Live Philosophy Extracts: David Enoch’s Against Utopianism

Experimenting with a new format in this book blog: notes on philosophy texts I study. I’m reading almost all philosophy with a focus on Open Lifespan in the back of my mind and most of these materials will find their way into the study and book. Explaining the title: ‘Live’ means that am continuously updating these posts as am working through the material, so the date of the post won’t do justice with how it is actually made, never mind. ‘Live’ also means that most of the materials are coming from living philosophers, thereby enabling a chance encounter with them, facilitating communication and feedback that stays alive. ‘Extract’ means notes, making a solution containing the active, concentrated principles of the matter. The structure of a post: default text is my extracts or phrasings of what I read, sometimes direct quotes denoted with single quotes. ‘COMMENT’ means immediate question or actual comment when I read the text.

To be extracted: David Enoch: Against Utopianism: Noncompliance and Multiple Agents, Philosopher’s Imprint, 2018, VOLUME 18, NO. 16, PP. 1-20 

Background context: priority of ideal vs non-ideal theory.

Main so far unexposed idea of the paper: political philosophy is about multiple agents.

Distinction between agent’s foreseeable violation affecting what agent vs what other agents ought to do. Hopes it can answer utopians (David Estlund) question related agent’s self-affecting aspect while defeating their utopianism related to other agent affecting aspect.

1. Utopianism, Feasibility, and Utopophobia

utopian criticism of political theories: not compatible with human nature or not feasible.

example, not compatible: Marxists ignore partiality towards ourselves, self-concern.

example, not feasible: ‘Plato’s requirement that parents submit their children to being raised and educated by strangers’ not sensitive enough

COMMENT #1: but in current society, this is sort of de facto happening children are mostly educated by strangers? better example needed for non-feasibility

COMMENT #2: Open Lifespan is compatible with current living as Closed Lifespan is the lower bound of Open Lifespan, it’s on the same ongoing continuous scale of human living. On the other hand Open Lifespan’s feasibility does not depend on inner resistance of people not wanting to do it, but on feasibility of a technological development. These 2 different criticisms are not clear, seems mixed, better examples are needed for what Estlund/Enoch means on lack of feasibility or feasibility can be defined as possibility, which can be assigned probabilities instead?

Significance of political philosophy: they phrase normative claims: what we or institutions or the state ought to do

COMMENT #3: 3 current day examples are needed, easy looking task.

‘Feasibility objection don’t start with claims about what we cannot do.’

“ought-implies-can” is irrelevant

COMMENT#4: Lots of Estlund reception here. Modal-logically speaking □A -> ◇A is trivial, but this is deontic logic here.

‘Feasibility objections start with claims about what people will not do, or what they are unlikely to do’

‘And even if ought implies can, ought clearly doesn’t imply will, or is likely to, or any such thing.’

COMMENT#5: Introducing temporal logic and mixing it with deontic logic. ‘Likely to’: is there a version of modal logic that can include a probability or a likelihood operator? ToDo!

Estlund: aspirational theory vs aspirational goals.

Not even ‘utilitarians recommend, as a decision procedure, to always engage in the utility calculus’.

‘the distinction between a criterion of correctness and the justified decision procedure is perhaps best known in the context of discussions of utilitarianism, but it is a fully general distinction, and one that any moral theory may need’

‘Estlund (2014, 116) calls the kind of theory that takes into account likelihood of success and that is directly tied to the setting of practical goals concessive …Prof. Procrastinate case’

1st (“You ought to accept, and do it on time!”) is the moral analogue of the political aspirational theory

2nd (“Given that you’re not going to do that, you should at least be responsible enough to decline.”) is the moral analogue of the political concessive theory.’

COMMENT#6: I feel things get interesting with this distinction and analogy for Open Lifespan but more concessive examples would be welcome. Is a concessive theory always one showing limits and constraints and can be expressed default with negative antecedents?

2. The Multiplicity of Agents and Ideal Theory

non-political moral philosophy: principles regulating the actions of individual agents

still there is room for concessive theory in non-political moral philosophy eg. Prof. Procrastinate but atypical.

‘In political philosophy, though, the multiplicity of agents is a crucial part of the problem….So it is natural to think that what explains the greater temptation “to withdraw a principle on the ground that it is too unlikely to be satisfied” in political philosophy compared to moral philosophy is precisely the centrality of the multiplicity of agents.’ feasibility

multiple agent non-political example: Prof Procrastinate and his assistant.

political cases: always 1+ agents involved