[SydPhil] Rachael Briggs @ UNSW Philosophy seminar 17 March 2015

Melissa Merritt m.merritt at unsw.edu.au
Wed Mar 4 10:46:03 AEDT 2015

Rachael Briggs (ANU) @ the UNSW Philosophy seminar
17 March 2015, 12:30-2:00
MB 209

"The Liberal Paradox"


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.

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