Georgia Philosophical Society's 2021 Online Conference on Philosophical Perspectives on Rights, Obligations, and Freedom

December 2, 2021 - December 3, 2021
Georgia Philosophical Society

United States

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Format of the Conference

Each presentation will be allotted 10 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of Q&A. Given the large number of audience members and the relatively short available time, we cannot do live Q&A, and so audience members' microphones will be muted. Instead, anyone who has a question/comment for the speaker should simply post it in the group chat in Zoom. During the Q&A, the moderator will select questions from those submitted in the chat to ask the speaker.

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Thursday, Dec. 2, 3:00pm – 5:30pm

Session 1: Freedom or Domination (3:00pm – 4:00pm)

Isadora Mosch, “Social Media: Captor or Liberator? Pop Stars Shine a Light”

I am presenting on the topic of social media and the promotion of freedom, weaving Kantian values throughout my argument. Social media can and often does have a menacing presence. Its very nature implies the maddening conflicts that comes with competition, loneliness, and ranking, all paired with a strange sense of anonymity. What we do not hear about too often is how social media can helpful, or even, dare we say, salvation. What if we could harness the herd mentality power of social media for good instead of evil? Using two primary examples of the #freebritney campaign and Taylor Swift’s recent recording coup, I plan to demonstrate how social media can be used to help promote us as ends in ourselves. I will argue that social media played, and is still playing, an integral role in helping to free both artists from their respective constraints. Although Kant likely could not imagine both the horrors and magnificence of social media, his theories juxtapose well with these contemporary pop culture quandaries. I will appeal to his deontological ideals of autonomy, as well as the categorical imperative, to argue on behalf of these artists’ freedoms in our current day and age.

Maximiliana Rifkin, “What Counts as Ideological Domination?”

According to James Muldoon (2019), socialist republicans face a dilemma in defining ideological domination, or the phenomenon where people are prevented from exercising their political freedom by internal psychological rather than external social impediments. Historically, socialists have appealed to an account of ideological domination in terms of the distinction between the objectionable and unobjectionable social reproduction of elite’s ideas. On this view, elite’s ideas are understood as objectionable insofar as they prevent agents from fulfilling their real interests by instilling false consciousness. However, as Muldoon attests, a widely satisfactory account of agent’s real interests remains elusive. In this paper, I seek to remedy this theoretical nadir by offering a socialist republican account of ideological domination which specifies agent’s real interests in terms of what self-determination theory calls ‘trait autonomous motivation’, and which specifies false consciousness in terms of what it dubs ‘trait-controlled motivation’. My ultimate proposal, then, is that we define the unobjectionable social reproduction of elite’s ideas as those which encourage the development of trait-autonomous motivation, associated with agent’s real interests, and the objectionable social reproduction of elite’s ideas as those which encourage the development of trait-controlled motivation, associated with false consciousness.

Patrick Jolley, “Nietzsche, Freedom, and the Criminal”

Friedrich Nietzsche’s popular reputation for cold-heartedness and viciousness is confounded by his view of how society should take care of those who break its laws and norms—criminals. Nietzsche argues that the criminal should be cared for, like a patient, as someone to be helped rather than punished. In Daybreak 13, he claims: “Men of application and goodwill assist in this one work: to take the concept of punishment which has overrun the whole world and root it out.” Nietzsche proposes strategies for improving the criminal’s health and social standing in Daybreak 202, where he discusses rehabilitation as opposed to retributive justice. In this paper, I will read Nietzsche as a way to respond to anti-rehabilitative, pro-retributive arguments, such as C. S. Lewis’s “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment” (1954). From a Nietzschean perspective, Lewis does a cruel injustice to criminals since they (and everyone else) could not have done otherwise than break the law or norm in their given case. While Lewis would likely see Nietzsche’s position as too clinical, I argue on the contrary that Nietzsche’s rehabilitative project is a communal rehabilitation of the criminal—Nietzsche’s ethics requires more of everyone as a community than the isolating punishment of retributivism.

*Brief Recess*

Session 2: Rights and Obligations (4:30pm – 5:30pm)

Isaac Shur, “Should Private Property Have Term Limits?”

Ordinary private property rights to things like land and money are typically assumed to be permanent. In contrast, intellectual property (IP) rights usually have term limits. Copyrights, patents, and trademarks all expire by default sometime after they’re formed. I argue that ordinary property (OP) should be more like IP. Certain types of private property rights should be subject to term limits. When these limits are reached, the private rights should expire and the property should enter a tangible public domain. Liquid assets should be put toward a fund for social programs. Tangible assets should be either liquidated or directly repurposed for these programs. First, I define property, and more specifically private property, then explain the differences between competing conceptions of both. Second, I argue that the purpose of private property rights is to provide people with access to resources, goods, and services. As a result, conceptions of private property which undermine rather than facilitate such access are unjustified. Third, I make the case for term limits by examining the justifications for current term limits on IP rights and arguing that similar justifications apply to OP. Finally, I consider specific policy proposals which would put term limits into practice.

Carter Delegal, “Genealogies and Patriotic Obligations”

Some argue that patriotic and nationalistic partiality are justified because we have special obligations to our compatriots (Miller 1988; Hurka 1997). These obligations arise, according to these authors, at least in part because of the significance of a shared history. In this paper, I do not deny that this argument can in principle justify forms of patriotic or nationalism partiality. Rather, I develop a genealogical approach to argue that many forms of nationalism and patriotism will not be justified on these grounds. Drawing upon recent discussions of genealogy (Queloz 2020), I show how accounts focusing on the origins and the functional features of nationalism and patriotism (Marx and Engels 1978; Gellner 1981; Anderson 2016) can affect our understanding and assessment of their associated histories. Specifically, this approach helps us see that in many cases, the shared history underwriting our purported obligations (a) promotes a cause or value much different from the cause or value typically identified with the practice and/or (b) is not shared in a genuine sense.

J. Joseph Porter, “Self-Respect and Equal Political Liberty”

Rawls argues that the parties in the original position will agree upon a conception of justice which guarantees citizens equal political liberty because equal political liberty is a necessary social basis of self-respect. I argue on the contrary that at least some unequal distributions of political liberties can still support citizens’ self-respect so long as these distributions accord with fair equality of opportunity. I begin by laying out Rawls’ argument from self-respect for equal political liberty and situating it within his broader theory of justice. After discussing the shortcomings of existing objections to this argument raised by Steven Wall and Jason Brennan, I offer my own objection. By illustrating a case in which a society’s basic structure distributes political liberties unequally but in accordance with fair equality of opportunity, I show that the argument from self-respect for equal political liberty fails, because unequal political liberty need not undermine citizens’ self-respect. In fact, equal political liberty may not only fail to be a necessary social basis of self-respect but may also undermine some citizens’ self-respect by encouraging ignorant and irrational exercise of their two moral powers.

Friday, Dec. 3, 1:00pm – 3:30pm

Session 3: Knowledge, Speech, and Responsibility (1:00pm – 2:00pm)

Coleen Watson, “The Citizen as Knower: Why there are Epistemic Obligations in Liberal Democracies”

The values of liberal democracies are liberty, equality, and collective well-being. A necessary condition for concrete working liberal democracies is to maintain these ideals of liberty and equality while effectively solving various collective action problems their citizens face. Internal consistency demands buying into liberal democracies as the best possible option for governance, which necessitates accepting some obligation to participate with one's fellow citizens. Some collection of those obligations will be epistemic in nature. Civic epistemic obligations focus on developing political beliefs citizens take seriously - not simply the citizen as a voter but also the citizen as a knower. Debating in public discourse, participating in collective action, and voting requires beliefs to have been formed and some knowledge base to pull from. These epistemic civic obligations are a normative ideal in democracy in two ways. First, they express what is normatively important about liberal democracy. Second, they aim to guide action as an ideal in the sense that it is a model for behavior. In arguing for the existence of civic epistemic obligations, I will also present a short list of specific obligations that fall into this category. I further argue that civic epistemic obligations should follow the ought-implies-can rule, that a task can only be required of citizens if they can fulfill it. Further, if citizens cannot meet their civic epistemic obligations, there is cause to worry about the legitimacy of the liberal democratic project, which relies on the consent of the governed and having their free and equal voices counted in decision-making.

Kaisa Karki, “Freedom of attention and autonomy of attention”

What precisely does a distraction threaten? An agent who spends an inordinate amount of time attending to her smartphone – what precisely is she lacking? I argue that whereas agency of attention is the agent’s non-automatic decision-making on what she currently pays attention to, autonomy of attention is the agent, through her second-order desires, effectively interfering with her non-automatic decision-making on what she currently pays attention to. Freedom of attention is the agent’s possibility to hold or switch her focus of attention without fixating on any specific focus against her will or without distraction from chosen foci. I will further argue that autonomy of attention requires some degree of attention capital, namely the agent’s understanding of how attention works, appreciation of the value of various attention-requiring tasks, her attention skills supported by her environment and her ability and motivation to develop and regulate them. This is because especially when attention is treated as a commodity, to regulate one’s attention according to one’s own values, what is in jeopardy and commodified has to be noticed, known, and valued.

Geoffrey D. Callaghan, “Implications for Weaponized Dissent in a Post-Truth World”

What I propose to examine in this paper is whether an equivalence can be drawn between (1) rationales for regulating speech that are grounded in attempts to curb the spread of mis- and

disinformation, and (2) rationales for regulating assembly on the basis of what I call ‘inauthentic protest’ (i.e. protest that is done for reasons other than the protest’s purported aims). If such an

equivalence can be drawn, what are the implications that follow?

*Brief Recess*

Session 4: Dire Challenges (2:30pm – 3:30pm)

Leonard Kahn, “Life, Death, and Non-Human Decision-Making in War”

Decisions made in war often concern life and death. Advances in AI are increasing the extent to which these decisions are made by non-human agents. Is it a violation of human dignity if lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs) decide, without meaningful human involvement, to kill me? Attempts to answer this question often fail to disambiguate distinct ways in which killing in war violates human dignity. Once we have disambiguated them, we can see that full respect for human dignity requires agents who make these decisions appreciate the moral consequences of doing so and have appropriate attitudes in response. LAWs cannot do this. Hence, their use without meaningful human involvement is a violation of human dignity. While violations of human dignity are often best understood as rights transgressions, the circumstances of war renders this equation problematic. The need to defend oneself and others often outweighs other considerations. That suggests that we ought to think about appropriate human decision-making in war as a prima facie duty rather than a strict deontic constraint and favor of institutional design to reduce the possibility of conflict between the obligation to save lives and the obligation to respect human dignity in our decisions about life and death.

Adam Smith, “Emergency Preparedness & Justice”

Climate change, the covid-19 pandemic, and infrastructure failures have made the devastating impact of emergencies all too clear. In this presentation I will argue that the state has an obligation to prepare for emergencies – to invest in risk assessments, mitigation, response, and recovery – because emergency preparedness is a necessary, though overlooked, part of the state fulfilling its obligations given to it by justice, especially its obligation to offer certain public goods and services, like public education, basic health care, clean water, etc. To fulfill this obligation, the state must make a reasonable investment within its means to prepare for emergencies so that it can provide public goods and services to all at all times. How this obligation gets fulfilled, i.e. what sorts of preparations will be required, depends on the theory of justice being used, but the obligation to prepare for emergencies exists for all theories of justice. I end by discussing two specific issues with the implementation of this obligation: (i) the relationship between individual, local, and federal emergency preparedness; and (ii) how to justify preparing for rare emergencies.

Seth Goldwasser, “The Cure is Worse Than The Disease: On the Notions of Health and Disability”

With the passage of TX SB8, the wellbeing and rights of both pregnant people and potential offspring come to the fore. One thorny issue at the intersection of these concerns is selecting for or against disability. According to some self-avowed eugenicists, it is morally permissible to select or treat potential offspring for disabilities like deafness and Down syndrome on the basis of genetic counseling or through genetic enhancement, provided that doing so does not decrease the offspring’s chance of a good life or interfere with the wellbeing of others. Genetic counseling and genetic enhancement, they claim, are medical tools to be used towards improving wellbeing and the permissibility of their use in turn provides justification for maintaining or increasing access to clinical interventions that terminate pregnancies. This paper argues that blanket approval of the use of genetic counseling or genetic enhancement begs the question against selecting for disability. Specifically, eugenicists’ blanket approval requires a view of what types of internal state constitute limits on or decreases in human function or ability in virtue of what those functions or abilities are. But naturalistic accounts of human function that eugenicists can appeal to underdetermine, for several disabilities, whether those disabilities limit or decrease human function or ability. Indeed, it might be that the relevant disabilities are simply other ways of being rather than limits on or decreases in any human function or ability. In which case, selecting against them may constitute several harms towards the disabled. Nonetheless, I conclude by arguing that avoiding the harms of selecting against disability is consistent with a collective duty to increase access to interventions which terminate pregnancies.

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December 3, 2021, 4:00pm EST

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