Talk 1: Implicit Consent and Political Legitimacy

By Nicolas Maloberti, Bowling Green State University

Central to some theories of the liberal state is a commitment to two major ideas. The first idea is that the individuals’ rights to their persons and property which the legitimate state protects and enforces are pre-existing rights. The second idea is that an individual’s rights may be infringed neither on paternalistic nor on consequentialist grounds. But if we hold such a particular liberal doctrine, it is not initially clear how the very existence of the state could be morally permissible. Typically, the state collects taxes and monopolizes the provision of justice. But, if indeed people have those previous pre-political rights, how could the state permissibly do such things? One way in which liberal theories have argued for the legitimacy of the state is by means of a principle of implicit consent. Since Hume, critics have argued that the ‘price of dissent’ would be too high for such a strategy to be successful. Recently, consent theorists have replied that the high price involved in not agreeing to do something does not need to be a defeating condition of consenting. This paper argues that the failure of an implicit consent approach might be more fundamental than what this debate seems to suggest.

Talk 2: What is a Culture? Reevaluating Multicultural Liberalism

By Drew Pierce, Loyola University-Chicago

In recent years, a certain variety of liberal theory, Rawlsian political liberalism in particular, has come to be criticized for being excessively individualistic, ignoring the important roles that culture and community play in our very formation as individuals and citizens. Theorists like Will Kymlicka, Carol Gould, Charles Taylor, and others, claim that cultural membership is important to individual citizens in ways that justice and the law must recognize, and in ways that Rawls largely misses. This movement has come to be called by different names: multiculturalism, communitarianism, liberal communitarianism, multicultural liberalism, and etc. The differences implied by these various designations do not concern me here. What does concern me is the rather loose way in which these critics use and rely on the ambiguous term ‘culture’ as though it were not extremely problematic (one could say the same about the term ‘community’ which is often used interchangeably with ‘culture’). In this essay then, I will investigate the way this term is used (and misused) in the discourse of multiculturalism. Ultimately, I argue that the term must be abandoned, and that one can only speak meaningfully of groups, at least insofar as one wishes to make these entities the subject or object of meaningful legislation. In this way, I hope to retain the force of the criticisms of Rawlsian liberalism while avoiding some of their ambiguity. In addition, this clarification raises important questions and problems for multicultural liberalism itself.

Talk 3: Toward an Anthropology of Radical Evil

By Todd Kukla, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Kant’s doctrine of radical evil harbors an apparent inconsistency: radical evil is both freely chosen and innate. The paper presents an anthropological interpretation that attempts to clear away the inconsistency. According to such a reading, radical evil is rooted in the historical development of the three predispositions to good; by the time humanity has come to consciousness of the moral law, radical evil has already taken root. The interpretation is significant since it shows that the Groundwork (the text most often studied in Anglo-American ethics) is importantly incomplete. In the Groundwork, Kant offers a theory of rational agency that fails to take into account the unique features and predicaments of human agency. Only in Kant’s later writings (such as the Religion) does he develop an account of human agency that completes, and at times dramatically changes, his views on rational agency.

Talk 4: Commensurability and Basic Goods

By Jeremy Neill, Saint Louis University

A good theory of practical rationality should spend some time accounting for the differences between the basic goods and resolving questions of practical and theoretical intelligibility. Mark Murphy’s account of practical rationality is peculiar in that it avoids altogether the problem of quantitative conflicts between the basic goods. If there were a cardinal measure by which we could compare basic goods, discrepancies might exist among them. But on Murphy’s account there is no such measure, for there is simply no commensurable way of ranking the basic goods. At the heart of Murphy’s general incommensurability thesis is the concept of a practically significant choice. I argue that it is possible to problematize practically significant choices by calling practical rationality’s autonomy into question. All sorts of unexpected and potentially commensurable things are constantly happening to our reasons. From the first-person perspective of the rational agent, the phenomenological experience of incommensurability undoubtedly exists. But the retrospective standpoint almost always reveals hidden commensurabilities. All the commensurabilist needs to do is to locate the articulation of hidden reasons within the framework of a whole life. If the commensurabilist can successfully situate our decisions within a life plan built around these qualities, she will have taken up the proper standpoint for articulating hidden reasons, for engaging in the self-reflection that is necessary to endorse decisions, and for re-establishing commensurability among the basic goods.

Talk 5: The Skill of Virtue

By Matt Stichter, Bowling Green State University

The revival of virtue ethics has brought the ancient Greek concept of ‘virtue’ back into ethical discussion. The virtuous person appears to be the kind of person one should aspire to be, but problems arise with some of the details. Often, descriptions of the virtuous person focus only on the end state, and it becomes somewhat mysterious how an average person could ever achieve such an idealized state. Accounts of the virtuous person have left readers with the impression that the virtuous person is an unattainable ideal, a moral fanatic, or just psychologically implausible. This paper argues that reviving the ancient Greek idea that virtues are like practical skills can help provide a plausible account of the virtuous person. This paper updates the skill model by adapting the modern account of skill acquisition developed by Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus in their research on artificial intelligence and human expertise.

Talk 6: On Art, Ontology, and Everyday Things: Dewey and the future of aesthetic experience

By Joseph Swenson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

For the last half-century or so, ontological questions concerning what the proper definition of art should be have dominated the philosophy of art at the expense of any deep considerations of the many ways in which individuals value and experience works of art. This essay argues that a recovery of some aspects of Dewey’s account of ‘an experience’ as presented in Art as Experience provides a necessary, needed, and complementary addition to the many contextual definitions of art that are currently enjoying widespread popularity in the philosophy of art. In particular, Dewey’s account of ‘an experience’ is shown to be compatible with George Dickie’s influential ‘Institutional theory of art.’ It is argued that Dicke, a vociferous critic of the very idea of aesthetic experience, could benefit from some of the evaluative components found in Dewey’s account of the identity and function of aesthetic experience.

Talk 7: On Cognitive Ethology, Mental Flexibility, and the Moral Status of Animals

By Robert Farley, University of Illinois at Chicago

Given the recent surge of interesting empirical work being done by cognitive ethologists, and the subsequent conceptual work on animal cognition being undertaken by ethologically informed philosophers, one might find it surprising that there is a serious dearth of ethical investigation ensuing from all of this research on animal minds. I think the connections between what those working on animal cognition are doing and what those writing on the moral status of animals are doing are clear, yet few are actually endeavoring to make these conceptions explicit. In this paper, I will argue that the ethical implications of the current research in animal cognition simply cannot be ignored or glossed over, by ethologists, ethologically minded philosophers, or ethicists. In particular, I will offer an argument for the attribution of a moral status to animals based on empirical evidence of mental flexibility gleaned from work on animal cognition. My view is that certain kinds of nonhuman, nonlinguistic minds are capable of having interests (qua interests in things or outcomes) that extend into the future in a morally relevant way, considering the moral weight we tend to attach to the human ability to project interests over time and space.

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