[On Friday I am giving a talk in great company, in which I elaborate a bit on the five norms of analytical egalitarianism, which was first developed by the economists Sandra Peart and David Levy (recall also). All the norms are defeasible and require contextual judgment. In this post I discuss the first two norms only.--ES]
- Experts/philosophers cannot keep themselves (their incentives/their roles, etc.) out of the model/proposal. In practice this means that we can't simply assume that philosophers are disinterested truth-seekers (especially not in the context of policy).
Philosophers really dislike this norm. It smacks of sociology. (Economists and analytical philosophers are alike in their contempt for sociology. Economists and philosophers have very similar patterns of systematic exclusion, too.) We like to think ourselves as oriented toward the truth or justice (etc.). This norm, by contrast focuses us on the institutions that structure the rules of the game.
To give an example: a lot of global justice ethics is (tacitly) addressed to fellow global elites—these may be most responsible for the current state of affairs and those often have the most power to change things for the better. This all makes intuitive sense. But the global elites may also generate reward structures for the expert and philosopher that encourage philosophers to explore some options rather than others; perhaps even by encouraging the idea that the favored options are more ‘realistic’ than others. Sometimes these options fit nicely in a shared technocratic language. We should not be blind to the fact that global elites are most capable of generating access to what I call ‘success goods’—that is, access to connections, jobs, media exposure, foundation/grant-money, etc. Obviously global elites need not be unified. But even if one dislikes talk of class-conspiracies/interests, the perspectives of lots of folk are not at all taken into account if you pitch your philosophical theory toward the global elites, or just some slice of it.
So, one way to go is to make one’s incentives transparent. That is to be clear about one’s expectations about one’s audience; to be transparent about possible conflicts of interest; share data; to incorporate one’s likely rewards in one’s model, etc. One of the main purposes of such transparency is to become clear of and justify those occasions when one treats the motivations of the agents modelled as relevantly dissimilar to the motives of the modelers. If economists take incentives in the model-world seriously, they ought to take their own incentives seriously, too. (This is the egalitarianism in Analytical Egalitarianism.) Now, one powerful ‘reality check’ that follows from this first norm is this second norm:
2.Experts/philosophers should not promote policies where the down-side risks of implementation are (primarily) shifted onto less fortunate others.
For, it’s easy enough to say that you have taken all your own incentives into account. But the proof is in the pudding. It is, after all, relatively easy to legislate duties (taxes, etc.) and restrictions to others. It’s always chilling to see powerful men legislate morally and legally what women can and cannot do with their bodies. In democracies, political majorities are all too often eager to legislate their ‘morality’ on less powerful minorities while exempting privileged insiders. This is not to say that we should give minorities a moral ‘out of jail pass.’ But this norm encourages us to find ways to incorporate ourselves into the moral truths that we are legislating for others.
Now, lots of philosophers are resistant to this line of thought because they think that even a partial moral advance is still a moral advance. So, for example, in Liberal Democracies animal rights activists know that they cannot generate legislative majorities to undermine the agricultural-industrial complex, but they may locate targeted majorities; so ritual slaughter as practiced by Muslims and Jews alike has become a major focus of animal rights activists in places where this is not banned yet. In my view, these animal rights activists contribute to the entrenchment of systematic pattern of exclusion in the polity for relatively little animal welfare gain. Now, obviously one may disagree with the previous sentence (a lot of my friends do), but it calls attention to the real world dynamics of the norm. (Most animal rights activists abstain from eating meat, so I am not charging them with hypocrisy!) Another example of this dynamic, is those proposals that shift the burden of adjustment required to ward off global warming disasters on the citizens of the poorest countries, including proposals that would make those societyes morally better off by our lights.
Of course, by the same token a Jewish/Islamic philosopher might well have the duty to make animal suffering more visible within her legal-theological framework! This is why the norm does not encourage a moral ‘out of jail pass.’
Now, here’s where the norm in light of my proposed task for philosophy has some bite. This norm encourages to make visible perspectives that are not ours. So, rather than abstract away from our situation, as Rawls demands from us, we should actively seek out the particulars that otherwise may well be subsumed by our agenda. In particular, potentially disruptive experiences should be made visible during and, perhaps, before any conversation is allowed to get under way.
Obviously, what I propose is very inefficient; but I am not proposing that this norm ought to be followed in lots of contexts (say, emergency rooms, fire-brigades, call-centers, etc.) Rather, I am claiming that this norm ought to be followed when we are developing (potentially) policy-relevant theory about others. This is where my approach piggybacks on standpoint theory; the second norm of Analytical Egalitarianism is a call to respect the situated perspective of the theorized subject not as imagined or fact-gathered by the (evidence-based) theorist, but as embodied experience.
This can be surprisingly instructive. Let me offer an example: recently I received an email from a philosophy graduate at a Midwest university. She had read one of my blog posts about sexual harassment in the profession, and had looked me up online. She expressed surprise that I was a professor because she could not imagine that a philosophy professor would praise undergraduate activism on such a matter. She went on to share with me her (rather horrid) experiences with philosophy professors. Now, I say this not to stop experimenting with more gender inclusive syllabi nor to suggest that all female undergraduates experience what this young women. But rather to find a way to express my amazent, even horror, that when we philosophers theorize about which measures could make us more inclusive, we rarely ask the excluded why they left or what ought to change for them to remain; we tend not approach the really embittered, even though their answers would be more instructive in all kinds of unexpected ways than 'success stories.'
 I have blogged about Peter Singer’s encouragement of pollution trading. As MA Khan points out, in Singer’s technocratic approach issues of distribution have disappeared of the ethical table. One can add that cultural sensitivities are also not on the table for discussion. Meanwhile, in practice, these markets do not work as the optimal version of the model predicts
 It’s an open question to what degree professional philosophy is de facto part of the global elite.
 Obviously, that ‘potentially’ can be abused.