Hey there! Sign in to join this conversationNew here? Join for free

[Political Obligation] Fair Play and Presumptive Benefits Watch

    • Thread Starter
    Offline

    2
    ReputationRep:
    Here I offer an outline of the problem of political obligation, and then an outline of the solution I prefer (the variant of the fair play theory proposed by George Klosko). I am interested to hear what people think.

    If you want a more detailed introduction, I recommend you read:

    A. John Simmons - MORAL PRINCIPLES AND POLITICAL OBLIGATIONS
    This is the single best book on political obligation I've ever read.

    and the more recent
    George Klosko - POLITICAL OBLIGATIONS

    ---

    The Problem of Political Obligation

    Nobody doubts that we are under various moral obligations. If I promise to pay you £5 before next Monday, then I am under a moral obligation to pay you the £5 that I have promised you. That is not to say that in all circumstances, I ought (all things considered) pay you the £5. There could be some situations in which I ought not to do that. For example, suppose I meet a dieing child, on my way to pay you back. If the only way for me to save that child's life is to give up my £5 (perhaps there is a medicine vending machine nearby, or something like that) then it seems fairly obvious that I ought to do just that, and fail to pay you the £5. But, that does not mean that I was not under an obligation to pay you £5 - I was, and I remained so when I came across the dieing child. A particular moral obligation is but one reason to do something - it need not be a conclusive reason (but in some situations it would be).

    So, there's no doubt about moral obligations. But, the question is, are we under any sort of obligation to do what the State says? It is certainly true that the State gives us all sorts of orders - orders to pay taxes, orders not to use particular drugs, orders to drive on the left hand side of the road etc etc. Some of the things that the State tells us to do, we would have an obligation (or duty) to do those things even if the State had issued no such order. For example, the State tells me not to murder people. But, even if the State did not order me not to murder people, I would still be under a moral duty not to commit murder. So, in some situations, I am clearly under an obligation to do what the State says, because the State orders something that I am under a natural duty to do!

    But those are not the interesting cases. The State tells us to do all sorts of things that are not natural duties (or at least, would be very hard to establish as natural duties). For instance, taking particular recreational drugs, but I don't think that I'm under any sort of moral duty not to take cannabis or cocaine or whatever (in special circumstances, I might be under just that duty, but we'll ignore those). Or paying my taxes to support museums. Nobody has a moral duty to support museums or art galleries or libraries.

    So, do we have any moral reason to do what the State says? If so, then we have political obligations. Many people think that we do have these obligations (indeed, everyone who is not a philosophical anarchist believes that we do), but saying WHY we do is very difficult. Remember, if we do have an obligation to do what the State says, that does not mean that we must always (all things considered) do what the State says. There could be other considerations which 'outweigh' the political obligation, as in the case of the £5 and the dieing child I mentioned earlier.

    ---

    Fair Play Theory generally

    Fair play theory tries to root our political obligations in an empirical fact, that we all receive various good from the State (clean air, security and so on). The argument basically runs that if you benefit from a cooperative enterprise, in which many people restrict their liberty (eg. by paying taxes to maintain an army) you have an obligation of fair play to contribute, or else you're free-riding. I think that prima facie this is fairly plausible.

    However, there are counterexamples proposed by Robert Nozick where one receives benefits but plausibly is not under an obligation to contribute towards their provision. Here's one of Nozick's examples. Jones lives in a neighbourhood with 364 other people. The 364 decide to come together and institute a public address system, over which music, stories and so on can be played. Each of the 364 agree to spend a day each year playing music, telling amusing stories etc. Jones is not party to this agreement. However, Jones really does get a benefit from his neighbours' efforts - he really does enjoy the amusing stories and music, and he wouldn't be terribly inconvenienced if he gave up one day a year to do his part. So, Jones receives a benefit, so the first part of the theory is satisfied. However, it seems plausible that Jones, if he doesn't want to, cannot be legitimately forced to spend a day telling stories and playing music. So, despite it being true that Jones receives a benefit from a cooperative scheme that requires many others to restrict their liberty, he is not under an obligation to contribute. So, our fair play principle cannot deliver the obligations we think it can. Nozick has shown that it must be amended.

    ---

    Klosko's version of fair play theory

    Roughly speaking, there are two sorts of responses to Nozick's criticism (amongst those who defend a variant of fair play theory). Voluntarist and non-voluntarist. George Klosko defends a non-voluntarist theory. You can read his excellent article 'Presumptive benefit, fairness, and political obligation' for free over at his website, here:
    http://people.virginia.edu/~gk/publi...%20benefit.pdf

    For those too lazy, here's my summary of his view. I think this summary is pretty much entirely faithful, but obviously it's better if you read Klosko's own words.

    In all of Nozick's examples, the good being provided is trivially important (amusing stories, books, nice cut grass). Klosko takes it that Nozick's counterexamples are only persuasive because they concern the provision of trivial goods. So, if we restrict the scope of our principle of fair play to a certain class of goods, we will get round Nozickian counterexamples! Hurrah!

    The class of goods that Klosko favours is that of presumptively beneficial goods. Roughly, a presumptively beneficial good is a good which you (generally, though not necessarily always) benefit from regardless of your conception of the good. I myself think it's an almost identical notion to Rawls' social primary goods, though I am unsure how much Klosko shares that view. Anyway, presumptively beneficial goods include defence, clean air and so on.

    Now imagine a Nozickian situation in which the goods at issue are presumptively beneficial. Suppose Smith lives in a neighbourhood surrounded by hostile tribes who want to kill him and his neighbours. So, his neighbours band together and form a common defence association. Suppose Smith for whatever reason doesn't want any part of this silly scheme. I think it's plausible that it's legitimate for his neighbours to force him to contribute towards their defence scheme. If that's right, then Nozickian counterexamples don't touch presumptively beneficial goods.

    So, Klosko thinks (and I agree) that our political obligations are generated by our receipt of presumptively beneficial goods (or bundles of goods). What do you think?
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    How would an individual who wanted nothing to do with such a scheme opt out (I mean, for them to have consented to something, there must be possibility of non-consent)? And does this scheme cover anything beyond the basic minimum of social provision (I mean, suppose the individual in question nominally benefitted from a standing army, does it logically follow that they are forced to obey the state and provide taxes in all circumstances, because that seems to have some pretty unpleasant results)?
    • Thread Starter
    Offline

    2
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Andy the Anarchist)
    How would an individual who wanted nothing to do with such a scheme opt out (I mean, for them to have consented to something, there must be possibility of non-consent)? And does this scheme cover anything beyond the basic minimum of social provision (I mean, suppose the individual in question nominally benefitted from a standing army, does it logically follow that they are forced to obey the state and provide taxes in all circumstances, because that seems to have some pretty unpleasant results)?
    It's nothing to do with consent. If the theory is correct, then one can be obligated to contribute to a scheme that you don't consent to (eg. in the case of Smith and the dangerous tribesmen).

    I think you can generate fairly robust obligations that can account for much of what actual states do, including progressive taxation, using the theory. But that's a further stage in the argument.
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by RawJoh1)
    It's nothing to do with consent. If the theory is correct, then one can be obligated to contribute to a scheme that you don't consent to (eg. in the case of Smith and the dangerous tribesmen).

    I think you can generate fairly robust obligations that can account for much of what actual states do, including progressive taxation, using the theory. But that's a further stage in the argument.
    Well, from what I can see, the general thrust seems to be that free-riding is de-facto illegitimate.

    What I don't understand however, is how there could be a limit on your obligations to the state. For example, suppose you lived in a state which kept military forces for self defence. Your example would cover obliging citizens to pay for the upkeep of this army. However, does this system oblige people to pay for the whole military, or just then parts used for self defence? I mean, taxpayers money has been used to bomb civilians in Iraq, and I'm not sure how a theory of obligation can arise which justifies that.
    • Thread Starter
    Offline

    2
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Andy the Anarchist)
    Well, from what I can see, the general thrust seems to be that free-riding is de-facto illegitimate.

    What I don't understand however, is how there could be a limit on your obligations to the state. For example, suppose you lived in a state which kept military forces for self defence. Your example would cover obliging citizens to pay for the upkeep of this army. However, does this system oblige people to pay for the whole military, or just then parts used for self defence? I mean, taxpayers money has been used to bomb civilians in Iraq, and I'm not sure how a theory of obligation can arise which justifies that.
    Well, free-riding with regards to particular sorts of goods, not all goods (that's how we get round Nozick).

    In terms of how big your obligations will be, Klosko is clear in his article that they must be fair (there are various ways in which this can be interpreted).
    Offline

    1
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by RawJoh1)
    Klosko's version of fair play theory

    Roughly speaking, there are two sorts of responses to Nozick's criticism (amongst those who defend a variant of fair play theory). Voluntarist and non-voluntarist. George Klosko defends a non-voluntarist theory. You can read his excellent article 'Presumptive benefit, fairness, and political obligation' for free over at his website, here:
    http://people.virginia.edu/~gk/publi...%20benefit.pdf

    For those too lazy, here's my summary of his view. I think this summary is pretty much entirely faithful, but obviously it's better if you read Klosko's own words.

    In all of Nozick's examples, the good being provided is trivially important (amusing stories, books, nice cut grass). Klosko takes it that Nozick's counterexamples are only persuasive because they concern the provision of trivial goods. So, if we restrict the scope of our principle of fair play to a certain class of goods, we will get round Nozickian counterexamples! Hurrah!

    The class of goods that Klosko favours is that of presumptively beneficial goods. Roughly, a presumptively beneficial good is a good which you (generally, though not necessarily always) benefit from regardless of your conception of the good. I myself think it's an almost identical notion to Rawls' social primary goods, though I am unsure how much Klosko shares that view. Anyway, presumptively beneficial goods include defence, clean air and so on.

    Now imagine a Nozickian situation in which the goods at issue are presumptively beneficial. Suppose Smith lives in a neighbourhood surrounded by hostile tribes who want to kill him and his neighbours. So, his neighbours band together and form a common defence association. Suppose Smith for whatever reason doesn't want any part of this silly scheme. I think it's plausible that it's legitimate for his neighbours to force him to contribute towards their defence scheme. If that's right, then Nozickian counterexamples don't touch presumptively beneficial goods.

    So, Klosko thinks (and I agree) that our political obligations are generated by our receipt of presumptively beneficial goods (or bundles of goods). What do you think?
    Not surprisingly, I think Klosko's theory is a load of balls. I personally think that positive obligations can only come into existence via individual consent, but I won't argue for that here. I will, however, show where I think Klosko goes wrong (some of these arguments are from Dan McDermott's fine article on the topic). In what follows I'm going to use 'moral' as a shorthand for 'morally enforceable' - what is at stake is not so much the morality of not reciprocating, but rather, the morality of the party providing the good unilaterally enforcing reciprocation, which takes place, of course, usually in the form of taxation.

    Firstly, I do not believe that the triviality (or otherwise) of a good can be a relevant factor in whether it induces an obligation. Some people will certainly benefit from the provision of trivial goods, just as some will benefit from the provision of presumptively beneficial goods. Why should someone providing me with a good worth £1 million to me succeed in generating moral obligations on my part, while someone providing me with a good worth £0.01 fail to do so? Is there a threshold value which a good must pass in order to initiate an obligation? If so, the disanalogy with other, genuine, kinds of obligations becomes clear: a promise to pay £1 million generates an obligation just as strongly as a promise to pay £0.01 does, and there is no point at which the figure becomes so small that the moral reason for my paying up is nullified. So there is no principled way for Klosko to rule out the existence of obligations incurred from even the smallest positive externalities.

    Secondly, the turn to 'presumptive' goods is simply an epistemological dodge on Klosko's behalf: he makes this move in order to justify a blanket policy of coercively enforcing payment for their provision. But if this epistemological dodge is ruled out, say, if we know that some person will benefit from a (non-presumptively beneficial) good, Klosko would seemingly be committed to saying that we are, indeed, justified in coercing payment out of them. So, really, he is not able to get out of Nozick's examples so easily.

    Thirdly, even supposing (as, I think, is false) that Klosko can escape from Nozick's counter-examples, he still does not get where he needs to go, in the sense that he has a lot of work (I would say an insurmountable amount of work) to do if he wants to justify anything like the modern state. A few features of states are as follows: (a) the cost of state provision of goods is generally far higher than it would be on the free market (there is a 'law' named after David Friedman, which says that if the government provides a good it costs roughly twice as much as it would on the open market.); (b) a significant percentage of state spending is redistributive in character, in the sense that it has the effect of taking money from one group and giving to another; (c) the state often grants itself monopolies, backed up by the coercive use of violence, in the provision of certain goods.

    I think that these facts scupper the 'fair-play' case altogether. Klosko, if we are to suppose he is right (and he is not), shows that something like:

    1) "I am providing you with some service; therefore you have a moral obligation to reciprocate with fair payment for the cost of doing so."

    is, once all the gaps are filled in, valid. But note that it certainly does not follow that any of:

    2) "I am providing other people with some service; therefore you have a moral obligation to reciprocate with fair payment for the cost of doing so"; or

    3) "I am providing you with some service and, if you try to provide it for yourself or others, I will initiate force against you; therefore you have a moral obligation to reciprocate with fair payment for the cost of doing so"; or

    4) "I am providing you with some service; therefore you have a moral obligation to reciprocate with twice what would be a fair payment for the cost of doing so"

    are also valid. Because an attempt to defend the actual state with fair-play arguments would be saying something like 2,3 or 4 (or a mixture of all three) rather than 1.
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    I'm not sure that Nozick's examples don't involve presumptive benefits. I mean, taking the case of mowing a neighbour's lawn without his asking, and then demanding pay: It could very well be the case that he had wanted his lawn mowed anyway.

    Another problem with the fair play argument is that it doesn't seem to take account of the fact that maybe moral culpability for free-riding doesn't rest with the free-rider. I mean, I could decide to try and make momey this way: I open a car lot, but instead of only giving cars to people that give me money I want for them, I decide I am instead going to let anybody who wants one have the: My cars are available to everybody whether they pay or not, please leave some money in the kitty if you will. Obviously I won't be able to cover my costs this way, because people will have an incentive to take cars without paying on the hope that perhaps sufficient other will pay. But to say that because I can't cover my costs I have a right to force everybody in the community to give me money for the car lot, or to presume that everybody who has taken a car and paid has an enforceable right that everybody else who takes a car can be forced to pay, is bizarre. Surely the sensible reponse is just to say "well, why don't you run your car lot properly, you prat, and only give cars to those that pay?"

    I'm still not sure that Klosko's arguments get around Simmons' objections, either. It still seems objectionable to say that free riders who cannot avoid free riding without incurring considerable expense, hardship, or loss of enjoyment of their rights, can be legitimately forced to contribute to a collective scheme. But since this applies to most of the public goods or common pools that the government provides, this would imply no obligation to contribute.
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by RawJoh1)
    Well, free-riding with regards to particular sorts of goods, not all goods (that's how we get round Nozick).

    In terms of how big your obligations will be, Klosko is clear in his article that they must be fair (there are various ways in which this can be interpreted).
    In James Rolph Edwards' response to Edward Feser's article here, Edwards argues that libertarians can justify taxation on the claim that benefiting from the government provision of various services without paying for them is a form of theft, and libertarians are opposed to theft, therefore libertarians are in favour of forcing people to pay for government services they benefit from. Feser responds that if the major premise, that benefitting from government provision of services is theft, were true, then libertarians hould favour forcing Canadians to pay taxes to fund the US military, or else all Canadians, who benefit from having militarily powerful neighbour, are theives. Or all Scandanavians, who benefit from the enforcement of the clean air act in the UK, are thieves unless they also help pay for it.

    The same seems to apply to fair-play arguments: Canadians free-ride off military spending in the US. There is no way that anybody will invade Canada thanks to the fact that the US will definitiely intervene if they do. Canadians therefore benefit from US defense spending. The fairplay argument, as defended either by Rawls or by Klosko, then, would seem to suggest that Canadians have a duty to pay taxes to the US Federal Government. And the Norwegians have a duty to pay taxes to the British government.

    These are plainly counter intuitive conclusions, but, if they follow, that would imply that the Fair Play argument is counterintuitive.
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by RawJoh1)
    A. John Simmons - MORAL PRINCIPLES AND POLITICAL OBLIGATIONS
    This is the single best book on political obligation I've ever read.
    Seconded.
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Prefaced with an apology for how bad I am at political philosophy.)

    The problem, I take it, is where we get any sense of enforceable political obligation. My solution is to moralize all such obligations. Enforceable political obligations, must, necessary, be moral obligations. From this, there is no obligation to follow the State's rules unless a moral justification can be made for them - and a state would be wrong for enforcing such rules in the first place.

    I don't think that the existence of a moral obligation is sufficient for something to be enforceable - like a good little liberal, I think people should be at liberty to do the wrong thing. I think an account of 'political' obligation can be sketched out along these lines, and so why Nozick's examples don't matter, but many matters of substance (like the modern state DH knows so well and loves so much) has a fair mandate for obligation. Two rules of thumb - one for the person who is being obliged, and one for the community at large.

    1) 'Rejectability.' Could the person to be obliged, in good faith, say they would be willing to forgo the collective good in question rather than participate?

    2) What does the community stand to lose due to this persons free-riding?

    Nozich's counter-example is innocuous on both counts. Jones could say "It's all very good of you to do this, but I confess it isn't something I want to do: if you gave me choice between providing a day of entertainment, or going without this year-long cultural enrichment, I'm afraid I would choose the latter." And, it seems to me, good grounds for thinking he could be telling the truth when he says that. Additionally, the other 364 don't lose much by Jones' lack of participation - sure, they would like to round out the whole year, but they still can benefit from their collective enterprise. Ditto the 'mowing someones lawn and demanding payment' and other issues.

    However, for the citizens defence organization, someone under their umbrella can't in good faith say they'd be willing to do without it. Additionally, given this might be a matter of suvival, they need as much resources as they can muster. So coercion here seems acceptable. This is similar to Klosko's idea of presumptive goods (or social primary goods, not that I know so much about this), but I prefer putting it in these sorts of terms of agent choice. Of course, to determine whether someone can really 'refuse in good faith', we need to employ community standards - but at least for western society, we'd think the sort of goods we aren't willing to do without are about what a minimal state would provide.

    Social liberals like me might want to go a bit further than oblige people to minarchism. If (as I do), you think some socialized healthcare or progressive taxation can be justified on universalizing grounds (Hare, Rawls, etc), then you can play the same cards to oblige someone to pay towards redistributive welfare or a national healthcare system - even though, in these cases, there is a plausible sense where you could 'opt out' of the system and not receive its benefits. However, the argument would run that these people are still free-riding, but rather free-riding by circumstantial fortune - they would want welfare or socialized medicine if their lot in life was worse, but they are taking advantage of their good fortune as it happens they don't need it. So, again, these people fail 1) as they can't in good faith (following some universalizing principle) want to opt out of these programs of social justice because it just so happens it doesn't benefit them in their circumstances. 2) also applies - given the rationing of services necessary, the losses of people not paying up are significant, in that even more needs are unmet than would otherwise be the case. So a mandate for coercion.

    The limits of this sort of obligation are limited by these 'general' goods which we judge people as unwilling to forego in good faith. Cultural stuff and other trivialities obviously aren't on the list - soclibertopia wouldn't pay for artistic projects and the like out of state coffers. Police, military, emergency services, healthcare, and redistributive tax would be enough for me. The rest can be left to the citizenry to do with as they may.
    Offline

    18
    ReputationRep:
    I swear to God I wrote an essay identical to this and one of the contributors of this thread marked it!
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by DrunkHamster)
    Firstly, I do not believe that the triviality (or otherwise) of a good can be a relevant factor in whether it induces an obligation. Some people will certainly benefit from the provision of trivial goods, just as some will benefit from the provision of presumptively beneficial goods. Why should someone providing me with a good worth £1 million to me succeed in generating moral obligations on my part, while someone providing me with a good worth £0.01 fail to do so? Is there a threshold value which a good must pass in order to initiate an obligation? If so, the disanalogy with other, genuine, kinds of obligations becomes clear: a promise to pay £1 million generates an obligation just as strongly as a promise to pay £0.01 does, and there is no point at which the figure becomes so small that the moral reason for my paying up is nullified. So there is no principled way for Klosko to rule out the existence of obligations incurred from even the smallest positive externalities.
    I think that a promise to pay £1 million generates much more moral obligation than a promise to pay £0.01.
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by RawJoh1)
    So, Klosko thinks (and I agree) that our political obligations are generated by our receipt of presumptively beneficial goods (or bundles of goods). What do you think?
    Let's say, for the sake of argument, that forcing the minority Jews into a labour camp really would give benefits to the average person on the street. The Nazi government carries out a military program to do so. I think it would be morally wrong to sponsor this program with your tax. In fact, I'd go so far as to say the state only carries a political obligation when it demands things to which you already have a moral obligation.
    Offline

    15
    ReputationRep:
    I feel out of my depth here but I think this is an interesting discussion so I will make a cautious post.

    Now, practically, I think Klosko has a point (that doesn't mean I agree with him.) If, for instance, I pay £1 to the state every year in exchange for them giving me £2, I have an obligation to pay that £1. However, it's not so much of an obligation as it is in my own interest. If I am receiving, on the whole, help from the State in exchange for some payment towards it, it's not so much that I'm obligated to pay what meagre taxes I have to, it's that it is in my best interest to do so.

    However, if I am not benefiting from the state, where does my obligation come from? Let us use Nozick's Jones. If Jones hated the music being played by the other 364 -- or if, as is more likely, the majority of the music played was contrary to his tastes, where would his obligation stem from? But as Klosko points out that Nozick's example only holds up in trivial areas, we should also look at non-trivial areas, although I don't think it's true that we can decide what is trivial and what isn't in most instances. But I mean, then, here comes in economic theory. If we can't prove that a state action is good for everyone (if private roads were "true", for instance), then it surely ceases to become an obligation. I hold the view that interventionism is largely non-beneficial to most people. Many people do not. What I'm basically saying is that I would probably believe in Statism if I believed that Statism was beneficial.

    My personal opinion is that if there is something that can be reasonably judged that everybody benefits from that is only made possible by people consenting to it, then it is just. However, I can't think of much here that the Social-Democrat/Liberal might agree with. I certainly don't think, based from a Liberal point of view, that much coercive state intervention is beneficial to the majority of people. On the other hand, breaking from Liberal/Libertarian thought, I feel that this is a decent enough justification for, for instance, the establishment of a Police Force and Mandatory Military Service. If you have issues with the last part of what I said, it'd be better to pursue it over PM I think, unless you think it's really relevant to the thread.

    To address the post above me, too: moral obligations can not outweigh state obligations. If your moral obligation is not to pay tax, then the system would break down. However, in the case of the Jews, it was not beneficial for them to go to the camps. Their obligation to do so was as such nonexistent. I think. I would also argue that it's never beneficial for any party to allow the state to act in a tyrannical way. It's only beneficial for almost all people for the state to be some form of Liberalism, whether social or market.

    Thus ends my very confused foray into philosophy.
    • Thread Starter
    Offline

    2
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by birdsong1)
    Let's say, for the sake of argument, that forcing the minority Jews into a labour camp really would give benefits to the average person on the street. The Nazi government carries out a military program to do so. I think it would be morally wrong to sponsor this program with your tax. In fact, I'd go so far as to say the state only carries a political obligation when it demands things to which you already have a moral obligation.
    It doesn't supply a presumptively beneficial good. It's not a fair burden. It clearly doesn't fit Klosko's account.

    The view that political obligations are always and everywhere coincident with ordinary moral obligations is common (amongst philosophers). But it has the disturbing implication that I am not under a political obligation to do plenty of things that reasonably just states tell us to do. There's therefore kind of a potential conflict with rule of law. Though this is a specific problem for liberals, I guess.
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by GregoryJL)
    (Prefaced with an apology for how bad I am at political philosophy.)

    The problem, I take it, is where we get any sense of enforceable political obligation. My solution is to moralize all such obligations. Enforceable political obligations, must, necessary, be moral obligations. From this, there is no obligation to follow the State's rules unless a moral justification can be made for them - and a state would be wrong for enforcing such rules in the first place.

    I don't think that the existence of a moral obligation is sufficient for something to be enforceable - like a good little liberal, I think people should be at liberty to do the wrong thing. I think an account of 'political' obligation can be sketched out along these lines, and so why Nozick's examples don't matter, but many matters of substance (like the modern state DH knows so well and loves so much) has a fair mandate for obligation. Two rules of thumb - one for the person who is being obliged, and one for the community at large.

    1) 'Rejectability.' Could the person to be obliged, in good faith, say they would be willing to forgo the collective good in question rather than participate?

    2) What does the community stand to lose due to this persons free-riding?

    Nozich's counter-example is innocuous on both counts. Jones could say "It's all very good of you to do this, but I confess it isn't something I want to do: if you gave me choice between providing a day of entertainment, or going without this year-long cultural enrichment, I'm afraid I would choose the latter." And, it seems to me, good grounds for thinking he could be telling the truth when he says that. Additionally, the other 364 don't lose much by Jones' lack of participation - sure, they would like to round out the whole year, but they still can benefit from their collective enterprise. Ditto the 'mowing someones lawn and demanding payment' and other issues.

    However, for the citizens defence organization, someone under their umbrella can't in good faith say they'd be willing to do without it. Additionally, given this might be a matter of suvival, they need as much resources as they can muster. So coercion here seems acceptable. This is similar to Klosko's idea of presumptive goods (or social primary goods, not that I know so much about this), but I prefer putting it in these sorts of terms of agent choice. Of course, to determine whether someone can really 'refuse in good faith', we need to employ community standards - but at least for western society, we'd think the sort of goods we aren't willing to do without are about what a minimal state would provide.
    But this runs directly into my objection about the car lot providing cars for everybody in the community rather than just to those that pay. This "citizen's defence organisation" has decided to protect everybody in the community, not just those who pay it, and thereby created a free-rider problem where none need exist, and then used the existence of this free-rider problem to justify forcing everybody to pay for it.

    Social liberals like me might want to go a bit further than oblige people to minarchism. If (as I do), you think some socialized healthcare or progressive taxation can be justified on universalizing grounds (Hare, Rawls, etc), then you can play the same cards to oblige someone to pay towards redistributive welfare or a national healthcare system - even though, in these cases, there is a plausible sense where you could 'opt out' of the system and not receive its benefits.
    Whilst I'm sure that Rawls and other would like this argument to apply to the social liberal welfare state, too, I'm not sure it does. The fair play principle generally leads to a conclusion "and therefore X has a duty of fair play to make his own fair contribution." The "fair contribution" is key here, because it could easily be the case that those that benefit the most from the welfare state are not those that pay the most into it, and those that pay the most into it do not benefit much from it, so it is problematic to say that these people have made a "fair contribution" or whether their contribution is unfair.

    However, the argument would run that these people are still free-riding, but rather free-riding by circumstantial fortune - they would want welfare or socialized medicine if their lot in life was worse, but they are taking advantage of their good fortune as it happens they don't need it. So, again, these people fail 1) as they can't in good faith (following some universalizing principle) want to opt out of these programs of social justice because it just so happens it doesn't benefit them in their circumstances.
    I'm not sure this is correct: These people may not want welfare or socialised medicine if their lot in life was worse. Back in the good old days when there was a stigma attached to recieving welfare or charity, many people who were entitled to it refused it, more interested in picking themselves up by their own efforts.

    Or, on the other hand it could be the case that they would not want the welfare state if their lot in life was worse because they would rather turn to some other institution providing support for those who's lot in life was worse.

    In neither of these cases does the fair play argument seem to provide a defence of taxing these people. It only provides a defence of forcing those who want a service to pay for it, and we don't need to force these people.

    2) also applies - given the rationing of services necessary, the losses of people not paying up are significant, in that even more needs are unmet than would otherwise be the case. So a mandate for coercion.
    Well, you are ignoring enforcement costs. It could be the case that if the welfare state only covered those that had chosen to pay into it, all the money spent on enforcing taxation of those that haven't chosen to pay into it could be added to the welfare provision.
    • Thread Starter
    Offline

    2
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by DrunkHamster)
    Not surprisingly, I think Klosko's theory is a load of balls. I personally think that positive obligations can only come into existence via individual consent, but I won't argue for that here. I will, however, show where I think Klosko goes wrong (some of these arguments are from Dan McDermott's fine article on the topic). In what follows I'm going to use 'moral' as a shorthand for 'morally enforceable' - what is at stake is not so much the morality of not reciprocating, but rather, the morality of the party providing the good unilaterally enforcing reciprocation, which takes place, of course, usually in the form of taxation.

    Firstly, I do not believe that the triviality (or otherwise) of a good can be a relevant factor in whether it induces an obligation. Some people will certainly benefit from the provision of trivial goods, just as some will benefit from the provision of presumptively beneficial goods. Why should someone providing me with a good worth £1 million to me succeed in generating moral obligations on my part, while someone providing me with a good worth £0.01 fail to do so? Is there a threshold value which a good must pass in order to initiate an obligation? If so, the disanalogy with other, genuine, kinds of obligations becomes clear: a promise to pay £1 million generates an obligation just as strongly as a promise to pay £0.01 does, and there is no point at which the figure becomes so small that the moral reason for my paying up is nullified. So there is no principled way for Klosko to rule out the existence of obligations incurred from even the smallest positive externalities.

    Secondly, the turn to 'presumptive' goods is simply an epistemological dodge on Klosko's behalf: he makes this move in order to justify a blanket policy of coercively enforcing payment for their provision. But if this epistemological dodge is ruled out, say, if we know that some person will benefit from a (non-presumptively beneficial) good, Klosko would seemingly be committed to saying that we are, indeed, justified in coercing payment out of them. So, really, he is not able to get out of Nozick's examples so easily.

    Thirdly, even supposing (as, I think, is false) that Klosko can escape from Nozick's counter-examples, he still does not get where he needs to go, in the sense that he has a lot of work (I would say an insurmountable amount of work) to do if he wants to justify anything like the modern state. A few features of states are as follows: (a) the cost of state provision of goods is generally far higher than it would be on the free market (there is a 'law' named after David Friedman, which says that if the government provides a good it costs roughly twice as much as it would on the open market.); (b) a significant percentage of state spending is redistributive in character, in the sense that it has the effect of taking money from one group and giving to another; (c) the state often grants itself monopolies, backed up by the coercive use of violence, in the provision of certain goods.

    I think that these facts scupper the 'fair-play' case altogether. Klosko, if we are to suppose he is right (and he is not), shows that something like:

    1) "I am providing you with some service; therefore you have a moral obligation to reciprocate with fair payment for the cost of doing so."

    is, once all the gaps are filled in, valid. But note that it certainly does not follow that any of:

    2) "I am providing other people with some service; therefore you have a moral obligation to reciprocate with fair payment for the cost of doing so"; or

    3) "I am providing you with some service and, if you try to provide it for yourself or others, I will initiate force against you; therefore you have a moral obligation to reciprocate with fair payment for the cost of doing so"; or

    4) "I am providing you with some service; therefore you have a moral obligation to reciprocate with twice what would be a fair payment for the cost of doing so"

    are also valid. Because an attempt to defend the actual state with fair-play arguments would be saying something like 2,3 or 4 (or a mixture of all three) rather than 1.
    I really didn't 'get' McDermott's paper when I read it.

    I don't think the turn to presumptively beneficial goods is just an epistemological dodge. [Beware - I'm almost certainly reading my own politics into Klosko here]. It's not merely that they're a convenient way of knowing that a particular good has benefited someone, as if in a world with perfect information (where everyone knows with certainty who benefits from what) we would have no need for the notion. Rather, the notion is defined in relation to conceptions of the good (and the lack of need for a reference to a comprehensive doctrine - see how I'm reading my own politics into it haha!). It carves out a area of distinctively political goods, which allows it to fit in remarkably well with political liberalisms generally, for we'd only incur obligations when we are provided with goods/bundles of goods that are in some sense justifiable. So instead of the bottomless obligations some people in this thread are worried about, we get a nice little limit on State action.

    Regarding redistributive taxation, I think an argument can be made that a "fair" burden will have the rich paying more. For, I think it's true that the rich benefit the most from the coercive apparatus of the State. Wilt Chamberlain would be ****** in the State of Nature.
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by birdsong1)
    Let's say, for the sake of argument, that forcing the minority Jews into a labour camp really would give benefits to the average person on the street. The Nazi government carries out a military program to do so. I think it would be morally wrong to sponsor this program with your tax. In fact, I'd go so far as to say the state only carries a political obligation when it demands things to which you already have a moral obligation.
    I'm not sure this critique works. If Klosko's argument is a modification of Rawls' argument, then Rawls' argument is already about a "just, mutually beneficial scheme." It is not clear how what you describe would be just.

    Of course, Simmons has a good response to this: He imagines a Mafia organisation, all the members of which are paid from the fruits of members criminal enterprises, so everybody benefits from some people putting in the sacrifice and going out to commit crimes. In this situation it would seem that benefitting from being in the Mafia organisation without committing crimes would be "unfair" and so it would be "fair" to commit crimes.

    However, Rawls could respond that it is perfectly true that it would be unfair to benefit from membership of the criminal gang without committing the crimes to help provide these benefits, but that this is not sufficient to create a duty of fair play to make one's own contribution, because the duty can only exist if it is compossible with one's other duties, which include duties not to violate people's moral rights.
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by RawJoh1)
    I really didn't 'get' McDermott's paper when I read it.

    I don't think the turn to presumptively beneficial goods is just an epistemological dodge. [Beware - I'm almost certainly reading my own politics into Klosko here]. It's not merely that they're a convenient way of knowing that a particular good has benefited someone, as if in a world with perfect information (where everyone knows with certainty who benefits from what) we would have no need for the notion. Rather, the notion is defined in relation to conceptions of the good (and the lack of need for a reference to a comprehensive doctrine - see how I'm reading my own politics into it haha!). It carves out a area of distinctively political goods, which allows it to fit in remarkably well with political liberalisms generally, for we'd only incur obligations when we are provided with goods/bundles of goods that are in some sense justifiable. So instead of the bottomless obligations some people in this thread are worried about, we get a nice little limit on State action.
    Except that if the argument only applies in the case of "political goods," and is yet also meant to lend legitimacy to the existence of those political goods, or a political system in which they are embedded, the argument becomes circular or question-begging. Nozick's approach, as is his approach in much of these things, is to say "your arguments that imply X in case Y also imply X in case Z, but you, and most people would oppose X in case Z, so they cannot support an argument that would imply X in case Y." I don't see how "ah, but Z is not a case of Y" is a good response.

    Regarding redistributive taxation, I think an argument can be made that a "fair" burden will have the rich paying more. For, I think it's true that the rich benefit the most from the coercive apparatus of the State. Wilt Chamberlain would be ****** in the State of Nature.
    Well, most people wouldn't regard the state's provision of police protection as part of its redistributive functions. I know that Nozick is concerned by that, but most people aren't. Moreover, your point, even if it were correct, would not justify a more than minimal state.

    Beyond that, there are two other considerations: First, is it empricially correct? Most criminals (that harm person and property) may be poor, but most of their victims are, too. Crime is worse in poorer communities than richer ones.

    Second, Wilt Chamberlain may prefer to protect his own rights, or pay somebody other than the state to do the job, so why is he obliged to pay for a police force that protects everybody when he would rather one that protects those that pay it, namely him?
    Offline

    1
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by birdsong1)
    I think that a promise to pay £1 million generates much more moral obligation than a promise to pay £0.01.
    It pays to distinguish two different dimensions across which obligations can differ. For the lack of better terms, call one the strength of an obligation, and the other the extent. Now I think a promise to pay £0.01 is just as strong an obligation to pay £1m, although of course it is not an obligation of the same extent.
 
 
 
  • See more of what you like on The Student Room

    You can personalise what you see on TSR. Tell us a little about yourself to get started.

  • Poll
    Has a teacher ever helped you cheat?
    Useful resources
  • See more of what you like on The Student Room

    You can personalise what you see on TSR. Tell us a little about yourself to get started.

  • The Student Room, Get Revising and Marked by Teachers are trading names of The Student Room Group Ltd.

    Register Number: 04666380 (England and Wales), VAT No. 806 8067 22 Registered Office: International House, Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3XE

    Write a reply...
    Reply
    Hide
    Reputation gems: You get these gems as you gain rep from other members for making good contributions and giving helpful advice.