Socialist Studies 8 (1):246-268 (2012)

Daniel Kofman
University of Ottawa
Cohen’s hostility to Rawls’ justification of the Difference Principle by social facts spawned Cohen’s general thesis that ultimate principles of justice and morality are fact-insensitive, but explain how any fact-sensitive principle is grounded in facts. The problem with this thesis, however, is that when facts F ground principle P, reformulating this relation as the "fact-insensitive" conditional “If F, then P” is trivial and thus explanatorily impotent. Explanatory, hence justificatory, force derives either from subsumption under more general principles, or precisely exhibiting value in light of relevant (actual or hypothetical) facts. In examples where no subsumption occurs, actual facts trivially become hypothetical facts in "fact-insensitive" conditionals, an empty formalism. Indeed, Rawls’ grounding of principles of justice in “conditions of life” can easily be reformulated as a conditional principle “sensitive” only to hypothetical such conditions, and thus formally fact-insensitive in Cohen's sense, for all Cohen’s ire against Rawls’s grounding.Moreover, any plausible “ultimate fact-insensitive principle” must be intricately qualified, which tacit ceteris paribus clauses mask. Each qualification implies prioritisation of one principle over another in conceivable circumstances, and wherever the now qualified principle is given scope, that too implies prioritisation over competing principles in typical circumstances. Any principle is thus sensitive to conceivable circumstances of application, as recognised by more sophisticated intuitionisms. Non-trivial ultimate principles – luck egalitarianism, act utilitarianism, etc. - require defense, which inevitably involves showing how they best interpret and respond to facts about human needs, goals, and capacities in predictable circumstances. Finally, the substantive debate between Rawls and Cohen about which facts are relevant to the DP is only obscured by the doctrine of fact-insensitivity.
Keywords Fact-sensitive  Principles  Grounds  Difference principle  Justice  Rawls  Jerry Cohen  Intuitionism  Actuarial calculus  Utilitarianism
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

What The Tortoise Said To Achilles.Lewis Carroll - 1895 - Mind 104 (416):691-693.
The right and the good.W. Ross - 1932 - Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 39 (2):11-12.
Why Sufficiency is Not Enough.Paula Casal - 2007 - Ethics 117 (2):296-326.
Facts and Principles.G. A. Cohen - 2003 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 31 (3):211-245.

View all 14 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Cohen to the Rescue!Thomas Pogge - 2008 - Ratio 21 (4):454-475.
What Is the Point of Justice?Andrew Mason - 2012 - Utilitas 24 (4):525-547.
Political Realism and Fact-Sensitivity.Edward Hall - 2013 - Res Publica 19 (2):173-181.
Cohen’s Rescue.Jan Narveson - 2010 - The Journal of Ethics 14 (3-4):263-334.
Facts, Principles, and (Real) Politics.Enzo Rossi - 2016 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 19 (2):505-520.


Added to PP index

Total views
373 ( #26,637 of 2,498,739 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
55 ( #14,909 of 2,498,739 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes