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CPP Colloquium with John Horton: Associative Political Obligations and Global Redistribution

  • John Horton (Keele University)
26 May 2016
CPP Colloquium 2015-2016 & 2016-2017
Reuvensplaats 3-4
2311 BE Leiden



In this paper, we consider an important criticism of the idea of associative political obligations. This criticism, following Samuel Scheffler, has become known as “the distributive objection” (Scheffler 2001), and its principal proponents tend to be theorists of distributive justice who are firmly committed to extensive global redistribution (e.g. Caney 2005, 2008; Tan 2004). The structure of our argument is fairly straightforward. In the first section (I), we begin by saying a little about associative obligations in general and associative political obligations in particular. The purpose of this discussion is to fix the kind of view that we defend. In the second section (II), we set out the distributive objection. Again, we concern ourselves with the generic features of this objection, although we distinguish between stronger and weaker versions of it. In the third, fourth and fifth sections, we present our response to the distributive objection. We deploy three kinds of strategy in this response: avoidance (III), mitigation (IV) and confrontation (V). Avoidance and mitigation are accommodating responses. They involve arguing that associative political obligations often need not fall foul of the distributive objection, because either there is no real conflict between them and global redistribution, or, where there is conflict, it can be rendered significantly less troublesome. These responses do a good deal to undermine supposed tensions between associative political obligations and global redistribution. But they may not always be enough. Confrontation, therefore, may sometimes be necessary, which involves rejecting the more extreme claims of proponents of the distributive objection. To anticipate the direction of the argument, the view that we defend does not hold that the global poor have no legitimate significant moral claims against the rich, or that such claims never take priority over our associative political obligations. However, the view that we reject is the obverse of this. That is, we want to insist on the validity and robustness of our associative political obligations, and to deny that they are spurious or necessarily subordinate to universal principles of global redistribution. These are two, independent sources of moral claims. Both associative obligations in general and associative political obligations in particular, on the one hand, and global poverty, on the other hand, matter. Neither can be silenced or consigned to permanent inferiority by the other. Moreover, much of the time, they can comfortably coexist, as long as extravagant and unjustifiable claims are not made on behalf of either.

About John Horton

John Horton is Professor Emeritus of Political Philosophy at Keele University. He is the founding Head of the Department of Politics, Philosophy, International Relations and Environment (SPIRE). He led the Department between 1999 and 2002, and again between 2004 and 2007. Before coming to Keele in 1995 he taught at the University of York for over twenty years, where he was also Director of the Morrell Studies in Toleration.

John Horton’s principal research area is contemporary political theory. He has published extensively on political obligation, toleration, freedom, justice, public reason, multiculturalism, literature, political theory, the nature of political philosophy. He the author of more than 70 articles, which appeared in, among others, Utilitas, Philosophical Quarterly, European Journal of Political Theory, Political Studies and CRISPP.

Horton is the author of Political Obligation, a substantially revised edition of which was published in 2010 with Palgrave Macmillan. He has edited and co-edited several volumes on the political theory of toleration, among others, Toleration, Identity and Difference (co-edited with Susan Mendus) published by Macmillan in 1999. He has also published on the several leading political theorists, most recently, The Political Theory of John Gray (co-edited with Glen Newey), published by Routledge in 2007.

John Horton is currently working on the political theory of modus vivendi.

Location: Lecture hall 005, Van Eyckhof 3, 2311 BV Leiden (see: https://ww
Date and time: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 0:00 - 0:00

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