All posts by Jonathan Kwan

October 23rd: Ryan Felder, “Structural Coercion in Medical Research” and Alex Steers-McCrum, “Self-Determination After the Deluge”

Please join us for our Fall 2017 workshop:

Structural Coercion in Medical Research

Ryan Felder, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Self-Determination After the Deluge

Alex Steers-McCrum, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Monday, October 23, 6:30-8:00pm
Location: The Graduate Center, CUNY, Room 5396

Please see the abstracts for the talks below:

Structural Coercion in Medical Research

There is an orthodoxy in bioethics and moral theory (Faden & Beauchamp, Nozick, Wertheimer, Murphy, Hawkins & Emanuel) according to which coercion is a distinctive kind of wrong that occurs when an external authority imposes a choice situation on an individual by exercising some kind of power over them. The truth of this hypothesis has much consequence for the theory of informed consent, since it affects the degree to which we condemn different kinds of violation of informed consent. For example, on the orthodox view, violations of informed consent can be typed into two different kinds: the coercive violations, and (what we will call) the structural violations, where a lack of understanding in the patient undercuts the authenticity of their decision. Since the coercive violations are different in kind from the structural violations, and the coercive violations are viewed as distinct in their badness, it makes sense to say that the structural violations are less serious than the coercive violations. I put pressure on this view by showing that there is actually some degree of continuity between the structural violations and the coercive violations: that the structural violations have something of the coercive in them. To explain how this could be, I explain the concept of structural coercion in medicine. First, I examine Fisher’s attempt to characterize structural coercion in terms of the diffuse social conditions which influence people to participate in research; her analysis, though helpful in a number of ways, ultimately includes too broad a class of cases as having the element of coercion in them. Second, then, I discuss what I take to be a paradigm case of structural coercion: cases of the therapeutic misconception (Appelbaum et al.), where putative participants display a predictable and recalcitrant inability to understand the experimental designs and consequences and risks of participation. What is distinctly coercive in these cases is that the power which influences the patient’s decision to participate is not only social but is actually internal to the researcher/participant relationship. I view the therapeutic misconception as a factor of the patient’s implicit authority judgments about the medical professionals they work with, and their belief that the person in the lab coat is working for their good. Thus I view the therapeutic misconception as a social-structural phenomenon, where it counts as coercive if we understand coercion as a kind of socially-mediated influence. If I am right about this, I have provided a case for the concept of coercive violations of informed consent to be understood as continuous with cases of structural violations of informed consent. It turns out that structural features of our choice situations can have something of the coercive in them.

Self-Determination After the Deluge

In the near future, the world is likely to be confronted by refugees of a new sort: those whose states are literally flooded into nonexistence by sea levels rising due to global climate change. When island states lose their territory, an entire people has lost its right to have rights. I call these climate refugee peoples. A standard refugee has lost the right to have rights and makes a claim to join or re-join a political community, sometimes permanently, sometimes until it is safe to return to their homeland. The individualistic solutions standard in current debates about what is owed refugees fall far short of recompensing what has been lost by climate refugees. As safe return is impossible, the usual solution structure suggests that climate refugee peoples will have to be dispersed, resettled, and assimilated into other societies. This—if undesired—is to do a second violence to these refugees, for they will not be individuals fleeing states that have betrayed them, but peoples whose states have been washed away. The very process of admitting individuals dissolves the people.

Michael Walzer has argued that states are not necessarily bound to admit (standard) refugees if they are concerned that doing so presents a danger to their cultural integrity, while Christopher Wellman has argued that states’ rights to free association allow them to decide unilaterally, “who’s in and who’s out.” Neither theorist, however, believes these rights allow states to avoid discharging their significant duties owed to refugees and Walzer presents a novel solution: states desperate not to accept refugees may cede territory to those in need of it. I will argue that this solution may also serve refugees from climate change-related disaster, not because potential receiving states have the right to keep them out to preserve cultural integrity or associational rights, but because the peoples suffering territorial loss retain just those rights.

Finally, I examine five possible non-individualistic solutions to the problem of climate refugee peoples, and argue that none deal completely with the problem, while all are highly burdensome. I argue that the best way to discharge obligations to climate refugee peoples is for wealthy, powerful states to proactively build the resilience capacity of at-risk states, particularly low-lying island nations.

May 9th: Kathryn Pendoley, “Emotion, Fittingness, and Epistemic and Testimonial Injustice” and Manuel Rodeiro, “Taxonomy of Environmental Responsibility”

Please join us for our third workshop of the Spring 2017 Term:

Emotion, Fittingness, and Epistemic and Testimonial Injustice

Kathryn Pendoley, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Taxonomy of Environmental Responsibility

Manuel Rodeiro, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Tuesday, May 9, 4:15-5:45pm
Location: The Graduate Center, CUNY, Room 5409

Please see the abstracts for the talks below:

Emotion, Fittingness, and Epistemic and Testimonial Injustice

I take it that considerations of the fittingness or appropriateness of emotions are in fact operative (with variation, of course, across social groups and context). However, as I see it discussions of fittingness in the philosophical literature are often problematic. Most of the philosophical literature on the fittingness or appropriateness of emotion assumes that the fittingness norms hold across people regardless of class, gender, race, etc. However, the fittingness conditions of the experience and expression of, or example, anger, are actually sensitive to the social identities: there is robust data in other fields such as psychology and sociology that shows that judgments about the fittingness of anger will depend partially on the social identity of the person in question. Of course, if fittingness conditions for emotions exist they ought to be sensitive to social contexts. However, social contexts are gendered, racialized, classed, etc., so in fact the norms of emotional fittingness inherit and reinforce the oppression of these contexts.

Judgments about fittingness conditions of emotions likely influence and often drive emotion regulation: My judgment (conscious or unconscious) that my anger is unfitting may result in my attempting to down-regulate my experience and/or my expression of my anger (though not always, and not always successfully). If there is a fittingness norm to the effect that, for example, it is less appropriate for women to be angry or express anger than it is for men to do so, then women will often attempt to down-regulate their experiences and/or expressions of anger. It seems likely that over the course of development and indeed over the course of a lifetime a woman may even be so successful in her regulation attempts that she is rarely aware of feeling angry, and rarely expresses anger. Hence, standing fittingness conditions influence the experience and expression of emotion via emotion regulation.

We might hope that a rich range of emotional experience and expression would be open to all people regardless of social identity, but that is not the only problem that results from the curtailing of emotion outlined above. Emotions seem to be an especially good epistemic basis for self-knowledge and for knowledge about one’s relationships with others. I can get quite a good sense of what kind of person I am by reflecting on the emotions I have in various situations. I can also judge the sorts of relationships I have by appealing to how I feel in those relationships, which sorts of emotions I tend to experience with which friends, romantic partners, family members, etc. If I have systematically attempted to down-regulate my anger, then I am likely missing important information about my self and about my relationships. I might not realize that I am treated unjustly, for example, and so fail to resist this injustice (of course, even if I am aware of an injustice, I might not be able to resist). Furthermore, even if I experience anger but have to down-regulate its expression, my emotional testimony will not be heard.

Taxonomy of Environmental Responsibility

This paper attempts to facilitate the creation of taxonomies concerning differentiated environmental responsibility, under the assumption that a richer understanding of who owes what to whom will help further environmental justice. The paper proceeds in three distinct sections: (1) provide an overview of the environmental justice movement; (2) establish an idealized spectrum of environmental responsibility by abstractly delineating the two polar extremes of culpability (those most responsible and those least responsible) for the current levels of environmental degradation, and (3) commence the normative analysis, prescribing what those most responsible owe to those least responsible, in the hopes of achieving environmental justice.

Environmental justice has three main objectives: (1) distributive justice – the fair and equitable distribution or sharing of ‘goods’ (resources) and ‘bads’ (harm and risk); (2) procedural/participatory justice – the ways in which decisions are made, who is involved and has influence must be expanded and more inclusive, and (3) justice as recognition – that all ought to be given respect, particularly those that have been historically undervalued.

However, as will be argued, this formulation of environmental justice is partially inadequate because its present-and-future-oriented scope fails at correcting prior environmental wrongs –i.e., satisfying the past-oriented reparative justice requirements. But before this discussion can proceed, it is necessary to establish a framework capable of delineating who is responsible for compensating whom for these environmental debts.

From a theoretical perspective one of the major achievements of the environmental justice movement is that it illuminates the disparate relationships and responsibilities existing between peoples and their environment. However, in opposition to this trend of highlighting incongruent levels of environmental responsibility, much of the current environmental literature is structured around the monolithic idea of the Anthropocene.

One of the major drawbacks with the concept of the Anthropocene is that it treats humanity as a singular monolithic force (the Anthropos). The narrative misses the fact that certain segments of the population are far more responsible than others (both historically and at present) for the general deterioration of the environment.

In this light, I will attempt an initial foray into developing an adequate taxonomy of environmental responsibility. The first step is to abstractly define who is most responsible for the current international state of affairs and consequently, most blamable for the present levels of environmental degradation (roving bandits). Afterwards, I will attempt to abstractly define those least liable for the present levels of environmental degradation (indigenous stewards); subsequently, discussing what ought to be owed to them (from an environmental standpoint) from those most accountable. Developing the two polar extremes should help refine the values, norms, principles, objectives, and methods necessary for transitioning towards and ultimately achieving environmental justice.

The hope is that the process of delineating environmental responsibility will increase the chances of environmental reparative justice gaining traction by: (1) assisting victims in better articulating their grievances; (2) more vividly, confronting perpetrators to recognize their mistakes; (3) strengthening victims power for self-determination, and (4) facilitating mutual understanding, connection, and cooperation between victims and perpetrators.

April 4th: Nancy Holstrom, “The Dialectic of the Individual and the Collective: an Ecological Imperative”

Please join us for the second workshop of the Spring 2017 Term:

The Dialectic of the Individual and the Collective: An Ecological Imperative

Nancy Holmstrom, Professor Emeritus, Rutgers

Tuesday, April 4, 4:15-5:45pm
Location: The Graduate Center, CUNY, Room 5409

March 21st: Rebecca Traynor, “Success and Stereotype: The Underrepresentation of Women in Academic Philosophy” and Jules Salomone, “From Coordination to Cooperation: Switching to Team Reasoning”

Please join us for the first workshop of the Spring 2017 Term:

Success and Stereotype: The Underrepresentation of Women in Academic Philosophy

Rebecca Traynor, The Graduate Center, CUNY

From Coordination to Cooperation: Switching to Team Reasoning

Jules Salomone, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Tuesday, March 21, 11:45-1:15pm
Location: The Graduate Center, CUNY, Room 5489

Please see the abstracts for the talks below:

Success and Stereotype: The Underrepresentation of Women in Academic Philosophy

Women are overwhelmingly underrepresented in academic Philosophy. Two reasons are proposed, “different voices” and “the perfect storm.” According to “different voices,” women are intrinsically mismatched to Philosophy. Women are hard-working, social, and cooperative, but Philosophers—and men—are innately brilliant, solitary, and competitive. On “different voices,” then, to increase women’s representation in academic Philosophy we ought to discourage the kind of competitive commentary currently common among scholars at conferences. According to “the perfect storm,” women are capable of high-level Philosophical work, but are discriminated against thanks to the stereotypes about women and Philosophers upheld by “different voices.” Because these stereotypes portray women as fundamentally unsuited and men as fundamentally suited to Philosophy, women are less likely than men to be encouraged, feel confident—which increases success independent of skill—or be considered qualified candidates, and, hence, more likely to leave the discipline. Consequently, on “the perfect storm,” we ought to promote models of successful women Philosophers on conferences and on syllabi.

While I agree with “the perfect storm’s” causal story about the reasons women leave academic Philosophy, in contrast to either solution given above, I recommend neither “feminization” nor tokenism as most appropriate to increase women’s representation in the discipline. “Feminizing” Philosophy further upholds harmful stereotypes and is often assumed tantamount to dumbing down. Introducing more women Philosophers at conferences and on syllabi is laudable and ought to be encouraged, but is unlikely to sufficiently impact pervasive and recalcitrant gender stereotypes fostered from a young age; token women are assumed either to deviate from the norm or to have gained unfair advantage. Rather, I hypothesize improving pedagogical practices is best suited for increasing diversity in academic Philosophy. Attrition rates for women are high across all levels of the discipline, but are most pronounced after introductory, undergraduate-level courses. My intervention is thus especially aimed at this critical stage.

Typically, Philosophy students are asked to read difficult, often poorly-written texts and write research papers without much in way of reading and writing instruction, example, or group practice. Tasks such as group brain-storming, paper drafting, and peer editing aim to improve philosophical skills via traits assumed to hold true for women but not successful Philosophers. I argue explicitly encouraging and, moreover, linking effort and collaboration to successful philosophical progress will not only improve all students’ and future Philosophers’ critical thinking and academic research and writing skills, but also promote gender diversity in academic Philosophy. Further, I provide qualitative data from my own teaching experience suggesting explicit instruction in philosophical skills teaches students that Philosophy requires tenacity, effort, and collaboration.

From Coordination to Cooperation: Switching to Team Reasoning

My main motivation is to argue that when placed in situations of coordination, agents have a pro tanto reason to cooperate, where this pro tanto reason derives from conditions constitutive of their agency. To defend this claim, I spend the first two sections analyzing the concept of cooperation. In the first, I show that Bratman’s account of shared cooperative activity fails to exclude Nash Equilibria generally deemed non-cooperative. I offer my analysis of the concept of cooperation in the second and argue that, in order to avoid counterexamples to which Bratman’s account falls prey, a necessary condition on cooperation is that the cooperative activity be favored by reasons acceptable to all parties from their shared perspective. In arguing so, I de facto include some version of the game-theoretic notion of team reasoning in my account of cooperation. I then stipulatively define coordination as – roughly – situations in which reasonable agents’ deliberations include considerations about others’ decisions and actions. A consequence of coordination is that the success of agents’ actions depends on others. I finally argue that if control is a constitutive condition of agency, then agents ought to cooperate in order to exert joint control on their endeavors.

November 28th: Omar Dahbour, “On the Ecological Blindspot in the Territorial Rights Debate”

On the Ecological Blindspot in the Territorial Rights Debate

Omar Dahbour, Hunter College & The Graduate Center, CUNY

Monday, November 28, 4-5:30pm

Location: Room 5409

This paper summarizes and criticizes four conceptions of territorial rights. A right to territory is understood as a legitimate claim to jurisdictional authority over a contiguous land area, the ecosystem(s) it contains, and its human inhabitants. The four conceptions I designate as the cosmopolitan, nationalist, proprietary, and populist. Each is discussed in terms of one or two recent theorists who have espoused these conceptions. In particular, I discuss Arash Abizadeh and Lea Ypi as exponents of the cosmopolitan conception, Tamar Meisels and David Miller as exponents of the nationalist conception, John Simmons and Cara Nine as exponents of the proprietary conception, and Margaret Moore as an exponent of the populist conception. Additionally, I consider the work of Avery Kolers, who argues for a conception of territorial rights that incorporates an ecological dimension.

The distinctive conception of a right to territory that I advocate also includes this ecological dimension in two ways. First, it highlights the view that the normative significance of territory lies in its importance for the securing of the material necessities for human life. Second, it is a specific relation to territory—the use of it to achieve ecological sustainability—that alone justifies territorial claims. The right that I advocate as a result of the inadequacies of the prior conceptions that I criticize can therefore be stated as follows: A people inhabiting a territory comprising an ecosystem has the right to jurisdictional authority over that territory sufficient to maintain the goods and services of that ecosystem. Rather than arguing directly for this conception in what follows, I will attempt to show how it, or some amended version of it, provides a needed corrective to the deficiencies of the four (plus) conceptions that I discuss.

November 7th: Jules Salomone, “Grades of Realism in Social Ontology” and Philip Zigman, “The Lottery Won’t Solve Your Problems”

Grades of Realism in Social Ontology

Jules Salomone, The Graduate Center, CUNY

The Lottery Won’t Solve Your Problems

Philip Zigman, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Monday, November 7, 2016, 4:45-5:30
Location: Room 5409


Grades of Realism in Social Ontology

That the twenty euro bill I have in my wallet is real, that the assertion ‘The UK is a state’ is truth- assessable, and that being married to each other is a genuine feature of Karim and Eli is, I suggest, beyond dispute. Eliminativism about the bill in my wallet would not only go against ordinary discourse about money; it would also deprive monetary economics of its subject matter. Arguing that ‘The UK is a state’ is not truth-assessable would unconvincingly compel us to consider all the currently made claims purporting to record facts about the Brexit referendum to be mere façon de parler expressing (e.g.) non-cognitive attitudes or perhaps assertions reducible to truth-assessable beliefs about non-social facts. And denying that being married is a genuine feature of those who have said ‘I do’ would implausibly challenge the reasonable view that the predicate ‘married’ can figure in substantive explanations of why married couples engage in certain behaviors and courses of actions – and of why we judge married couples to be, indeed, married.

The interesting question is not whether realism about (at least a subclass of) social objects, facts and the referents of social concepts is defensible, but rather what sort of realism is appropriate in social ontology broadly construed. Many accounts found in the literature cohere with the view that social concepts are response-dependent, i.e. that a certain kind of attitude of some class of subjects determines the extension of the properties picked out by such concepts. In this paper, I do not intend to take issue with response-dependent accounts of social concepts when couched in this very general (and plausible) way. Instead, I will challenge a pervasive interpretation of the view that social concepts are response-dependent, and the resulting watered down realism in social ontology that is argued for by its advocates. The general form of this interpretation is encapsulated in the following equation taken to hold as an a priori matter:

x is F ↔ in the context C, subjects S1, …, Sn collectively accept that if x satisfies condition G, then x is F.

Following Hindriks, I will call this interpretation the acceptance-dependent account of social concepts. On Searle’s view, acceptance-dependent concepts figure prominently in assertions recording institutional facts. Similarly, Fine’s account of joint intentions is consistent with the view that the concept of such intentions is acceptance-dependent. In fact, he suspects that many more social concepts should be characterized in a similar fashion. Pace Hindriks, Searle and Fine, I will argue that only a sub-class of social concepts are acceptance-dependent.

I first present and discuss what I call robustly response-dependent accounts of concepts that have been historically developed in order to capture the features of evaluational concepts. In doing so, I characterize the kind of qualified, and yet robust, realism delivered by such accounts. I then contrast robustly response-dependent accounts with acceptance-dependent theories and show that the latter can only serve to defend various versions of a highly qualified type of realism that I seek to specify. I finally proceed to make the case for the view that a subclass of social concepts are robustly response-dependent.

The Lottery Won’t Solve Your Problems

Guerrero (2014) argues that because of certain problems with electoral representative democracy, we should
favor an alternative lottocratic system in which lawmakers are chosen via lottery. Guerrero’s charge against
electoral representative democracies is that due to features intrinsic to such systems they tend to do poorly when it comes to outcomes, both in terms of responsiveness and good governance. In particular, various forms of unavoidable ignorance on the part of citizens are alleged to be an insurmountable obstacle to responsive or good outcomes. I argue that Guerrero fails to give us compelling reasons to prefer a lottocracy to an electoral representative democracy. First, I argue that if electoral representative democracies do not tend to produce responsive or good outcomes, this is due to various contingent features of a society, rather than features intrinsic to electoral representative democracies. I then argue that the underlying issues that negatively impact outcomes in electoral representative democracies would pose similar problems in a lottocracy. I conclude by arguing that the general strategy Guerrero employs in his paper is deeply flawed. Though he recognizes that various contingent features of our society—such as substantial economic inequality and poorly structured elections—contribute to the failings of our electoral representative democracy, and rightly notes that addressing these issues would face significant political opposition from the wealthy and powerful, his theoretical alternative would almost certainly face as much—if not more—opposition, making it an otherworldly solution to the very real problem of unresponsive and bad outcomes.

October 17th: Joanna Smolensky, “The Non-Identity Problem and Historical Injustice” and Shivani Radhakrishnan, “Idealistic Realism”

The Non-Identity Problem and Historical Injustice: A Non-Problem for Reparations

Joanna Smolensky, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Idealistic Realism

Shivani Radhakrishnan, Columbia University

Monday, October 17, 4-5:30pm
Location: The Graduate Center, CUNY Room 5409


The Non-Identity Problem and Historical Injustice: A Non-Problem for Reparations

In this paper, I will consider Derek Parfit’s non-identity problem and suggest that it does not pose a substantial worry for reparations in contexts of historical injustice. First, I will sketch the non-identity problem and then outline Jeremy Waldron’s view in “Superseding Historic Injustice”, which links non-identity to inheritance claims. I will go on to suggest that in these cases, the crucial feature is not that any particular person be reunited with holdings that were previously seized unjustly: rather, the concern is about justice for the community of victims, which includes the heirs of the victims. Group membership is salient to the extent that a given community is a group and not just an assemblage of persons. I will suggest that such groups persist through time, and thus are not vulnerable to the non-identity problem because their identities do not rely on the membership of any particular person. I will further argue that if one nevertheless seeks to continue worrying about non-identity in such circumstances, it is inadequate to limit the scope of the worry only to cases of past injustice: rather, the non-identity problem would seem to have far-reaching implications for our current views of inheritance more broadly.

Idealistic Realism

A long philosophical and political tradition holds that political philosophy should be realistic, because otherwise, these views will be too detached from the way our social world operates to be valuable. But this tradition neglects the possibility that political philosophy could be idealistic in the sense of not being implementable from our current circumstances, and yet provide important political results. This I argue, creates a substantial normative space for moral and political philosophers that is often ignored. I suggest that two things follow: First, the unrealistic critic faces the burden of explaining why implementation should trump other kinds of political results. Until this burden is met, there is no obvious inference to be made from a political philosophy’s inability to be implemented to its lacking political value. Second, it’s plausible that such a preference for implementability — the demand that a moral or political philosopher’s proposals be capable of realization in our current circumstances— itself prevents certain kinds of political results, what I call critical political results. I conclude by discussing the prospects for critical political results, and offer a brief diagnosis of our reluctance to make room, in our politics, for a kind of idealism.