1. “What is Provisional Right?” (with Martin Stone)
Kant maintains that while claims to property are morally possible in a state of nature, such claims are merely “provisional”; they become “conclusive” only in a civil condition involving political institutions. Kant’s commentators find this thesis puzzling, since it seems to assert a natural right to property alongside a commitment to property’s conventionality. We resolve this apparent contradiction. Provisional right is not a special kind of right. Instead, it marks the imperfection of an action (that of acquiring ordinary rights) where public authorization is lacking. Provisional right thereby functions as a methodological device in a sequential elucidation of the moral basis of public law. To develop this reading, we first explain Kant’s two-step account of property rights—his division between ‘having’ and ‘acquiring.’ Then we explain what is involved in a sequential exposition of “right” more generally.
2. “Republicanism and Structural Domination”
Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (2021), vol. 102 (2021) [pdf]
What is domination? According to a leading strand of republican political philosophy, a person is dominated when under the unconstrained power of another. Call this the dyadic conception of domination, since it involves a two-person relation. I argue that domination is better understood structurally. Structural domination is domination by institutions. Rather than a master dominating a slave and a boss dominating a worker (as in dyadic domination), structural domination holds that the institution of slavery dominates the slave and labor law dominates the worker. Without the structural conception, I contend, one misdescribes the power dynamics of paradigm cases of domination.
3. “Freedom and Poverty in the Kantian State”
The coercive authority of the Kantian state is rationally grounded in the ideal of equal external freedom, which is realized when each individual can choose and act without being constrained by another’s will. This ideal does not seem like it can justify state-mandated economic redistribution. For if one is externally free just as long as one can choose and act without being constrained by another, then only direct slavery, serfdom, or other systems of overt control seem to threaten external freedom. Yet Kant endows the freedom-based state with considerable powers of economic redistribution. I argue that recent commentary has misunderstood both Kant’s account of why poverty is a form of freedom-threatening dependence and the extent of the Kantian state’s powers for remedying poverty. Criticizing Arthur Ripstein and the Kantianism of the “Toronto-School,” I argue that the most salient notion of dependence at issue within the Kantian framework is not the direct control of the choice-making capacities of another but asymmetrical influence in a power relationship. For Kant, poverty is fundamentally a problem of structural disempowerment.
4. “The Provisionality of Property Rights in Kant’s Doctrine of Right”
I criticize two ways of interpreting Kant’s claim that property rights are merely ‘provisional’ in the state of nature. Weak provisionality holds that in the state of nature agents can make rightful claims to property. What is lacking is the institutional context necessary to render their claims secure. By contrast, strong provisionality holds that making property claims in the state of nature wrongs others. I argue for a third view, anticipatory provisionality, according to which state of nature property claims do not wrong others, but anticipate a condition in which the authority to make such claims can no longer be unilaterally determined.
5. “Rousseau on the Ground of Obligation: Reconsidering the Social Autonomy Interpretation”
In Rousseau’s Social Contract, political laws are rationally binding because they satisfy the interests that motivate individuals to obey such laws. The later books of Emile justify morality by showing that it is continuous with the natural dispositions of a well-broughtup subject and is thus conducive to genuine happiness. In both the moral and political cases, Rousseau argues for an internal connection between the rational ground of an obligation and the broader aspects of human psychology that are satisfied and expressed by acting from that obligation. Yet, inspired by Kantian philosophy, the recent and influential Social Autonomy interpretation has disjoined rationality and psychology. Criticising this interpretation, I argue that for Rousseau, obligations are justified because they satisfy the demands made by our moral psychology, most notably amour-propre, i.e. the desire to have one’s worth recognised by others.
6. “Autonomy and Happiness in Rousseau’s Justification of the State”
Recent interpretations of Rousseau suggest that autonomy is the master concept by which to understand his justiﬁcation of the state. The Rousseauian state is legitimate insofar as it enables individuals to obey only their own wills and thus to be free. Autonomy-based interpretations cannot adequately account for Rousseau’s remarks on the role of the state in securing a collective form of happiness through political community. These interpretations incorrectly construe collective happiness as pertaining only to how civic-minded citizens might be psychologically motivated to obey the state’s dictates, rather than to what makes the state legitimate. By contrast, I offer a new interpretation according to which the Rousseauian state is justiﬁed because it enables a mutually constitutive relationship between the autonomy of individuals and the happiness that stems from participation in political community.
7. “Rawls on Meaningful Work and Freedom”
In this article, I criticize Rawls’s well-ordered society for failing to secure a right to meaningful work. I critically discuss five technical Rawlsian ideas: self-respect, social union, the difference principle, the powers and prerogatives of office, and fair equality of opportunity. I then claim that radical restructuring of the workplace conflicts with Rawls’s individualistic understanding of freedom. Briefly drawing on Hegel, an under-recognized historical influence on Rawls, I then correct Rawls by arguing for a conception of freedom that is internally related to broader solidaristic values associated with meaningful work.
8. “Property and Possession in Rousseau’s Social Contract”
The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau’s ‘Social Contract,’ eds. David Williams and Matthew Maguire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (forthcoming) [penultimate draft]
Property has a vexed status in Rousseau’s Social Contract. On one hand, Rousseau seems committed to the conventionalist view that property is a creation of law and state. Yet Rousseau also recognizes pre-political dimensions of property, such as a right of first occupancy and a natural entitlement to land through “labor and cultivation.” In this chapter, I contend that Rousseau’s seemingly divergent views on property become less paradoxical once one distinguishes between the rights of others and the more self-regarding aspects of morality. Focusing on the dense section of the Social Contract titled “Of Real Property,” I argue that while Rousseau acknowledges moral obligations governing the use of things, he ultimately holds that persons only have full-fledged property rights within the state. I suggest, moreover, that Rousseau’s attention to both the political and pre-political dimensions of property continues to resonate in contemporary debate.
9. “Kant on Right”
The Oxford Handbook of Kant, eds. Anil Gomes and Andrew Stephenson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, (forthcoming) [penultimate draft]
Book Manuscript in Progress:
Can Kant Solve the Poverty Problem?
Papers In Progress:
“Against Gentrification: Answering the Private Property Objection” (revise and resubmit)
“Poverty and Structural Injustice in (and beyond) Kant’s Theory of Right” (revise and resubmit)
“Kant’s Apple: Between Body and Property,” in Philosophical Engagements with Modernity (a Festschrift for Robert Pippin), eds. Daniel Conway and Jon Stewart (Brill, 2023)
Commentary on Katrin Flikschuh, “Freedom is Not a Fundamental Assumption,” in Kant’s Fundamental Assumptions, eds. Colin Marshall and Colin McLear (OUP, 2023)
“Person to Person in Kant’s Doctrine of Right,” in The Philosophy of Recognition: Expanded Perspectives on a Fundamental Concept, (Series: Rewriting the History of Philosophy), , eds. Matt Congdon and Thomas Khurana (Routledge, 2024)
Review Essay: Barbara Herman’s The Moral Habitat (2021) and Kantian Commitments (2022) (European Journal of Philosophy)