Justin's notion of stability

Howie Chodos howie at magi.com
Fri Apr 7 11:45:42 MDT 1995


I have a number of reactions to Justin's continued defense of his notion of
stability. They do not yet gel into something entirely coherent, but I am
far from being persuaded by his arguments.

I want to analyse Justin's claim that stability provides evidence of justice
a bit further. First, I am prompted to ask whether stability can also
provide evidence of other things besides justice, say an absence of feasible
alternative (and similarly whether instability offers evidence of other
things besides injustice, say exploring uncharted terrain)? If this is the
case we then need criteria for interpreting the evidence provided by
stability/instability. And this raises the question of whether such
interpretations can ever be "non-perspectival". There are many ways of
resisting injustice and how are we to know which of these leads us in the
direction of emancipation?

It seems to me that though Justin is trying to find a non-perspectival
criterion that would allow him to escape from relativism, he himself
reintroduces relativistic notions. For example, he writes that (the complete
citation is appended at the end of this post):

>3. Both dominant and subordinate groups will accept that an adequate
>justice must be stable (because of 1 and 2), so the instability of the
>dominant group's justice because of resistance to the harm of domination
>provides a non-question-begging internal argument against that justice, at
>least if the subordinate group's justice would be stable.

It is this last conditional clause that reveals that the criteria involved
are relative ones. The subordinate group's justice is better *if* it were
more stable. Who is to say that it will be and according to what criteria?
The only criterion Justin has is that there may no longer be resistance
because there may no longer be domination. This strikes me as somewhat
circular and depends on counterfactuals that we are bound to evaluate using
varying perpectives. What is to prevent the dominant group from arguing that
any attempt to eliminate prevailing forms of domination will only lead to
different, and potentially worse results? The only thing that Justin's
argument really says is that "where there is oppression, there will be
resistance", an assertion with which I am only too happy to concur, as I
have previously said. If this is all that is meant by "a nonmoral propensity
to resist domination which is a fact about human nature", then we agree. But
I still insist that there can be no absolute criterion of stability, unless
we are prepared to forego life in favour of a descent towards entropy.

Arguing that stability provides evidence of justice also seems to me to
shift the terrain of the discussion slightly. Evidence must be interpreted.
Evidence must be used by people to determine the course of action they
intend to follow. In my earlier summary of his argument, with which he
seemed to agree, I suggested that stability played the role of a "selection
mechanism". But a selection mechanism that is evidentiary can operate only
via the intentional behaviour of social actors. This is where the whole
question of interests comes in, and where I think Justin is wrong to dismiss
the problems associated with "acting in one's interests" as if they had no
bearing on his argument. (This also intersects with several other
conversations currently being pursued on the list regarding the nature of
racial and national oppression).

In the end I cannot help but feel that Justin is trying to have it both
ways. He wants an objective, non-perspectival criterion for adjudicating
amongst competing claims to justice. However, when confronted with the
argument that any such "objective" criterion would also imply a stronger
directionality to history than he is ready to endorse, he insists that this
criterion, stability, is merely evidence. It is my contention that if it is
evidence, it cannot play the role that he is trying to assign to it.

I am inclined to agree with the objective that Justin traces, namely that
"the point is to have an immanent critique of the oppressors together with
an objective basis in the actions of the oppressed to bring about
progressive change." Instability may constitute evidence of an absence of
justice despite the oppressors claims to the contrary, but aren't there also
other bases for such an immanent critique, for e.g. inequality? (Gotta leave
it there for now in mid-thought).

Howie Chodos



>>>From Justin's response to me:

>Howie asks why I give a special role to stability in my account--the idea
>is that stable justices are better. There are three reasons this notion is
>crucial to my argument:
>
>1. Instability due to resistance is evidence of injustice because it shows
>that the reconciliation of interests necessary for justice is lacking.
>
>2. Instability also shows that a justice which provokes resistance is
>unrealizable, so not binding, by the principle that ought implies can.
>
>3. Both dominant and subordinate groups will accept that an adequate
>justice must be stable (because of 1 and 2), so the instability of the
>dominant group's justice because of resistance to the harm of domination
>provides a non-question-begging internal argument against that justice, at
>least if the subordinate group's justice would be stable.
>
>Stability is not thus an ahistorical driving force, unlike Cohen's and
>WLS' postulation of an innate humnan drive to increase productive
>efficiency. It's just a condition for justice that everyone accepts and
>which provides an nonperspectival basis for choosing between the justice
>of dominant and subordinate groups. Stability does drive history, on my
>story. Class (generally group) struggle does.



>>>>From Justin's response to Hans Ehrbar:

>The problem with finding general (universal, binding for all?) criteria on
>the basis of which to endorse emancipation is that if your argument for
>emancipation demands universal assent, this is not to be found in a
>sociery divided into dominant and subordinat groups. And if you accept
>that emancipation is only to be endorsed from the perspective of
>subordinate groups, you have relativism. From the perspecxtive of dominant
>groups emancipation is to be condemned. Why choose the suvordinate groups'
>perspective? I think that the argument you attribute to Bhaskar is stuck
>with relativism.
>
>Now my appeal to stability is supposed to help here. I do not say that
>emancipation is good because it is stable, as if stability were a good in
>itself. Rather I say that stability is _evidence_ that a conception of
>justice embodies a genuine reconciliation of interests,a nd instability is
>evidence that it does not. That justice requires such a reconciliation of
>interests I take to be common ground between dominant and subordinate
>groups. It is, in my view, constitutive of justice. So my case for
>emancipation is not that it is stable (merely) but that it is just, and
>its stability shows this. Domination is to be condemned because it is
>unjust and its instability, due to the resistance it causes, shows this.
>Since both sides are committed to their preferred regime being just, the
>instability of domination and the stability of emancipation gives everyone
>a reason to prefer emancipation. Of course dominant groups won't agree,
>but they don;t have to. The instability of domination due to the harm it
>causes refutes their denial. That's the idea. What's conservative about
>this I cannot see.



>>>From Justin's response to Hans Despain:

>But he's not. I do not assume that people will recognize their interests
>firsts and then rationally act to attain them. Rather they experience
>suffering and diminishment because their interests are being violated,
>although they may not understand why or how or what these are, and they
>act to change that, moving by a process of learning towards organizationm
>which will better realize their interests. Bhaskar may be gettinmg at
>something like this in his concept of response to "lacks."


>>>>From Justin's second response to Hans Ehrbar:

>No, no. Something around which we can say that oppressions SHOULD unite
>with the oppressed on their own (the oppressors) terms, even though we
>know they will not. The point is to have an immanent critique of the
>oppressors together with an objective basis in the actions of the
>oppressed to bring about progressive change.



>>>From Justin's second response to Hans Despain:

>So, you are essentially an existentialist. You choose the side of the
>oppressed. But this is my question: why that side? What makes this an
>ethical commitment rather than a personal preference? The point of my
>argument is to justify tthat choice of sides. In my view this based on a
>nonmoral propensity to resist domination which is a fact about human
>nature. That the propensity is nonmoral doesn't mean, by the way, that
>anything done to resist domination is OK.



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