What is this blog about?


What is this blog about?

I am a political philosopher. My 'political philosophy' is a form of 'liberal egalitarianism.' So in this blog I reflect on various issues in political philosophy and politics (especially Canadian and American politics) from a liberal egalitarian perspective.

If you are curious about what I mean by 'liberal egalitarianism,' my views are strongly influenced by the conception of justice advanced by John Rawls. (So I sometimes refer to myself as a 'Rawlsian,' even though I disagree with Rawls on some matters.)

Astonishingly, I am paid to write and teach moral and political philosophy. I somehow manage to do this despite my akratic nature. Here is my faculty profile.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The essence of the Trump regime in 2018

The intellectual and moral essence of the current Republican regime in Washington, summed up in a single tweet:

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


Now available online (and for free!): a symposium on Gerald Gaus’s recent book, The Tyranny of the Ideal: Justice in a Diverse Society (Princeton University Press, 2016).

The collection is edited by Ryan Muldoon, and includes papers by Scott E. Page, David Wiens, Fred D'Agostino, Kevin Vallier, and Gerald Gaus. Lori Watson and yours truly also have a paper in it: “The Tyranny—or the Democracy—of the Ideal?”. Here is the abstract for our paper:
In this article we defend the 'Rawlsian' view of the nature of political philosophy, and especially the role of 'ideal theory' in thinking about justice, against some of Gerald Gaus's main criticisms in The Tyranny of the Ideal (Princeton University Press, 2016). First, we dispute Gaus's claim that Rawls's idea of a 'well-ordered society' cannot survive the move to political liberalism. We formulate a 'political liberal' version of the well-ordered society, and show that Gaus's 'Open Society,' rather than a radical alternative to the political liberal well-ordered society, in fact closely resembles it. We then challenge Gaus's claim that Rawlsians committed to the principles of 'justice as fairness' are confronted with 'The Choice.' According to The Choice, ideal theorists must either: (1) pursue 'nearby' relatively certain 'local' gains in justice for their society, or (2) forgo these local gains in order to pursue the more ambitious but far less certain goal of 'ideal' justice. (The goal of ideal justice is 'less certain' both in terms of its likely achievement as well as the likelihood that it is in fact the ideal.) We challenge Gaus's claim regarding The Choice, at least as applied to the Rawlsian view, by explaining how addressing local injustices naturally can lead some citizens to develop conceptions of full justice, including 'realistically utopian' versions of their societies. The kinds of political proposals that plausibly follow from this account of public reasoning indicate that Rawlsians in fact do not confront The Choice.
Kudos to Prof. Muldoon for putting this impressive volume together. And it is great that Cosmos + Taxis is free and online!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The global menace of Trump


Trump’s domestic policies have been—and promise to continue to be—horrible. But for the most part, they are standard right-wing Republican policies—viz., tax cuts for the wealthy (packaged in thoroughly discredited ‘trickle-down’ nonsense), the instalment of reactionary federal judges, the destruction or undermining of environmental and worker protections, and the overall retrenchment of the plutocracy at the expense of democracy and equality of opportunity. Sure, Trump is cruder than some Republicans would like, and more explicit in his racism, misogyny, and xenophobia than most political observers are used to in a national leader. But the actual policies themselves are not that much different than what a President Rubio or Cruz would be pushing in an alternative timeline.

What is more worrisome than Trump's domestic agenda is his sheer recklessness with respect to the international domain. Here he has the potential to cause global political and economic damage with his simplistic, crudely nativist ‘worldview’. If you are not frightened yet about what another 3 years of Trumpian foreign policy might bring, I recommend you read this article at Politico. The magnitude of dangerous incompetence and chaos in this administration is simply breathtaking.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Political Utopias reviewed at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

As I mentioned last April, I have a chapter in the volume Political Utopias: Contemporary Debates (Oxford University Press, 2017), edited by Michael Weber and Kevin Vallier.

So I thought I would mention here that Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews has a (generally positive) review of the volume out now, written by Patick Taylor Smith (of National University of Singapore).

Thursday, November 9, 2017

On the ‘anti-conservative bias’ of academia

Wisconsin Republicans like to whine about the ‘anti-conservative bias’ of contemporary universities. Such complaints have been used to help justify their ongoing destruction of the University of Wisconsin system (including: the recent de facto prohibition of student protests by the [Scott Walker-appointed] Regents of the UW system; the attack on academic freedom through the evisceration of tenure two years ago; the massive budget cuts to the system over the course of Walker’s time as governor; etc.).

For a helpful explanation for why this ‘bias’ exists in academia, read this post by Joe Heath (a philosopher at the University of Toronto).

One of Heath’s key points is something that I’ve long held to be obviously true—viz., universities are inherently ‘pro-reason’ (broadly understood to mean an overall pro-evidence, pro-argument, pro-logic, etc., outlook). So insofar as much of political and social conservatism is anti-reason (anti-evidence, etc.), then academia inevitably is going to be a hostile environment for most political and social conservatives. And to the extent that anti-reason conservatives go to university and become less conservative as a consequence, this is not (or at least not primarily) due to ‘brainwashing’ by Marxist profs, but rather because they become acclimated to a rationalist way of seeing the world. (In contrast to anti-reason conservatives, libertarians are massively overrepresented in academia, especially in the US. But of course libertarians think that they have arguments for their positions; they’re ‘pro-reason’, like their liberal and left-wing interlocutors.)

Another thing that I like about this post is Heath’s take down of the irritatingly influential Jonathan Haidt. What I find most grating in much of Haidt’s work is its unargued premise of moral non-cognitivism. (Heath also criticizes Haidt’s ‘political moralism,’ which strikes me as fair, but is not something that causes me to tear my hair out in annoyance.)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Nonsensical Rifle Addiction

This video—a segment within the Dutch comedy show ‘Sunday with Lubach’—does a brilliant job of conveying just how insane the rest of the civilised world regards the American obsession with guns. And it is quite funny as well. (The narration of the video is in English—in fact the narrator sounds a lot like Patrick Stewart, at least to my ears.)

Of course, a standard reply from those within the United States who worship firearms is to declare that the right to own lethal weapons is necessary for ‘freedom’. But this is in fact wrong—widespread gun ownership actually reduces citizens’ overall freedom.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A public discussion of free speech at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee


I'm heading back to Milwaukee for a couple of days to take part in a public panel discussion on: “When Free Speech Collides with Impermissible Speech: A Civil Discourse.” It will take place at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s Student Union on Wednesday (27th September) at 10:30 (11:30 EST). If you’re so inclined, you can watch a ‘live stream’ via the link above.

Also taking part will be: Chris Ott (ACLU Wisconsin), Rick Esenberg (Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty), Dr. Michele Bria (Journey House of Wisconsin), and 3 UWM students. Moderating the discussion will be Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, whom I remember from his regular appearances on the PBS political discussion show, The McLaughlin Group.

Frankly, I'm a bit nervous about this, as the topic is rather broad and vague, so I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say about it (“say what you want, but be nice about it?”). I do hope to be able to criticize Wisconsin Republicans’ ongoing assault on academic freedom.

(Here is the UWM Philosophy Department’s announcement.)