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David Wiens
University of California, San Diego
  1. The General Theory of Second Best Is More General Than You Think.David Wiens - manuscript
    Lipsey and Lancaster's ``general theory of second best'' is widely thought to have significant implications for applied theorizing about the institutions and policies that most effectively implement abstract normative principles. It is also widely thought to have little significance for theorizing about which abstract normative principles we ought to implement. Contrary to this conventional wisdom, I show how the second best theorem can be extended to myriad domains beyond applied normative theorizing, and in particular to more abstract theorizing about the (...)
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  2. "Actual" Does Not Imply "Feasible".Nicholas Southwood & David Wiens - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (11):3037-3060.
    The familiar complaint that some ambitious proposal is infeasible naturally invites the following response: Once upon a time, the abolition of slavery and the enfranchisement of women seemed infeasible, yet these things were actually achieved. Presumably, then, many of those things that seem infeasible in our own time may well be achieved too and, thus, turn out to have been perfectly feasible after all. The Appeal to History, as we call it, is a bad argument. It is not true that (...)
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  3. Motivational Limitations on the Demands of Justice.David Wiens - 2016 - European Journal of Political Theory 15 (3):333-352.
    Do motivational limitations due to human nature constrain the demands of justice? Among those who say no, David Estlund offers perhaps the most compelling argument. Taking Estlund’s analysis of “ability” as a starting point, I show that motivational deficiencies can constrain the demands of justice under at least one common circumstance — that the motivationally-deficient agent makes a good faith effort to overcome her deficiency. In fact, my argument implies something stronger; namely, that the demands of justice are constrained by (...)
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  4. Prescribing Institutions Without Ideal Theory.David Wiens - 2012 - Journal of Political Philosophy 20 (1):45-70.
    It is conventional wisdom among political philosophers that ideal principles of justice must guide our attempts to design institutions to avert actual injustice. Call this the ideal guidance approach. I argue that this view is misguided— ideal principles of justice are not appropriate "guiding principles" that actual institutions must aim to realize, even if only approximately. Fortunately, the conventional wisdom is also avoidable. In this paper, I develop an alternative approach to institutional design, which I call institutional failure analysis. The (...)
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  5. The Best and the Rest: On the Role of Ideals in Comparative Evaluation.David Wiens - manuscript
    Political theorists sometimes defend the value of idealistic normative theories by arguing that they help specify principles for evaluating feasible solutions to political problems. This defense is ambiguous between three interpretations, two of which I show to be nonstarters. The third interpretation says (roughly) that a description of a normatively ideal society can provide useful information about the evaluative criteria that we should use when comparing social possibilities. I show why this claim, even if true, rings hollow as a defense (...)
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  6. Political Ideals and the Feasibility Frontier.David Wiens - 2015 - Economics and Philosophy 31 (3):447-477.
    Recent methodological debates regarding the place of feasibility considerations in normative political theory are hindered for want of a rigorous model of the feasibility frontier. To address this shortfall, I present an analysis of feasibility that generalizes the economic concept of a production possibility frontier and then develop a rigorous model of the feasibility frontier using the familiar possible worlds technology. I then show that this model has significant methodological implications for political philosophy. On the Target View, a political ideal (...)
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    The Effects of Competence-Based Suffrage Restrictions: Toward a Full Accounting.Sean Ingham & David Wiens - manuscript
    Democratic citizens often lack rudimentary knowledge about their political institutions, elected leaders, and the policies their leaders choose. Epistemic democrats contend democracies produce reasonable decisions despite the ignorance of the typical voter; against them, epistocrats claim that non-democratic regimes in which more knowledgeable citizens are put in charge would produce better decisions. We explain the shortcomings with the arguments on both sides. Epistocrats may be right that all else being equal, a more competent electorate would produce better decisions, and epistemic (...)
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  8. Benefiting From Wrongdoing and Sustaining Wrongful Harm.Christian Barry & David Wiens - 2016 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 13 (5):530-552.
    Some moral theorists argue that innocent beneficiaries of wrongdoing may have special remedial duties to address the hardships suffered by the victims of the wrongdoing. These arguments generally aim to simply motivate the idea that being a beneficiary can provide an independent ground for charging agents with remedial duties to the victims of wrongdoing. Consequently, they have neglected contexts in which it is implausible to charge beneficiaries with remedial duties to the victims of wrongdoing, thereby failing to explore the limits (...)
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  9. Demands of Justice, Feasible Alternatives, and the Need for Causal Analysis.David Wiens - 2013 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (2):325-338.
    Many political philosophers hold the Feasible Alternatives Principle (FAP): justice demands that we implement some reform of international institutions P only if P is feasible and P improves upon the status quo from the standpoint of justice. The FAP implies that any argument for a moral requirement to implement P must incorporate claims whose content pertains to the causal processes that explain the current state of affairs. Yet, philosophers routinely neglect the need to attend to actual causal processes. This undermines (...)
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  10. Against Ideal Guidance.David Wiens - 2015 - Journal of Politics 77 (2):433-446.
    Political philosophers frequently claim that political ideal can provide normative guidance for unjust and otherwise nonideal circumstances. This is mistaken. This paper demonstrates that political ideals contribute nothing to our understanding of the normative principles we should satisfy amidst unjust or otherwise nonideal circumstances.
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  11. 'Going Evaluative' to Save Justice From Feasibility -- A Pyrrhic Victory.David Wiens - 2014 - Philosophical Quarterly 64 (255):301-307.
    I discuss Gheaus's (2013) argument against the claim that the requirements of justice are not constrained by feasibility concerns. I show that the general strategy exemplified by this argument is not only dialectically puzzling, but also imposes a heavy cost on theories of justice -- puzzling because it simply sidesteps a presupposition of any plausible formulation of the so-called "feasibility requirement"; costly because it it deprives justice of its normative implications for action. I also show that Gheaus's attempt to recover (...)
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  12. Leif Wenar, Blood Oil. [REVIEW]David Wiens - 2017 - Ethics 127 (3):813-817.
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  13. Natural Resources and Government Responsiveness.David Wiens - 2015 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 14 (1):84-105.
    Pogge and Wenar have recently argued that we are responsible for the persistence of the so-called ‘resource curse’. But their analyses are limited in important ways. I trace these limitations to their undue focus on the ways in which the international rules governing resource transactions undermine government accountability. To overcome the shortcomings of Pogge’s and Wenar’s analyses, I propose a normative framework organized around the social value of government responsiveness and discuss the implications of adopting this framework for future normative (...)
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  14. Assessing Ideal Theories: Lessons From the Theory of Second Best.David Wiens - 2016 - Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 15 (2):132-149.
    Numerous philosophers allege that the "general theory of second best" (Lipsey and Lancaster, 1956) poses a challenge to the Target View, which asserts that real world reform efforts should aim to establish arrangements that satisfy the constitutive features of ideal just states of affairs. I demonstrate two claims that are relevant in this context. First, I show that the theory of second best fails to present a compelling challenge to the Target View in general. But, second, the theory of second (...)
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  15. Will the Real Principles of Justice Please Stand Up?David Wiens - 2017 - In Kevin Vallier & Michael Weber (eds.), Political Utopias: Contemporary Debates. Oxford University Press.
    This chapter develops a ``nesting'' model of deontic normative principles (i.e., principles that specify moral constraints upon action) as a means to understanding the notion of a ``fundamental normative principle''. I show that an apparently promising attempt to make sense of this notion such that the ``real'' or ``fundamental'' demands of justice upon action are not constrained by social facts is either self-defeating or relatively unappealing. We should treat fundamental normative principles not as specifying fundamental constraints upon action, but as (...)
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  16. The Tyranny of a Metaphor.David Wiens - 2018 - Cosmos + Taxis 5 (2):13-28.
    Debates on the practical relevance of ideal theory revolve around Sen's metaphor of navigating a mountainous landscape. In *The Tyranny of the Ideal*, Gerald Gaus presents the most thorough articulation of this metaphor to date. His detailed exploration yields new insight on central issues in existing debates, as well as a fruitful medium for exploring important limitations on our ability to map the space of social possibilities. Yet Gaus's heavy reliance on the navigation metaphor obscures questions about the reasoning by (...)
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  17. Cosmopolitanism and Competition: Probing the Limits of Egalitarian Justice.David Wiens - 2017 - Economics and Philosophy 33 (1):91-124.
    This paper develops a novel competition criterion for evaluating institutional schemes. Roughly, this criterion says that one institutional scheme is normatively superior to another to the extent that the former would engender more widespread political competition than the latter. I show that this criterion should be endorsed by both global egalitarians and their statist rivals, as it follows from their common commitment to the moral equality of all persons. I illustrate the normative import of the competition criterion by exploring its (...)
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  18. Natural Resources and Institutional Development.David Wiens - 2014 - Journal of Theoretical Politics 26 (2):197-221.
    Recent work on the resource curse argues that the effect of resource wealth on development outcomes is a conditional one: resource dependent countries with low quality institutions are vulnerable to a resource curse, while resource dependent countries with high quality institutions are not. But extant models neglect the ways in which the inflow of resource revenue impacts the institutional environment itself. In this paper, I present a formal model to show that where domestic institutions do not limit state leaders' discretion (...)
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  19. Achieving Global Justice: Why Failures Matter More Than Ideals.David Wiens - 2015 - In Kate Brennan (ed.), Making Global Institutions Work: Power, Accountability and Change. Routledge.
    My aim in this paper is twofold. First, I challenge the view that ideal normative principles offer appropriate guidelines for our efforts to identify morally progressive institutional reform strategies. I shall call this view the "ideal guidance approach." Second, I develop an alternative methodological approach to specifying nonideal normative principles, which I call the "failure analysis approach." I contrast these alternatives using examples from the global justice literature.
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  20. Rejoinder to Estlund.David Wiens - manuscript
    Estlund has offered a reply to my "Motivational Demands on the Limits of Justice". This short note is my rejoinder.
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  21. What Second-Best Scenarios Reveal About Ideals of Global Justice.Christian Barry & David Wiens - forthcoming - In Thom Brooks (ed.), Oxford Handbook to Global Justice.
    In theory, there need be no conflict between addressing global inequality (inequalities between people worldwide) and addressing domestic inequality (inequalities between people within a political community). Yet, in practice, there are likely instances in which the feasible mechanisms for reducing global inequality risk aggravating domestic inequality. The burgeoning literature on global justice has tended to overlook the latter type of scenario. This chapter explores ways in which tradeoffs between promoting domestic and global equality may arise and how they may be (...)
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  22. Engineering Global Justice: Achieving Success Through Failure Analysis.David Wiens - 2011 - Dissertation, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (UM)
    My dissertation develops a novel approach to institutional analysis and begins to apply this approach to debates in the international justice literature. The main innovation of this institutional failure analysis approach is to ground our normative evaluation of institutions on a detailed understanding of the causal processes that generate problematic social outcomes. Chapters 1 and 2 motivate the need for this new approach, showing that philosophers' neglect of causal explanations of global poverty leads extant normative analyses of poverty astray. The (...)
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