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2006 (28) Issue 1

Symposium on Kenneth Binmore's "Natural Justice"


Abstracts | Table of Contents

Ken Binmore
Justice as a Natural Phenomenon

"He who understands Baboon would do more
towards metaphysics than John Locke." (Charles Darwin)

Abstract: This paper summarizes a theory of fairness that replaces the metaphysical foundations of the egalitarian theory of John Rawls and the utilitarian theory of John Harsanyi with evolutionary arguments. As such, it represents an attempt to realize John Mackie’s call for a theory based on the data provided by anthroplogists and the propositions proved by game theorists. The basic claim is that fairness norms evolved as a device for selecting one of the infinity of efficient equilibria of the repeated game of life played by our prehuman ancestors.

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Anthony de Jasay
Fairness as Justice

Abstract: The paper questions Binmore’s identification of justice with fairness and his corresponding focus on bargains to the neglect of conventions, notably of ownership. Section 1 deals mainly with the role ascribed to man’s earliest genetic heritage in shaping fairness norms and the putative effect of such norms on bargaining solutions. Section 2 argues that the scope of fairness as opposed to justice in determining the social order is quite narrow, It sketches a theory of fairness distinct from justice, derived from the principle of treating like cases alike.

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Jonathan Riley
Genes, Memes and Justice

Abstract: Ken Binmore argues that justice consists in a proportional bargaining equi- librium of a ‘game of morals’, which corresponds to a Nash bargaining equilibrium of a ‘game of life’. His argument seems unassailable if rational agents are predominantly self-interested, an assumption that he is apparently willing to make on the grounds that human behaviour is ultimately constrained in accord with the selfish gene paradigm. But there is no compelling scientific evidence for that paradigm. Rather, human nature appears to be highly plastic. If so, rational agents might eventually be moulded by cultural forces into social and moral actors who effectively believe that they are the same person—no different from anyone else—when it comes to certain vital personal interests which ought to be treated as rights. In this context, a utilitarian outcome is an efficient and fair equilibrium of the game of life. Compliance with the rules is enforced by the actor’s own conscience, a powerful internal ‘judicious spectator’ which threatens to inflict harsh punishment in the form of intense feelings of guilt for cheating.

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Russell Hardin
The Genetics of Cooperation

Abstract: Binmore analyzes the genetic basis of cooperation. Much of the literature doing this supposes that we must explain directly the cooperative tendency, whether by individual or group selection. A more effective way to go is to find something more general and likely more deeply embedded in personal traits that enables and even en- hances cooperation. Hume, with whom Binmore claims affinities, long ago proposed a psychological phenomenon now called mirroring, which induces good relations through shared sentiments in a way that is essentially hard-wired. Mirroring indirectly con- tributes to cooperativeness. There may be other similarly indirect ways to account for human cooperativeness.

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Dieter Birnbacher
Binmore’s Humeanism

Abstract: David Hume is quoted in Binmore’s book Natural Justice more than any other author, past or present, and throughout with a markedly positive attitude. It is argued that this affinity is reflected in many characteristic features of Binmore’s approach to fairness and social justice and especially in the central role motivational issues are made to play in his theory. It is further argued that Binmore shares with Hume not only important strengths but also certain weaknesses, among them a ten- dency to derive from the limited evidence of past history far-reaching statements on human nature and the conditions thereby imposed on social morality.

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Bernd Lahno
Making Sense of Categorical Imperatives

Abstract: Naturalism, as Binmore understands the term, is characterized by a scientific stance on moral behavior. Binmore claims that a naturalistic account of morality necessarily goes with the conviction “that only hypothetical imperatives make any sense”. In this paper it is argued that this claim is mistaken. First, as Hume’s theory of promising shows, naturalism in the sense of Binmore is very well compatible with acknowledging the importance of categorical imperatives in moral practice. Moreover, second, if Binmore’s own theory of moral practice and its evolution is correct, then the actual moral practice does—and in fact must—incorporate norms, which have the form of a categorical imperative. Categorical imperatives are part of social reality and, therefore, any (normative) moral theory that adequately reflects moral practice must also include categorical imperatives.

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Fabienne Peter
Justice: Political Not Natural

Abstract: Ken Binmore casts his naturalist theory of justice in opposition to theories of justice that claim authority on the grounds of some religious or moral doctrine. He thereby overlooks the possibility of a political conception of justice—a theory of justice based on the premise that there is an irreducible pluralism of metaphysical, epistemological, and moral doctrines. In my brief comment I shall argue that the naturalist theory of justice advocated by Binmore should be conceived of as belonging to one family of such doctrines, but not as overriding a political conception of justice.

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Christoph Schmidt-Petri
Binmore’s Egalitarianism

Abstract: In this short commentary on Ken Binmore’s Natural Justice I primarily examine the relationship between mainstream egalitarian theories and Binmore’s ap- proach. I argue that Binmore uses key concepts in non-standard ways. As a result, he doesn’t engage enough with the views he criticises.

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Fiery Cushman / Liane Young / Marc Hauser
The Psychology of Justice

Abstract: In Natural Justice Binmore offers a game-theoretic map to the landscape of human morality. Following a long tradition of such accounts, Binmore’s argument concerns the forces of biological and cultural evolution that have shaped our judgments about the appropriate distribution of resources. In this sense, Binmore focuses on the morality of outcomes. This is a valuable perspective to which we add a friendly amendment from our own research: moral judgments appear to depend on process just as much as outcome. What matters is not just that the butler is dead, but who killed him, how, and for what reason. Thus, a complete understanding of natural justice’ will entail an account not only of evolutionary pressures, but also of the psychological mechanisms upon which they act.

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Brian Skyrms
Ken Binmore’s Natural Justice

Abstract: I raise a few questions about key points in the argument of Natural Jus- tice. 1. The pivotal role assigned to the theory of indefinitely repeated games appears to be both implausible and unnecessary. 2. The evolutionary foundations of the Nash bargaining solution are not completely secure, and its role in the account of interper- sonal comparisones of utility is questionable. 3. Free renegotiation behind the veil of ignorance appears neither to have an evolutionary rationale nor to be a brute fact about the way men are.

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Douglass C. North
On Kenneth Binmore’s Natural Justice

Abstract: Ken Binmore has written an exciting book and I am in complete agreement with his ob jectives and conclusions. But his approach is flawed because of his reliance on tools of analysis to understand the way the mind and brain have developed that are not up to explaining our evolving understanding of the human environment.

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Marlies Ahlert / Hartmut Kliemt
Binmore, Boundedly Rational

Abstract: It is argued that a truly Humean approach to social interaction and to normative reflection on how we should interact needs to get even closer to the facts than the Binmore program suggests. In view of the facts Binmore’s normative conclusions on bargaining as well as on the nature of the equilibria of the game of life both seem precarious.

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Ken Binmore
Natural Justice: Response to Comments

Abstract: The following responses to the scholars who were kind enough to comment on my Natural Justice in this symposium have been kept to a minimum by addressing only issues where I think a misunderstanding may have arisen.

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