Debates

I’m delighted to have received my contributor’s copy of Political Utopias: Contemporary Debates, edited by Michael Weber and Kevin Vallier. The other contributors are: David Estlund, Gerald Gaus, Pablo Gilabert, Alexander Guerrero, Keith Hankins, Robert B. Talisse, Rosa Terlazzo, Laura Valentini, Danielle Wenner, and David Wiens.

Here is the description from the Oxford University Press website:
Political theory, from antiquity to the present, has been divided over the relationship between the requirements of justice and the limitations of persons and institutions to meet those requirements. Some theorists hold that a theory of justice should be utopian or idealistic--that the derivation of the correct principles of justice should not take into account human and institutional limitations. Others insist on a realist or non-utopian view, according to which feasibility--facts about what is possible given human and institutional limitations--is a constraint on principles of justice. In recent years, the relationship between the ideal and the real has become the subject of renewed scholarly interest. This anthology aims to represent the contemporary state of this classic debate. By and large, contributors to the volume deny that the choice between realism and idealism is binary. Rather, there is a continuum between realism and idealism that locates these extremes of each view at opposite poles. The contributors, therefore, tend to occupy middle positions, only leaning in the ideal or non-ideal direction. Together, their contributions not only represent a wide array of attractive positions in the new literature on the topic, but also collectively advance how we understand the difference between idealism and realism itself.
I’m pretty happy with the final version of my contribution (“Why Public Reasoning Involves Ideal Theorizing”). But the first draft of the paper, which I presented at the conference on Political Utopias at BGSU three years ago, was (to put it mildly) very rough. In fact, I thought that the presentation was a disaster, and contemplated (at least for a few hours) leaving academia forever. Thanks to helpful and friendly feedback at the conference, though, as well as at a subsequent presentation (at the APT), and from friends and colleagues kind enough to comment on later drafts (as well as anonymous referees for OUP), I feel pretty ‘okay’ with the published version of the essay. The whole experience was a helpful reminder of how vital exposing one’s ideas to others for critical feedback is for improving one’s philosophical work.

Here is the abstract for my paper:
Why Public Reasoning Involves Ideal Theorizing 
Some theorists—including Elizabeth Anderson, Gerald Gaus, and Amartya Sen—endorse versions of “public reason” as the appropriate way to justify political decisions while rejecting “ideal theory.” The chapter proposes that these ideas are not easily separated. The idea of public reason expresses a form of mutual “civic” respect for citizens. Public reason justifications for political proposals are addressed to citizens who would find acceptable those justifications, and consequently would comply freely with those proposals should they become law. Hence public reasoning involves “local ideal theorizing”: the justification of political proposals includes their consideration and evaluation under conditions of compliance with them by the citizens to whom those justifications are addressed. Local ideal theorizing, moreover, can lead to “full ideal theorizing,” wherein citizens outline and evaluate an amended version of their society’s “basic structure.” This argument is illustrated by some recent empirical work on inequality within the United States.
Finally, the book’s cover is quite beautiful (the image is from Thomas More’s original Utopia).

Kudos to Kevin and Michael on putting together such an excellent volume!

Monday, April 10, 2017

The best coverage of Trump is from political satirists

I’ve been a great fan of political satire for as long as I can remember. But one thing that has become increasingly clear since Trump won the electoral college vote for the presidency last November 8th, is that the most informative and critical coverage of the Trump regime in the United States has been coming from political satirists (such as Seth Meyers, Samantha Bee, and Stephen Colbert) rather than from mainstream news outlets (like CNN or even NPR).

The reason is simple: news outlets see themselves as neutrally ‘reporting’ the news, including manifest nonsense like Trump’s claims regarding massive voter fraud or Trump’s tweets alleging that President Obama wire-tapped Trump tower, whereas satirists are free to call Trump’s bullshit “bullshit.”

This Vox article—“ Comedians have figured out the trick to covering Trump”—by Carlos Maza does a fine job of explaining this point. (There is a longer, funnier video version of the article here.)

I’ve especially been impressed with Seth Meyers’ “A Closer Look” pieces on Trump, which I watch regularly on the 'YouTube.'