‘Are Pre-distribution and Property-owning Democracy Mutually Compatible’ by Alan Thomas MANCEPT September 11–13.Posted: May 23, 2017
Convenor: Professor Mark Reiff
Recent egalitarianism challenges the orthodox model of welfare state capitalism to argue that our focus ought to be on fair access to capital and not redressing income inequality. There are two ways of presenting this novel focus: as pre-distributive as opposed to re-distributive and as committed to the realization of a property-owning democracy. Are these two commitments mutually compatible?
The argument that they are not is this: the attraction of pre-distribution is its promise to equalize the market power of agents – effected by putting in place background institutions that capitalize such agents on an on-going basis – to exemplify that which Rawls called “pure procedural justice”. So there is a tension between this goal and the normative justification for being concerned with assets, and not income, at all. This justification contrasts productive activity with rent-seeking. Yet the most feasible scheme for realizing this goal – a property-owning democracy – can only ever approximate to a balance between the productive and “pure ownership” components in the holding of capital. This tension is latent in the critiques of asset-based egalitarianism in the work of Edmundson  and Vallier .
If we can only satisfice in the achievement of our policy aims, then this seems to be an instance of Rawlsian “imperfect procedural justice” – taking aim at an independent standard where one may not succeed. So these critics argue that proponents of asset based egalitarianism need to choose between their two foundational commitments. This paper responds that – on the correct understanding of both pre-distribution and a property-owning democracy – this apparent tension is, indeed, merely apparent and this critique can be resisted.
Atkinson, Anthony B.  Inequality: What is to be Done? Harvard University Press.
Edmundson, William  John Rawls: Reticent Socialist, Cambridge University Press.
Kerr, Gavin  The Property-Owning Democracy, Routledge.
Hockett, Robert  A Society of Owners: Jeffersonian Democracy, Hamiltonian Finance, and a Program of post-Crisis Politico-Economic Renewal, Yale University Press.
O’Neill, Martin  ‘Predistribution: the Very Idea’, conference paper.
Piketty, Thomas  Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Harvard University Press.
Thomas, Alan  Republic of Equals: Predistribution and Property-Owning Democracy, Oxford University Press.
Reiff, Mark R.  Exploitation and Economic Justice in the Liberal Capitalist State, Oxford University Press.
Vallier, Kevin  ‘A Moral and Economic Critique of the New Property-Owning Democrats: On behalf of a Rawlsian Welfare State’, Philosophical Studies, vol. 172, no. 2, pp. 283–304.
 Prominent examples include Atkinson , Hockett , Kerr , Piketty ,Thomas . Edmundson  is in some respects a dissenting voice, but requires those major productive assets that “command the heights” of an economy to be in public ownership – as a matter of constitutional fiat. He draws on a distinction between “pure ownership” and the productive use of capital which is also a leitmotif of Reiff .
‘Republicanism, Liberalism and the Political Psychology of Emotion’, by Alfred Archer, Bart Engelen and Alan Thomas, University of York, Conference on Republicanism, June 26–27 2017Posted: May 23, 2017
This paper compares and contrasts Pettit’s republican conception of justice with Rawls’s conception of justice as fairness. It does so by taking up a novel perspective on the two views: the implications of each for political psychology and the emotions that bear on political justification: shame, envy, malice and the will to dominate. The overall aim is to make headway on the complex question of the relation between the two views.
We know from Pettit’s work that a person who is dominated is craven, deferential and may resent this predicament. Positively, Pettit has endorsed Adam Smith’s conception of a just society as one in which citizens can appear in public without shame. He also adds that it is a crucial aspect of a republican view that a citizen must possess boldness, or self-confidence, in advancing their projects – an issue that he believes falls beyond the scope of state action. [Pettit, 2012, pp. 84–85]
Rawls’s political psychology is more prominently a part of his strategy of justification. The parties in the original position seek to assure the material basis of the self-respect of those whom they represent. A just distribution ought not to elicit reasonable envy and, in Justice as Fairness, the whole structure of Rawls’s justification of his principles is re-cast to take into account the role played by emotion. The two principles are first justified while bracketing the “destabilizing special attitudes”; they are then revised, as part of the theory of stability, with the malicious, anti-social attitudes of the would-be dominator taken into account.
We will draw the following conclusions from this comparison: first, Pettit’s conception of republican justice cannot, given some plausible claims about positional goods and the emotions that feature in their evaluative profile, meet Smith’s standard. Because this standard is sufficientarian it is, by Rawls’s lights, only weakly egalitarian in that Pareto improvements to the situation of the better off that do not make anyone else worse off are mandatory (if the worst off have met the sufficient standard). In light of this fact it seems that Frederick Neuhouser was correct to conclude that “more radical transformations that address asymmetries in the economic structure of society, though not ruled out, play little role in [Pettit’s] reflections on the policy implications of republicanism ”. [Neuhouser, 2013, p. 217. n.31]
Our positive proposal is that the republican ought to adopt Rawls’s strongly egalitarian conception of justice. This is for two reasons. First, it avoids the conclusion that Smith’s criterion of appearing in public without shame is unavoidable in the republican polity. Second, Rawls plausibly argues that those who lack the material basis of their self-respect will fail to value either themselves or their own projects. They will, therefore, lack the kind of confidence that Pettit recognizes as essential to the liber, but takes to be outside the scope of state action.
So our examination of the logic of positional goods leads us to conclude that only a society that guarantees the material underwriting of non-dominated status with a strong egalitarianism will allow the joint realization of adequate self-worth, the lack of stigmatizing shame, and republican “boldness”.
Nicholas Vrousalis (forthcoming, The Philosophical Review): https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2938014
Phil Parvin, Political Theory: https://www.academia.edu/32743620/Democracy_Capital_and_The_Rise_of_the_New_Inequality
Kindle edition now available:
UK publication (hardback) December 1
US publication (hardback) December 6
Call For Participation: Conference on Republic of Equals: Predistribution and Property-owning Democracy
Invited key-note speaker: Professor Alan Thomas
When: 24 October 2016
Where: University of Minho, Braga (Portugal)
This conference will discuss some of the central themes of Alan Thomas’s book Republic of Equals: Predistribution and Property-owning Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2016).
Possible topics for submissions include:
– the relationship between liberal and republican traditions in political thought;
– whether political philosophy can address the ‘New Inequality’ in affluent Western Societies from the 1970s to the present day;
– whether a property-owning democracy is a realistic utopian ideal;
– whether processes of globalisation constrain egalitarian projects;
– the contrast between property-owning democracy and welfare state capitalism;
– the relationship between property-owning democracy and market socialism;
– the relationship between capitalist forms of economic organization and oligarchic forms of governance.
– the relationship between predistribution and redistribution;
– the relationship between basic income and reciprocity, …
Abstracts of between 300 to 500 words on any of these topics (or related topics) should be submitted to Roberto Merrill (email@example.com) by August 25.
Notification of acceptance: September 1.
It is anticipated that presentations at the conference will be 20 minutes long with 20 minutes reserved for discussion.
NB: The book may be out by the time of the conference (the current plan is October) but Professor Alan Thomas will certainly have the page proofs with correct pagination, which will be available for participants.
Participation fee: 20 euros
This event is organized by the Political Theory Group of CEHUM, University of Minho (Braga),
Contact: Roberto Merrill (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thursday, May 12, 16:30
Prisma Building Room 50
Emotions figure in many areas of public life, and a number of pressing ethical and political issues invite us to think about emotions and their relationship to reason. Emotions, however, are all too rarely studied conceptually, with the result that both political theory and practice are often left at a loss. In this talk, I want to examine the emotion of fear and how it has been used in appeals for political reform. In particular, I will look at the welfare reform mechanism of a Universal Basic Income, or Citizen’s Income: an unconditional, automatic, non-means-tested income paid to all members of a political community regardless of other income earned, which is intended to replace a score of means-tested welfare payments, such as unemployment benefits. Arguments in support of a Citizens’ Income often focus on the freedom from fear, anxiety, and uncertainty such an initiative would offer. The idea is that this would not simply be better for well-being, but further could actually increase productivity via the capacity for creative problem-solving and innovation fear impedes. These arguments, however, are made seemingly without consideration of the empirical or theoretical research we have on fear. Here, I draw on the philosophy and cognitive science of fear to evaluate whether the “freedom from fear” argument can deliver what its proponents want.
16:45 – 18:00 Dante 005
‘The Intended Consequences of Intention‘
This paper develops a reading of Anscombe’s Intention which sees it as the product of the ethical debates in which Anscombe was engaged between 1956 and 1958, in particular, her opposition to Harry S. Truman’s honorary degree from Oxford University, and her public critique of ‘the spirit of the age’ in her BBC Radio talk ‘Does Oxford Moral Philosophy Corrupt the Youth?’). Through those debates Anscombe came to realise that moral philosophy had lost sight of the distinctive use of the question ‘What is she doing?’, to mark out the class of intentional actions (Intention, sss23, 37). This question, as she saw it, is essential to identifying the nature and quality of an act, a category without which moral philosophy cannot precede.
Once we re-frame Intention as a corrective to this oversight, two things become clear. First, that the widespread view of Intention as offering a novel account of action is mistaken; rather, the insight of Intention “isn’t a philosophical thesis at all” (Anscombe, ‘Under a Description’); second, that that the consequences of Intention for ethics are yet to be appreciated.
Owing to the ongoing travel disruption in Brussels following the terrorist attacks on March 22 this event has been postponed. The meeting on the 23rd is cancelled and will be re-scheduled.
Title: ‘Conscious Exotica’
Venue: Dante Building Room 003
Professor Murray Shanahan is Professor of Cognitive Robotics at Imperial College, London, the author of The Technological Singularity and was the scientific advisor to the film ‘Ex Machina’. In his talk he will discuss consciousness and AI:
In the film Ex Machina, Caleb comes to see the robot Ava as a conscious being by interacting with her. In Wittgensteinian terms, it is not so much that he forms the opinion that she is no mere automaton. Rather, he comes to adopt the same attitude towards her that he takes towards a fellow conscious creature. However, in one sense this is an easy step to take. Her behaviour is very human-like. But suppose we encountered an exotic complex dynamical system – an extraterrestrial intelligence, say, or a sophisticated AI that has undergone a great deal of evolution or self-modification – something utterly alien. Could we determine whether or not that system, or any part of it, was conscious? Could we establish whether or not it was morally acceptable to experiment on the system, to destroy it, or to turn it off? Do these questions even make sense?
‘Mental Health’ and Human Excellence
Wednesday 17th February
Dante Building Room 006
The paper concerns two familiar lines of inquiry: one, stemming from a neo-Aristotelian naturalism associated with Foot and others, asks whether we can derive a catalogue of human excellences from what humans need in order to be some way. The second asks whether (as Plato said) virtue is a kind of health, and vice a kind of illness. The first is often seen as a failure to the extent that it does not enable us to derive a list of moral virtues. But the concept of human excellence is many-layered, so the fact that Foot’s approach may not succeed for moral virtues does not show that it is no good for anything. The kinds of psychological characteristic derived from a more liberal application of Foot’s approach may also help to give non-trivial answers to the second, Platonic line of inquiry.