Lomasky’s Rational Norms for Personal Project Pursuers

In his PRMC, Loren Lomasky sets out to provide a fuller account than Nozick offers in ASU of the moral background for the ascription of basic rights to individuals and of the way in which basic rights arise from that background. As in Locke and Nozick,10 a crucial feature of that moral background is the rationality of individuals being partial to the attainment of their personal well-being. And, according to Lomasky, each person’s well-being consists fundamentally in her pursuit and fulfillment of her life-constituting projects. An appreciation of the personal value for each individual of her pursuit and achievement of her life-defining projects and the personal reason that each individual has for advancing those projects reveals why it is a mistake to think that correct principles of social choice identify a common, impersonal end – or hierarchy of ends – that each individual should be required to serve.

According to Lomasky, basic human rights are predominantly persons’ negative rights against interference with their non-interfering engagements in their own projects. These are Nozickian moral side constraints that are not to be violated even if their violation would prevent a larger number of such violations. However, Lomasky maintains that if we follow the correct route to basic rights, we also arrive at modest positive rights to the assistance that individuals may need to engage in their own indispensable project pursuit. Persons’ moral rights against being subject to interference do not include rights against those minimal and exceptional interferences that may be necessary to accord to others their modest rights to assistance. Lomasky insists, however, that to endorse such positive rights to assistance is not to endorse any formula for the overall distribution of well-being or opportunity or income across society. Moreover, Lomasky takes the route to moral rights to lead to the affirmation of robust rights of private property. Rights to do as one sees fit with one’s person and with one’s property are grounded in the same way in the value for each agent of the fulfillment of her life-projects.

Lomasky’s argument begins with the same sort of rejection of utilitarian-type argumentation as we find at the beginning of both Rawls’ argument in TJ and Nozick’s in ASU. Prudential rationality is the most basic and non-controversial form of practical rationality. “[P]rudence is the maximization of one person’s good. … Each person has reason to make trade-offs within his own life of less valued states of affairs for more highly valued ones” (1987: 21). Before Friday’s arrival, Robinson Crusoe only needs to concern himself with prudential rationality. “But in a world with many persons, each of whom can act in ways that affect the well-being of others, more than one person’s good has to be considered” (1987: 22). According to many moral theorists,

Prudence here invites its own extension. If it is rational to maximize good over the course of a lifetime, irrespective of  when particular satisfactions occur, then is it not similarly  rational to maximize satisfaction over all persons, irrespective  of to whom particular satisfactions accrue? … What is the  moral analogue to the prudent man’s temporal indifference?  It is indifference or, better, impartiality concerning whose ends  are being advanced.

(1987: 22, 23)

To resist this extension, Lomasky must reinforce the case for the individual having reason to reject impartiality and embrace partiality. This reinforcement of the rationality of partiality is intended to establish that due consideration of other persons at large must take a different form than impartiality between their good and one’s own.

Lomasky’s reinforcement of the rationality of partiality turns on the centrality for human life of projects. Projects

persist throughout large stretches of an individual’s life and  continue to elicit actions that establish a pattern coherent  in virtue of the ends subserved. Those which reach indefinitely into the future play a central role within the ongoing  endeavors of the individual, and provide a significant degree  of structural stability to an individual’s life. … When we  wish to understand or describe a person, to explicate what  fundamentally characterizes him as being just the particular  purpose being that he is, we will focus on his projects rather  than on his more transitory ends. … Projects explain more  than an action; they help to explain a life.11

(1987: 26)

A person’s projects provide him with particularly important personal reasons for their advancement. An agent’s “central and enduring ends provide him reasons for action that are recognized as his own in the sense that no one who is uncommitted to those specific ends will share the reason for action that he possesses. Practical reason is essentially differentiated among project pursuers” (1987: 28). An agent has reasons to advance his projects, not merely because his name is somehow attached to them but, rather, because his life is deeply a matter of his commitment to and advancement of those projects. The like projects of others similarly provide those others with personal reasons to advance the projects that constitute their lives. We can each appreciate this fact about the personal projects of others without their projects having for us the value that they have for them.12

In an essay that clearly influenced PRMC, Bernard Williams offers this account of decision-making by the impartialist:

His own substantial projects and commitments come into it,  but only as one lot among others – they potentially provide one  set of satisfactions among those which he may be able to assist  from where he happens to be. He is the agent of the satisfaction  system who happens to be at a particular point at a particular  time. … His own decisions as a utilitarian agent are a function  of all the satisfactions which he can affect from where he is:  and this means that the projects of others, to an indeterminately great extent determine his decision.

(1973: 115)

While to dissociate oneself from a whim or passing fancy may well be reasonable in light of one’s more fundamental goals, to dissociate oneself from a life-defining project is to dissociate oneself from one’s self. This is why Williams holds utilitarianism to be a threat to integrity. To adopt an impartial regard for everyone’s ends is to surrender one’s self-direction.

In addition, to be prepared to sacrifice one’s projects whenever doing so will maximize project satisfaction across society is to dissociate oneself from the tenacious commitment that one needs to possess life-defining projects. Were we all to commit to the second-order project of impartially advancing everyone’s substantive first-order projects, we would find ourselves and others bereft of first-order projects to advance (1973: 110). To have a well-ordered personal life is to have a life as a project pursuer. Since the acceptance of the impartialist extension of prudence threatens one’s success as, and even one’s existence as, a project pursuer, that acceptance threatens one’s success as, and even one’s existence as, a being with a well-ordered life. Lomasky, therefore, denies that

morality enrolls us all as partners in the human enterprise  to which all our efforts must be devoted. There is no such  thing; there are only the various personal enterprises in which  individuals enroll themselves and which provide them with  irreducibly personal ends that they strive to realize.13

(1987: 35)

Lomasky takes his defense of partiality to underwrite the liberal commitment to the “unique and irreplaceable value” of each individual and to move us toward a liberal doctrine of rights because “rights provide the most morally stringent protection of the worth that each individual exemplifies” (1987: 52).

We should note, however, that Lomasky’s defense of the value for each individual of his own life-constituting projects seems to turn on the idea that each individual’s projects have value for him in virtue of his choice of or commitment to those projects. For each project pursuer, value “springs from his ability to generate value through his personal commitments” (1987: 50).

[E]ach project pursuer is constructing a life that has unique value  because he gives it that value through his commitment to some  ends as directive for him. Value emerges from commitment …  The value that emerges is conceptually posterior to commitment,  not prior to and thus conditioning choice.

(1987: 54)

However, we shall see that Lomasky’s stance on value and value-based reasons for action is not as thoroughly subjectivist (i.e., choice-based or commitment-based) as it seems to be.

According to Lomasky, for B to have a right that A accord some deference to B (in the form of non-interference with or assistance to B), A must have (sufficient) reason to accord that deference to B. Moreover, for A to have reason to accord B that deference, that deference must be an end of A.14 Now A may have all sorts of reasons to be deferential to B based upon special features of B or of A’s relationship with B. Here, however, we are concerned with general rights, i.e., rights that each individual has against each other individual (absent those rights being waived or forfeited). So, we want to know what (sufficient) reason A has to be deferential toward B which each individual has to be deferential to all other individuals. Or, if some persons cannot be brought within the moral community of right-holders, we at least want to find a (sufficient) reason or set of reasons that almost all individuals have to be deferential in certain ways to almost all other individuals.15

Within his “tripartite derivation of rights,” Lomasky offers  three considerations on behalf of each A – or nearly each A – having rational motivation to be deferential in some way toward each B – or nearly each B.16 The first consideration is the tendency among us “to be moved by the needs of others, especially the needs of kin” – a tendency that has a sociobiological explanation (1987: 62). Recognition of this motivation helps to explain how deferential behavior is possible. It displaces a purely egotistic view of human psychology (1987: 63). The second and somewhat surprising consideration is that we each have impersonal reason to promote or at least not undermine the projects of others or the capacity of others to act as project pursuers. The under- lying basis for Lomasky’s contention that each A has some such impersonal reason with respect to each B is that:

  1. Each B has personal reason to advance her own projects.
  2. No one can really have even personal reason to promote some end if that end lacks impersonal value – value that  does not depend upon commitment to that end.
  3. If an end has impersonal value, then everyone – hence, A –  has some impersonal reason to advance (or not to hinder)  that end (1987: 64).
  4. Hence, A has some impersonal reason to advance B’s  projects.

The crucial premise 2 tells us that the existence of impersonal value is a precondition of the existence of personal value. Personal value emerges only from commitment to ends that have impersonal value – value that resides in that end prior to and independent of any commitment to that end. In terms that Lomasky does not utilize, only if an end has objective value can an individual create subjective value in that end and personal reason for her attainment of that end by way of committing herself to it. Subjective (personal) value must piggyback on objective (impersonal) value.17 However, the impersonal reason that A has to be deferential toward B in virtue of the impersonal value of B’s projects may be “vanish- ingly small.” “Even if A has some [impersonal] reason to accord B the status of a rights holder, it could be the case that this reason is routinely engulfed and outweighed by the far stronger reasons A has to pursue his projects at the expense of B” (1987: 65). Hence, the second consid- eration within Lomasky’s tripartite derivation of rights, and the controversial philosophical claims that stand behind this consideration, can play only a subsidiary role in that derivation.

The third and central consideration within Lomasky’s derivation turns on two connected facts. The first is that each project pursuer “has [personal] reason to act to bring about circumstances in which he will be able to lead a coherent life responsive to his own conception of the good” (1987: 65). The second is that, since each individual knows that (almost) all other individuals also have reason to bring about circum- stances conducive to their long-term and coherent promotion of their good, each knows that he can induce (almost) all others to be deferential toward him by offering his like deference toward them. Cooperative mutual deference will emerge among rational individuals especially as increasing deference builds trust which, in turn, motivates further deference (1987: 70–5). Indeed, rather than a confusing and costly multitude of bilateral structures of reciprocal deference, what will emerge among rational individuals will be a general structure of deference to which all (or nearly all) individuals will subscribe (1987: 75–9). However, any such story about emerging cooperation to mutual advantage must confront the prospect of individuals defecting from cooper- ative interaction when their gains from doing so (or their losses from being cooperative suckers) outweigh the gains from maintaining cooperation. This is where the biological motivation and impersonal reason considerations come to the rescue.

Our biologically grounded empathetic disposition to assist others provides us with some additional personal reason to abide by a scheme of mutual deference. And the impersonal value of others’ project fulfillment provides us with some add-on impersonal reason to do the same. However, the personal, empathetic reason that an individual will have to be deferential toward persons who are outside his circle of friends and clansmen will be minimal. And, as Hume points out, empathy towards one’s friends and clansmen may be a stronger motivation for betraying strangers than empathy for strangers is for reciprocal compliance. Nor, it seems, will the impersonal value of the fulfillment of others’ projects add much to that individual’s all-things-considered reason to comply with those terms of deference. For, as Lomasky has told us, the rational motivation provided by another’s impersonal good may be “vanishingly small.” Moreover, once impersonal reasons are introduced on behalf of an agent’s deference toward the beneficiaries of this deference, impersonal value that will be served by that agent’s defection – e.g., the value of the choiceworthy projects of that agent and his compatriots – also have to be counted. Thus, it is far from clear that these add-on considerations will move people toward strict compliance with a norm of reciprocal deference.

An alternative move that Lomasky could – and does make – is a more Kantian appeal to respect for persons as pursuers of valuable projects – respect that calls for each person to eschew treating any other individual as a tool for the ends of others.

[T]o require A to renounce his own cherished end E1, and  to enroll him as B’s partner in the pursuit of B’s end E2, is to  make A an adjunct to B’s projects, an instrument for B to use  toward B’s ends. That is how I construe the locution of treating  someone merely as a means and not as an end in himself. …  A regards himself as a member of a Kingdom of Ends when  he both respects the unique individuality that is his own and  recognizes that all other project pursuers are themselves unique  individuals with his own life to live.

(1987: 54)

Similarly, the “demand for liberty as a right” is responsive to “the separateness of persons and their projects.”

[B]ecause persons are separate beings individuated in part  by virtue of the particular projects to which they commit  themselves, they are rationally entitled to insist that they be  let alone to pursue their own designs and not be enlisted as  adjuncts to the projects of others.18

(1987: 99)

Here one’s reason for circumspection in one’s conduct toward others is neither that this is a way of eliciting like circumspection from others, nor is it that one values – empathetically or impersonally – others receiving deference. “Noninterference … involves the recognition of other persons as distinct individuals committed to their distinct projects, but assumes no sympathy with person or project” (1987: 99). Here, one’s reason to be circumspect toward others is that their existence as project pursuers gives them a moral status – as ends in themselves.

Despite this Kantian strand within Lomasky’s exposition, the core consideration that he relies upon on behalf of A’s deference to others is that such deference elicits from others the deference that A needs from them. Since noninterference is what everyone needs from everyone else and, for the most part, it is not costly to supply noninterference to others, as a first approximation, rational individuals will gravitate toward mutual noninterference. “[I]t is initially plausible to insist that basic rights be understood as negative or liberty rights that forbid coercive encroachment” (1987: 85). Moreover, Lomasky sees private property rights as significantly constitutive of such liberty rights. The ends of a project pursuer and the pursuit of her ends are rarely confined to the moral space defined by her skin. We seek achievements in the world by means of our purposeful use of worldly means. “Purposeful action and command over things are virtually inseparable” (1987: 120). Thus, “to posit basic rights to property is neither more nor less warranted than is the positing of basic rights simpliciter. If there are basic rights, then there are basic rights to property” (1987: 121).

A system of private property requires known and impartial rules that specify how individuals may acquire, transform, and transfer raw or modified extra-personal objects, i.e., how individuals can expand or re-contour the moral space within which they are protected in the pursuit of their chosen ends. “The basic liberty right to acquire and use property is made concrete through the social recognition of conventions that define which actions constitute appropriation and transfer of property” (1987: 123). This endorsement of private property rights rules out all general distributional formulas. “There will be no such thing as ‘having more than one’s fair share’ if there is no socially imposed standard for allocating shares” (1987: 125).

Still, one can reject all distributional principles while still  ascribing to individuals positive rights to some degree of assistance. Indeed, Lomasky affirms a positive right to “that which is necessary for [one’s] ability to live as a project pursuer” (1987: 126) as part of the deference that members of the moral community have reason to offer one another. The reason for the inclusion of this deference is not that Kantian respect for persons as project pursuers requires assistance to those in dire need. Rather, Lomasky justifies this inclusion as part of the terms that individuals need to offer others in order to induce others’ reciprocal deference. Some individuals will prefer terms of deference that are limited to mutual noninterference. But others, more concerned about the prospect of needing assistance to maintain their project pursuit, will prefer relatively robust rights of assistance. The (not explicitly negotiated) bargain that will give almost everyone a sufficient stake in the emerging moral community includes a broad right to liberty combined with a modest right to assistance if one is unable to secure by oneself (or through the voluntary assistance of others) conditions needed to live as a project pursuer. Rational individuals will tend to converge on these terms largely because of the personal value for each individual of minimizing the number of people who have no rational stake in the governing normative structure and, therefore, cannot be taken to be obligated to respect the rights that others claim under that structure (1987: 125–7).

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