Symposium on proportionality in Criminal Law and Philosophy

Crim law and philBy Mark D. White

The October 2021 issue of Criminal Law and Philosophy (15/3) focuses on proportionality, a  principle of just punishment that is often neglected by economic models of criminal punishment that focus instead of cost-effective methods of deterrence, especially in light of costly enforcement measures. As special issue editors Douglas Husak and John Hasnas write in their introduction:

The following papers reveal the diversity of scholarly opinion about the principle of proportionality. Several are skeptical that the principle can be defended at all; others are reluctant to abandon the principle but point out many well-known and not-so-well-known difficulties in punishing according to proportionality; and a few make significant efforts to try to resolve some of these problems. We hope and believe that this set of papers represents major progress in understanding the role, if any, that judgments of proportionality should play in a just system of penal sentencing.

This is a fascinating set of papers by an astounding group of scholars, and will surely reward close reading—proportionate to effort, of course!

Douglas Husak, "Proportionality in Personal Life"

Larry Alexander, "Proportionality’s Function"

Mitchell N. Berman, "Proportionality, Constraint, and Culpability"

James Manwaring, "Proportionality’s Lower Bound" (OPEN ACCESS)

Adam J. Kolber, "The End of Liberty"

Youngjae Lee, "Mala Prohibita and Proportionality"

Jesper Ryberg, "Retributivism and the (Lack of) Justification of Proportionality"

Göran Duus-Otterström, "Do Offenders Deserve Proportionate Punishments?" (OPEN ACCESS)

Kimberly Kessler Ferzan, "Punishment, Proportionality, and Aggregation"

Heidi M. Hurd and Michael S. Moore, "The Ethical Implications of Proportioning Punishment to Deontological Desert"

Deirdre McCloskey on Humanomics

Bettering humanomicsBy Mark D. White

In case you missed it, there was a fantastic interview with Deirdre McCloskey—another of my main influences, as well as a longtime friend—conducted by Paolo Silvestri in the Spring 2021 issue of Erasmus Journal of Philosophy and Economics. Their discussion is wide-ranging and insightful, covering much of McCloskey's writing over the years, but a significant focus is on her book Bettering Humanomics: A New, and Old, Approach to Economic Science, released earlier this year by the University of Chicago Press.

In solidarity with Vernon Smith and Bart Wilson (including their recent book Humanomics), and all of them drawing ultimately on Adam Smith, McCloskey argues for a richer economics—"quantifiably serious, philosophically serious, historically serious, and ethically serious," as she writes in the preface to the book—that recognizes the subject of economics as human beings, not mathematical abstracts, which only gets us so far (and reasonable people can quibble about exactly how far that is).

McCloskey takes particular aim at behaviorism and positivism, "both top-down, infantilizing, as in nudging, and industrial planning, and other anti-liberalisms. And both are indefensible philosophically. And both are poor guides to understanding the economy" (p. 202 of the interview). For more on these points, see the discussion between her and Silvestri in the Journal of Institutional Economics (open access), which focuses more on her forthcoming book Beyond Behaviorism, Positivism, and Neo-Institutionalism in Economics (also from Chicago).

Symposium in Bioethics: "Health Rights: Individual. Collective. ‘National?’"

Bioethics 35-8By Mark D. White

There is a symposium in the latest issue of Bioethics (35/8, October 2021), edited by Michael Da Silva and Daniel Weinstock, on the topic of health rights that explores their ethical, political, and economics dimensions of "health rights"—the opening paragraph of the editors' introduction provides context and citations to supporting and critical literature:

‘Socio‐economic’ rights are a species of so‐called ‘positive’ right that call for performance of certain actions—most often the provision of particular goods and services—on the part of the rights claims’ purported corresponding duty‐bearers.1 Advocates of ‘socio‐economic’ rights to health, healthcare, or public health (‘health rights’) have produced several plausible theories that address some of the most pressing challenges for socio‐economic rights claims. Many critics still deny that moral health rights exist or that rights‐based approaches will best achieve health justice,2 but health rights theorists at least provide sophisticated answers to basic questions like ‘Who possesses the rights and their corresponding duties?’and ‘What are the nature, scope, and content of the duties?’Answers to these questions differ and will not convince all critics, but rights‐based approaches to the corner of bioethics devoted to health justice now at least constitute part of the scholarly mainstream.3 Regardless of their theoretical bona fides, in turn, health rights exist in many legal systems. The international right to health is well established and most domestic constitutions recognize rights to healthcare, if not broader rights to health or public health.4 Theorists should and do attempt to ‘make sense’ of this phenomenon.5

(The footnotes appear at the end of this post.)

As the rest of the introductory essay recognizes, and the papers in the symposium explore, a right to health, as with positive rights in general, is fraught with conflicts with negative rights (against interference and compulsion) as well as other positive rights that may compete with health rights in principle or along more practical concerns of resource scarcity.

- -- --- ---- ----- ---- --- -- -

Footnotes to opening paragraph of introduction:

1 For good summaries, see Rumbold, B. E. (2017). The moral right to health: A survey of available conceptions. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 20(4), 508–528; Hassoun, N. (2015). The human right to health. Philosophy Compass, 10(4), 275–283; Hassoun, N. (2020). The human right to health: A defense. Journal of Social Philosophy, 51(2), 158–179. On the less commonly discussed purported ‘right to public health’, see Wilson, J. (2016). The right to public health. Journal of Medical Ethics, 42(6), 367–375.
2 Gopal Sreenivasan provides one of the strongest arguments against moral health rights in Sreenivasan, G. (2012). A human right to health? Some inconclusive scepticism. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume, 86, 239–265 and Sreenivasan, G. (2016). Health care and human rights: Against the split duty gambit. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, 37(4), 343–364, though he recognizes that legal rights exist and may be justified. Cohen, J. (2020). Paradigm under threat: Health and human rights today. Health and Human Rights Journal, 22(2), 309–312 has a nice, succinct overview of criticisms of rights‐based approaches to health justice and attempts to respond to such critiques.
3 The last two comments build on sources cited in note 1. For a succinct discussion focused on theorizing the international rights, see Wolff, J. (2012). The human right to health. W. W. Norton.
4 United Nations. (1966, December 16). International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 993 UNTS 3, art. 12; Rosevear, E., Hirschl, R., & Jung, C. (2019). Justiciable and aspirational economic and social rights in national constitutions. In K. G. Young (Ed.), The future of economic and social rights (pp. 37–65). Cambridge University Press.
5 The language here is inspired by Nickel, J. W. (1987). Making sense of human rights: Philosophical reflections on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. University of California Press. Wolff, op. cit. note 3 is an example of an attempt to ‘make sense’ of existing laws from a philosophical perspective.

"Morality and Ethics" surveyed in Current Opinion in Psychology

Mark D. White

Thanks to Cass Sunstein for spotlighting this on Twitter: the December 2015 issue of Current Opinion in Psychology has a number of short survey articles on the state of moral psychology and behavioral ethics, and seems for the time being to be free to read. The table of contents is here, and the following is from the editors' introduction:


Jonathan Wight's 2014 Presidential Address to the Association for Social Economics

Mark D. White

WightBecause he's too bashful to tell you, I'll tell you that Jonathan Wight's 2014 Presidential Address for the Association for Social Economics, delivered at January's ASSA meetings, has just been published in the Review of Social Economy, and the link has been posted to the ASE blog.

The title is "Economics within a Pluralist Ethical Tradition":

Ethical pluralism is the recognition that multiple ethical frameworks operate in social settings to solve problems of moral hazard. In particular, non-consequentialist considerations of duty and virtue operate to restrain self-interest and lower transaction costs in exchange, such as when asymmetric information exists. Positive economics has tended to rely exclusively on a behavioral model that assumes utility maximization, but this approach fails to give credit to the neglected foundations of duty and virtue. Consequences, duties, and virtues all play a role in sustaining businesses, for example, and in promoting the search for truth within the economic research community. Normative welfare economics can also benefit from understanding vertical and horizontal pluralism.

Bioethics and Disagreement (in Journal of Medicine and Philosophy)

Mark D. White

Jrnl med philThanks to Jan Henderson's terrific blog The Health Culture, I bring you the latest issue of The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (39/3, June 2014), which focuses on "Bioethics and Disagreement: Organ Markets, Abortion, Cognitive Enhancement, Double Effect, and Other Key Issues in Bioethics," and includes articles by James Stacey Taylor, Walter E. Block, Rob Goodman, and more. In fact, just check out Henderson's blog for the titles and abstracts--thanks, Jan!


Matthew Adler on extended preferences and interpersonal comparisons

Mark D. White

Matt Adler (Duke University) has a fascinating article in the latest issue of Economics and Philosophy (30/2, July 2014) titled "Extended Preferences and Interpersonal Comparisons: A New Account":

This paper builds upon, but substantially revises, John Harsanyi's concept of ‘extended preferences’. An individual ‘history’ is a possible life that some person (a subject) might lead. Harsanyi supposes that a given spectator, formulating her ethical preferences, can rank histories by empathetic projection: putting herself ‘in the shoes’ of various subjects. Harsanyi then suggests that interpersonal comparisons be derived from the utility function representing spectators’ (supposedly common) ranking of history lotteries. Unfortunately, Harsanyi's proposal has various flaws, including some that have hitherto escaped scholarly attention. In particular, it ignores the limits of personal identity. If the subject has welfare-relevant attributes that the spectator cannot acquire without changing who she is, full empathetic identification of the latter with the former becomes impossible. This paper proposes instead to use sympathy as the attitude on a spectator's part that allows us to make sense of her extended preferences. Sympathy – an attitude of care and concern – is a psychological state quite different from empathy. We should also allow for hetereogeneity in spectators’ extended preferences. Interpersonal comparisons emerge from a plurality of sympathetic spectators, not (as per Harsanyi) from a common empathetic ranking.

Does economics need religion?

Mark D. White

Thanks to my globetrotting co-blogger Jonathan Wight, who emailed me about this: a symposium in Econ Journal Watch titled "Does Economics Need an Infusion of Religious or Quasi-Religious Formulations?", anchored by Robin Klay's article "Where Do Economists of Faith Hang Out? Their Journals and Associations, plus Luminaries Among Them" and featuring seventeen short responses from people such as Ross Emmett, Dan Finn, David George, Mary Hirschfeld, Eric Rasmusen, and Andrew Yuengert. Bless tham all.

Special issue of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice: Private Autonomy, Public Paternalism?

Mark D. White

The latest issue of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (17/3, June 2014) is devoted to the theme "Private Autonomy, Public Paternalism?" and features articles by Joel Anderson, John Christman, Bijan Fateh-Moghadam and Thomas Gutmann, John Kultgen, Amy Mullin, and Diana Tietjens Meyers. Rather than link to each article, I'll reproduce part of the editor's introduction (open access):

A special issue on ‘Private Autonomy and Public Paternalism’ constitutes the first part of this issue. Guest-editors are Annette Dufner and Michael Kühler, both from the University of Munster, Germany. It is often assumed that personal autonomy is a ‘private’ matter in the sense that it is based primarily on a person’s subjective characteristics and capabilities. At the same time, the literature mainly deals with paternalism as a problem of the ‘public’ sphere, for example by focusing on the dangers that threaten the autonomy of individuals as citizens, such as state paternalism. However, it is widely acknowledged nowadays that personal autonomy can only develop and flourish if conditions in the social and relational sphere are favourable, which means that personal autonomy is not so private after all. At the same time, it should be clear that paternalism not only relates to our behaviour in the public sphere, but also to how we behave in more private social spheres, like family, friendships, romantic or sexual relationships.

Being autonomous, says Joel Anderson in the article that opens the special issue, is a socially attributed, socially claimed, and socially contested status, like being able to drive a car. Normative debates about criteria for autonomy (and what autonomy entitles one to) are best understood, not as debates about what autonomy, at core, really is, but rather as debates about the relative merits of various possible packages of thresholds, entitlements, regulations, values, and institutions. John Christman looks at various ways that interpersonal and social relations can be seen as required for autonomy. He considers cases where those dynamics might play out or not in potentially paternalistic situations. In particular, he considers cases of especially vulnerable persons who are attempting to reconstruct a sense of practical identity required for their autonomy and need the potential paternalist’s aid in doing so. He then draws out the implications for standard liberal principles of (anti-) paternalism, specifically in clinical or therapeutic situations. According to Bijan Fateh-Moghadam and Thomas Gutmann, conventional liberal critique of paternalism turns out to be insensitive to the intricate normative problems following from ‘soft’ or ‘libertarian’ paternalism. In fact, these autonomy-oriented forms of paternalism could actually be even more problematic and may infringe liberty rights even more intensely than hard paternalistic regulation. Fateh-Moghadam and Gutmann aim to contribute to the systematic differentiation of soft and hard paternalism by discussing the (legal) concept of autonomy and by elaborating the moral and legal limits of autonomy-orientated paternalism. John Kultgen points out how far-reaching the changes in our public life would actually have to be if we wanted to avoid paternalism altogether. Many professional regulations, not just in medicine and law, but also in engineering and many other areas of expertise, have a strongly paternalistic function. Professional organizations are neither governments, nor necessarily democratic, but they are often state-certified and produce binding regulations for issues of public interest. Kultgen bites the bullet and accepts professional paternalism, while insisting that special care should be placed on how to design an appropriate professional code of conduct. Amy Mullin addresses the issue of paternalism in child-rearing. The parent–child relationship is generally understood as a relationship that is supposed to promote the development and autonomy-formation of the child, so that the apparent source of the concept is a form of autonomy-oriented paternalism. Far from taking paternalism to be overtly unproblematic in such paradigmatic, pedagogical settings, Mullin analyses how an effort should be made to understand a child’s capacities and which standards parents should be held to when deciding whether interference truly serves the child’s interests. The last contributor to the special issue, Diana Tietjens Meyers, argues that potential cases of oppression, such as sex trafficking, can sometimes compromise autonomous choices by the trafficked individuals. This issue still divides radical from liberal feminists, with the former wanting to ‘rescue’ the ‘victims’ and the latter insisting that there might be good reasons for ‘hiding from the rescuers.’ Tietjens Meyers presents new arguments for the liberal approach and raises two demands: first, help organizations should be run by affected women and be open-minded about whether or not the trafficked individuals should remain in the sex industry. Second, the career choices of trafficked individuals should be expanded by the introduction of an opportunityextending right to asylum.

Call for papers: Symposium on "Ethical Limits to Markets" in Moral Philosophy and Politics

Mark D. White

A new call for papers for a special journal issue, highly recommended:

Moral Philosophy & Politics, issue 2016/01 , symposium:

Ethical Limits to Markets

Claims about the dominance or “hegemony” of the market abound in contemporary discourse, yet there remain areas of social life in which goods are not produced and/or allocated via markets. There are also areas of social life in which the use of the market mechanism is contested. The editors of Moral Philosophy and Politics invite high quality submissions that examine questions such as:

- Are there goods that cannot, opposed to should not, be produced and/or allocated via the market?

- What are the characteristics of goods that cannot or should not be bought and sold on markets?

- Is there a “general theory” of limits to markets, or are their limits to be enumerated on a case-by-case basis but not by an all-encompassing theory?

- Are there examples of discourses about the limits to markets in history from which contemporary debates can learn?

- What are the processes through which a given good enters the market domain, having been previously produced or allocated by non-market means?

- What sorts of ethical arguments and sentiments are made or held by lay people who oppose “marketization”?

- What are the processes through which ethical opposition to “marketization” is reduced or broken down?

- To what extent can questions about ethical limits to markets be detached from wider questions about the ethics of “market society” or “capitalism”?

Commentaries and critiques of recent literature on the limits of markets are also welcomed.

Submissions are to be received via the journal’s manuscript submission site ( by 1st January, 2015.

For more information, see the journal's homepage: