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Ethics for Broken World: Imagining Philosophy after Catastrophe

Tim Mulgan
Copyright Date: 2011
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    Ethics for Broken World
    Book Description:

    In Ethics for a Broken World Tim Mulgan imagines how the future might judge us and how living in a time of global environmental degradation might reshape the politics and ethics of the future. Presented as a series of "history of philosophy lectures" given in the future, studying the classic texts from a past age of affluence - our own - the central ethical questions of our time are shown to look very different from the perspective of a ruined world. By looking into the future to revisit the present, Mulgan aims to reimagine contemporary philosophy in an historical context and, with the benefit of hindsight, highlight the contingency of our own moral and political ideals.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9474-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface: Imagining a broken world
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introductory lecture: Philosophy in the age of affluence
    (pp. 1-16)

    Welcome to “Ancient Philosophy III: American and European philosophy in the age of affluence”. I shall be your facilitator for this module. Today, I introduce our topic, and situate it in historical time and logical space.

    Before we look at the philosophy itself, we first explore its historical context. The age of affluence lies immediately before the dark times from which our present global civilizations are still emerging. It was a brief period, lasting only some two or three centuries, but a crucial time in human history. This was the time when humans caused catastrophic climate change: the age of...

  6. Part I: Rights
    • Lecture 1 Nozick on rights
      (pp. 18-31)

      Robert Nozick was a late-affluent academic philosopher, who spent his entire career at one institution of learning. HisAnarchy, State, and Utopiais one of the few affluent works to survive intact. Nozick’s topic was rights. His approach was calledlibertarianism, because it emphasized freedom. (A quite different view of freedom wasliberal egalitarianism, our topic in Part III.)

      Affluent people were obsessed with rights. They claimed rights to do and say things, rights over their bodies and life choices, rights over external things, and rights against one another. Almost any dispute in affluent society was eventually expressed in the...

    • Lecture 2 Self-ownership
      (pp. 32-46)

      Nozick built his theory on self-ownership. He argued that each person has rights over her own body and person. But what did hemeanby this? What isself-ownership? Why was it so important for Nozick? Isownershipthe right metaphor?

      For Nozick, the “self” included body, organs, talents, will, personality and identity. It combined features that distinguish one individual human being from anotherandfeatures common to all human beings. We can best explain Nozick’s notion of the “self” via some specific self-regardingrights.

      The right to bodily integrity: A doctor has five patients. Each needs a different organ...

    • Lecture 3 The Lockean proviso
      (pp. 47-55)

      To set the limits of just acquisition, Nozick appealed to Locke’s proviso.

      Locke’s proviso:I can justly acquire only if I leaveenough and as good for others.

      This proviso looks both backwards and forwards. My rights rest on ahistoryof just acquisition and just transfer. But my acquisition must also satisfy Locke’s proviso, andthatdepends on itsfutureimpact. To evaluate claims about rights, Nozick’s affluent readers had to study both the history of their society and its future. This is why Nozick offers the perfect lens through which we can examine relations between affluent philosophy and...

    • Lecture 4 Nozick in a broken world
      (pp. 56-68)

      Nozick’s proviso was not straightforward in an affluent world with a bright future. But we now know that the unconstrained exercise of property rights caused dangerous climate change. So we should imagine a free society with a broken future. Suppose I am an initial acquirer inthatworld. To satisfy Nozick’s proviso, I must now be confident that no one in the broken future will be worse off than in a world without property. This is a tall order. Inour(real-life) broken world, many people now argue that we should abandon our faltering attempts to resurrect industrial civilization and...

    • Lecture 5 Nationalism
      (pp. 69-76)

      Nations were a very significant feature of the affluent moral landscape. As one affluent philosopher put it, “A nation is a community constituted by shared belief and mutual commitment, extended in history, active in character, connected to a particular territory, and marked off from other communities by a distinct public culture”. Most affluent people believed that co-nationals had special obligations to one another; that national identity was a vital part of each individual’s identity; and that nations themselves had special rights, privileges and obligations. Every affluent state was a nation state, claiming authority over specific people within a particular territory....

  7. Part II: Utilitarianism
    • Lecture 6 Act utilitarianism
      (pp. 78-88)

      Nozick wrote for an optimistic affluent world, where human productivity outweighed any scarcity of resources and each generation would always be better off than the one before. His philosophical methodology was built on intuitions tied to that world. Perhaps we need a theory that does not rest on affluent intuitions, is not reliant on affluent optimism and has the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. In affluent philosophy, the obvious candidate was utilitarianism, one of Nozick’s targets inAnarchy, State, and Utopia.

      Utilitarianism was a broad social and intellectual tradition, not a single principle. That tradition – associated with the...

    • Lecture 7 Rule utilitarianism
      (pp. 89-99)

      Act utilitarians imagined a single utilitarian agent, heroically maximizing human happiness in a non-utilitarian world. Unsurprisingly, her life is demanding, alienating and unattractive. Rule utilitarians pictured morality as a task given not to each individual agent, but to acommunityofhuman beings. We imagine ourselves choosing a moral code to govern our community, deciding what code to teach the next generation. Rule utilitarians’ guiding questions were “What ifeveryonedid that?” and “How shouldwelive?” We first seek anideal moral code. Acts are then assessedindirectly: the right act is the act called for by the ideal...

    • Lecture 8 Well-being and value
      (pp. 100-112)

      Affluent act utilitarians said that individuals should choose the act that maximizes human well-being. Rule utilitarians sought rules and institutions to maximize human well-being. Both had to decide what human well-beingis, how it ismeasuredand how wecompareone person’s well-being to another’s. Utilitarians were not alone here. Most affluent philosophers gave well-beingsomemoral significance. Consider Nozick’s proviso, where we ask whether his institution of property leaves future people better off. We can’t answer this question unless we know what is good or bad for people.

      We first introduce some terminology. Affluent philosophers often used other terms,...

    • Lecture 9 Mill on liberty
      (pp. 113-121)

      This lecture explores one of the classic texts of affluent political philosophy: John Stuart Mill’s short essayOn Liberty. Mill lived a hundred years earlier than Nozick and his affluent utilitarian opponents. He was briefly a member of a local semi-democratic representative body, and gained notoriety for arguing that women should have the vote. Mill’s father was a friend of Bentham, and Mill was raised on utilitarianism. Like Bentham, Mill was anempiricist. All knowledge is based on induction from experience. We know the sun will rise tomorrow only because we have seen it rise many times before. Mill’s empirical...

    • Lecture 10 Utilitarianism and future people
      (pp. 122-132)

      Utilitarians were the first affluent philosophers to take future people seriously. In this lecture, we focus on five key affluent questions. Could traditional affluent moral thinking make sense of obligations to future people? Should future people be given equal moral weight in present deliberation? How should utilitarians evaluate possible futures containing different numbers of people? How should those evaluations feed into utilitarian deliberation? And, finally, was the widespread affluent commitment to reproductive freedom consistent with utilitarianism?

      The affluent philosopher Derek Parfit argued that non-utilitarian moral thinking could not make sense of obligations to future people. He offered two simple tales:...

    • Lecture 11 Utilitarianism in a broken world
      (pp. 133-146)

      TEACHER: Today, instead of a regular lecture, three graduate students who are studying affluent utilitarianism will present a short philosophical debate. Each is playing a role, and should not be held accountable for the views they express. (You will recognize the participants, but I shall anonymize them for the transcript.) Let me set the scene. Imagine three inhabitants of our broken world, each a proponent of one utilitarian tradition, act favours act utilitarianism, hedonism and total utilitarianism, rule favours moderate rule utilitarianism, institution concentrates on the utilitarian evaluation of institutions. They are familiar with debates from the affluent world, but...

  8. Part III: The social contract
    • Lecture 12 Hobbes and Locke
      (pp. 148-159)

      The main affluent alternative to utilitarianism was the social-contract tradition, where justice was modelled as a bargain or agreement between rational individuals. Affluent courses in political philosophy often began with two pre-affluent philosophers who both lived three centuries earlier, at a crucial time in the development of affluent political institutions. To understand affluent contract theory, we begin in the same place.

      Thomas Hobbes lived through a destructive civil war that caused the deaths of 800,000 people in a population of five million. For Hobbes, civil war was to be avoided at any cost; it not only caused great loss of...

    • Lecture 13 Rawls
      (pp. 160-172)

      John Rawls’sA Theory of Justicewas the most significant single text in affluent political philosophy. Rawls followed the social-contract tradition of Hobbes and Locke. But he differed from them both in his context and in his philosophical ambitions. Hobbes and Locke were actively engaged in politics and public affairs. Rawls was a professional academic philosopher who spent almost his entire adult life at one university and had no direct involvement in public affairs. The development of his thought was driven more by internal philosophical tensions than by real-world events. Hobbes and Locke lived through civil war, the threat of...

    • Lecture 14 Rawls and the future
      (pp. 173-184)

      Any social-contract theory bases justice on reciprocal interaction. Justiceiswhat rational self-interested people would agree to under fair conditions. As we cannot interact with people in the far-distant future, a social contract with them seems impossible. We hold their quality of life, and their very existence, in our hands, while future people can offer us nothing in return.

      The standard affluent test case was thetime bomb: an action that isbeneficialto present people,devastatingfor distant-future people andirrelevantto intervening generations. Parfit’s risky policy was a classic example. Our choice of the cheaper power plant is...

    • Lecture 15 Rawls in a broken world
      (pp. 185-196)

      Rawls explicitly designed his theory of justice for his own society. He did not extend his principles to the unfavourable conditions of a broken world. To use Rawls today, we must extrapolate. And our resources are meagre. Rawls’s two great works –A Theory of JusticeandPolitical Liberalism– both survive only in fragments; and virtually all of the (apparently once voluminous) scholarly commentary is now lost. So the task of interpreting Rawls for our broken world leaves much scope for experiment, speculation and disagreement. Today, three graduate students whose dissertations discuss Rawls offer their different perspectives. As ever,...

  9. Part IV: Democracy
    • Lecture 16 Democracy
      (pp. 198-210)

      Affluent philosophers lived in liberal democracies. They also largely approved of this form of social organization. Both their experience and their attitude were historical anomalies. Pre-affluent societies were resolutely undemocratic. And while pre-affluent political philosophy was dominated by the question of who should rule, virtually no one defended anything remotely resembling affluent-style democracy. Hobbes and Locke disagreed over the best system of government. But they both distanced themselves from radical democratic ideas such as the notion that men without property (or any woman) should be allowed to vote. By Rawls’s time, these once-radical ideas were almost universally accepted. In this...

    • Lecture 17 Democracy and the future
      (pp. 211-220)

      In affluent democracy, only present people could vote. But present decisions alwaysimpact(often very seriously) on future people. Not everyoneoffectedby affluent “democratic” decisions was able to vote. But was that really democratic? Did affluent democracies treat future people justly?

      Our final lecture brings an intergenerational perspective to our assessment of affluent democracy. We first ask whether the standard affluent arguments for democracy make sense in an affluent world with a broken future. We then ask whether affluent philosophers had the conceptual resources to imagine a truly democratic intergenerational community.

      Affluent utilitarians argued that democracy promotes present well-being....

  10. Reading list
    (pp. 221-223)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 224-225)
  12. Index
    (pp. 226-228)