Richard Arneson (University of California, San Diego) - “Individual Well-Being and Social Justice”

29 januari 2019, 15:15 - 17:00 | Institute of Philosophy, Lecture Room 0.07, P.J.Veth Building, Nonnensteeg 1-3, Leiden

The Center for Political Philosophy in Leiden is pleased to announce a talk by Richard Arneson (University of California, San Diego) with the title “Individual Well-Being and Social Justice”.

This presentation defends an uncompromising “welfarist” position on the question, what is the right standard for assessing people’s condition for the purpose of determining what we owe to one another by way of social justice requirements. The welfarism defended is extreme, in the sense that it denies that if all social justice requirements involving the welfare of individual persons are fulfilled, any further social justice requirements remain, grounding further moral duties. (Indeed, the position being defended is even more extreme than just indicated. It holds that not only social justice requirements, but all requirements that figure in fundamental moral principles posit duties of concern for individual well-being.)

Some hearers will regard this position as old-fashioned and retrograde. They might picture my project as akin to rummaging though my closet looking for bell-bottomed trousers, tie-died T shirts, LSD tablets, and Country Joe and the Fish albums. This is a not unreasonable stance, given that recent advances in social justice theorizing have built upon strong objections against welfarism.  Some object that we can identify no coherent and attractive conception of individual well-being that could play the role in morality that welfarism presupposes can be filled. Another objection is that anyway the idea of individual welfare is an idle wheel that does no work in moral theory or moral deliberation. Yet another objection is that that even if sensible conceptions of welfare are available, there are too many of them, so that any welfarist social justice theory is bound to be sectarian and illiberal and would violate the individual’s moral right to pursue her own good in her own way so long as she plays fair with others. A related concern is that it is unjust to use state power to impose on citizens policies that could be justified, if at all, only by appeal to moral principles that some will could reasonably reject.

This presentation seeks to rebut these objections.  One consideration is that to give welfarism a fair run for its money we must couple it with the most promising conception of individual well-being we can identify. Another consideration is that we need to distinguish between discussion of fundamental moral principles and discussion of policies and practices and norms to be chosen as means to implement fundamental principles. Another is the distinction between what is in itself good for a person and what would be a reasonable life plan for a person, given her particular circumstances. 

The welfarism versus nonwelfarism issue does not coincide with consequentialism versus nonconsequentialism. A plausible consequentialist welfarism holds that actions and policies should be chosen with a view to bringing about maximally good quality lives for people, with good fairly distributed across persons. A plausible nonconsequentialist welfarism holds that one should refrain from wronging persons and wronging a person always consists in wrongful harming.  Cutting across consequentialism versus nonconsequentialism is an important divide between moral doctrines that do, and those that do not, include a significant beneficence principle among the moral determinants or what we owe to one another.

About Richard Arneson

Richard Arneson has been a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego since July, 1973. He received the Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley, 1975. He was department chair from 1992-1996. He has also been departmental graduate advisor. His UCSD rank since July, 2008 is Professor, Above Scale (Distinguished Professor). As of July, 2011, he holds the Valtz Family Chair in Philosophy here at UCSD. He is a Co-Director of the Institute for Law and Philosophy at the School of Law, University of San Diego. Starting in November, 2011 he has an affiliation as Visiting Research Professor at the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom and Department of Philosophy at the University of Arizona.

He has been visiting professor at the University of California, Davis (1990) and at the Program in Ethics, Politics, and Economics at Yale University (1996). In spring 1999 he was a visiting fellow at the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University. In January-February 2007 he was visiting professor (unpaid) at Charles Sturt University, the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Australian National University branch. From August-December, 2008, he was Adjunct Professor at the School of Law, University of San Diego.

His recent current research is on distributive justice. Some of this work explores how one might best incorporate a reasonable account of personal responsibility into a broadly egalitarian theory of justice. He also considers how consequentialist morality (one ought always to do an act the consequences of which are no worse than those of any alternative available act) might be developed in a version that is appealing and appropriately responsive to its critics. This latter project involves exploring the structure of moderate deontology to identify the best rival of consequentialism. He does some applied ethics. His work has been published in, amongst others, Journal of Political Philosophy, Ethics, Public Affairs Quarterly, Philosophical Studies, Social Philosophy and Policy, Journal of Ethics, Social Theory and Practice, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Journal of Social Philosophy, Philosophical Issues, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, The Monist, Southern Journal of Philosophy, Critical Reviews in Social and Political Philosophy, Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, Politics, Philosophy, and Economics.

About the Center for Political Philosophy (CPP) Colloquia Series

The CPP is a collaboration between the Institute for Philosophy and the Institute for Political Science at Leiden University. Attendance of the Colloquia is free and there is no need to register. See for more information. For further questions please contact dr. Dorota Mokrosinska

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