Category Archives: Past Workshops

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

Abstract:
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

Abstracts:

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

Abstracts:

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.

May 12th: Jonathan Kwan, “The Social Ontology and the Legitimacy of the People”

Please join us for the fourth workshop of the Spring 2016 Term:

The Social Ontology and the Legitimacy of the People

Jonathan Kwan, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Thursday, May 12th, 2016, 12:30-2:00pm
Location: Room 5409

Please see the abstract for the talk below.

The Social Ontology and the Legitimacy of the People

Located at both the core and interstices of a wide array of political issues ranging from democratic legitimacy, global justice, self-determination, and secession, the concept of the people is a thorny and mercurial one—serving to play numerous normative roles and purposes. If democracy is rule by the people, who are the people? In this paper, I argue that the social ontology of the people should be understood as a group of persons that inhabits a bounded territory and engages in common activity to realize shared purposes, where such activity is continuously constituted by processes of collective decision-making that are or aspire to be in the form of binding laws and institutions. Any account of the people as bounded and thus exclusionary faces the membership question of who should be included as part of the people. Appealing to democratic decision-making procedures to answer this question generates an infinite regress since there will need to be a prior people to decide who is to be a member of the people, and so on and so forth. I consider and reject three responses to this regress problem, which include the view that the people is simply determined by contingent historical forces, the “all-affected interests” principle for determining the people’s scope, and the position that the demos is unbounded. The membership question and the infinite regress problem raises the issue of the legitimacy of the people. Namely, can the continued existence of a people over time as excluding some be legitimized? And if so, what would be required to attain and sustain this legitimacy? The approach I adopt to address this issue of the legitimacy of the people is twofold. First, I will argue that a people’s territorial boundedness is important for the exercise of meaningful self- determination over the particular location it inhabits. Many common activities of a people will be attached to a particular location itself and be given meaning by being pursued there and not elsewhere. A people’s territorial boundedness enables its members to decide for themselves how these place-related joint activities should be structured and shaped free from the interference of others. The necessity of a people’s boundedness, however, does not eliminate the need for its legitimization. Rather, since the very purpose behind a people’s boundedness is to secure self-determination, it must also respect the self-determination of those it constitutes as outsiders if it is to legitimize their exclusion. This will require at least that the people recognize the self- determination of other peoples, generally by respecting their sovereignty, and the right of people- less persons to be members of a people (Hannah Arendt’s ‘right to have rights’). The overall picture then is that the exclusion of some from a people is necessary to secure the meaningful self-determination of its members and that such exclusion is legitimate insofar as the people respects the self-determination of others that it constitutes as outsiders.

April 14th: Jesse Spafford, “Rescuing the Community Principle”

Please join us for the third workshop of the Spring 2016 Term:

Rescuing the Community Principle

Jesse Spafford, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Thursday, April 14th, 2016, 12:30-2:00pm
Location: GC Philosophy Dept. Thesis Room

Please see the abstract for the talk below.

Rescuing the Community Principle

In Why Not Socialism? (2009), G. A. Cohen proposes a set of egalitarian principles presented as a statement of the socialist philosophical position. Of these, Cohen’s principle of community has drawn recent attention with its claim that any significant material inequality (or, more generally inequality in life outcomes) undermines community between people and, thus, ought to be condemned.

Why does inequality undermine community in this way? According to one common reading—put forward by James Otteson (2014) and Jason Brennan (2015) among many others—Cohen’s claim is that inequality strips away the common ground that wealthy and poor individuals once shared such that they are left with no basis for relating meaningfully to one another. By contrast, this paper proposes an alternative reading of Cohen’s principle whereby inequality is taken to undermine community because it introduces an underlying source of antagonism between individuals that is reflected in the various taboos that constrict the domain of socially-acceptable discourse.

The paper argues that the alternative interpretation ought to be preferred because it makes better sense of the thought experiment Cohen uses to support his principle; better coheres with Cohen’s other writings (most notably essays appearing in Rescuing Justice and Equality (2008)); and gives the principle greater normative weight.

A further advantage of the interpretation is that it avoids a serious objection raised by Brennan against the standard reading of the principle of community. Specifically, Brennan argues that the principle of community—at least, as it has traditionally been interpreted—is both unsupported by the arguments Cohen provides and entails the unacceptable conclusion that any sort of lifestyle diversity undermines community. The paper will concede the argument, but contends that the alternative interpretation avoids this objection and, thus, ought to be preferred to the standard reading on the grounds of charitable interpretation.

March 10th: Alex R. Steers McCrum, “Toward a Theory of a Native American Race”

Please join us for the second workshop of the Spring 2016 Term:

Toward a Theory of a Native American Race

Alex R. Steers McCrumThe Graduate Center, CUNY
Thursday, March 10th, 2016, 12:30-2:00pm
Location: Room 5414

Please see the abstract for the talk below.

Toward a Theory of a Native American Race

Both popularly and philosophically, race in the U.S. is most often talked about in terms of black and white, sometimes as though these are the only two races in the country, and other times in terms of a kind of spectrum running from whiteness to blackness. This binary is usually implicit, borne out by the focus of examples. Such a conception does not map onto actual racial structures in the U.S. I will criticize this binary, focusing on Indigenous Peoples, who have never fit into it, either in theory nor in practice. Victims of historical exclusion, land theft, cultural liquidation, murder, and outright genocide, the Native American peoples were never integrated into a racially-ordered U.S. society en masse and thus problematize traditional models of race. In order to account for the experiences of Native Americans, I believe it is necessary to construct a new theory of the meaning of race. In assembling this theory, I will attempt to bridge philosophical critical race studies and Native American studies, surveying leading conceptions of race to see whether and to what extent they are applicable to Native Americans, and examine them for aspects that should be adopted or modified, and aspects that are best discarded. I will argue for a conception of race that is nonessential, socially constructed, and spatio-temporally located, subject to change over time and reinterpretation across localities. Having established a conception of race that can include Native Americans, I will discuss the implications of a Native American race in greater detail, including how it might be politically useful, while also keeping in mind the practical and theoretical dangers of essentializing a Native race concept. Finally, I will take up an important question that will be suggested by my theory of race: whether or not all Indigenous Peoples around the globe are, in fact, a single race. I will not purport to prove this thesis but, more modestly, suggest that it is descriptively plausible and potentially efficacious. My intent is that the theory I provide will be both conceptually and socially useful, that it will be able to make sense of common race talk while also providing normative support to anti-domination projects, broadly construed, particularly the processes of solidarity and coalition-building between and among oppressed racial groups.

February 18th: Aaron Bentley, “Social Ontology as a Normative Project”

Please join us for the first workshop of the Spring 2016 Term:

Social Ontology as a Normative Project

Aaron Bentley, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Thursday, February 18th, 2016, 12:30-2:00pm
Location: GC Philosophy Dept. Thesis Room

Please see the abstract for the talk below.

Social Ontology as a Normative Project

In this paper I will propose an alternative approach to certain kinds of questions in social ontology and social metaphysics. This represents a reaction to a trend in contemporary social ontology which uses social ontological theories to defend certain positions in normative political philosophy. I will argue that many social ontological claims are themselves essentially normative claims and that the relationship between social ontology and normative political and social theory cannot be one of grounding the political in the metaphysical. To do so, I will describe and defend what I will call the ethical approach to social ontology and apply it to a contemporary debate over the structure of collective intentions. I will defend the coherence of adopting the ethical stance by defending two claims: (1) that the social world and the means we have of producing it are not fixed and are produced through human activity; (2) that social objects and our means of producing them are subject to ethical evaluation. Following this, I will apply this approach to the debate over collective intentions and discuss the implications of the approach for future work in social ontology.

April 20th: Kenneth Courtney, “Normativity in Political Representation: A Defense of Representational Obligations”

Please join us for the third workshop of the Spring 2015 Term:

Normativity in Political Representation: A Defense of Representational Obligations

Kenneth Courtney, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Monday, April 20th, 2015
Time: 4:00pm
Location: Room 5109

Please see the abstract for the talk below.

Normativity in Political Representation: A Defense of Representational Obligations

Disputes have continued since Pitkin’s seminal work on representation regarding the representative’s obligations to enact the popular mandate and, when appropriate, to act as an independent maker of decisions. While much has since been written regarding the forms through which popular mandates might be best realized, and—though considerably less—about those occasions on which a representative is empowered to act independently of such mandates, surprisingly little has been said about the normative grounding of these obligations. More recent work in political science has even proffered an account of political representation purged of normativity altogether—hence without invoking obligations—suggesting that if a relevant audience in the right circumstances recognizes an individual to be a representative, he or she should be understood as a representative. Such an approach undervalues normative dimensions that I will argue are central to our best understanding of political representation. Although an account that identifies representation with democratic legitimacy would indeed be too narrow, an account that says nothing about obligations held by representatives both with regard to those they represent and with regard to the frameworks within which representation occurs remains inadequate. Considerations invoked in a non-normative “general account” regarding what constitutes representation—determining the relevant audience, specifying appropriate circumstances, and providing criteria for the selection of representatives— end up requiring judgments that are best seen as irreducibly normative after all. Such an account further threatens to completely sever the activity of a representative from the interests of a constituency. We can better begin to discern normative features of political representation by considering the role of representative and the practice of representation more carefully.

March 24th: Josh Keton, “On the Limited Significance of Coercion in Theorizing the Nature of the State”

Please join us for the third workshop of the Spring 2015 Term:

On the Limited Significance of Coercion in Theorizing the Nature of the State

Josh Keton, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Tuesday, March 24th, 2015, 4:30-6:00pm
Location: Room 5109 (Globalization Room)

Please see the abstract for the talk below.

On the Limited Significance of Coercion in Theorizing the Nature of the State

A central concern of political, legal and social theorists in the modern period has been to explore and ground morality and justice in terms of freedom and autonomy. One obvious threat to a person’s exercise of their freedom and autonomy is coercion—being forced by others to act contrary to one’s own will. As a result, the concept of coercion has been a central focus of many political, legal, and social theorists. . I argue that once we have analyzed coercion properly we will see that coercion is both dramatically more widespread than we had first assumed. This has the effect of making it the case that the “political” as it has been demarcated by some is much less contained than those theorists suspect, with radical implications for the need to extend principles of justice to areas of life which have normally been thought to be exempt.

 

February 24th: Jennifer M. Morton, “Educators: Bridging the Ideal and Non-Ideal Divide”

Please join us for the third workshop of the Spring 2015 Term:

Educators: Bridging the Ideal and Non-Ideal Divide

Jennifer M. Morton, Department of Philosophy, City College of New York
Tuesday, February 24th, 2015, 4:30-6:00pm
Location: Room 7113 (GC Philosophy Department Thesis Room)

Please see the abstract for the talk below.

Educators: Bridging the Ideal and Non-Ideal Divide

Recently, the distinction between ideal and non-ideal theory has been a topic of central interest to political philosophers and philosophers of education. The divide is often thought to map a difference in theoretical methodology in so far as ideal theorists derive their theories under a different set of assumptions than non-ideal theorists. Political theorists who favor ideal theories defend the value of developing theories of justice that assume full compliance, complete and universal virtue, or unfeasible political conditions. Political theorists who favor non-ideal theory argue that ideal theory is hopeless, irrelevant, or unnecessary to the achievement and development of feasible political goals. These two methodological commitments are not on the face of it incompatible or in tension with each other. Consequently, the ecumenical position suggests that ideal theory can be harmoniously pursued alongside non-ideal theory. They are simply two different theoretical tasks. But this way of understanding what divides ideal from non-ideal theorizing misrepresents the central issue as a mere academic concern for theorists. In so doing, it ignores the much deeper way in which these two ways of thinking about justice pervade our experiences as agents in the moral and political sphere and can lead to practical tensions.

In this paper, I discuss educators as a prime exemplar of agents who not only experience the tension between ideal and non-ideal ways of thinking, but for whom understanding and coming to terms with this tension is of great practical import. I argue that it is central to the educator’s role as educator and as citizen to engage in ideal and non-ideal thinking. This is because the educator is essentially engaged in two tasks. The first task is educating future citizens. In so far, as the educator is involved in this task he is playing a role in making certain future social facts true. These facts are some of the ones on which the justice of our future society supervene. The second task an educator is engaged in is preparing students with the skills and knowledge they need to navigate the world as they will find it. In pursuing this task, the educator is assuming certain social facts, some of them unjust. These two goals lead to difficult tensions in how educators carry out their work. I argue that this tension can be best resolved if we understand the ideal theorizing engaged in by educators as an expression of respect towards his fellow citizens. I argue that this expressive component is crucial to the educator’s role as educator and as citizen.

In section I, I elucidate the ideal/non-ideal distinction. In section II, I describe three examples of educators that show ideal and non-ideal thinking at work. In section III, I argue that it is essential to the role of an educator to engage in both ideal and non-ideal thinking. In the fourth section, I offer a defense of the importance of the expressive value of ideal thinking. In the final section, I argue that political theorists can learn something important about the ideal/non-ideal divide by reflecting on the case of educators.