These are papers in various stages of development. Please contact me if you’d like access to them.
“Conscripting labor at the nexus of productive and distributive justice”
ABSTRACT: Political thinkers with a wide range of philosophical commitments, including right libertarians, left libertarians, liberals, and Marxists, have maintained that states necessarily treat their citizens unjustly when they engage in “forced labor.” Here I argue that such labor conscription should not be dismissed a priori and belongs on the menu of options that policymakers ought to consider when trying to secure sufficient labor resources to provide those goods presumptively required by justice, including in particular such goods as medical care, child or elder care, education, etc.
Any conception of justice, even the most austere libertarian ‘night watchman’ conception advanced by Nozick, requires providing goods for which the performance of labor is essential. However, many philosophers endorse strong protections for occupational liberty, such that the state may not directly interfere with citizens’ choice of jobs or professions. Taken together, these claims allow for a gap between the labor resources needed to provide the goods definitive of justice and the state’s power to commandeer the resources needed to produce those goods. This distributive-productive justice gap is theoretically unsettling, but also practically urgent. Indeed, many societies are grappling with severe shortfalls in teachers, primary care physicians, and workers in the ‘green energy’ sector.
Labor conscription, in the form of a universal compulsory national service program requiring the provision of approximately one year of an individual’s labor, offers a plausible way to address these shortfalls. Suitably designed, a national service program could function as a defensible tax on time or lifespan, a tax that fares relatively well with respect to the four criteria for evaluating tax schemes put forth by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations (proportionality, certainty, convenience, and efficiency). In addition, such a national service program is not obviously more burdensome than income taxation and, by taxing one’s lifespan, honors the liberal insight that taxation should target goods resulting from social cooperation.
Such a program also avoids characteristic objections offered by Rawlsian liberals, including that it would violate our rights to occupational liberty or inhibit our pursuit our conceptions of the good, would violate state neutrality, or would invite violations of privacy. Furthermore, labor conscription need not run afoul of more broadly liberal values that undergird occupational liberty, values including autonomy, self-ownership, or respect for persons. Specifically, it does not unduly restrict individuals’ access to the fruits of their talents, does not amount to an unjustified infringement on the right to work in one’s chosen profession, and does not represent a wrongful form of bodily assault. And while labor conscription, unlike income taxation, does compel individuals to work, this objection can be met: Labor conscription does not subject individuals to coercion more wide ranging than they typically face when selling their labor in the marketplace in order to meet their material needs Furthermore, while labor conscription is an example of an endowment tax, a form of taxation about which there is significant controversy, such an endowment a tax that is justifiable so long as (a) the tax does not significantly impede individuals from pursuing professions of their choice, and (b) the labor so procured labor is used to generate social goods essential to individuals’ enjoying the fair value of their occupational liberties.
In sum, once conceptualized as a tax on time, labor conscription need not be unjust, especially when compared to alternative forms of taxation that might be used to acquire the labor needed to provide certain goods demanded by justice. This does not provide a defense of any existing labor conscription or national service scheme. Rather, it illustrates that if labor conscription is to be rejected as state policy, it should be rejected not a priori but by comparison to alternative tax schemes and by reference to those values and criteria that inform tax policy formulation.
“Explaining the duty to grieve”
ABSTRACT: In “On grief and gratitude,” Robert Solomon makes the provocative claim that there is a duty to grieve. While Solomon offer reasons why grief speaks positively of a person’s relations with others and why grief may contribute to the bereaved’s well-being, he does not offer an explicit argument for such a duty. This article argues that while other living persons or the deceased are candidates for the object of mourning, the duty to grieve is a self-regarding duty rooted in the duty to pursue self-knowledge of one’s own practical identity.
“How the emerging assisted dying consensus undermines the right to die”
ABSTRACT: As measured by the increasing momentum of legalized physician-assisted dying across the globe, the right to die seems to be flourishing. I argue here that in fact the increasing popularity of physician-assisted dying represents a contraction, rather than an expansion, of the right to die. In particular, an examination of evolving language and practice related to self-killing suggests the emergence of a consensus that can be summarized as anti-suicide but pro-assisted dying. Central to this consensus is an assumed contrast between suicide as choosing to die and assisted dying as shaping the circumstances of one’s death. This contrast turns out to be philosophically untenable and ethically troubling. I argue that the right to die is adverbial, i.e., that whatever substance the right to die has, it is not best described as a right to choose death but as a right we mortal creatures have to shape the circumstances of our deaths. Hence, those engaging in physician-assisted dying and those engaging in more conventional ‘suicide’ are both exercising the right to die, typically for approximately the same reasons. Furthermore, attempts to draw psychological, ethical, or definitional lines between assisted dying and suicide fail. The emerging consensus thus implausibly restricts the right to die so as to exclude conventional suicide from its scope, a restriction that likely contributes to the marginalization and stigmatization of suicide.
“Envisioning markets in assisted dying”
ABSTRACT: Societies that legally permit assisted suicide nearly always restrict participation in the practice to physicians, family members, or volunteer-run charitable groups.Thus, even societies otherwise sympathetic to assisted suicide seem reluctant to legitimize assistance by those motivated by monetary gain. But imagine a profit-oriented regulated market in assisted suicide provision, one where individuals who meet the relevant jurisdictional standards regarding their competence and medical condition procure assisted suicide from profit-making enterprises that satisfy legal criteria concerning, for example, staff training, etc. Would such a market be unjust?
Here I canvass several philosophical insights regarding the ethics of markets to argue that such markets can avoid features that render markets ethically troubling and so would not introduce any novel ethical worries. Furthermore, such markets may represent an ethically preferable alternative to other strategies that ‘de-medicalize’ assisted suicide (for example, having volunteer organizations or family members oversee assisted suicide).
First, such a market need not raise the “semiotic” concerns about market exchange identified by Brennan and Jaworski (2016). To whatever extent assisted suicide expresses ethically troubling attitudes, such as that human life is instrumentally valuable rather than sacred, etc., the expression of such a message would not be amplified if individuals purchased such assistance from a profit-motivated provider. Similarly, that suicide assistance is motivated even in part by considerations of profit does not add to whatever disgust or repugnance that practice may elicit in observers.
Second, Satz proposes four criteria for “noxious” markets, criteria resting on concerns about how markets can undermine individuals’ capacity to relate to one another as equals. A regulated market in assisted suicide would not run afoul of Satz’ criteria. Markets seem fully capable both of expanding individuals’ ability to shape their dying in accordance with their own values, while ensuring that those seeking assisted suicide benefit from it by avoiding the harms of continuing to live. Disclosure provisions, etc., could work to ensure that assisted suicide is chosen under conditions of full information, and markets generate no special worry about determining patient competence. Finally, while patients seeking assisted suicide through market means are admittedly vulnerable, a transparent market need not objectionably exploit their vulnerability. A regulated market would therefore not undermine equality between the transactors or foster preconditions in which one transactor can ‘push around’ the other.
Thus, although a regulated market would not rid assisted suicide of all the attributes critics find objectionable, nor would it exacerbate these attributes. Moreover, a regulated market has the potential to expand access to assisted suicide to those who lack strong relationships with physicians or family helpers or who worry about the effect that the prospect of assisting in suicide might have on those relationships. That markets serve as feedback mechanisms to providers can also ensure that profit-driven providers are responsive to patient needs and wishes over the long run. While not an ethical panacea, a regulated assisted suicide market, particularly one operating in tandem with physician or volunteer assisted suicide, is likely to expand access to assisted suicide without raising further ethical worries.
“The value of self-knowledge”
ABSTRACT: Philosophers’ interest in the seemingly distinctive epistemic features of self-knowledge have left self-knowledge’s value undertheorized. This paper aims to remedy this by first outlining three constraints that an adequate account of self-knowledge’s distinctive value must meet. Much of our self-knowledge, in particular the commonplace or ‘trivial’ self-knowledge that has held center stage in the contemporary philosophical literature, turns not to meet these constraints and so is not distinctively valuable. However, some self-knowledge has value insofar as it is an achievement (in the sense recently articulated by Gwen Bradford), and ‘substantial’ self-knowledge of our values, emotional dispositions, personalities, etc., enables us to solve a puzzle regarding self-love and the rationality of our partial reasons. Taken together, that self-knowledge can be an achievement and that it enables us to attain rational self-love provide an account of self-knowledge’s value that meets all three of the aforementioned constraints.
“Consequentialism and our special relationship to self”
ABSTRACT: A common objection to consequentialism is that it cannot ascribe intrinsic moral significance to the special relationships we bear to our friends, family, loved ones, etc. However, little has been said about the prospect of a special moral relationship to self. Here I argue that such a relationship exists; that it has features distinguishing it from other putative special relationships, most notably, that it generates options rather than obligations; that making sense of such options requires positing that the self has a normative architecture wherein the self as agent and self as patient stand in an authority relation; and that consequentialism cannot make sense of such a normative architecture and so cannot make sense of the special relationship to self. Acknowledging a special relationship to self also modifies and strengthens the objection that consequentialism is too demanding on individual agents.