Constructing the Original Position from Scratch 0: Introduction

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Murali

Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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21 Responses

  1. Avatar Shazbot5 says:

    Actually, I have some advice.

    Instead of posting pieces of a dissertation chapter, why not distill the important elements from the chapter down to something more accessible, state in, say, 2-4 longish blog posts.?

    One of the things you need to think about with your dissertation (as my advisors explained to me) is how to turn some of the chapters into publishable pieces. This requires removing some of the “review of the literature” that inevitably sneaks into dissertation chapters that is considered “bloat” by the journals.

    Another you need to do is to figure out how to ask the question -that you are sure to get at job interviews and the god awful “smoker” at the APA- “How would you explain your ideas to into/lower division philosophy students. (This is often a trap to make you seem like you don’t know how to present your ideas in a way that is accessible to non-experts, which is a big no-no for schools where you will do a lot of undergrad teaching.)

    I wouldn’t do this unless you have free time. First write the dissertation, then do these bloggy posts. (Which I am excited to read!)

    —-

    BTW, never, ever, ever let anyone in a job interview know that you are a poster here. IMO, philosophers don’t have a lot of respect for the TVD’s of the world. If there were fewer posters here over the years, who were more careful in what they posted, it would be a badge of honor that you posted here. I really don’t mean this as an insult. I love this blog, but philosophy job interviews are an awful thing where lots of unfair stuff can hurt you. And this could hurt you, I think.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Shazbot5 says:

      I’ll second Shaz on summaries rather than excerpts if you can swing it time-wise. I think the overly technical nature of a dissertation may disincline folks to read and participate, so summaries embedded with links to the expanded argument might lead to more participation.

      I also realize you’re probably not sitting on a lot of free time, of course…Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Shazbot5 says:

      This is still the first draft, so it is still bloggy (at least to the extent that most of my longer posts here sound bloggy). Also, this chapter is basically one extended original argument. Most of the lit review stuff is for the previous two chapters. The reason why I wanted to present this was because while I was writing it, except for the length and perhaps subject matter I found that the chapter was very amenable to being made a blogpost. In fact, the kernel of the chapter began right hereReport

    • Avatar Matty in reply to Shazbot5 says:

      BTW, never, ever, ever let anyone in a job interview know that you are a poster here. IMO, philosophers don’t have a lot of respect for the TVD’s of the world. If there were fewer posters here over the years, who were more careful in what they posted, it would be a badge of honor that you posted here.

      Do you mean philosophers dislike blogs in general or is the League actually widely known in academia? The first is only to be expected but the second would be pretty cool.Report

  2. Avatar Shazbot5 says:

    Quick question about 2b and 2c. Do you mean to say that from behind the veil, we can see society, but we can’t see whether the people in society are black, white, gay, straight, etc.? I always took Rawls to mean that the veil of ignorance only obscured you from knowing anything about yourself, not anything about what society was like. In other words, I thought the veil prevented you from knowing whether you were gay or straight, not from knowing that people in society have a disposition towards homophobia.

    Also, a question about 4. I thought that the veil (in TOJ anyway, maybe not JAF) obscured people from knowing their own individual conception of goodness. No? Would a neo-nazi, for example, under the veil of ignorance, take his conception of race hatred as intrinsically good (or whatever) into his decisions about what he views as in his self-interest? I’d say no; the veil takes everything but reason and self-interest away. That is why the basic structure we all would choose from behind the veil is “a rational choice” that is, in a sense, in all of our interests. This is fairness.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Shazbot5 says:

      Quick question about 2b and 2c. Do you mean to say that from behind the veil, we can see society, but we can’t see whether the people in society are black, white, gay, straight, etc.?

      So, people will know that there are black people and white people in society, but will not know what proportion of people will be black or white.

      In other words, I thought the veil prevented you from knowing whether you were gay or straight, not from knowing that people in society have a disposition towards homophobia.

      I’ll have to search for the Rawls quote, but IIRC it should be there. He wants to abstract away from the specific circumstancs of society in the OP. But, during the constitutional convention, he wants to put it back in. In my understanding of Rawls, he does this bit about ideal theory where the people in society are assumed to have the correct attitutdes (which are still within the boundaries of human nature). I doubt that he would have wanted the idea that the people happen to be racist or homophobes to affect what counts as a just society.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Murali says:

        Interesting.

        Why can’t someone behind the veil know that blacks are a minority, compromising X percentage of the population? (According to you or Rawls?)

        Indeed, wouldn’t it be relevant to know that there are persecuted minorities (i.e. composing less than 50% of the vote) when deciding how to structure the basic structure of society? You still wouldn’t know whether you were part of the minority or not, so you would still take the intetests of the minority (on the chance that you were one of the minority when the veil is lifted) even if you knew the proportion of the total population that they composed.

        I like the requirement about not knowing the proportions because it helps with the “what if I’m not risk-averse?” objection to the claim that we would worry about the worst off from behind the veil. But I think lack of knowledge about society, including facts about populations, is relevant to how we should create the basic structure.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Shazbot5 says:

          So, Rawls is a bit skimpy in his justification.

          ***spoiler alert***

          For me, the answer is that before we decide what to do about a particular group of historically persecuted minorities, we need to find out what to do about historically persecuted minorities in general.

          You are right in that it does seem that certain kinds of specific information are relevant. So, you need at least two iterations. One where you lack the knowledge so as to develop a small set of absolute constraints. Then, building those constraints in and revealing this preveiously hidden knowledge, you run the contract again. So, we actually start developing what looks like part of Rawls’s four stage procedureReport

  3. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Murali,

    It will be a couple of days until I can spare the time to actually give this thought. Please don’t take my non-responsiveness me ignoring you.Report

  4. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    Next, too.

    One note, you posit these two assumptions:

    3.The parties behind the veil are:
    a) mutually disinterested. i.e. indifferent to the fate of other parties behind the veil

    4. People are conceived as possessing two moral powers:
    … (snip)
    b) A sense of justice

    I’ll note that while this is a perfectly logical set of assumptions, you’ve defined “justice” in a way that is necessarily not linked with mutual interest, by definition. While it’s all fine and dandy to do so in your definition of terms, I can imagine that anyone who discards this as a possible definition of “justice” will find the resulting argument compelling.Report

  5. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    Next.

    Although you may need to convince me:

    (a) That a “sense of justice” can be constituted without “beliefs” or “virtues.” This strikes me as implausible.

    (b) That the participants will not acquire a sense of personal identity during the course of deliberations. Or that if they do, it will be one that somehow presents no difficulties to the argument.

    (c) That demographic information is indeed irrelevant. Abstract political theory of course would like it to be, but in practice, it rarely is. What then is gained by treating it as irrelevant? And what is lost? And isn’t that a bad bargain?

    (d) That participants lacking a sense of personal identity are nonetheless human enough to craft a system that would be found acceptable to those of us who, try as they might, are unable to efface their own sense of identity.

    Some of these are standard objections to Rawls. Not (b), I don’t think, but anyway I’m fairly sure that the rest are, and I would be interested in seeing your answers.Report

  6. Avatar Murali says:

    Okay, we’ve got 6 “Nexts” The first post is going up now.Report

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