Jonathan Floyd’s comment on extending normative behaviourism with aspects of health and longevity via Open Lifespan

One recent political theory, and/or meta-theory, I studied a lot last year was Jonathan Floyd‘s normative behaviourism. It lead at least to 6 lengthy posts, mini-studies in the context of Open Lifespan.

In this post, first, I cite Jonathan’s comment, then briefly introduce his approach and then summarise the extension of this approach with Open Lifespan, the political philosophy of healthy longevity.

Jonathan Floyd’s comment

‘We face tough questions right now about whether to maximise quality of life or the number of people living; about how we compare young lives to old lives; about how we compare irresponsible lives to responsible ones; and of course how we measure death in all its causes. It’s great if you can help with these questions and the wider policy implications, and if you can do so by drawing on my theory, then that would be very heartening indeed.’

Jonathan Floyd, email communication

Normative behaviourism

Briefly, and in my words, Floyd’s own recipe of normative behaviourism says that in order to choose, explain, ground, justify a political principle one should look for pattern of population behaviour, ie. data presented by empirical research of the social sciences. This is opposed to classical/default/mainstream political philosophy which commits mentalism throughout, looking for patterns of normative thoughts, preferences to derive political principles and answers. Political principles, and moral judgements favoured by political philosophers are showing such a high inter- and intra-individual variation as to not allow statistically meaningful patterns to be derived from them. Instead of mentalist magic hat tricks, Floyd establishes normative behaviourism by introducing 2 behaviourist measures to judge, justify success of existing (or past) political systems: plainly put, the more disincentives to political insurgence and crime a system enables the more successful it’s going to be.

Open Lifespan’s addition to the problem horizon and solution of normative behaviourism

  1. Political philosophy has a problem to conceptualise single-trend political issues like climate change and healthy longevity, why is that? This is a problem for normative behaviourism as well, that otherwise avoids lots of earlier issues in the literature.
  2. Political philosophy has a huge problem not recognising, not providing conceptual tools for health and longevity as political issues and motivation. This might be historically due to Rawl’s blind spot non-approach (maximalised and apparently intentional ignorance) to health related to his classification of different goods and its place in his argument. This also presents a problem for normative behaviourism as well, that otherwise avoids lots of earlier issues in the literature. 
  3. Fortunately an argument can be provided to add health and longevity as political drives to the existing framework of normative behaviourism. More factual/historical research needed here to make argument stronger, but it seems clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is going to provide such abundant data and motivation.
  4. Open Lifespan, the political philosophy of healthy longevity considered from its upper limit trajectory, can be excellently framed within the framework of normative behaviourism and enhances its original argument that SLDs (social-liberal-demoncracies) can be considered the best political arrangements for states.