Social & Political Philosophy

‘Justicized Consequentialism: Prioritizing the Right or the Good?’ The Journal of Value Inquiry 46(4): 467-479 · 2012 [full text]

Abstract: A standard criticism of act-utilitarianism is that it is only indirectly concerned with the distribution of welfare between individuals and, therefore, does not take adequate account of the separateness between individuals. In response a number of philosophers have argued that act-utilitarianism is only vulnerable to that objection because it adheres to a theory of the good which ignores non-welfarist sources of intrinsic value such as justice. Fred Feldman, for example, argues that intrinsic value is independently generated by the receipt of welfare and the degree to which receipt accords with the demands of justice, and that an action is right insofar as it maximizes the sum of both those sources of value. In response it is argued that justicized consequentialism only blocks the objection at the expense of presupposing deontological constraints. In addition, it is argued that the value of justice cannot be explained non-deontically and, therefore, that the proposed theory is not consequentialist all the way down.

‘Disappearing Without a Moral Trace? Rights and Compensation During Times of Emergency’ Law and Philosophy 28(6): 617-649 · 2009 [full text]*

Abstract: Scholars are divided over whether a victim’s rights persist when an agent permissibly responds to an emergency. According to the prevailing view the moral force of rights is not extinguished by moral permissibility and the agent, therefore, has a duty to compensate the victim. According to another influential view permissibility does erase the moral force of rights and the agent, therefore, can only have a duty to compensate for reasons other than the fact that they committed a rights transgression. I argue that liability does not follow even if we grant that the victim’s rights persevere. A non-pecuniary remedy such as a formal apology provides an adequate way of vindicating the victim’s rights and of recognizing the agent’s causal role. Thus, the answer to the question of what remedy the permissible transgressor owes the victim does not provide us with an answer to the question of who should bear the burden.

*  Reprinted in Emergency Ethics A.M.Viens and M. Selgelid (eds) (Routledge, 2012)


‘Automaticity, Consciousness and Moral Responsibility’ Philosophical Psychology 20(2): 209-225 · 2007 [full text]

Abstract: Cognitive scientists have long noted that automated behavior is the rule, while conscious acts of self-regulation are the exception to the rule. On the face of it, automated actions appear to be immune to moral appraisal because they are not subject to conscious control. Conventional wisdom suggests that sleepwalking exculpates, while the mere fact that a person is performing a well-versed task unthinkingly does not. However, our apparent lack of conscious control while we are undergoing automaticity challenges the idea that there is a relevant moral difference between these two forms of unconscious behavior. In both cases the agent lacks access to information that might help them guide their actions so as to avoid harms. In response, it is argued that the crucial distinction between the automatic agent and the agent undergoing an automatism, such as somnambulism or petit mal epilepsy, lies in the fact that the former can preprogram the activation and interruption of automatic behavior. Given that, it is argued that there is elbowroom for attributing responsibility to automated agents based on the quality of their will.

‘Voluntary Losses and Wage Compensation’ Politics, Philosophy & Economics 5(3): 363-376 ·  2006 [full text]

Abstract: This article endeavors to establish the moral force behind the worker’s claim to a compensatory wage in return for the labor burdens she endures. The apparent incompatibility between compensation and voluntary losses suggests that the only reason for providing a compensatory wage is the need to entice a valued service. In response, the article considers and rejects attempts to ground the compensatory wage on duress, mutual trade, and desert. Instead, it argues that the worker is not responsible for her loss of well-being because she would not have incurred it in the absence of the employer’s promise to compensate.

‘Basic Income and the Problem of Cumulative Misfortune’ Basic Income Studies 1(2): 5-5 · 2006 [full text]

Abstract: This paper defends a regularly paid basic income as being better equipped to tackle unfair inequalities of outcome. It is argued that the timing of “option-luck” failures —in particular, whether they occur early in a lifetime of calculated gambles, and whether they are clustered together—may lead to a form of “brute bad luck,” referred to as “cumulative misfortune.” A basic income that is paid on a regular basis provides a way to prevent the emergence of cumulative misfortune, because the basic income at least partially replenishes the individual’s ability to take the next calculated gamble. The upshot of this is a nonpaternalistic justification for an unconditional basic income that is paid regularly and is nonmortgageable. This has an important bearing on the debate between those who advocate a one-off endowment at the start of adult life and those who advocate a basic income paid regularly throughout one’s life. The paper contends that a regular basic income represents a superior social policy because it prevents the emergence of cumulative misfortune, rather than belatedly attempting to compensate for its effects during our senior years.

‘Basic Income and the Means to Self-Govern’ in Promoting Income in Security as a Right, ed. G. Standing (Geneva: International Labor Organization/ Anthem Press, 2005) [full text]

Abstract: One line of argument in defense of an unconditional basic income is that it reduces the dependence of less advantaged citizens on others. However, its claim to help ensure individual self-government is undermined by the fact that it is consistent with social and economic inequality. For those who are more wealthy and talented are better placed to influence the democratic decision-making process according to their interests and contrary to the interests of those who are less advantaged. In sum, a basic income does not provide the sufficient conditions for equal citizenship. One solution to that problem, defended by Rousseau, is that in addition to a social minimum, material inequality should be moderated. In this paper I argue that such a measure is unnecessary provided that we can insulate the political decision-making process from the background inequalities. It is argued, following a recent innovative proposal by Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres, that to ensure the effective right to self-government the basic income should be complemented by a voucher of equal value to be used by each and every citizen as a campaign contribution to a candidate of their choice.