Department of Philosophy



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Phil Smolenski (Queen's University)

will be presenting on

"Stability and the Limits (if any) of Feasibility"

THURSDAY, December 1st, 2016

WATSON HALL, ROOM 517 @ 4:00 p.m.

  Stability for the right reasons serves as a lynchpin to realizing the broadminded liberal promise of establishing a “moral form of living-together” amongst people who are irreconcilably divided on the fundamental questions of life but who are committed to creating a shared social world with one another. In order to achieve this broadminded liberal ambition, I attribute to justice a functional role to establish an enduring basis of social unity in a diverse society, which raises various feasibility considerations. G.A. Cohen and David Estlund charge that taking stability and feasibility seriously creates a tension between justice and the vagaries of the human condition. Cohen and company press what I refer to as the demandingness problem: the requirements of justice may prove too onerous for some members of society, leading them to withhold their compliance, and posing a threat to social stability. Only weakening the requirements of justice will make it feasible for our holdouts to comply, leaving us with a stable scheme of cooperation, but at what cost to justice?

I offer a working definition of feasibility (as part of stability for the right reasons) as a pro tanto threshold test for prospective requirements of justice. I respond to the demandingness problem by distinguishing between two kinds of demandingness: Economic and Comprehensive. My aim is to significantly blunt the force of the charge of economic demandingness by defending an idealized conception of our nature as human moral agents and what we’re capable of at our best. On the other hand, I acknowledge the normative salience of comprehensive demandingness, which calls our attention to the social consequences of liberal politics, and how unaddressed spillover effects may (negatively) affect the depth of people’s commitment a scheme of cooperation. I conclude with a discussion about the “facts” while delineating what count as bad facts. If Gerald Gaus is correct that facts are not like pesky cows that can be stared down until they go away, then any adequate theory of justice needs to grapple with the empirical circumstances and facts about that the human condition that make justice necessary in the first place by examining the relationship between stability, feasibility, and justice.


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