We invited Kevin Vallier and Chad Van Schoelandt to the show to talk about their teacher and mentor, Gerald Gaus. Gerry was not like a lot of public reason types who are just trying to identify the conditions for something as abstract and distant as a well‐ordered society. Gaus started very much from where we are in a way that is much more like Hayek than Rawls.
How do you justify rules? How do you understand morality in order to make rules?
00:07 Aaron Powell: Welcome to Free Thoughts. I’m Aaron Powell.
00:09 Trevor Burrus: And I’m Trevor Burrus.
00:11 Aaron Powell: Joining us today is Kevin Vallier, he’s Associate Professor of Philosophy at Bowling Green State University and Chad Van Schoelandt, he’s Assistant Professor at Tulane University. Today, we’re discussing the ideas of their teacher, philosopher Gerald Gaus, who died in August. Welcome to the show, gentlemen.
00:27 S?: Thanks for having me, us.
00:30 Aaron Powell: Why should Free Thoughts listeners be interested in Gaus’ ideas?
00:35 Kevin Vallier: I guess to put it simply, since Rawls, he’s probably the leading theorist of liberalism that there is. And for people who are interested in the liberal tradition and the ideas of freedom and, to a lesser extent, I think Gaus was not a libertarian by any means, but he was a theorist and defender of a liberal open society, and he’d been defend… He’s defended over the course of a number of books, about a quarter century. And he’s not as well known as many, because he didn’t do much, didn’t always do very much to promote himself, but at least I think, and I’ll see if Chad agrees, that he’s got some of the most compelling, if not the most compelling defense of an open society that’s out there.
01:26 Chad Van Schoelandt: Yeah, I think that’s right. And one thing that I’d emphasize about Gaus’ work is his work on the open society is part of what he called new diversity theory, which is there is a set of theorists who emphasize that diversity is not just a constraint or challenge or problem to be contained, but actually a benefit for us, that diversity of individuals, diversity of institutions, diversity of practices are all sources of benefits, sources of value for us, and that’s something that his account, I think, captures that many other accounts neglect or overlook.
02:15 Trevor Burrus: So we take a step back, because without the understanding the concept of public reason here, because diversity of a certain type could be a challenge to public reason, but… So what does public reason in the general sense, is it a long tradition that Gaus was working in, or is it something that’s relatively new?
02:35 Kevin Vallier: Jerry has some compelling arguments that the idea of public reason, which we can explain, goes all the way back to Hobbes and the basic idea as it originated, is that there’s a difference between my own private judgments about what to do, in Hobbes’ case about the natural law and what to follow, and then the fact that we interpret morality differently, and the result of that can lead to conflict. And so what we ought to have is some kind of system that can make authoritative public judgments for all. And now, the great social contract theorists themselves disagreed a great deal about what kind of form that voice of public judgment should take, and typically they understood it through different kinds of shapes of states.
03:24 Kevin Vallier: That kind of idea of there being a voice of public reason fell by the wayside for a long time as we sort of traveled… I think Mill, there’s a little bit of something in there, but you know, as we proceeded through utilitarianism, Hegelianism, Marxism, until we get the revival of certain kinds of social contract views in the 1950s, where of course, Rawls is the leading light here, but there are a number of other figures like [03:48] ____ and Gauthier. And what happens is that a number of people, particularly in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Rawls, Charles Larmore and Jerry and a number of others, start to develop this idea of public reason as a kind of defense of the modern liberal state, but Jerry’s idea of public reason goes even deeper, and it involves much more of society than the state and can limit it.
04:13 Kevin Vallier: The thought is that we do disagree about how to interpret what we think is right and wrong, and that diversity can threaten our ability to resolve our public judgments, but that there are a variety of political, economic and even private moral mechanisms that we can use in order to come up with public judgments to resolve our disputes. So hopefully that kind of hung together.
04:38 Trevor Burrus: Is that sort of like saying that… I kind of see it as a Venn diagram in a visual sense, where if there is no overlap whatsoever between moral systems, then it’d be difficult to live under one political system. Is that somewhat accurate?
04:55 Chad Van Schoelandt: That seems broadly correct, though one thing that I guess I would emphasize for Gaus’ view, and this is something that comes up in Kevin’s view and my own and a number of public reason people is sometimes we’re not optimizing when we’re figuring out what our social morality is going to be, what terms we can live with. So the way that that overlap has to form is not going to be necessarily that everyone has to agree that this or that rule is the best rule. We might agree that it’s good enough that we can live with it, good enough that we can see it is not oppressive, good enough that we can see it as a way of holding each other accountable to that, that that gives us some common terms, but not necessarily best. And it’s a lot easier to have agreement on things that are good enough rather than agreement on what would be absolutely best.
05:57 Chad Van Schoelandt: A sort of simple example here might be speed limits around school zones, some of us are more or less nervous about such things, some of us might favor higher or lower speed limits, but you can get broad agreement that, I don’t know, something in the range of 15 to 25 miles per hour is gonna be not oppressive, something that we can live with, that’s the kind of thing that the public reason tradition is often looking for is, are reasonable compromises, what we can all see as at least in the realm of cooperation rather than oppression or authoritarianism.
06:38 Kevin Vallier: And it’s important along those lines to recognize that as a kind of new diversity theorist, Jerry isn’t just interested in reasonable disagreement about the good life, as Rawls was for most, but not all of his career. Jerry was from the outset concerned with reasonable disagreement about ideology and justice. Even in his book Value and Justification from 25 years ago, there’s a compromise between ideological perspectives. So it’s very important for Jerry not to use this idea of reasonableness to narrow the perspective or the range of views that we take seriously, it was an increasingly broad theme of his work to try to take on and respect as much pluralism as he could while still having an idea of public reason.
07:26 Chad Van Schoelandt: I would just note that at least one way that that pluralism manifests in Jerry’s work and not in many other public reason views is in thinking that we don’t have to have a single set of rules justified for everyone everywhere, that you end up with an important role for jurisdictions, an important role for polycentricity, or that there might be certain sets of rules that make sense for one part of the population, given what they can agree on, given what they want to try out, that might not be authoritative for some other group in the population. So you get an actual continuance of diversity of views of justice or diversity of the rules, potentially diversity of laws in Gaus’ account.
08:19 Aaron Powell: That makes me wonder, I think Chad you had said the public reason people go out and they’re looking for the rules that are going to best handle this disagreement. And the term looking for is maybe a little ambiguous, because on the one hand, it can mean… Look for in going to imagine and articulate a set of rules, we’re going to think through the possibilities, narrow them down and say these are, we’ve discovered the set of rules. But the other way that you can look for rules is to go out into the world and see what rules are out there. Is one of those leaned on heavier than the other, is the public reason project to assess rules out in the world and see if they work, or is it you try to come up with in the abstract from the armchair a set of rules that then if only everyone adopted them, things would be hunky dory.
09:15 Kevin Vallier: Gosh, it’s a very important question, goes to the heart of some changes across the course of his thought.
09:22 Chad Van Schoelandt: Yeah, I think for Gaus, at many points in his work, there’s… The actual practice is a starting point, and this is something that he follows people like Peter Strawson in on in thinking, we are actually in a social morality, we’re actually cooperating now. And we want to assess the system that we’re in in important ways, we’re not inventing morality out of nowhere, we don’t have a social blank slate or anything like that. So there’s an important emphasis on finding the rules that we actually have that seem to satisfy a public justification test, the ones that seem to actually be helping us live together cooperatively, versus identifying rules that turn out to not pass that test, that are, at least from some perspectives, merely authoritarian or oppressive. So I would tend to emphasize that aspect, that looking at what’s actually done, and in some ways the search is by trying out rules, that there is an ongoing social evolution, an ongoing testing of rules in populations that people can see how they work out, if they want to adopt them or if they wanna resist them.
10:45 Chad Van Schoelandt: That’s at least one theme. I think there are other parts of Jerry’s work that emphasize something of the rational hypothetical contract tradition, the focus on what kinds of things, given our fundamental interest, what kinds of rules might we want. So he does talk about things like agency rights that he thinks given the fact that we are the kinds of creatures that pursue our own projects, there are certain necessary conditions for doing that, having at least certain kinds of individual rights will be necessary for that. And so we might expect those rules to be justified even prior to observing them in practice. But again, I think that’s something that I see as secondary, or at least it’s not the part that I would emphasize. I would very much emphasize the social morality is a real thing that we actually live in, and we’re trying to work from where we are.
11:40 Kevin Vallier: I think there is a trajectory across Jerry’s notions of public justification from 1990 to just a month ago, where he’s focused more and more on the actual. So he thought his model of public justification, like, say, Rawls’ model of, with the original position, was gonna be able to determine less and less and less on its own. And each book of his major books is a step away from the very first stage where he relied more on the abstract and less on the real, but he was always someone committed to doing both. So it’s not like a lot of public reason types who they’re just trying to identify the conditions for something as abstract and distant as a well‐ordered society. Jerry’s starting very much from where we are. In this way is a lot more like Hayek than Rawls.
12:29 Kevin Vallier: And it’s also very important, and just to put a finer point on what Chad said, is that Jerry’s project is not to assess the system of rules that we have from the point of view of the universe. It is not a project in a kind of intuition‐based moral philosophy like you would find in Sidgwick or Parfit or even many of the famous Harvard Kantians, Rawls or Scanlon, well, [12:58] ____ guys. So that I’d… Well, but never… I’ll take that [13:01] ____. So the thought is that this is a very different kind of evaluation that you find in traditional moral philosophy, Jerry is very aware of this, he was very deliberate about it, because he was worried that relying on our intuitions alone would have a tendency to lead us to be authoritarian ourselves, that if we only consulted our own judgment in figuring out not only how to run our lives but how to run our profession, that we were gonna end up in the wrong place, that we weren’t gonna see the truth, but rather identify our own intuitions as the truth.
13:33 Trevor Burrus: Did Gaus identify… I mean, he probably, I assume, identified as a liberal in the classical sense, but not a libertarian.
13:41 Kevin Vallier: No.
13:42 Trevor Burrus: Which would seem more like what you were saying, Kevin, that there’s… If you insist on cosmic view of rights as being inviolable based on some sort of theory of morality, it kinda makes it into an authoritarian rule that doesn’t really meet people where they are. But what did he think about ideology in general from what he was working on?
14:04 Kevin Vallier: Well, he gets more and more worried about it, I think. And I mean, Chad, I don’t know your thoughts on this in particular, but he’s, at various points, like in the Order of Public Reason in 2011, he’s just really hitting ideology over the head. And he thinks that the thing to do is not to abolish ideology, but to allow for different ideologies to compete within a set of mutually justifiable structures, and that was the way to take the sting out of what they were doing and try to draw on what’s good about them. And he also feared, again, that much of philosophy, particularly political philosophy, is just a kind of ideology contest, and one of the reasons that he stressed philosophy, politics, economics as a movement and a method was to overcome that ideology as contest as political philosophy.
15:00 Chad Van Schoelandt: Yeah, I think that all sounds right to me, and oftentimes, when Jerry, like in the introduction or the preface to the Order of Public Reason, sort of notes that this view is not a hedgehog view, it’s not one that just focuses on just one value and its implications. And that’s something that he thought at least some libertarians tended to do, is you just take one value, self‐ownership, non‐aggression, whatever version of that you want, and then just try and hammer every problem with that, and he thought that wasn’t a good approach to social and political problems, generally, but it’s also that even if one thinks that the true view is that, you think that the Lockean self‐ownership or whatever version of fundamental libertarianism you like, if you thought that was what the moral truth was, that wouldn’t necessarily answer our questions for social morality when we’re trying to deal with people who have different views.
16:05 Chad Van Schoelandt: One thing that Jerry pointed to along this lines is a wonderful piece by Loren Lomasky, libertarianism is as if other people mattered, or it’s a title very close to that, and what Lomasky says is, suppose my libertarianism is right, okay, but 99% of people reject it. Now what I need to start thinking about is what kind of terms can I still see as acceptable for living with people, and we might wanna seriously differentiate taxation that’s used in ways that are obviously just taking from some to give to others or, I don’t know, maintaining millions of people being locked in cages for what plants they want to consume or the like. Differentiate those laws which should just be rejected and seen as reprehensible from rules like providing apparent public goods where the libertarian might think, well, the really, the best system wouldn’t involve these, we’d supply our public goods through various neighborhood contracts or charities or the like, but this is not the same as locking up millions of people for what plants they consume. This is still compatible with seeing my fellow citizens as attempting to cooperate and live peacefully with me.
17:27 Chad Van Schoelandt: Similarly with other ways that the laws might be seen as sub‐optimally specified, but still acceptable. And along those same lines, Jerry thought that libertarians needed an approach much more like that, that it’s one thing to think about what do you think the optimum system is. He was critical of ideal theorizing of that sort generally, but it’s another to think about, okay, given my concern for liberty, given my concern for people having individual choice, given my understanding of economics, what range of social rules is still acceptable, what can I still see as a cooperative venture, even if it’s sub‐optimal, but is still a cooperative rather than merely oppressive.
18:17 Kevin Vallier: In my view, one of the great deficiencies of the libertarian community is that we don’t have a good theory about what to do when almost no one else is a libertarian. So we kinda know what we think would be best, but as far as having a kind of systematic approach to who can we work with and what laws are acceptable rather than best, libertarians have a hard time distinguishing between what’s most important and what’s less morally urgent, and many times we’re able to do so. We’re able to say, look, war, that’s the big deal, and redistribution for school lunches is not, but in many ways, public reason is a theory about what do you do when each person has their own ideal theory and you have to live together anyway. So there’s a way in which libertarianism and public reason are compatible, because libertarianism could be the true theory of justice, it might be the ideal way to organize society, but given that others don’t disagree, we need some other way of approaching how to live together that can be informed by libertarianism, but it can’t itself be libertarianism, because libertarianism just won’t be obeyed, people will just defect from it and ignore it, they don’t see it as justified to them.
19:41 Chad Van Schoelandt: Yeah, and here it is worth noting that Jerry did think libertarians and classical liberals end up having a pretty significant effect on what kinds of social moralities or laws are ultimately justified. He did argue that justificatory liberalism, as he for a while called his view, has a classical liberal tilt, that there’s just a pretty significant range of rules that people, libertarians or classical liberals like Mill would have such strong objection to, that they’re much more likely to see as oppressive, that there’s a way that it whittles down how much is justified.
20:21 Aaron Powell: I think that’s a good lead‐in to the question I have while you’ve been discussing all this, which is this just sneaking ideology in the back door, because we keep talking about what, you know, like we can’t get what’s ideal, but we can figure out rules are acceptable that we want, we want cooperation, but all of those things seem to depend on some metric to judge acceptability by, so that I can say, you know the rules that you want are unacceptable or that we can judge that the system is working or not working. But it seems like that assumes, at least from the perspective as you’re articulating it and say the jury’s perspective on it seems to assume this kind of classical liberal, broad ideology, because I’m imagining someone like Adrian Vermeule would have a very different view of what counts as acceptable, what it even means for something to be acceptable, how we would judge whether the system is working or not, and so on. So it feels almost like you still need an ideology as like the theory by which you can judge all this empirical stuff you’re observing out in society.
21:34 Kevin Vallier: I think that’s a very important challenge and it goes to a theme in Jerry’s work that is actually pretty big in his work, but doesn’t always make it in the popular discussion, which is that with a variety of social theorists in the past, among them Hegel, the thought was that we’re not… We’re not looking at our evaluative standard as just something else we intuit. So to figure out what grounds for public justification Jerry thought, we had to actually look at how human societies actually operate and how they operate now and into our moral psychology. So the standards of evaluation were things that were built into our already present social practices that already implicitly governed people’s ways of thinking about the world, which is why Jerry spends a gigantic amount of time across his work trying to give an analysis of the moral emotions and what are often called the reactive attitudes of guilt, resentment and indignation and to tease out of those practices the standard of public justification, but Chad’s the sort of expert in reactive attitudes, so I’ll sort of throw it over to him.
22:44 Chad Van Schoelandt: One thing I… There are a couple of different levels that we could be looking at when discussing the role of ideology here, what kinds of commitments there are. Kevin was talking about the deeper level of how do we get the criteria of public reason itself, which is exactly as Kevin said, on Jerry’s view, that comes from facts about our moral psychology. This is one of those ways in which we can’t just think of our own intuitions about what justified means or what reasonable means. He thought that we had to do serious research into psychology, and he’s over the decades read considerable amounts and cites and discusses the psychological views of the day and what kinds of things we learn as humans develop and how they emotionally respond to behaviors and what kinds of things they are and aren’t sensitive to.
23:40 Chad Van Schoelandt: But a different level when thinking about the justification of a particular rule, that sort of way that the classical liberals might be chipping away at the rules, that assessment of a particular rule is done through the lens of an ideology, but the important thing on a public justification view. Like Jerry’s, like Kevin’s, like mine, is that it’s actually not done through an ideology, it’s done through a plurality of different perspectives that individuals bring. So if I’m trying to think what rules seem justified to me, then it’s true that I will be thinking, given my understanding of morality, given my understanding of the good life, given some of my beliefs about how the world is, how it operates, what things there are and aren’t in the world, that’s how I might sort the set of rules of those that I find acceptable versus those that I find silly or those I find oppressive.
24:43 Chad Van Schoelandt: That doesn’t settle the question, though, in terms of public justification, because Kevin has different values than me, Kevin has different views than I do. He believes in different things in the world than I do, so in order to assess what kinds of rules are gonna be justified, not just for me, but for Kevin and me, we have to then consider his perspective. In practice often the best way to do this is through actual discussions or actual empirics of letting people with their perspectives bring their views, but oftentimes we do attempt at least to get a little bit of a headway by decentering, by… Given what I know of Kevin’s view, how do I think this rule would appear to him, that I might know this rule looks great to me, but there’s no way Kevin could accept it, so that’s not the one I’m going to try and push for it or defend.
25:42 Kevin Vallier: But yeah, important there is that there’s this plurality of perspectives, and we’re trying to find what’s acceptable across them, rather than assuming a single ideology, so ideology has a role, but not just an ideology has a role.
25:57 Chad Van Schoelandt: And also, and it is crucial that Jerry’s project is just try to start from getting that plurality because of all the benefits that it brings, and so when you’re looking at what the public justification standard is and where it’s grounded, it has to be grounded in the social scientific examination of what we are like, rather than the standard kind of way of approaching, say, economic justice over the last 50 years, where we take certain intuitions and then try to systematize them. So the thought is you avoid it becoming one more ideology in the way that it’s grounded. It’s a form of eminent criticism that’s built in to the kind of thing we are.
26:38 Trevor Burrus: How does religion fit into this? I’m thinking, especially recently, and Aaron mentioned Adrian Vermeule, so we have at least some people who are becoming catholic integralists, and then of course we have illiberal locatarianism, that both of them seem to not be able to find a public reason for liberalism, so would a kind of religious theocrat fit into Gaus’ system?
27:08 Kevin Vallier: Gosh, I could say a ton. Might have to go quickly. In 2009, Jerry and I wrote a little article on religion and public reason, where he argued that the role that they can play is much, much broader than standard public reason views allow. In particular, we defended this kind of diversity‐friendly public reason view in which people could bring when they’re voting, at least, all their religious reasons to bear on their activities. However, once they get into power, there are pretty sharp limits on what they’re permitted to do because the coercion they employ has to be acceptable to multiple perspectives. So if as a religious citizen, your goal is to vote on religious grounds, or if you want a religious exemption, we’re both very exemption‐friendly, you can get an exemption, but if you want to capture, as Vermeule does, if you wanna capture the state, the administrative state with all the trimmings and then start to push people into your own view, that’s totally out of bounds.
28:03 Kevin Vallier: And it’s out of bounds for a number of reasons. Not only did Jerry at various points think that would be authoritarian and brow‐beating, he thought it would undermine the valuable, moral relations that we had with people with other views, things like friendship and trust. But going even further, into his later work, he just thinks it wouldn’t work, that the open society is a kind of spontaneous order that resists kind of macro impositions. And in The Tyranny of the Ideal, which was a few years earlier, he said that attempts to take over with a single idea would be tyrannical because, among other things, there would be kind of… We have no idea how to get there, and so we’re gonna ultimately have to drag people there.
28:44 Kevin Vallier: I mean, Vermeule was postulating a ruling organization of the United States that we’ve never been anywhere close to. And his strategy for getting their is for Catholics to become high‐level ranking bureaucrats, but if you think for two seconds about how the other side is gonna react to that, with immediate rejection, we just don’t know how to get from point A to point B. So that’s another problem is we don’t even know how to get there, but even if we did, it would be oppressive, it would be relationship undermining, it would be authoritarian.
29:20 Chad Van Schoelandt: Yeah, along those lines, I think it’s important to differentiate different ways that someone could be a theocrat or the like. One is that they might think, in the ideal world, everyone would be a member of my faith, the one true faith, and then we’d organize society in accordance with the teachings of my faith. If someone thinks that, that doesn’t tell us much about whether or not we can live peacefully with them. One of the issues is what do they think when people in fact disagree with them. Do they think, well, would we just have to be at war with those people because you can’t possibly live with the heathens, or do they think, you know, it’s really important for me to try and convince them, but not to force them, drag them into the church against their will.
30:16 Chad Van Schoelandt: So we have to think about how exactly is a person seeing their religious values and the implications when in a context of disagreement. As it happens, lots of people have neighbors and friends and co‐workers who have different religions from them, and there’s a tendency, at least in our society, for many people to have different expectations for those who are co‐members of their faith versus those who aren’t, that Kevin might have expectations about the people that go to church with him, that he just won’t hold me to, and we find that with many religions. Same with non‐religions, but I know quite a number of vegetarians and vegans who have those practices based on moral, non‐religious commitments that they think they’re really important, and they would love to convince other people, but they’re not expecting others to.
31:19 Chad Van Schoelandt: They’re not necessarily being indignant at others who don’t behave as they do, who see the world differently, that’s of course, not all vegetarians or vegans, some do get indignant, but there’s many people who approach these issues thinking, here’s what I think is ideally best, here’s what I think a full understanding of the relevant moral considerations would lead us to do, but I recognize that other people don’t see it that way, and I’m willing to try and either live and let live or find compromise or see if we can work this out peacefully.
32:00 Kevin Vallier: And that’s the important thing is that there are a lot of people out there who seemed like they would rather have war, but one thing I’ve found in my own thinking about this is that very frequently that’s just talk. So take Vermeule, he’s just co‐authored a book with Cass Sunstein, whose voting rights he would have to take away in his ideal regime. And I sometimes wonder whether he’d have the guts, like Sunstein’s a good friend of his, can he really look him in the eye and say, I’m right, you’re wrong. The vote’s out, maybe. But you do wonder, I think, with a lot of people who get along great with people with lots of different perspectives, but then they say only my perspective. We know there have been people who will do that, but at the same time, if Jerry’s right, this is such a public justification, it’s in a way a deep‐set part of who we are, he can’t hold Sunstein responsible for not having his view, he can’t blame him. Sunstein’s growing, he’s thought through his own values.
32:56 Kevin Vallier: So my sense is that even a lot of the people that are very authoritarian, there’s at least some of them that I think it’s… I don’t know if it’s an act exactly…
33:08 Trevor Burrus: I think it’s a type of virtue‐signaling rather than a concerted act.
33:12 Chad Van Schoelandt: And sometimes people are just inconsistent about it. At least one thing, if we think about the moral psychology that on Gaus’ account, what does some of the work is, if you recognize that from the other person’s perspective that the demand is not justified, then you can’t rationally sustain some of the moral emotions like resentment and indignation. The example I tend to give here is, if God were to tell me personally a new commandment and say, I’m just telling you first, Chad, I haven’t alerted all the hoi polloi out there, just so you know, people are no longer allowed to drive between 3 and 4 PM, that’s just something that God doesn’t approve of anymore, hasn’t told anyone else. I walk outside of my house and see people driving at 3:05, how upset should I be at them? Should I be condemning them as terrible people? It seems not, if I know that they haven’t been informed of the rule, if they don’t know from their perspective that that’s a problem in any way.
34:16 Chad Van Schoelandt: So I think that one thing we have to keep in mind is when people are rattling their sabers, sometimes they’re just doing it, that they wouldn’t if push came to shove, they wouldn’t actually go through with it. Some of the time, it’s because they’re caught up in thinking that other people don’t actually have different perspectives from them, that at least some of the demands that we see is because they don’t recognize that the rules aren’t justified. You see this in an example I’ve put in, right, or at least given at talks a number of times, is when there’s discussions of homosexuality, sometimes you get people who think, well, this is just obvious, you can’t produce children, unnatural, blah, blah, blah, whatever. They think that, it’s not just that they think you have to have God’s secret teaching, it’s they think that it’s wrong and it’s obvious to everybody, it’s irrational or whatever.
35:17 Chad Van Schoelandt: On the other side, there are a number of people who… We use the term homophobia. What does that mean? It’s a fear. It’s an irrational fear. Their claim is supposed to be something like, it seems, that it’s so obviously permissible for people to engage in homosexuality that to say otherwise shows that you have a mental illness, that that’s how obvious it is that any difference in perspective is really you just being insane. If you have a view like that, that your views are not only true, but so glaringly obvious that everyone in fact can see them, it’s a lot easier to push people around, it’s a lot easier to say, and we’re just gonna impose it on everybody because everyone can see it, it’s justified and they’re just being stubborn or displaying their wickedness when they verbally say they don’t agree, when they claim to not support the rule, they deep down really do. Views like that, I think, are at least sometimes what’s going on in the public discourse that Kevin was identifying.
36:27 Aaron Powell: Shifting gears a bit, this has come up some through the conversation, but I wanted to address it head on, which is, so much of Gaus’ work is intensely interdisciplinary, and he’s drawing from all sorts of fields of knowledge. His academic training wasn’t actually in philosophy, he got his PhD in Political Science. What role did non‐philosophical bodies of knowledge play in his work and thinking and what was his position on… Most philosophy doesn’t do that. Most philosophers do philosophy and don’t really draw on the natural sciences and economic modeling and computer science, all of the things. What was the value of branching out from philosophy?
37:24 Kevin Vallier: Having gone back through some of his work, one of the things that starts to become more and more of a theme is his critique of philosophy. And one of… There’s a number of different problems with what in the final book he calls hyper‐individualized moral judgment, which is that it can hurt progress in philosophy because you have these stable intuitive judgments and then you spin out theories and then you just keep on tweaking them and you don’t actually learn more about how to solve social problems. So that’s one issue is just the worry that philosophers are just spinning their wheels. And he even says in the last book, which hasn’t come out yet, he’s almost got a debunking argument where he says, look, a lot of these intuitions are the product of having weird, white, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic psychologies, which are really unusual, historically speaking, like the Henrich book is making the case for that now.
38:29 Kevin Vallier: So what a lot of philosophy is doing is it’s just sort of systematizing weird psychology and intuition [38:36] ____. And he thinks you’re not gonna make progress in how people can cooperate and live together if that’s all you’re doing. But worse than that, it isn’t just you’ll kow less, you’ll be less able to cooperate with other people to figure out what you don’t know. And even worse than that, you risk being tyrannical, of dragging people to social states based merely on spinning your own intuitive moral wheels.
39:01 Chad Van Schoelandt: There’s also, I’d emphasize that for Jerry, in a lot of ways, it was a recognition that we’re not the first or only people to think about some of these difficult issues. That comes up when thinking about the history of philosophy that he was critical of how often contemporary philosophers only read people who’ve published in the recent years, and don’t realize that many of these same debates were already fought 100 years ago or 150 years ago, that there’s actually quite a lot of ideas that were worked through and then forgotten because people just don’t read widely enough, or they don’t take seriously enough some of the history. And then also in these other fields that we have all these people talking about economic justice is like… I wonder if people in an Economics Department might have something to say about this that might be relevant to these questions.
40:03 Chad Van Schoelandt: So the kind of narrowness is often missing that there’s lots of valuable contributions made by other people, lots of valuable insights made in other fields that philosophers all too often completely not just ignore the particulars, but ignore the possibility, don’t even bother to look.
40:27 Trevor Burrus: One of Gaus’ last books was a book called The Tyranny of the Ideal. What debate was he wading into on there and what was his view of ideal theory? It’s probably obvious from the title, but how did that debate and Gaus’ view on it?
40:44 Kevin Vallier: In my view that’s in many ways his hardest book, because I read it and we’ll see if Chad thinks this, that it’s trying to do two things. One, it’s trying to point out the dangerous role of ideal theory in societies as a whole, where you take only what he calls the optimizing stance and just try to do whatever is best for your perspective. And the difficulty is that there’s a huge amount about justice and about institutionalizing justice that we don’t know, such that if we try to drag our society towards justice, we might actually make it worse off. For instance, in between two peaks of the amount of justice you get from arrangements, there might be a valley in between, and when you try to drag your society from a lower peak to a higher peak, you get stuck in the valley, lots of topographical analogies in that book. So we need diverse searches, diverse teams, diverse perspectives in order to uncover the terrain of justice, to even figure out how to institutionalize our ideals, even how to get remotely close to them.
41:38 Kevin Vallier: But on top of that, I think he’s also… It’s a book laying out the dangers of mere philosophy, mere political philosophy and formulating ideals, because if you just say what the best is, there’s so much else to know about how to establish the best, and the tendency of the philosophical mind shorn of help from many other perspectives, any other discipline, is that they are gonna be uniquely tempted to be tyrannical because they’re the ones who are most impressed with themselves for coming up with these ideals.
42:13 Aaron Powell: It reminds me of… My favorite footnote in the history of philosophy is I believe footnote 42 in Will Kymlicka’s Introduction to Contemporary Political Philosophy, where I can’t remember who he’s discussing, but he’s been discussing some body of thought, and then he just has this throwaway line in a footnote where he’s like, but nowhere in any of this is there a discussion of whether these ideas will work in practice. And then he just moves on, like there’s… I need to acknowledge this, but it’s not that important. For listeners who are interested in exploring Gerald Gaus’ ideas further, what’s a good place to start? Because his books tend to be… He’s not an easy guy to read.
42:57 Chad Van Schoelandt: If one wants to understand his view broadly, sort of what the project is, I think The Order of Public Reason is the book to go to, that it’s late enough in his career to have settled in more or less to a view that he thought was correct enough. And you get the moral psychology, you get a discussion of the kind of problem being addressed, the issues of social morality as opposed to mere politics, and you do get a discussion of the role that Jerry saw for the state, sort of its role within social morality, the kind of things that it can help us with that maybe social morality without the state has difficulties with.
44:01 Chad Van Schoelandt: So, now it is 600 pages or so, so it is a bit tough to recommend that as the introduction to someone’s thought, but for someone wanting to understand his project, that would be the book that I would most recommend. Something like Tyranny of the Ideal I think is very useful, but I find much easier to understand in the context of already knowing The Order of Public Reason. Some of the earlier books, I think, sometimes more approachable than The Order of Public Reason, but also sometimes not as fully developed or there might be important changes. For instance, the role of the state seems to me different in Jerry’s earlier books like Justificatory Liberalism than in The Order of Public Reason.
44:53 Kevin Vallier: And you can also… I mean, just take a look at the beginning of that book and the end, so to get a sense for what he’s after, just reading the first chapter to get at what his overall concerns are, and then there’s something else at the end, the concluding remarks that I think are pretty accessible. There’s a couple of videos of his lectures on YouTube, and the thing about Jerry’s work is that he was so preoccupied with other fields and always learning new stuff and developing new projects and working really hard with his graduate students that he didn’t actually write very much, just like here’s the very simple version of my view.
45:40 Kevin Vallier: However, there is… There are a few different little articles that he wrote that are on his website, hilariously named gaus.biz, and he has a few different pieces, one’s in Cato Unbound from 2011, which is about the book, and he has some comments there and that’s pretty accessible. He has a little discussion in a magazine called The Critique from 2017, called the Open Society and Its Friends: With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies, and there he applies some of his ideas. And that’s about 20 double‐spaced pages.
46:22 Kevin Vallier: So he has an interview that he did with the New York Times on the virtues of political disagreement, so… Yeah, I mean, what we’re hoping to do now, since his death was unexpected, and oftentimes people would do this writing too, when they realize they’re done with their work, is a lot of his students were hoping to write materials that explain things, but he’s got a couple of things that I think do a pretty good job. And then, yeah, like I said, the YouTube videos, and of course, we’re always happy to talk about these things. But yeah, he’s always changing his view, he discouraged his students from writing about him very much, and so… Yeah, there’s not as much out there as there might be, it’s not like in Rawls’ lifetime where everybody’s writing Rawls and about Rawls and here is Rawls’ view and so he had all these students framing the work and breaking it down. Jerry never did a Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, which is less than 200 pages of Rawls stating his view.
47:27 Kevin Vallier: So we’re kind of seeing it as left to us to do more to make it accessible, but there’s still a lot. His website contains a huge number of his papers that are in PDFs for people to just poke around and read, so I would just tell people to go to the website, go to gaus.biz and explore things, and then in time, we’ll get some more stuff in print out there about it.
47:53 Trevor Burrus: What do you both hope to be Gaus’ legacy in terms of what… If he can maybe change the conversation or if he’s seen maybe in 20 years as having changed conversation or perhaps something else, but Chad?
48:09 Chad Van Schoelandt: I think it would be great if there was a lot more people working in the new diversity theory, if there was a lot more people who were seeing diversity as an incredible source of value and benefit and an engine of innovation and solving problems. Very many people today seem to treat diversity as a high cost, as a problem, it’s the sort of thing that can drive their worries about immigration leading to people not having a common culture or the like, or seeing there being a problem if some other people don’t share their political views or ideology or perspective.
49:03 Chad Van Schoelandt: I see that as a central unfortunate feature of the modern world, that diversity is seen as a problem to be contained or something to be overcome, and a lot of political philosophy has that line, even in public reason, which starts from the problem of diversity. So many of the views try and solve it by saying, ah, but here’s this thing that we can all agree on, we can all have this robust conception of citizenship that we all share and agree to, and that will do all the work for us. Homogeneity is the way that you solve heterogeneity. And I think that that’s unfortunate, so much more grass, grappling with the difficult issues of truly deep and ever‐expanding diversity and an attempt to understand how that can be a good thing rather than a problem.
50:06 Chad Van Schoelandt: That’s what I would like to see as at least part of Jerry’s legacy and the kind of thing that I think a number of us are working on these days, of trying to improve understanding of diversity as a good thing, not something that needs to be suppressed.
50:23 Kevin Vallier: I agree, heartedly, and I would add two things to that. Number one, the next book is called The Open Society and Its Complexities. And one of the things Jerry says there is that we’ve evolved into an open society, but we don’t really understand it, and he’s outlining in that book how we can answer the question of are human beings fit for the open society or not. He says, we’re fit for it, but not optimized for it. And given that the open society is under threat, I think from both forces on the right and on the left, and we don’t have to say who’s the bigger threat, just that they’re there, is just trying to come up with a method of trying to understand what an open society is and what keeps it stable.
51:06 Kevin Vallier: I think the central important question, normative question for social scientists and philosophers to answer together is, is the open society stable or is it just a temporary phenomenon that will collapse. And I think if Jerry has probably done more than anybody to help us to understand how to even answer that question and to provide an answer to that question. So on top of that, it’s not just his answers to the questions, but his profoundly interdisciplinary mode of answering the question, that is the PPE thing. So we want new diversity theory and more of that, we want PPE and more of that, and we want a better understanding of the open society and how to preserve it.
51:58 Aaron Powell: Thank you for listening. If you enjoy Free Thoughts, make sure to rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or on your favorite podcast app. Free Thoughts is produced by Landry Ayres. If you’d like to learn more about libertarianism, visit us on the web at www.libertarianism.org.