Friday, June 16, 2006

Conflict resolution principle

Richard - once again based another theory on sterba's conflict resolution principle.

I can see how that might appeal to a "free trade" libertarian. The idea is that even morals are in a sense "negotiated". In a sense we ask a person not to hurt another person and can "expect" them to do that in return for being able to participate in civil society. There is a strong pragmatic argument here i.e. that a law we can't reasonably expect to be obey will often not be obeyed.

The problem here is that Richard is using it to attack propitarianism (a common sort of libertarianism). Now I love attacking Libiterianism as much as the next guy but I'm not sure he has a foundation here despite his great confidence in it's irrefutability.

Most Libertarians clearly seem to reject it in the "naive" (i.e. short term principle application) way that he applies it here as I will elaborate on later. If they do indeed reject it, then it is not a common foundation and you can't prove someone wrong by appealing to a foundation that is not common. All you do then is to define how different your positions are. (Which permits a libertarian to argue at cross purposes).

The conflict resolution principle states that moral demands must be "reasonable demands".

Obviously the first question that leaps into the minds of beginner philosophers is that "reasonable" is not defined. It is unclear exactly what you are talking about each person who reads it will fill it with their own assumptions. To me reasonable might be action for the good of society - to someone else reasonable might be action for the good of themselves. If it that much of a variable it's predictive power is crippled and it ceases to be useful for proving much at all.

the classic defense is to retreat and say - OK I cant say what reasonable is except that I know you cannot expect a person to "starve".

However there are more sophisticated problems for this theory - starting with the simplest

1. "Non-negotiable" situations

Imagine you are dealing with someone who is really bad. Many people would say Osama has a "moral duty to hand himself in" - we don’t expect him to do it but if for some instant we were in his shoes we would want that decision to be made, furthermore even the extremely liberal amongst us probably consider it would be appropriate to apply moral sanctions on him to try to make him do that (he certainly isn’t welcome at my house!).

2. Long term perspective

This comes up in the counter point "what if they are responsible for being poor? should we give money all the time to dig them out of the hole they created?" In those argument as long as you consider that every person has the potential to lift themselves out of poverty no individual has as a wholistic set of choices the "no other option" position that richard proposes with the Conflict Resolution Principle. I am less sympathetic to this but since it is common it is worth mentioning.

3. "Irrationality"

This centers around the fact that individuals actions are not always (in fact not usually) rational. For example if my family and I were on a deserted Island I could probably expect them not to kill and eat me EVEN IF that because a rational way for them to increase their chances of living longer. I.e. the moral burden would fall on them to not do it. If they did does it they would have to live with the fact that they had made that choice and surely most of us would consider that appropriate.

4. Determinism

If we assume for a moment that the world is deterministic we start to get into trouble. If everyone’s choices are predetermined it becomes (in a sense implied here) irrational to ask them to obey any rule that they won’t obey. This creates an interesting. Moral rules tend towards what people do anyway and moral sanctions become immoral in themselves and the whole theory collapses like a house of cards.


Now in spite of this the theory does have validity as part of indirect utilitarianism. As a rule of thumb, where there are no obvious reasons to act otherwise, it is reasonable to not try to place moral obligations on others that are unreasonable and as a rule of thumb it is generally ok to "kick back" when someone places an "unreasonable" demand on you.

The nit picking problem that I have here is that in spite of this one is in danger of begging the question if one then uses it as a justification for rejecting competing hypothesis such as libertarianism.


Post a Comment

<< Home