1.3 A closer examination on the premises of the
The first premise is what I judge to be the least
controversial. Perhaps one could object and claim that justice entails that
everyone is to be treated without any regard of his or her interests. Perhaps
one should be treated in accordance with one’s merits or one’s effort. But this
is not a premise where I disagree with Christiano, and could therefore be a subject
for another person’s critique of this very same argument.
The third premise, that we ought to have a procedure of
collective decision making, I also take for granted. Although one could of
course be in favour of a total anarchic society without collective decisions.
But I won’t defend such a model here.
Instead, my examination will be on the second and the
fourth premise. I will begin to discuss Christiano’s definition of collective
properties, which I find very peculiar. I will then present my main critique of
Christiano’s argument, which will be a natural transition to chapter two.
The special category of interests that is mentioned in
the second premise concerns what Christiano refers to as collective properties.
Something is a collective property if (and only if) the following conditions
Nonexclusivity: one cannot affect one person’s welfare in
relation to this property without affecting each one’s relation.
Publicity: collective properties must be public objects.
Inevitability: the fact that individuals share this
certain property is inevitable, it may vary in its form but its existence is
Alterability: all collective properties are alterable.
Christiano has things such as the environment, public
security, education, healthcare and defence, etc in mind. The conditions stated
above are to exclude ‘noisy’ preferences, such as preferences about: (a)
trivial choices (condition 1), such as the colour of my shirt and (b) private
choices (condition 2), such as homosexuality. The conditions are also to
include things that are (c) important to all of us, because of their
inevitability (condition 3) and things that it is meaningful that we have
conflicting interests about (condition 4). There are a number of problems with
these conditions that I aim to investigate:
(I) It is rather unclear what Christiano means by
“affected” does he mean directly affected, as I would be if the
taxes were raised, or indirectly affected, as I would be if the
City-counsel in Stockholm would build a statue of Martha Nussbaum in front of
the statue of Gustav Vasa? In both cases we are dealing with what Christiano
defines as collective properties. But as
we are inclined to believe by this example, one could be affected in many
different ways by changes in collective properties, and should therefore not
always be allowed to influence the decision process as much as others, more
directly influenced by this particular collective property (the statue). A
problem that would then arise would be on how to decide upon how much one is
influenced by a specific change. We would then face a serious risk of infinite
The reader must ask herself if the requirement that every
citizen within a particular demos must be directly affected by a change in a
collective property for this particular property to qualify as a collective
property is a reasonable requirement or not. Restrictions in pollution from
traffic would not affect me in any particular way, since the effects of the
pollution won’t affect anyone in 150 years or so but I would still be
indirectly affected by the enforcement of these restrictions.
The reader must also ponder upon the possibility that if
we interpret the requirement as an indirect affection, we might be including
too much in what ought to be decided collectively. Perhaps my aunt is
completely devastated by the fact that some people participate in homosexual
intercourse. But surely we wouldn’t want my aunt’s noisy preferences to bring
about that those peoples private life would turn into a collective property?
(II) Why must collective properties be public? We all
have moral beliefs about what to allow and what to prohibit. Sometimes we find
that these moral beliefs do not halt at our doorsteps, but also influence our
private behaviour. For example the prohibition against corporal punishment for
children has changed lives in the most private sense. So I don’t see why
collective properties, in this case a legislation on corporal punishment should
only be on public matters.
(III) Finally it seems odd to me that Christiano claims
that collective properties must exist by necessity. Does he mean that the
subway is not a collective property? If not, does he mean that the existence of
public subways is necessary? That seems indeed as an absurd statement.
My conclusion after a critical analysis of the conditions
of collective properties is that they are not adequate. Still, for the sake of
the discussion we move on to the core issue in Christiano’s Argument of
The fourth and last premise of the argument is that we
ought to understand the Principle of Equality as equality of resources, since
democracy is fundamentally about the equal distribution of a specific kind of
resources, namely power. But it is not clear that this specific kind of
resources is the one required to be equally distributed according to the
Principle of Equality even if we accept that equality of resources is the
appropriate understanding of this principle. We will eventually discuss this
issue. But I will first explicate to the reader why Christiano wants us to
agree with concerning the equality of resources him in the following section.
As stated above, if the Principle of Equality is to be
understood as equality of well-being, the relation between the Principle of
Equality and democracy is unclear. But one could understand well-being in three
different ways, something that Christiano may have neglected. Not all
interpretations of well-being will be as vulnerable to his critique. Therefore
I will present them here swiftly before we dive in to his argument
The desire theory- well-being is to be understood as the
satisfaction of one’s desires
Hedonism- well-being is to be understood as pleasure
well-being is to satisfy a certain list of substantive goods.
It seems to me that Christiano only criticizes the least
plausible of these theories, namely the desire theory. If one of the other two
is our theory of the good, his argument might prove not to be as powerful as he
His arguments are the following:
?(I) The incompleteness of knowledge means that there
is an epistemic problem with the interests of persons. It is difficult and
sometimes impossible to evaluate the things we believe are important in our
lives. Christiano states that there are two basic reasons for this
incompleteness: (a) human cognitive capacities are too weak and (b) individuals
do not have a complete understanding of most of their interests.
(II) The changeability of preferences undermines the
possibility for us to direct our attention to the satisfaction of preferences
instead of interests.
(III) The contestability of
comparisons argument proceeds, according to Christiano, from the notion that there
is considerable disagreement about what interests are the most important and
how one is to value the satisfaction of those interests. (64-66)
As a citizen in the Kingdom of Sweden,
where the welfare-politics always had a clearly formulated egalitarian aspect,
and where the politicians always have emphasized equality of well-being as well
as equality of resources, these claims put forward by Christiano astounds me.
Equal access to education, healthcare, public transportation, meaningful
activities for youths and a rich cultural program are all tax-financed
welfare-goals that have been promoted by the politicians to increase the
equality of our well-being. Human cognitive capacity might be too weak to make
detailed lexical lists of the things that are in our interest, but it is sure
enough not too weak to see what people need in order to live good lives. And
some of these things can and should therefore be provided by the state.
Some do not have an appropriate
understanding of their own good, they fail to understand what is good or
bad for them, Christiano states. But does this really entail that no
understanding could be reached about what is good for these people? I think
not. On the contrary, that is why we have doctors, psychologists, architects,
economists and other experts that, although they might be mistaken, often know
how to help us to understand our interests and needs.
Christiano’s arguments are essentially
epistemic: it is difficult to make sense of what welfare consists in. But if we
think about our own lives as well as contemporary welfare-politics, we find
that (a) absolute and complete understanding is not required to make good
choices in distributing welfare and (b) the necessary knowledge about our good
is not difficult to obtain, provided that we choose a substantive theory of the
Although Christiano’s arguments are weak to
a non-desire based defense, there are others that have defended Equality of
Resources. We will discuss this defense in the following chapter.
 “…the arrangement of public symbols and spaces…” (59)
 I here follow Parfit
here follow T. M. Scanlon. According to him, hedonism and the objective
list-theory are both “substantive-goods theory, since they point out what makes
an individuals life to go well, regardless of that individuals actual desire.
XXX in “The difficulty of tolerance”