Foot, Thomson, Rawls, Matravers

It’s Thought Experiment day in CoPhi (TX-Phi?)with Philippa Foot’s runaway trolleyJudith Thomson‘s unwanted violinist (as discussed recently in Bioethics),  John Rawls‘ Veil of Ignorance in LH, and Derek Matravers on art in PB.

What’s the point of thought experiments? To “trigger our awareness of conflicts between judgments that we previously held in combination” and “open up new conversations.” And they’re fun.

[Philosophy Experiments… What is a thought experiment?… Nozick’s Experience Machine… Top Ten… PhilSciXphi]

John Rawls’ veil. Rawls was committed to the idea of selfless mutual self-interest as the precondition of justice and fairness. Justice is fairness, he said.

What principles of social justice would be chosen by parties thoroughly knowledgeable about human affairs in general but wholly deprived—by the “veil of ignorance”—of information about the particular person or persons they represent? Rawls thought they’d pick these two: (1) fundamental  individual equality, allowing (2) only those inequalities that can be presumed to work out to everyone’s advantage.
An amusing (if not especially animated) rendition of Rawls:
We were discussing a sporting example recently (the Baseball Conference is tomorrow, btw): a Rawlsian social contract won’t entirely level our playing fields, won’t be purely egalitarian. Behind the veil we’d probably want to design a society in which those who excel at a game others  might enjoy watching, for instance, will have sufficient incentive to actually play. The basketball fan does not begrudge Michael Jordan’s fortune, if he thinks it contributes to his own delight at courtside. It’s to his “advantage,” too, for Michael to have more money and notoriety.
But whatever the deliberators decide, behind that veil, Rawls wanted to give them a procedural opportunity to agree on the basis of relevant considerations. We’ve instead been auctioning public office and social influence to the highest, loudest bidders, not the coolest reasoners.  There’s nothing fair or just about that. The “law of peoples” can do better.

Michael Sandel is a semi-Rawlsian, with his talk of restoring respectful forms of democratic argument.

Robert Remini was a Rawlsian too. Biographer of Jackson and Clay, Remini just left us. He bemoaned the lost art of political compromise. (“Clay,” btw, is a family namesake: my Dad was James Clay, his Dad was Clay, and back it went deep into the 19th century. A source of my pragmatic attraction to anti-ideology, perhaps?) [Remini on NPR]

And Lawrence Lessig makes a point I think of as Rawlsian, too: “There is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of Congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens.”

A good argument, after all, really isn’t just interrupting and saying no it isn’t/-yes it is/no it isn’t. With the rude and acrimonious election season we’ve recently come through, we should give serious thought to how we can elevate our political discourse. The 2014 campaign season will be opening any second now.

I don’t claim to know what art is, or if Marcel Duchamp’s “fountain” should count. But like most of us, I know what I like: I like John Dewey’s approach in Art as Experience.

Dewey’s antipathy for spectator theories of knowledge did not block his acute perception of “the sources of art in human experience [that] will be learned by him who sees how the tense grace of the ball-player infects the onlooking crowd.”

The crowd at the fountain had best be careful not to be infected by something less delightful.

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