The Liberal Paradox

When:17 Mar 2015, 12:30pm - 2pm
Venue:Morven Brown 209 (map ref C20)
Who:Rachael Briggs (ANU)
Rachael Briggs

Philosophy Seminar Series


Liberal societies face the problem of reconciling two requirements: ensuring that each individual has a protected sphere of choice, and satisfying majority preferences. Amartya Sen's Liberal Paradox formalizes these conflicting principles in the language of voting paradoxes: the Pareto Principle requires that unanimous preferences be preserved by any group compromise, while the Liberal Principle requires that each individual have some pair of options, such that her preference in those options is reflected in the group compromise, come what may. Sen shows that these two formal principles are not always jointly satisfiable.

Critics of Sen have complained that his formal principles do not map very naturally onto the motivations, informally described. I reframe the Liberal Paradox in terms using the 'reasons' framework of Dietrich and List, which better captures the informal motivations. I argue that both the Pareto Principle and the Liberal Principle are motivated by the same underlying thought--that if an opinion is held unanimously by everyone for whom it is a legitimate object of concern, then the group consensus should reflect the unanimous opinion. The conflict between the Liberal Principle and the Pareto Principle comes from a disagreement about the extent of each individual's domain of concern.

About Rachael Briggs

Rachael Briggs earned her PhD in philosophy in 2009 from the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. She held a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sydney from 2009 to 2012, and joined the School of Philosophy at the Australian National University in 2012. She is also a member of the Institute for Integrated and Intelligent Systems at Griffith University.

She is currently working on two ARC Discovery Projects: “Wellbeing, Preferences, and Basic Goods” is a book-length project defending desire-satisfaction theories of wellbeing." “Decision Theory in Crisis,” held jointly with Daniel Nolan and Alan Hájek, is a general investigation into the foundations of causal decision theory. Her other research interests include truthmaking, judgment aggregation, the logic of counterfactuals, and the metaphysics of chance.

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