Suppose you’re in a serious, long-term monogamous relationship. One day, your partner comes to you and says: “I have been finding myself irresistibly attracted to other people. I’ve tried just getting over it but it hasn’t worked. This has left me feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. I still love you and remain committed to our relationship. Can we discuss options for alleviating my situation while still staying together? I am open to anything, and let’s talk, but I hope you will at least consider an option that involves my seeing other people in some form because I doubt that anything less will make me feel okay. In turn, I will consider anything that you might need to make that workable for you.”
How do you respond? As I see it, you have two broad options:
A: say ‘absolutely not, no chance in hell, if you require this to even be an option, then I’m out’; or
B: say ‘let’s look at our options’.
B can have a number of different flavors. It can be something like, ‘yes, of course, if you really feel that way, let’s consider our options’. Or it can be something more like ‘I really don’t like this and doubt that it can work; what’s more, I have some non-negotiables; but, okay, let’s talk and see what we can work out’. One is more open than another, but both fall into category B.
If you can honestly say that your answer would be of form B, you’re already in a polyamorous relationship.…
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Disclaimers! First: I (somewhat indirectly) work for Tyler Cowen.
Second, this is a reply, not a review. My review is simple: Stubborn Attachments is a fascinating, thought-provoking work of political philosophy. Given its depth and originality, it’s also remarkably accessible. I strongly recommend it.
Third: there is plenty of interesting material in the book that I will not address at all. This includes narrow arguments about redistribution and environmental policy, as well as more abstract arguments about ethical disagreement and decision-making. I will not touch on these because I either simply agree, or if I have reservations, they’re not all that interesting.
Onto the fun stuff.
Introduction: Cowen’s argument in a nutshell, and map of my response
Essential to Cowen’s position is the claim that the discount rate for the value of the wellbeing of future people should be zero. In other words, the fact that someone doesn’t exist yet does not at all diminish the ethical value of their wellbeing. John, who is alive today, living a life of, say, 100 net utils, is worth exactly the same as Linda, who will live two hundred years from now, living a life of 100 net utils.
Presumably, there will be many, many more people alive in the future than are alive today. So, when we think about hard things like public policy and social organization, we shouldn’t aim to maximize the wellbeing of people alive today. Instead, we should maximize the wellbeing of all people—present and future. Given that there will be so many more future people, in practice this means our focus should be on maximizing the wellbeing of future people.…
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What gives some people the right to put others in prison? Is prison – and the criminal justice system generally – an ethically permissible method for dealing with criminality?
Individualist anarchist and prison abolitionist Jason Lee Byas goes over the common justifications for the prison system and explains why none of them succeed. Specifically, he covers the doctrines of retributivism (specifically desert retributivism and expressive retributivism), deterrence, rehabilitation, and rights forfeiture, arguing against each. In place of prison, Byas proposes a tort system of restitution. Monetary restitution may not be sufficient to right the wrong of a crime, says Byas; but it is all that the law should mandate, leaving other desired correction or compensation up to community-based initiatives (Byas cites restorative justice as an example of the sort of institutions that can take the place of those corrective aspects of criminal justice that retribution does not address). Byas also explains how a system of monetary restitution can get around problems of class-based inequality (for example, if someone is so rich that they don’t mind having to pay to commit a crime, or if someone is so far in debt that another dent wouldn’t matter). Finally, he explains how violent offenders who pose an “ongoing threat” might be handled in his preferred system.
Next week: Jc Beall: Logic of Christ
Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.…
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