Machiavellian Experimentation



Abstract: This paper proposes the following mechanism whereby polarization of beliefs could eliminate political gridlock instead of intensifying disagreement: the expectation of political payoffs from being proven correct by a policy failure could drive decision makers who do not believe in the new policy to agree to policy experimentation, because they are confident that the experiment will fail, thus increasing their political power. We formalize this mechanism in a collective decision making model in the presence of heterogeneous beliefs in which any decision other than the default option requires unanimity. We show that this consideration of political payoffs can eliminate the inefficiency caused by a unanimous consent requirement when beliefs are polarized, but could also create under-experimentation when two actors hold beliefs that differ only slightly from one another. We further show that this under-experimentation can be reduced when the political payoffs become endogenous. We illustrate the empirical relevance of the mechanism in two examples with historical narratives: we focus on the decision making process of the Chinese leadership during the country’s transition starting in the late 1970s, and we further apply the model to the disagreement within the leadership of the Allied Forces on the Western Front of World War II in the autumn of 1944.

Does Situationism Threaten Free Will and Moral Responsibility?



Abstract: The situationist movement in social psychology has caused a considerable stir in philosophy. Much of this was prompted by the work of Gilbert Harman and John Doris. Both contended that familiar philosophical assumptions about the role of character in the explanation of action were not supported by experimental results. Most of the ensuing philosophical controversy has focused upon issues related to moral psychology and ethical theory. More recently, the influence of situationism has also given rise to questions regarding free will and moral responsibility. There is cause for concern that a range of situationist findings are in tension with the reasons-responsiveness putatively required for free will and moral responsibility. We develop and defend a response to the alleged situationist threat to free will and moral responsibility that we call pessimistic realism. We conclude on an optimistic note, exploring the possibility of strengthening our agency in the face of situational influences.

Robust Political Economy Revisited: Response to Critics


CRITICAL REVIEW, Volume 28, Issue 3-4

Abstract: Robust political economy is the attempt to theorize about political institutions in such a way as to guard against the knowledge and incentive problems that we can expect will threaten the public good in the real world. An implication of this attempt is the need to reason symmetrically about whether a proposed institution is liable to be as prone to failure due to knowledge and incentive problems as the situations it is designed to address. Another implication is that one should be wary of ad hoc institutional or policy proposals, that is, proposals that are not grounded in systematic tendencies to mitigate the knowledge and incentive problems. With these implications in mind, I am not convinced that the alternative institutions, conceptions of the state, and conceptions of social justice defended by my critics meet the test of robustness that, I maintain, can best be met through decentralization of power down to the level of the individual.

What Makes a Utopia Inconvenient? On the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Realist Orientation to Politics



Abstract: Contemporary politics is often said to lack utopias. For prevailing understandings of the practical force of political theory, this looks like cause for celebration. As blueprints to apply to political practice, utopias invariably seem too strong or too weak. Through an immanent critique of political realism, I argue that utopian thought, and political theory generally, is better conceived as supplying an orientation to politics. Realists including Bernard Williams and Raymond Geuss explain how utopian programs like universal human rights poorly orient their adherents to politics, but the realists wrongly conclude that utopias and other ideal theories necessarily disorient us. As I show through an analysis of utopian claims made by Michel Foucault, Malcolm X, and John Rawls, utopias today can effectively disrupt entrenched forms of legitimation, foster new forms of political identity, and reveal new possibilities within existing institutions. Utopias are needed to understand the political choices we face today.

The Commonwealth of Bees: On the Impossibility of Justice-Through-Ethos



Abstract: Some understand utopia as an ideal society in which everyone would be thoroughly informed by a moral ethos: all would always act on their pure conscientious judgments about justice, and so it would never be necessary to provide incentives for them to act as justice requires. In this essay I argue that such a society is impossible. A society of purely conscientiously just agents would be unable to achieve real justice. This is the Paradox of Pure Conscientiousness. This paradox, I argue, can only be overcome when individuals are prepared to depart from their own pure, conscientious, judgments of justice.

Liberalism before Justice



Abstract: The ideal theory debate rests on two conflicting claims: that justice is “the first virtue of social systems” (justice first), and that a just society is one in which “everyone accepts and knows that the others accept the same principles of justice” (universal consent). Justice first holds that questions about the meaning of justice — and thus about what an ideally just society would look like — must be settled before we can effectively pursue justice. However, universal consent entails a project of justification that can only take place over time. I propose that we avoid this impasse by treating freedom rather than justice as the “first virtue” of a liberal society. Liberal freedom has two distinct and complementary dimensions, which give rise to two distinct and complementary moral aims: on the one hand, to create the social conditions that make responsible agency possible (republican freedom), and on the other hand to carve out a social space within which the demands of responsible agency are relaxed or absent (market freedom). Striking the appropriate balance between these two dimensions of liberal freedom is irreducibly a matter of judgment. A freedom-centered liberalism therefore requires that we treat justice as the endpoint rather than the starting point of political action, thus severing the link between legitimacy and consent.

How Power Affects People: Activating, Wanting, and Goal Seeking



Abstract: Sociocognitive research has demonstrated that power affects how people feel, think, and act. In this article, I review literature from social psychology, neuroscience, management, and animal research and propose an integrated framework of power as an intensifier of goal-related approach motivation. A growing literature shows that power energizes thought, speech, and action and orients individuals toward salient goals linked to power roles, predispositions, tasks, and opportunities. Power magnifies self-expression linked to active parts of the self (the active self), enhancing confidence, self-regulation, and prioritization of efforts toward advancing focal goals. The effects of power on cognitive processes, goal preferences, performance, and corruption are discussed, and its potentially detrimental effects on social attention, perspective taking, and objectification of subordinates are examined. Several inconsistencies in the literature are explained by viewing power holders as more flexible and dynamic than is usually assumed.