Wednesday, February 08, 2006

little gripe on philosophical laundry lists

Reisman in his "Jurisprudence" class has listed the things that
jurisprudential systems usually wrangle over (eg, wealth, wellbeing,
power). In fact, he spent a lot of time discussing this, including chatting about
whether the goods could be ranked, what terms he preferred, and in
which particular category a specific good should be plopped.

Does a categorical list like this need to have a generating principle
or important consequences in order to be a theory? What would happen
if the list missed something? Maybe there's some good that needs to be
tagged on; but if it can just be added without worry, what does the
list matter? Is there any true understanding if you don't
have a theory that generates this list, or if leaving something out
entails nothing?

Sometimes lists are important: in Nozick's classic article on
coercion, he starts with a guess at what coercion means, and then
strikes terms, modifies, and adds to the list to approach what we
mean when we use the word. The list is tightly intertwined
with structural considerations, and can't be tampered with without the
house coming apart. The structure itself is the beginning of
understanding, the beginning of definition, and an approach to the
essentials (and essence) of coercion. That's the classic Aristotelian
goal, of course. So Reisman's laundry lists are actually two steps away
from a real understanding.
[P]erson R coerces person E into not doing act A if and only if:
1. R threatens to bring about or have brought about some consequence if E does A (and knows he’s
threatening to do this).
2. A with this threatened consequence is rendered substantially less eligible as a course of conduct for E than
A was without the threatened consequence.
3. R makes this threat in order to get E not to do A, intending that E realize he’s been threatened by R.
4. E does not do A.
5. Part of E’s reason for not doing A is to avoid (or lessen the likelihood of) the consequence which R has
threatened to bring about or have brought about.
6. E knows that R has threatened to do the something mentioned in 1, if he, E, does A.
7. E believes that, and R believes that E believes that, R’s threatened consequence would leave E worse off,
having done A, than if E didn’t do A and R didn’t bring about the consequence.

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