Justin's notion of stability

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Fri Apr 7 22:04:28 MDT 1995

On Fri, 7 Apr 1995, Howie Chodos wrote:

> 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

Sure. I consider this at length in my paper. Stability might be due to
what I call coercion or brute force. Absence of a feasible alternative is
not an argument against the justice of some arrangement, however. If you
can;t do better, there's no complaint.

 (and similarly whether instability offers evidence of other
> things besides injustice, say exploring uncharted terrain)?

Well, then the instability won't be due to resistance, so we're out of my

 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".

Depends on what you mean. In a sense no, because whoever we are we are
limited by the evidence we have and the resources we have to interpret it.
But I don't think that means that we can't be justified in accepting some
interpretations and ruling out others.

 There are many ways of
> resisting injustice and how are we to know which of these leads us in the
> direction of emancipation?

As I've said,. you have to try them and find out. Hope you're on the right
track. There are no guarantees.

> 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?

Is this supposed to be the rhetorical "who's to say" implying a skeptical
answer? I.e., no one can say? In response I would say: first, we are to
say, prospectively, on the basis of evidence and argument we can make now.
Of courese we might be wrong, but that's life. Second, we find out if we
are wrong by trying to construct an alternative and seeing whether it
works. Thus the Communist alternative didn't. It's now been refuted. I
don't see what's so hard about this.

> 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

What;s the circularity? If we get rid of domination, there will be no
resistance to it. Of course there might be other sources of instability.

 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?

Nothing atg all, They might be right and they'll argue this way in any
case. But--and this isz my point--we can find out. How? We try it and see.
Afterwards we may regret it. Again, that's life.

Howie is worried that I cannot provide conclusive proof that a given
reading of the evidence is right. Well, I can't. That's the nature of
evidence. You can hold any belief true if you make enough changes
elsewhere. That doesn'tr mean that doing so is always reasonable. We don't
have to convince all the unbelievers. No one, at this point, thinks it is
worth arguing with Flat-Earthers, and few enough of us thought it was
worth arguing with a convinced Stalinist who signed on a while ago. This
doesn't make us think that it's relative whether the earth is round or
Stalin evil.

I have considered just this question at some length in my paper "The
Paradox of Ideology," Canadian J.Phil Dec. 1993, and I refer interested
persons to that discussion, particularly to the section where I discuss
the reactions of deafeated/successful revilutionary workers and
capitalists to what the success/defeat of the revolution shows.

 The only thing that Justin's
> argument really says is that "where there is oppression, there will be
> resistance",

That's unfair, Howie. That's a premise in a long and complicated argument
which says a good deal more than that. What else it says may be wrong, but
it is there.

 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

I don't know what this would be. Are you saying that we cannot tell
whether a social system is stable? We might argue about a particular
case--procapitalists we say capitalism is, socialists will deny it. But in
the end of the say, do you really mean eitherwe cannot tell or there's no
fact of the matter? That's too many for me.

, 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).
Actually I do not dismissd this problem. What I do is sweep it under the
rug, because I don't know yet how to think about interests. If law school
and legal practice permit, perhaps I will be able to work out a view. I
have been thinking about the issue on and off for about 15 years, and it
is as hard a subject as I have ever grappled with. My only consolation is
that the discussions of interests of which I am aware are not very good,
even when by good people, which indicates to me that it's nbot just me
being stupid.

> 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 don't follow any of this. I don't see how an objective criterion imposes
any directionality on history. In my story, the directionality is due to
resistance, not, as I said to Hans E., to stability.

> 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).

So what's wrong with inequality?

> 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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