domingo, 25 de agosto de 2013

Dworkin's conception of rights (as trumps), Rawls's first principle, and Hart's criticism

In the Dworkinian conception of a right (right as a kind of trump), does “A has a right to free speech” means that the political objective of A having free speech ought to prevail over almost every other political objective, except for other rights heavier than A’s right to free speech and for social ends with acutely high urgency or relevance? Wouldn’t that mean that A ought to have as much free speech as morally possible?

I know that Dworkin’s definition is more of an interpretive conception of rights and their status in the general frame of political objectives, and not a semantic analysis of what means to have a right, but I was thinking that, if the translation above is right, then in Dworkin the principle that everyone should have the widest system of freedom would not be a demand of justice about rights (as in Rawls), but would rather be contained in the very concept of rights. It would be conceptually impossible for a legal system to recourse to the idea of rights without intending to grant everyone the widest system of freedom. In a way, Hart’s criticism of Rawls’s formulation and lexical priority of the first principle of justice (stating that both would be chosen only by individuals animated by liberalism as an ideal of life, something that the parties in the original position are not supposed to be) would apply even more properly to Dworkin’s conception of rights.

(But wouldn’t Dworkin defend himself by saying that he never meant to merely describe what is a right, because that is impossible, he meant instead to provide an interpretation of rights, which, according to his ideas, must necessarily commit itself to a normative ideal? So he was not trying to sketch a definition of rights with which rational parties under the veil of ignorance would agree, but rather an interpretation of rights that would both explain and justify our political practices, making them as morally appealing as possible. But even if we accept what he says that “interpreting” implies, wouldn’t a “thinner” conception of rights, one not committed from the start with the principle of the widest system of freedom, be explanatorily more powerful and meta-ethically more pluralistic?)

quarta-feira, 14 de agosto de 2013

Are Wagers Similar to Promises?

Most contemporary philosophers explain the normativity of promises with one of these two strategies: conventionalists say that promises bind because there is a conventional practice (bearing normative meaning) of making promises and every actor whose utterance meets the requirements of that practice is obligated to do what he or she has said; expectationalists say that promises bind because they raise expectations of fulfillment and (at least in most of the cases) it would be wrong for an actor to disappoint expectations that he or she raised. What I want to examine in this post is whether wagers can be considered to bind in the same way that promises can and for the same reasons too. In order to know that, I will compare wagers and promises and see whether they are sufficiently similar to each other. For the sake of this post, I will consider both strategies successful and will establish that, in  defending that some institution is similar to a promise, said similarity can hold either by the conventionalist or the expectationalist conception of promises.

As for wagers, they bear the following intuitive similarity to promises. If I bet with you that, if your team wins the game, I will buy you a beer, that appears to be tantamount to me promising that, if your team wins the game, I will buy you a beer. In this treatment, a wager looks like a case of a conditional promise, a promise whose obligation is conditioned to a hypothetical fact, a promise in the form if–then. (The fact that this kind of wager is usually made with a reciprocity clause, such as “but if mine wins, you buy me a beer”, is not a real problem, because it would just be a case of two promises, each one made by each of the betters and intertwined with each other. For the sake of simplicity, I will consider only the case of unilateral wagers, where the first better is committed to do something for the second one if the condition obtains, but the second better is not committed to do something for the first one if the condition does not obtain.) That intuitive similarity between a wager and a conditional promise is the departing point to our analysis.

There is, however, at least two important differences between a wager and a conditional promise. The first one is that, in a wager, the disbelief of the first better in that the condition will obtain is implicit in the wager proposal itself, while a similar disbelief is not necessary in a conditional promise. Betting that I will buy you a beer if your team wins the game suggests that I have a considerable disbelief that your team will in fact win the game. My utterance implies the prediction that your team will not win the game and, to show how confident I am in my prediction, I am even willing to buy you a beer if the future does not confirm it. On the other hand, by saying something like: “Let’s watch the game together in a bar, I promise you that, if your team wins the game, I will buy a beer”, I do not imply that I don’t believe that your team will win the game, but, on the contrary, I believe that it is at least one of the possibilities and commit myself that, if that happens, I will buy a beer. For making the difference still more evident, you can think of a father that knows that his son will apply for a place in a prestigious university. If the father says: “I promise you that, if you get the place, I will give you a car”, that is a kind of incentive, but if he says: “I bet with you that, if you get the place, I will give you a car”, that is a kind of discouragement, or even an offensive challenge.

The second difference between a wager and a conditional promise is that, in a wager, both betters position themselves in a competition picture, in a win-lose situation. If I bet with you that, if your team wins the game, I will buy you a beer, and it turns out that your team does win the game and I do have to buy you a beer, as said in the wager proposal, then I have suffered a kind of loss and you are even expected to feel free to mock me for that. But the same would be strange for a promise. If I promised you that, if your team won the game, I would buy you a bear and it turned out that your team did win the game and I did have to buy you a beer, it is only the fulfillment of a promise, for your team’s winning the game was something that I had expected to possibly happen and my having to buy you a beer was something that I even wanted to do if your team won (which is kind of a win-win situation). There would be no reason to mock me for that; maybe there is even place to thank me in a way for having made that promise and for having complied with it in the end.

In my point of view, those two differences have distinct impacts on the similarity between wagers and promises according to the choice for the conventionalist or the expectationalist strategy to explain promises. From the point of view of the conventionalist strategy, those two differences look like sufficient reasons to infer that, even if wagering is a practice, in the same sense that promising is, it is not the same practice as promising. It would be a different practice, one that would have different rules and requirements and would call for a different justification. But from the point of view of the expectationalist strategy, whatever the differences between wagering and promising, there would be no denying that a wager, similarly to a promise, raise expectations that would be wrong not to fulfill. We could think of wagering and promising as two different cases (one involving a challenge and a win-lose situation, the other involving help or favor and a win-win situation) of the same moral phenomenon, that is, of the expectation-raising behavior. It would be matter for an ulterior investigation to know whether this conclusion shows an advantage of the expectationalist strategy (the range of its classification, going beyond promises and encompassing other behaviors, for example, wagers) that should be taken into account as an epistemic reason to favor it over the conventionalist one. Another matter for an ulterior investigation would be to know whether similar conclusions would result from the comparison of both promises and wagers with other behaviors of the kind, such as threats.