From Alfino
Jump to navigationJump to search

20: NOV 4.


  • Workshop for Position Paper #1: What We Owe Strangers
  • Today's class has no reading assignment.

Philosophical Method Point: How evolutionary approaches change the philosophical problem of justice

  • Old model: We need to pursue justice and fairness to overcome a "bad thing" about us. We are fallen, we are selfish.
  • New (evolutionary model): We need to pursue justice because some of the really good, useful, and even beautiful things about us as socially evolved creatures create injustices.
  • "Actions from love can lead to an unjust world" (from last class)
  • Our evolved (automatic) responses have a bias toward discounting the well-being of outgroups and strangers.

The "other side" of Justified Partiality: What We Owe Strangers

  • Last class looked at "justified partiality" at a "first person personal" level with the question,"How big is your "us"?" We looked at how our individual behaviors can create injustices, often by omission. Now we consider the question from the "first person plural" perspective. "What do we owe strangers?" "How big is our "us"? To take on this question, we need to round up some resources and take stock of some of the theories we have already been studying.
  • Theoretical and reflective resources for developing a position on the question, "What do we owe strangers?"
  • 1. Which "goods" does justice involve?
  • a. Promotion of basic subjective well-being -- Do we owe any strangers (perhaps those in our social contract) an obligation to promote their basic happiness? I'll bring in some ideas from "happiness economics" here. Happiness economists critique the use of GDP as a sole goal of public policy. They point to the limited ability of money (after a threshold amount) to improve subjective well-being (SWB). Some argue that the justice society promotes human development and that there are basic goods that at least wealthy societies could provide that would raise SWB. A typical list includes: child care, education, food security, employment security, health security, and security in meeting the challenges of aging and dying.
  • b. Economic justice -- Are there economic outcomes in a society or in the world that would be fundamentally unfair or unjust? If inequality continued to increase even from normal market behaviors, would it ever be unjust? Should we think of Rawls' "veil of ignorance" on a global level?
  • c. Promotion of rights and anti-discrimination -- Typically, people who feel that "rights promotion" is an international
  • d. Aid and development -- Some argue that valuing human dignity obligates us to provide direct aid in some circumstances, such as disaster relief. Others go further, and argue that we are obligated to help the "bottom billion" to develop productive economies. Are these just good things to do and not obligatory or are they collective obligations?
  • 2. Which obligations of justice extend to which strangers? Strangers in your own community, nation, world -- With any of the "goods" mentioned above, you may decide that they extend to different types of strangers. For example, you may not believe obligations to promote justice go beyond borders, but you might still believe that personal or collective beneficence (charity) is a good thing. Or, you may address all of these groups with the same theory of obligation if you think obligations of justice apply to all strangers equally.
  • 3. Start with the limits or lessons of justified personal partiality -- For some of you, this earlier work may set a "baseline" for thinking about obligations to strangers. Consider the positions we outlined during last class: Tribalism, Post-tribal Urbanism, Utilitarian Globalism, Extreme Altruism. You may want to use versions of these in your position.
  • 4. Standard moral and political theoretical resources:
  • Rawls' Theory of Justice -- which addresses both rights and economic justice.
  • Duty to an ideal. This could be a Kantian ideal of supporting reason and autonomy in others, or it could be a more traditional ideal about human dignity and the importance of supporting human life and what a decent life entails. You may certainly draw on values from your faith commitments and life experience, but try to explicate them in ways that might be attractive to those who do not share your particular faith.
  • Virtue Ethics -- Promoting human virtues may require specific sorts of aid or support.
  • Utilitarianism -- The principle of utility has several theoretical virtues. For meeting acute human needs, it gives us a way of prioritizing need and calculating benefits. Accepting the "equal happiness" principle allows you to compare goods globally (a latte vs. saving a life).
  • Libertarianism -- A good starting point if you feel very minimal "collective" obligations (such as through taxation), but don't forget that Libertarians answer questions of personal charity and beneficence just like everyone else. A traditional formulation for American cultures would be that collective justice should be focused on "equality and freedom," not outcomes (economic or subjective well being (happiness)).
  • 5. Use your understanding of culturally evolved values -- We have been studying the origins and value of cooperation, as well as psychological adaptations of WEIRD culture, such as impersonal prosociality, impartiality in rules, and other traits that seem to orient our obligations away from kin and friends. There is some evidence that these psychological adaptations facilitate markets and some forms of justice, such as those "impersonal" virtues mentioned above. If you endorse these aspects of WEIRD culture (if you think humans "survive and thrive" better with these mental adaptations), you may draw on them in thinking about your obligations to strangers. "Post-tribal Urbanism" is an example of this. We have also studied two theories (Haidt and Hibbing) that help us think about standing challenges we face as a social species. These are all resources you may select from and make use of depending upon your concerns.
  • 6. Consult your moral matrix. Work from your identity, especially as it is reflected in your "moral matrix" But consider also how your "moral personality" is "mapped onto" issues. Don't forget that there are free market liberals (neo-liberals) and "Norwegian conservatives," who see promoting SWB as a form of social and moral capital. Also, try to reflect your awareness of where your moral matrix places you in relation to your society. Are you an outlier? A moderate? Highly partisan or just a mildly partisan? Like other things about your personality that you take into account when you integrate with others socially, think about your moral personality.

PP1: "What We Owe Strangers" Position Paper: 1000 words

  • Stage 1: Please write an 1000 word maximum answer to the following question by Wednesday, November 10, 2021 11:59pm.
  • Topic: How big is our "Us"? What do we owe strangers, as a matter of morality and justice? Consider both strangers in your own country and strangers outside your country. Work through the resources and questions above to find your position. Think about the kinds of "goods" (economic, in-kind, human rights) we are or are not obligated to offer strangers, think about the limits of justified partiality, consider standard moral and political theories, the importance of culturally evolved "mental adaptations", as well as your own "moral matrix" to find your position. Your answer should provide well-organized and clear rationales (Logic) reflecting your assessment of relevant course materials (Content) or other resources. It should show awareness of and engagement with the diversity of viewpoint on this question.
  • Keep in mind:
  • You are answering this prompt in the "first person plural" - "we". This is not just a statement of personally felt obligation, but your view about what we should all accept as our collective obligation. This should be reflected in the kinds of reasons you provide as well.
  • Your readers (5) will not necessarily share your view, so you should say why your position should be acceptable to someone with a different point of view. You will not be assessed on which view (within a wide range) of justice you adopt, but the quality of your writing and reasoning will be important.
  • Advice about collaboration: I encourage you to collaborate with other students, but only up to the point of sharing ideas, references to class notes, and your own notes. Collaboration is part of the academic process and the intellectual world that college courses are based on, so it is important to me that you have the possibility to collaborate. It's a great way to make sure that a high average level of learning and development occurs. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to NOT share text of draft answers or outlines of your answer. Keep it verbal. Generate your own examples.
  • Prepare your answer and submit it in the following way:
  1. Do not put your name in the file or filename. You may put your student id number in the file. Put a word count in the file.
  2. In Word, check "File" and "Inspect Documents" to make sure your name does not appear as author.
  3. Format your answer in double spaced text in a 12 point font, using normal margins.
  4. Save the file in the ".docx" file format using the file name "ObligationsToStrangers".
  5. Log in to Upload your file to the PP1: What We Owe Strangers dropbox.
  • Stage 2: Please evaluate four student answers and provide brief comments and a score. Review the Assignment Rubric for this exercise. We will be using the Flow, Content, and Insight areas of the rubric for this assignment. Complete your evaluations and scoring by Wednesday, November 17, 2020, 11:59pm.
  • Use this Google Form to evaluate four peer papers. The papers will be in our shared folder, but please do not edit or add comments to the papers directly. This will compromise your anonymity.
  • To determine the papers you need to peer review, I will send you a key with animal names in alphabetical order, along with saint names. You will find the line with your saint name / animal name pair, and review the next four (4) animals' work below that line.
  • Some papers may arrive late. If you are in line to review a missing paper, allow a day or two for it to show up. If it does not show up, go ahead and review the next animal in the list until you have four reviews. This assures that you will get enough "back evaluations" of your work to get a good average for your peer review credit. You will receive an additional 10 points for completing your peer reviews.
  • Stage 3: I will grade and briefly comment on your writing using the peer scores as an initial ranking. Up to 28 points.
  • Stage 4: Back-evaluation: After you receive your peer comments and my evaluation, take a few minutes to fill out this quick "back evaluation" rating form: [1]. Fill out the form for each reviewer, but not Alfino. Up to 10 points, in Q&W.
  • Back evaluations are due Tuesday, November 23, 11:59pm.