Hedgehogs and Justice, Coffee Faeries and Chocolate

Visited Dean E., on Saturday evening, a local genius when it comes to law and politics. In a carousing evening of wine followed by scotch, eventually ventured home with a copy of Roland Dworkin's Justice for Hedgehogs. The title is from the ancient Hellenic poet, Archilochus: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing". Dworkin attempts to establish, philosophically, the existence of objective morality and metaphysically independent value. In both these claims I do not think he is successful, however the political and legal conclusions he comes to are excellent, mapping an interdependence of liberty, democracy, and justice, concepts which are often considered at odds. In many ways the lengthy, readable, but not very dense text reminds me of John Rawls' A Theory of Justice. Just as Rawls could have saved himself many chapters of mental gymnastics of ethically grounded notions of redistributed wealth by reviewing the political economy of natural resources (e.g., David Ricardo, Henry George), so too Roland Dworkin could have saved himself a great deal of text struggling over trying to pin down an objective theory of morality and metaphysical value in favour of intersubjective universal morality (e.g., Jurgen Habermas, Karl-Otto Apel) with contemporary pragmatism.

Paula, the anarchist Magic Coffee Faerie (and convener of the Adelaide Isocracy Network), and partner Craig are visiting Melbourne. We caught up all too briefly today and, true to our shared interests, spent some time at the New Internationalist Bookshop, where we all accumulated a good swag (Paula is also celebrating her fortieth birthday, so she received hers gratis). This evening attended a chocolate appreciation night at Xocolatl, as part of the Kew Festival, and sampled such wares from Peru, Cuba, Madagascar, and Venezuela as part of the lecture. Informed the presenters of the health benefits of the emulsifier lecithin . True to gendered assumptions about such tastes, there were 26 women and 4 men in the audience; including - quite unexpectedly - one of caseopaya's former workmates.

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I've been reading a bit about theories of justice and morality lately. Very 101 stuff, but still, gotta start somewhere right?

At this point I have concluded that Kant had a stick up his arse, and I don't necessarily agree with a lot of what he had to say, but it's interesting to think about.
It is true, Kant did have a stick up his arse and a lot of what he does claim is disagreeable, but by the same token his contribution of grounded deontological morality is important (as is his distinction between different types of reason). Whether his arse-stickiness was a contributing factor to his scholarship is a matter of some debate.

I find myself increasingly applying some sort of bed of procrustes to moral theory; deontological moral theory for principles, utilitarianism for ethics, a dash of initial and developing virtue ethics. Inevitably all have their flaws, but finding a way to put the jigsaw together is becoming an endearing project.
If you manage to come up with a Unified Theory of Justice, I'll be first in line to read (and probably critique) it.

And yeah, I suspect Kant was a product of his time in a lot of ways, and consequently some of his more stick --> arse ideas are also a product of his time. It does rankle how unaware he seems to be of this, given his claims about rationality though. ;-)
I'll be first in line to read (and probably critique) it.

Right, I'd better get working on it now I have a reader :)

On-topic, there's a great critique of consequentialist ethics from Roland Dworkin in the Hedgehog book which I've just transcribed - he uses it to illustrate his appreciation of Kantian deontological approaches and, unsurprisingly given his background, tie into legal principles.

"You are hiking in the Arizona desert with a stranger, you are both bitten by rattlesnakes, and you both see a vial of antidote lying in the scrabble. Both race for it, but you are nearer and grab it. He pleads for it, but you open and swallow it yourself. You live and he dies. (2) As before, but this time he is closer, and he grabs it. You plead for it, but he refuses and is about to open and swallow it. You have a gun; shoot him dead and take the antidote yourself. You live and he dies.

According to the pure version of impersonal consequentialism there is no intrinsic difference in the moral dimensions of the two stories becuase the result, in itself and judged from a raw impersonal perspective, is the same."

- Roland Dworkin, Justice for Hedgehogs, Harvard University Press, 2011, p285
I think this hedgehog book might be worth a read. After I've finished the current one, that is.
:: applause for chocolate appreciation night ::
This post wins today's prize for Best Subject Line Ever.
Also I now know the word "isocracy." I'm not sure how practical it is but theoretically I like it :)
Livejournal ate my previous response, so perhaps this one will get through.

My subject lines are influenced by reading New Musical Express in the 80s :)

Isocracy is practical, insofar the objectives are always possible and there is a definite path to achieving them. They are, however, radical, which makes it challenging.