Hi all –
I'm especially pleased this month to introduce our Featured Philosopher, Ann Cudd. Ann is University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Kansas (rock chalk!), and has done truly pioneering work in moral and political philosophy. Her post follows the break. Welcome Ann!
Thank you, Dale, for inviting me to be a featured philosopher on Pea Soup, which has become such an important venue and voice in the philosophical world!
I am going to write this post about a part of a project that I am currently working on (and have been for a couple of years), which is to extend and defend a theory of mutual advantage contractarianism (MAC). MAC claims that morality and justice are the principles that can be justified to rational persons as rules to structure human life as a cooperative venture for mutual advantage. These theories are to be distinguished from contractualist theories ala Rawls, which uses the contract to construct the rules of morality and justice from a fair and impartial position, or Scanlon-type contractualism, which holds that morality consists in those rules and principles that no one could reasonably reject. What attracts me to MAC is its ability to derive morality from minimal moral premises, but I realize it has a lot of detractors to try to win over who think it’s monstrous.
There are many objections that people have raised to (MAC), but I will write about just one that seems particularly trenchant to a feminist – the exclusion problem. The exclusion problem asserts that those who cannot contribute to a cooperative venture for mutual advantage cannot be included in the social contract. Two groups that are claimed to be excluded from a mutual advantage contract include the disabled and the global poor. I argue that once “contribution” is properly understood, very few human individuals must rationally be excluded from the contract and thus the scope of justice. I leave aside the problem of the disabled for now and concentrate on the able-bodied global poor and powerless. If we consider the nature of benefit or contribution, we can see that the requirement that all included contribute to the cooperative venture leaves out very few human individuals who do not pose an active threat or ill will towards us.
Inclusion of persons globally is rational because they contribute to mutual advantage. To see this, we should understand “contribution” in a more nuanced way than simply as the material benefits that one can contribute materially, at an instant, with given, available resources, what we might call the time slice view of contribution. Rather, I argue that we should consider contribution broadly, dynamically, probabilistically, and as relative to circumstances. To be a member of the contract one needs to have the potential to contribute over time given the circumstances in which they find themselves. We can expand our understanding of contribution in four ways.
First, we can expand contribution to include different kinds of benefits. Material benefit is not the only kind of benefit we get from interactions with others. Our friends, family, and colleagues benefit us through the warm feelings of satisfaction that we get from their happiness and pleasure. We will want to include those others who cannot materially benefit us but who contribute to our well-being in non-material ways. Of course, some of the time we may feel satisfaction from the pain of others. But for most of us this is a minor and often temporary source of an ambivalent form of pleasure (“schadenfreude” or revenge). Furthermore there is no reason to think that such concerns are particularly aimed at those who are not currently contributing materially to the social product. This observation about non-material benefits of inclusion has less significance for the global justice exclusion problem than for the disability exclusion problem, however. When it comes to distant others we are more likely to feel indifference.
Second, we should expand the notion of contribution to consider a full life. No one contributes materially at every moment throughout their lives. The MAC I am defending takes into account the full life of each individual contractor and requires for membership in the contract only that she be a (potential) net contributor over that lifetime. There are three classifications of persons who are included when we look at contribution in this way who would be excluded by a time-slice view of contribution: the not yet (children) and not now (temporarily disabled) but future contributors and the once but not future (aged and permanently disabled) contributors. Those who are not yet and not now but future contributors are likely to be in the future, but their ability to contribute will be maximized if they are included as members of the contract. The once but not future contributors are to be included in the contract typically because they can use their wealth or investment in love and affection from friends and family to claim a share of the cooperative surplus through trade or reciprocity. MAC requires trades be completed and reciprocation be followed through on as the condition for the possibility of cooperation. But those who have not enough wealth or enough reciprocated affection and sympathy from others ought rationally still be included as full members of the contract because to do otherwise would set a worrying example for others. If we throw out members of the contract when they become old or disabled, trust will weaken and persons will begin to change their attitudes from mutual advantage to self-preservation. No one knows when they, too, might become one of the unfortunate, when they will lose their wealth, family, and friends and be in dire need of assistance from strangers. Knowing this leads rational persons to agree that we ought to include anyone as a member of the contract who is able to be or has been up until misfortune strikes a net contributor. Thus, many persons who are not currently contributors due to youth, age, or infirmity will be classified as net (potential) contributors and so included among the contractors.
Third, we should expand the notion of contribution to account for what persons could contribute if they were included in the scope of global justice. What and how much persons can contribute depends on the circumstances in which they live, including the technology and capital available to work with, and social roles open to them. A person who can contribute very little in a poor, traditional society may be able to contribute much in a society in which she is free to seek employment or other opportunities in an industrial economy. Thus, MAC includes all those who would be net contributors if they were included among the contractors.
Fourth, in order to assess the rationality of including and cooperating with persons, we need to assess that probabilistically, in expectation, since we must decide ex ante how to invest our own efforts. Although there is more or less uncertainty about how much we can achieve through cooperation, long experience suggests there is almost certain to be some mutual benefit achieved. The implications of this more nuanced understanding of contribution are that we will want to include everyone who can be expected to be able to produce a material surplus, which means nearly all human individuals.
One might object that the cost of making some individuals into contributors will be too great for MAC to include among the contractors. If the cost of nourishing and educating persons to a level where they can contribute is greater than the amount they will consume, then they cannot be part of the cooperative venture for mutual advantage. Persons who are healthy adults and have access to just about any resources are at least able to produce more than they consume. This includes extremely poor persons who currently do not have such access, but could if they were included among the contractors in a cooperative scheme for mutual advantage. While very young children cannot produce more than they consume, most of them will, given adequate care, grow up to produce more than they consume even taking childhood an old age dependency into account. Only the very severely disabled cannot produce at all. If they increase the overall surplus contribution, and this is a very low bar for able-bodied persons, then it would be irrational not to include them in some arrangement that each can expect to be to her advantage.
So that’s the argument for inclusion of the global poor in a mutual advantage contract. I will need to run a slightly different argument for the disabled. But the basic argument strategy, which is to construe contribution broadly, dynamically, probabilistically, and as relative to circumstances, will get us most of the way there. Or so I assert. I look forward to your comments.