Monday, October 7, 2019

Travel bans are dumb and hypocritical

I am subject to a travel ban. No not that one, which is much, much worse. Rather, I fall under the one that, since January 2017, prevents me, other CSU and UC faculty, and all state employees from using public funds to travel to states that California Attorney General Xavier Beccera decides is violating California anti-discrimination law. 

For example, under AB 1887 I would be denied reimbursement for travel to North Carolina to research the effects of its silly public bathroom laws, or to present an argument about how silly they are at an academic conference there. AG Beccera’s list has recently grown to 11

Many of these states have been targeted for their attempts to carve out accommodations for private religious groups who are connected in some way with public services and funds. Texas and Oklahoma, for example, do not require child welfare services to place children in same-sex or single parent households if doing so would violate religious or moral convictions or policies central to these groups’ mission statements.

Kansas falls under the travel ban because it doesn’t require student groups at public universities to have an “all-comers” policy for organizational leadership positions. In other words, Kansas is banned for a policy that would have implicated California until pretty recently. It strikes me as an odd deficiency in humility to be so vindictive against Kansas for missing a moral discovery that California state officials have only just made. It took California legislators years and years to finally get this right, but Kansas is held out for official sanction for failing to follow along right away.


Part of the absurdity of the California ban is how selective and arbitrary it is. South Carolina made Beccera’s list last year for a carve-out for faith-based private child placement agencies like those in Texas and Oklahoma, but California is apparently fine footing the bill for a conference junket to Southeast Asia where, in Singapore and Malaysia, male homosexual sex is simply illegal. 

Also, I could get reimbursed for a work trip to Nebraska, despite their law denying marriage rights to people afflicted with a venereal disease, but not if I attend the Gender Infinity Conference in Houston, Texas this year. 

Iowa is on the no-go list for a recent legal change to prevent Medicaid coverage for gender reassignment surgery. But California legislators apparently take a different approach to the fact that Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country, since my reimbursement request for my trip to the Big Easy last year went through without a hitch. 

Finally, I think it’s odd to reflect on what the ban says about how the state regards the primary value of funding faculty travel for the purpose of research and conference participation. 

I would have thought that the reason California taxpayers are implicated in my travel expenses has something to do with a view about the putatively public goods character of the research and scholarly activities that take me across state lines. Before, I would have considered this view a little optimistic. But now I know California legislators just don’t see it that way at all. It rather seems that all this funding is just a subsidy for conference centers, hotels and restaurants, which legislators want to avoid directing to the bad, undeserving states. (For, surely, they can’t actually think that AB 1887 will actually affect legislative changes there).

In that case, the state should probably just eliminate all travel funding for university employees. That is, if the funding just enriches out-of-state room-and-board service providers, and there’s really no meaningful return to taxpayers, then the expenditures seem illegitimate. If not, though — if something like the optimistic view is right — then colleagues should be able to secure funding to participate in the Annual African American Children and Families Conference in Cedar Falls, Iowa in February (despite Iowa’s addition to the list last May). Hampering colleagues’ research in this way sure seems like a poor way to promote social justice.

Especially if there’s anything to the idea that we learn and influence more effectively through exposure and contact than by drawing lines and keeping separate. The latter strategy tends to lead to increased polarization and, for those with minority positions in conservative states, actually could cut off those who might benefit from national alliance and support. 

These risks aren’t worth what amounts to not much more than legislative moral grandstanding and the opportunity to signal they have the right virtues. 

Kyle Swan
Philosophy Department
Sacramento State

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Meritocracy as the Best Form of Government

Jason Brennan (2016) argues against democracy in significant part by relying on many empirical studies demonstrating that the public largely is politically ignorant and has various cognitive biases that make a rule by the people unreliable.  For example, most voters don’t know the platforms of the two major candidates, carry a host of false social/political facts, aren’t swayed by public deliberation, and are deficient in instrumental rationality.  Instead, Brennan posits an epistocracy, which is rule of the knowledgeable.  This view has roots in Mill.  Voting power is distributed according to competence, where for example, those who have greater epistemic virtues can have votes that carry greater weight.  An epistocracy may also be set up such that only the knowledgeable can vote.  An epistocracy can better address the political psychology findings as compared to a democracy.
As the data shows that socially advantaged groups in the U.S., such as wealthy male republican Caucasians, generally have more political knowledge than many minority groups like women and African-Americans, Brennan anticipates the Demographic Objection (DO).  DO states that for an epistocracy, advantaged groups will have more voting power over others. Thus, we will have unfair policies favoring the advantaged.  Brennan responds by writing that experiments show that minority groups are unlikely to know how to promote their own interests and that advantaged groups mostly vote for their perceived national good, which will be to the benefit of minorities.  It’s better for minorities if we restrict voting power largely to, for example, rich white republican males.  
The problem with Brennan’s epistocracy is that the perceived national good from most of the advantaged group – viz., rich white republican males – can harm relevant minority groups.  It looks like most republican voters’ perceived national good is to keep Trump in office despite discriminatory rhetoric and policies.  For example, Gallup shows that a nearly unanimous majority (91%, Sept 3-15) of Republicans approve of Trump.  This isn’t beneficial to relevant minorities but can lead to a tyranny of the “knowledgeable.”
Also, the studies showing that minorities largely have deficiencies in knowledge of politics and in promoting their own self-interests fail to measure for deficiencies regarding knowing when their own respective group is being discriminated against.  This is a key omission from such studies as discrimination can be an issue that carries overriding importance for minority groups.  Contrarily, there is data suggesting that minorities groups are aware when they are facing discrimination and know how to vote against it.  For example, a Fox News poll shows that 83% of African-Americans disapprove of Trump on race relations.  Hence, I conclude that Brennan is unable to account for DO, and his epistocracy does worse than a democracy in light of DO. Minorities should be allowed to vote and have their vote carry substantial weight.
Brennan then may claim that an epistocracy can adjust to take into account knowledge of discrimination.  However, even so, the many other aspects of political knowledge, such as economics, political science, U.S. history, and sociology, will favor wealthy Caucasians which will give them a more powerful vote.  Given their superior overall knowledge, they likely should be able to drown out the minorities.  If not, then it’s questionable whether Brennan’s view is a true epistocracy or rule of the knowledgeable.  The DO objection remains.
While Brennan’s discussed studies against democracy are formidable, I advocate a specified version of a meritocracy, or rule by the merited, as it can better handle the worries stemming from the empirical data than a democracy.  Moreover, unlike an epistocracy, it can better account for DO.  Meritocracy has its roots in Confucius and Plato.  It stands opposed to the unadulterated rule by the largely ignorant masses that should be feared with a democracy.  
With a meritocracy, in order to run for office at the national level, political candidates must 1) take relevant classes, such as economics, informal logic, political science, history, environmental science, and political philosophy, with high marks, 2) pass non-ideological tests, and 3) have experience leading in local government while scoring high on various indices such as on decreasing crime, helping underprivileged groups, and maintaining a healthy economy.  

Medical doctors must take relevant classes, such as biology, physics, and chemistry, as an undergraduate student, pass tests on these courses with an extremely high GPA, attend medical school, and must take medical entrance and board exams.  They also must take periodic tests as a medical doctor to make sure that one is current on medical advancements.  They must be in residency to gain experience.  By analogy, politicians, with the fate of many more lives on their hands, must also acquire an education and experience in political leadership and must demonstrate their virtue and merit.  If we have such requirements for a medical doctor, then how much the more we should have such requirements for those future politicians who will make decisions on a nation’s healthcare, economy, education, warfare, environment, laws, etc.  There is good reason for having requirements to be a doctor given the gravity of the job and the technical skill required.  All the reason more to have stringent criteria for being a political leader given the gravity of the job and the more diverse technical knowledge required to perform the job well.  

Those many candidates who jump through these hoops then must be elected from a democratic vote.  Of course, public fully funded universities is a prerequisite for my system so that all may have an opportunity to run for office in terms of acquiring the requisite education.  A meritocracy diverges from an epistocracy in that everyone has an equal vote.  A meritocracy focuses immediately on the virtues of officials rather than voters.  
I contend that this meritocracy does better than a democracy in that, although not foolproof, it is more likely to have virtuous officials than a democracy alone in light of the political psychology data.  It also is able to address DO better than an epistocracy in that everyone carries an equal vote.  Moreover, officials will have taken classes in ethics and must demonstrate prior successful experience working with minorities.  Hence, my meritocracy appears better than an epistocracy and democracy. Winston Churchill once said that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms…” However, this is false as my meritocracy can at least make it more likely that our leaders have merit.

John Park
Philosophy Department
Sacramento State

Sunday, December 2, 2018

When 2+2 Does Not Equal 4


When asked to give an example of an analytic truth, something that simply must be true no matter what, a clear go-to example is 2+2=4. No matter what happens, no matter what experience may tell us, we can rest assured on the unassailable truth that putting two together with two will always yield four. The only problem is, it isn’t always the case that 2+2=4. The world in which we live does not always yield itself to such simplistic precision.

For example, you can add 2 cups of liquid with another 2 cups of liquid and get a grand total of 3.8 cups of liquid. (You can see a simple illustration of this here.) How is this possible? It can happen when the first two cups of liquid are water and the second two cups are 99% rubbing alcohol. The alcohol molecules are smaller than the water molecules, and hence fit in the 'negative space' between the water molecules (think of sand filling in the negative space in a mason jar full of ping-pong balls. 2 cups, plus 2 cups equals 3.8 cups.

Now I know what you're thinking: 'of course 2 and 2 of DIFFERENT THINGS won't necessarily equal 4 of the same thing. 2 + 2 is only guaranteed to equal 4 when you are adding the SAME THING together.' Okay, fair enough, but that just gives rise to a key question: what, exactly, does it mean for two things to be 'the same thing'? Clearly two cups of water and two cups of alcohol are not 'the same thing' for our current purposes, but when can we say that two things are, indeed, the same thing?


Consider just water for a moment. Any two cups of water will be different in myriad ways from any other two cups of water; they will have slightly different levels of trace minerals and other atoms besides hydrogen and oxygen. No matter what your filter company might tell you, in the real world, there is no such thing as 'pure water', and as such, no two cups is ever 'the same' as another two cups.


I suspect that some of you still will be thinking that I've missed the point. When we say '2+2 = 4', we're not talking about two OF anything; we just mean TWO, the abstract, the number, not a measurement of things in the world, but simply the concept of 'one and one.'


Again, this is a fair retort, but also again this idea needs to be unpacked. What exactly IS 'the number two' when it is abstracted away from things in the physical world? There is a huge and historic literature on the ontology of numbers, which I cannot begin to summarize here. Suffice to say, the view of numbers expressed in the above objection is likely some kind of 'mathematical realism', the most popular variety of which is 'mathematical Platonism'. This view, roughly stated, claims that numbers are real, just as real (if not more so) than material objects, and they endure in their own 'plane' of existence separate from the physical.


According to it's champions, mathematical Platonism is the only way we can truly make sense of the idea that '2+2=4 is true', precisely because the non-Platonist alternatives are susceptible to the kind of counterexample that I opened up with. Non-Platonist views are limited to saying '2+2=4' is only 'mostly true', 'approximately true', or 'true in some contexts'.


Personally, I don't find this a terribly hard bullet to bite. For me, it's a lot easier to bite than the idea that there really is an eternal, immaterial realm of numbers (and possibly other categories of non-physical things) that transcends, yet at least loosely applies to the physical world. This is, of course merely an appeal to my personal intuition, an argumentative strategy that I don't place too much stock in, but if nothing else it should suffice to give the Platonist-sympathizer pause. Platonists have more than just their appeal to incredulity in their quiver, of course, but I suspect that said incredulity drives more people towards Platonism than are probably comfortable admitting.


I think this temptation towards mathematical Platonism should be resisted. One way to do so is to reflect on how science education often sweeps situations where 'the math doesn't add up' (like my opening example) under the rug. Anyone who has taken a high school science class is familiar with the concept of 'significant digits', which allow scientists to ignore potential differences in measurement that go beyond either their instruments' capacities, or the particular needs of the given experiment.


There's nothing wrong with appealing to significant digits, of course; infinite precision of measurement isn't possible, so for practical purposes it makes sense to just, at a certain point, round things off. But when we do that we need to recognize that our inability (or our not caring) to measure infinitesimally small differences doesn't mean they're not there. Richard Feynman famously compared the accuracy of the predictions of quantum physics to specifying the width of North America to within the length of a single human hair. That is an utterly astounding finding, of course, but it only underscores the point I'm trying to make: if you add 2 hairs and 2 hairs to another 2 and another 2 and another 2... pretty soon your margin of error will add up. In quantum mechanics 2+2 might equal 4, but 2 trillion + 2 trillion might only equal 3,999,999,999,999.


Perhaps things are different in the world of Plato's forms, but the world in which we live is not mathematically precise. Most of the time this impercision doesn't matter, and we can safely ignore it. But just because we can ignore it doesn't mean it's not there. In this world, 2+2 only equals 4 when we decide that we don't really care about the microscopic difference between the substances in question.

Garret Merriam
Philosophy Department
Sacramento State

Monday, November 12, 2018

Moral Twin Earth


I’ve been working on theories of reference for moral concepts of late with collaborators, particularly on Moral Twin Earth (MTE). I’ll present some results I found on this hypothetical from Terrance Horgan and Mark Timmons (H&T). Then I’ll explore what implications this may have.

First, regarding semantic internalism/externalism: Internalists claim that the reference of a concept is solely determined by internal mental states in one’s head. E.g., descriptivism generally claims that the referent of a concept is that entity that satisfies the mental descriptions associated with the concept in question. Externalists maintain that the reference of a concept is at least in significant part dependent on properties external to one’s mind. E.g., the causal theory from Richard Boyd claims that the referent of a moral concept is a natural property, such as human well-being, which causally regulates our moral decision-making.

H&T ask us to assume that there is a world called MTE that is nearly identical to our own world except that our moral term ‘good’ is causally regulated by natural properties whose essence is captured by consequentialist properties while the orthographically identical term ‘good’ for those on MTE is causally influenced by natural properties whose essence is captured by deontological ones. Both those on Earth and MTE internally understand their respective moral terms to be related to the evaluation of actions, persons, and institutions. What goes on inside the moral minds of you and your twin are quite similar, but they differ at precisely the points we would expect them to given the fact that they are being causally regulated by the different consequentialist and deontological properties, respectively.

H&T conclude that our intuitions in this case are that when there are antithetical judgments between you and your doppelganger on a particular moral issue, both of your moral concepts really share the same reference, despite the different causal relations, such that both of you are not talking past one another in this debate. Therefore, this situation can be characterized as one of a difference in some moral beliefs rather than one of a difference in reference given that on Earth and MTE your moral concepts respectively are understood to play a role in governing behavior. H&T want to claim that when dealing with moral concepts, reference is determined internally by our cognitive understanding of the action-guiding role of moral concepts. Reference is not determined externally. For, if this were the case, then our intuitions should conclude that those on both planets have disparate referents for their moral concepts given that such concepts are causally influenced by different properties. However, this is not the case.

I ran experiments testing intuitions on MTE, winnowing the hypothetical to a 10th grade reading level on the highly reliable Flesch-Kincaid readability measurement. I am still running studies trying to replicate the results in various ways. There are no previous experiments on the internalism/externalism debate in moral semantics. I ran tests on 116 lay subjects from the U.S. with an average age of 45 spanning from 18-61 years of age and 102 lay participants from Singapore with an average age of 34 spanning from 19-73 years of age. All had a high school diploma or higher. I also conducted the test on 53 “experts” with PhDs in philosophy.

Here are the results:

Philosophers:  40%  Internalism,  41%  Externalism, 19% Other
Singapore:  38% Internalism ,  62%  Externalism ,  0% Other 
USA:  28% Internalism , 70% Externalism,  2% Other

Philosophers appear generally split on MTE. However, most of the folk, East and West, are externalists for MTE. Against H&T, even amongst only philosophers, we do not see that a majority of intuitions are internalist ones. Rather, when combining all the populations East, West, and philosophers, it appears that most have externalist intuitions on MTE.

Furthermore, we see that there is substantial intracultural variation. The minority subpopulations in both folk groups are rather sizable, and moral semantic intuitions on MTE lack the kind of widespread consensus that is found in other staunch a priori domains of inquiry, such as in math and logic. As there is an absence of sufficient consensus within a culture, an internalism seemingly applies to both minority folk subgroups in the East and West, although an externalism purportedly applies for most in both East and West groups. Different theories of reference may apply to different people even within the same culture. This also seems to hold for philosophers on MTE too. It appears that if theories of reference are adjudicated based on intuitions, as is commonly held in the philosophy of language, there’s a moral semantic pluralism, where different theories of reference apply to different people. This runs not only contrary to H&T, but it flies in the face of all current moral semantic theories in that they are either exclusively internalist or externalist.

One may counter that only expert philosophers’ intuitions should be relied upon. However, even if we did this, there will still be a pluralism. One may reject the pluralism option because there needs to be some kind of argument establishing that the semantic intuitions provide any evidence about reference such that the disparate intuitions generate a pluralism. As there is no such argument, we should not trust semantic intuitions at all, and philosophers should abandon arguing for a theory of reference. However, experiments have shown that people’s intuitions in semantics on theories of reference coincide with how they actually use specific terms in sentences (Machery et al. 2009). This provides sufficient empirical data that semantic intuitions do provide evidence about the reference of our concepts. An objection is that there is merely a disagreement in non-semantic facts, such as regarding the storyline descriptions in the MTE hypotheticals. Once we get clear on and in agreement with the non-semantic facts, our semantic intuitions will align such that there will be a sufficient consensus. However, given the readability measurement, we can inductively infer that most of the participants, including experts, are clear on the non-semantic facts of MTE and comprehend the scenario.

John Park
Philosophy Department
Sacramento State

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Perception and Entrepreneurship

Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris’s selective attention test has become a classic in behavioral psychology. Before reading further, you should take the test at this link to their YouTube video.

Did you “pass” the test? (The rest of this post is after the jump.)


Sunday, October 28, 2018

God Wouldn’t Perform Miracles



You are capable of doing less good than you have the capacity to do. You sometimes lie when you could have told the truth, you are less charitable, compassionate, loving, and forgiving than you are capable of.

You are also able to exert less power than you are fully capable of. You lift a single grocery bag when you could have carried three. You run slower than your limit. You don’t perform actions that are within your capacity. In some cases, there are external forces, events, or obstacles that thwart the exertion of your power. And in some cases, the restriction on your exertion of your power is your choice; you have failures of knowledge, character, virtue, or wisdom.

You also have less knowledge than you are capable of having. There are logical theorems that you could prove on the basis of things you already believe, but you haven’t put the intermediate steps together and made it explicit knowledge. There are things you just don’t know because of your limits; you don’t know the cure for cancer or how to build a spaceship for interstellar travel. And no amount of effort would produce that knowledge for you.

God, I submit, would not act in any sub-maximal ways with regard to knowledge, power, and goodness. God, by the conventions of traditional theism, possesses all knowledge. God knows all and only truths. There is no fact that is knowable not known by God. Furthermore, God is the almighty, all-powerful creator of the universe. But not only did he create the totality of this universe, his power includes the capacity to do all things that are doable. He could have made any number of other universes, including those requiring more power. He can do any action that is logically possible. And finally, God is an infinitely good, morally perfect being. God has endless love, limitless virtue, and is a being that cannot be morally exceeded in any way. God is omnibenevolent.

God would not act in ways that are inconsistent with infinite power, knowledge, and goodness. You can and often do act in ways that are sub-maximal, given your knowledge, power, and goodness. Sometimes through some fault, imperfection, or error, you choose the wrong action; if you had more knowledge, or if you even had more of the knowledge that you are capable of possessing, you would have chosen better. But God will never act in some sub-maximal way because of this sort of failing. God lacks no knowledge. Sometimes, you exert less power than you are capable of because of laziness, a lack of goodness, a character fault, or a lack of knowledge. God won’t act sub-maximally in any of those regards because of his infinite knowledge and moral perfection. Sometimes, even exerting all of your power you fail to achieve your ends, you are thwarted, or you fail because there are other external forces that exceed your power; you are overpowered. God, being infinitely powerful, cannot be overpowered by external forces. Sometimes you do less goodness with your actions than you are capable of or than you should have done. You lack goodness, virtue, or character. Maybe you could have done better, but you didn’t. Or maybe the act in question is simply beyond the limits even of your acting to your full potential goodness. God, being infinitely good, morally perfect, infinitely loving, won’t act sub-maximally in any of these ways.

Miracles are violations of the laws of nature. To walk on water, raise the dead, or feed thousands with a few fishes and loaves of bread would all violate physical laws such as the conservation of matter, the conservation of energy, the density of matter, entropy, and so on.

Miracles are also limited with regard to knowledge, power, and goodness. That is, an agent performing a miracle need only have enough power to perform that miracle, to raise that corpse from the dead, or sustain that instance of walking on water. Miracles only require sub-maximal power, knowledge, and goodness. We might think that infinite power, knowledge, and goodness are sufficient for performing miracles too. But, as we have seen, infinite power would express itself perfectly and fully, reflective of all knowledge and goodness, in God’s case. To cure a leper is to leave thousands or millions more uncured. To raise one corpse from the dead is to leave millions or billions of others in the grave. To feed one hungry crowd is to leave millions or billions of others starving. An action of such limited scope is consistent with the actions of a being that has limited knowledge, power, and goodness. But it would be inconsistent, contrary to the expressions of a being with infinite properties.

It’s not merely that by doing a miracle God would be acting at levels that are within but below his limits; such a limited action is precluded by God’s infinite nature. Limited actions are as much outside the capacities of God as performing miracles are outside of yours. Can or would God sin? No. Can or would God be less than perfectly moral? No. Can or would God exert less power in the world than he is capable of? No. Can or would God act in ways that defy or neglect his infinite knowledge? No. Miracles, however, achieve limited goals. Miracles would not be within the tool set, or expressed actions of a being that has no limits or imperfections. However, miracles insofar as they imply limited power, knowledge, and goodness are quite plausible as the actions of finite, imperfect beings who lack power. That is suggestive about why they strike us as so important and interesting, but miracles simply do not make sense as expressions of the goals or actions of a being so vastly beyond us in power, knowledge, and goodness.

I have argued:

1. God wouldn’t act in any ways that are below capacity.
2. Performing a miracle would be acting below capacity for God.
3. Therefore, God wouldn’t perform miracles.

Matt McCormick
Philosophy Department
Sacramento State

Friday, October 19, 2018

Animals and Authority: with Authority Comes Responsibility


Where should we draw the insuperable line? What morally significant difference separates moral agents from other living things? Many historical and present-day injustices occur not because the groups involved didn’t know that certain acts were wrong (many normative theories converge on what constitutes right action in easy cases), but because one group failed to include some other group within the scope of its moral community (e.g., Jews during WWII or Blacks in America before the mid-19th Century). Many injustices involve a problem of scope.

This question in animal ethics has been debated thoroughly, maybe to the point where it too could be relegated to the pile of unresolved issues that ultimately depend on one’s metaphysical commitments. Maybe reason has done all that it can?

The animal rights defender Tom Regan (1983) argued that any attempts to limit the scope of rights to humans based on some capacity is rationally defective for two reasons: (1) some humans lack the identified capacity and (2) some animals have it. Regan’s argument seems right that any identified criterion will face these difficulties (along with difficulties in specifying exactly the nature of the capacity (e.g., autonomy) and determining whether it is animals who lack it or humans who have failed to design experiments to measure it). The unapologetic speciesist Carl Cohen (1986) responds that it is not about patterns of measurable external behavior, but about having the requisite internal mental state. He ultimately claims it was never a matter of exhibiting a capacity, but about being a certain kind of being.

Instead of identifying a criterion for moral status, maybe one promising way forward is to focus on what humans have and its ramifications. Humans often have authority over animals. I think we can set aside what capacities humans have that enable them to have authority or whether they should have authority. We can simply begin with the fact that humans often have authority over certain animals and then think about what this entails.

Authority, according to Joseph Raz, is a species of normative power, which he defines as a power to effect a normative change or change a person’s reasons for action (1979; 1990). Raz’s conception of authority consists of two, among others, distinct moral theses, the dependence and normal justification theses, which together provide moral justification for authority (1986; 2009).

Dependence Thesis (DT): “all authoritative directives should be based on reasons which already independently apply to the subjects of the directives and are relevant to their action in the circumstances covered by the directive” (1986, p. 47).

Normal Justification Thesis (NJT): Authority is justified when, “…the alleged subject is likely better to comply with reasons which apply to him…if he accepts the directives of the alleged authority as authoritatively binding and tries to follow them, rather than by trying to follow the reasons which apply to him directly” (1986, p. 53).

Raz’s account is called a service conception because, as reflected in the dependence thesis, the primary role of authority is to serve one’s subjects and address the reasons that apply to them. While I don’t agree entirely with Raz’s conception, I do think that justified authority includes something like DT and NJT.

If this is what we mean by having justified authority over another, what does this entail?

Basically, this: with authority comes responsibility. The word “authority” may bring to mind the state or law enforcement, but another paradigmatic example is a parent’s power over a child. A five-year-old child has good reasons to eat her vegetables, but would better achieve those reasons (e.g., health) by complying with her mother’s directive “Eat your vegetables!” than if the child was left to her own devices. I’m using the parent-child example because a child may not have developed reasoning skills to come up with her own reasons or even the capacity to act for those reasons. From an objective or third-personal perspective, we can observe that a child has these reasons that apply to her and that she would be better off if she listened to her mother.

If it is true that humans have authority over nonhuman animals, and if we want our exercise of power to be morally justified—an instance of de jure authority as opposed to de facto authority, then it should be consistent with DT and NJT. Humans have power over animals in various ways. Animals are kept in captivity and used for various purposes, including companionship, agriculture, experiments, and entertainment. Human caretakers have control over things that animals need, such as food, water, shelter, sufficient space or territory, exercise, and social interaction. Human caretakers can impose rules and practices that provide animals with their species-specific needs and promote their species-specific behaviors or they can impose rules that deprive animals of these things. Consistent with DT, human rules regarding captive animals should be based on reasons that already apply to them. Consistent with NJT, human rules over captive animals should help them to achieve the reasons that apply to them than if they were left to their own devices. Human rules regarding animals should serve to help animals achieve their species-specific needs and behaviors.

Justified authority is demanding in its application to both humans and animals; some may call it ideal. Nevertheless, many of us may agree that it is how we ought to live. When we exercise power over other humans, we ought to use our power in ways that would help those we serve, especially those who are vulnerable and dependent on us. When we exercise power over animals, we similarly ought to use our power in ways that recognize that with great authority comes great responsibility (see Palmer 2011). Our current use of animals are the result of historical practices and modern institutional standards, but it need not always be this way. We ought to be humbled by our responsibility and seek to change our practices and standards to be more consistent with these necessary conditions of de jure authority.

Chong Choe-Smith
Philosophy Department
Sacramento State