I propose to concentrate on international humanitarian assistance that really lives up to its name. Accordingly, I will be confining my attention to well-meaning international interventions. To be sure, some interventions carried out under the banner of alleged humanitarian assistance are really attempts to grab power or to pursue national or institutional interests. Such interventions are not worthy of the name “humanitarian assistance.” I will limit my attention to the well-meaning cases. To be sure, as we will see, those who mean well may operate with blinkered or parochial or condescending ideas about what would assist others; but they do mean well, unlike those who use the appearance of humanitarianism to further their narrow self-interest. I will also limit my attention to interventions. Some well-meaning attempts to influence international affairs should not be counted as interventions. For example, offering asylum to people overseas because they seem to need exit from where they are, though intended to influence their situation, does not seem to interfere with them or with the nation in which they live. Again, I propose to focus my attention on well-meaning international interventions, of which international humanitarian assistance, properly so-called, is a special case.
Although the kind of example just given would complicate any analysis, an intervention is an action intended to alter another's life or activities. Since I will be focusing on interventions, I will not be directly concerning myself with attitudes such as arrogance or structural problems such as an absence of consultation mechanisms, except insofar as these give rise to problematic actions. Nonetheless, since I will analyze paternalism as a kind of action that is taken from a certain attitude, my account will help pinpoint relevant attitudes; and since structural problems can often be seen to tend to give rise to objectionable actions, my account could also indirectly help indicate what structural problems exacerbate or give rise to paternalist interventions.
Those engaged in international humanitarian assistance have become used to being called paternalistic – not only by those they are intending to aid but also by various third-party commentators. This is hardly a neutral description. As Michael N. Barnett observes, “[W]hereas in the nineteenth century being called a paternalist was not necessarily an insult, today it is.”
In the late twentieth century, theorists’ attention was drawn to a new way of thinking about individuals’ relative level of advantage or well-being. Instead of assessing either of these on the basis of the resources (such as income and wealth) available to people or on the basis of what they have achieved (by way of satisfying their interests, preferences, or plans, as utilitarians would, or by way of functioning in one way or another, as Aristotle did), the new thought was to do so on the basis of what people are able to do or to be: on the basis, that is, of their capabilities. Amartya Sen (1982) introduced this idea of capabilities partly via a critique of Rawls’s reliance on the idea of primary goods, and speciically of his suggestion that income and wealth can serve to index inequalities for purposes of the difference principle. Consequently, it is sometimes thought that the “capabilities approach” that has grown up around Sen’s constructive suggestions and those of Martha Nussbaum is inimical to Rawls’s approach. Nussbaum, however, has recently written that since “for Rawls the primary goods are just one element in a highly complex overall theory, it is perhaps best not to invoke his theory” as a foil for the capability approach (2011, 56–57).
In a theory of justice (§64 and elsewhere), “deliberative rationality” is Rawls’s name for our capacity of relective choice – a capacity that transcends the various principles of rational choice of which it makes use. It operates on that range of choices still left over once the explicit principles of rational choice have been exhausted. Rawls gives a simple example of planning a holiday, one on which we want to study a certain kind of art. This aim rules out various possible destinations, but leaves us with Paris and Rome as equally good prospects. We also care about seeing Christendom’s most famous church and its most famous museum; but since Paris and Rome each score one for two on these, this will not advance our decision. “[S]ooner or later,” Rawls comments, “we will reach incomparable aims between which we must choose with deliberative rationality” (TJ 483).
In addition to being of interest in its own right, this conception of deliberative rationality plays two important roles in Rawls’s theory, each motivated by the thought that the idea of goodness cannot be adequately captured by the principles of rationality that people have so far succeeded in articulating. First, it is an important working part of Rawls’s deinition of the good for persons, thus indirectly contributing to Rawls’s account of the good of justice, and hence to his argument for the potential congruence between justice and the good in the wellordered society of justice as fairness. Second, it does important work in Rawls’s criticism of the kind of unity of self available to teleological (good-based) views, paving the way for his account of the superior unity of self offered by deontological theories.
Truth is an important topic here, not because Rawls developed a theory of truth as it applies to morality or political justice but because he studiously avoided doing so. From his earliest articles through the publication of A Theory of Justice in 1971, he developed a conception of moral and political justification that involved no starring role for the concept of truth. In his mature political liberalism, he took a step beyond that, and insisted that political liberalism should not avail itself of the concept of truth. Only in between, at the brief high-water mark of his Kantian constructivism (with the publication of “Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory” in 1980) was Rawls tempted into offering the rudiments of an account of moral and political truth. With his turn to a “political, not metaphysical” approach less than a decade later, however, Rawls left off any development of these hints and instead took up the more self-denying stance just mentioned.
Rawls 's principal motivation for avoiding any talk about truth in his later theory arose from his view that it is a deeply controversial matter what the nature of truth is, whether specifically in morality or more broadly. To understand his thinking on this topic, then, one needs to have some sense of what the controversies are.
Although Rawls mentioned the method of avoidance only in a few places, the idea is important to understanding his hopes for political liberalism and to avoiding confusions about his stances on metaphysical issues. An outgrowth of his presidential address to the American Philosophical Association, “The Independence of Moral Theory” (1975), this “method” counsels avoiding philosophically controversial topics insofar as this is possible.
In “Justice as Fairness: Political Not Metaphysical” (1986; CP 395), Rawls wrote that he was seeking to generalize the kind of stance he had earlier taken (in his 1980 Dewey Lectures) about the idea of objectivity, aiming to inesse issues about moral truth by characterizing objectivity “by reference to a suitably constructed social point of view” (CP 356). In a similar effort to side-step metaphysical controversies about “the nature of the self,” he was putting forward a political conception of “citizens as free and equal persons” (CP 395). In both of these cases, as Rawls commented, “the hope is that, by this method of avoidance, as we might call it,” wemay ind a basis for reasonable public agreement on fundamental matters of justice (CP 395).
Does not avoiding deep issues about moral truth and the nature of persons entail embracing an objectionable skepticism? In his 1987 essay, “The Idea of an Overlapping Consensus,” Rawls invoked the method of avoidance to explain why it does not: “In following the method of avoidance, as we may call it, we try, so far as we can, neither to assert nor to deny any religious, philosophical, or moral views, or their associated philosophical accounts of truth and the status of values” (CP 434).
The idea of satisficing either expresses the correct but relatively banal insight that the pervasive need to trade off incommensurable values puts optimizing deliberation out of reach, or else it articulates a specific, non-optimizing strategy of decision. In company with the proponents of satisficing, I believe that optimizing is seldom an apt concept for modeling deliberation. As a broad approach to human rationality emphasizing, as H. A. Simon famously did, that our limitations as deliberators mean that optimizing is rarely a rational strategy, satisficing constitutes a valuable insight; however, when satisficing is worked up into a competing strategy of decision — as it has been by a number of recent philosophers — the idea of satisficing gets into trouble, as I will show. The core idea of satisficing is that “one ceases to search for alternatives when one finds an alternative” that one deems to be “good enough.” Working this idea up into a decision-making strategy requires specifying a suitable metric of what is “good enough.” As I shall argue, showing a suitable deference to the banal facts about tradeoffs among incommensurable values while at the same time having to remain distinct from optimizing pushes the proponent of satisficing as a decision-making strategy to specify what is “good enough” in terms of a highly idealized account of what someone's preferences are.
Nothing is more familiar: One wants one thing and wants another, but cannot have both. The problem also has a less objectual, more behavioral guise, as when one wants to do one thing, do another, and cannot do both. Most generally, perhaps, we may mark out a propositional form of desire conflict: One desires that p, desires that q, and recognizes that both propositions cannot obtain. In whichever form, desire conflicts pervade our daily lives. That is not in itself a big deal: To say this is hardly to side, yet, with Isaiah Berlin on conflicts of Values. Whatever he meant by clashing Values, he presumably did not have in mind that between a sensible family station wagon and a sporty two-seater, nor that between attending the department meeting and watching one's child play soccer, nor yet that between one's sister hosting one for the holidays and one's brother doing so. I want to focus on the conflicts of desire that are pedestrian and pervasive, rather than the ones that are portentous and potentially problematic. While the latter are important for ethics and value theory, even the simpler, more basic conflicts put our understanding of desire under significant pressure.
In addition to facing conflicts of desire daily, we also constantly deliberate about how to resolve them. That is not to say that it is easy: We may feel torn about what sort of car to buy, about how to juggle professional and familial responsibilities, or about the best way to plan our holidays.
the notion of forward-looking moral responsibility
I am going to be discussing a mode of moral responsibility that anglo-phone philosophers have largely neglected. It is a type of responsibility that looks to the future rather than the past. Because this forward-looking moral responsibility is relatively unfamiliar in the lexicon of analytic philosophy, many of my locutions will initially strike many readers as odd. As a matter of everyday speech, however, the notion of forward-looking moral responsibility is perfectly familiar. Today, for instance, I said I would be responsible for watching my nieces while they swam. Neglecting this responsibility would have been a moral fault. When people marry, they undertake responsibilities, of moral import, of fidelity and mutual support. When people have children, they accrue moral responsibilities to feed, rear, and educate them. Not all forward-looking responsibilities are moral. While finishing this essay, I have had to keep an eye on a number of my administrative responsibilities, and, while reading it, you may well be occasionally distracted by some of your own. The notion of a responsibility that we accrue or take on, to look out for some range of concerns over some range of the future, is, then, perfectly familiar. Because this common notion of forward-looking responsibility has not been integrated into recent moral theory, however, my philosophical discussion of it will initially seem strange.
It appears to be widely assumed that to respond rationally to cases of value conflict is in effect to weigh or balance the importance of the values involved, and that weighing or balancing cannot be rational unless there is a common measure of value according to which it proceeds. Understood in the right way, the answer to the question whether or not values are or must all be commensurable in that way will determine what sorts of deliberation are possible and useful. If values are all commensurable in the right way, then one need not devote a lot of attention in deliberation to refining one's conception of them severally, and should better concentrate on weighing how instances of them contribute to the commensurating value (the commensurans, as I will call it). If values are all commensurable in the right way, then deliberation may take on a well-understood and much studied form, that of maximization; while the commensurans itself, if it has the status of being that in terms of which the value of everything else is assessed, will seem a source of value beyond calling into question in deliberation. If values are not so commensurable, then prospects for coping rationally with decisions in which they clash may seem correspondingly dim. Either way, therefore, the commensurability issue lurks as a reef upon which hopes for rational deliberation of ends seem likely to be wrecked: If values are commensurable in the relevant sense, then maximizing good consequences, according to some end taken for granted, is the order of the day; whereas if values are not commensurable in this sense, then rational deliberation seems often impossible.
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