Andrew F Smith, Philosophy, Drexel University

Plant Sentience

in Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics, 2e, ed. Paul B. Thompson and David M. Kaplan (Dordrecht, NL: Springer, forthcoming).

Food deserts include any area in the industrialized world in which reasonably priced, nutritious food is difficult to obtain. They constitute a pressing public health concern insofar as inhabitants of food deserts disproportionately suffer from a variety of diet-related ailments. Economist Amartya Sen has written extensively about how famines are the result of governmental failure. I draw on his considerations to defend two claims. First, the perpetuation of food deserts constitutes a failure specifically of democratic governance. Second, this breakdown is best addressed by implementing programs and policies that reflect Sen’s capabilities approach to conceptualizing what justice for inhabitants of food deserts requires.

Intended and Unintended Successes

in The Ethics of Homelessness: Philosophical Perspectives, 2e., ed. G. John M. Abbarno and Naomi Zack (Leiden, NL: Brill Rodopi, forthcoming).

Homelessness is often regarded as a sign of failure. From the political left, it is viewed as a failure of existing social institutions to adequately facilitate care for the most economically vulnerable. From the political right, it represents a failure of affected individuals to take personal responsibility for their material wellbeing. In this essay, I argue that homelessness instead should be regarded as a sign of success, both intended and unintended. The institutions primarily responsible for “managing” the homeless in the United States are designed to deny them security, dignity, and autonomy, and they are quite successful at doing so. This is to be expected in what Glenn Albrecht calls a corrumpalist (from the Latin corrumpere, “to destroy”) socio-economic system, according to which those in power favor the destruction of bodies that prove not to be profit bearing. But a good number of homeless people nevertheless succeed at living and making a living partially freely from corrumpalist institutions despite the crushing burdens they bear on a daily basis. The housed have much to learn from these unintended successes so long as we, too, seek to free ourselves from the grip of these institutions.

From Victims to Survivors? Struggling to Live Ecoconsciously in an Ecocidal Culture

Environmental Philosophy, 14(2) (2017)

It’s hardly news that settler culture normalizes ecocide. Those of us raised as settlers who are nevertheless ecoconscious routinely blame ourselves for our failure to live up to our own best expectations when it comes to challenging the norms and practices of our culture. This leads us to overlook that we’re also—and, I think, much more so—among its victims. I outline five manifestations of victimhood routinely exhibited by the ecoconscious settler activists, scholars, and students with whom I interact. I then consider how we can transition from being victims tosurvivors of our culture, which is vital for ending ecocide. These two concepts, victimhood and survivorship, are regularly juxtaposed when discussing recovery for those subject to abuse, violence, and other trauma-inducing phenomena. Together they provide the basis for a clearer understanding of how we ecoconscious settlers should engage in the ongoing fight for our lives and our futures.

Food Deserts, Capabilities, and the Rectification of Democratic Failure

Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 17(2) (2016)

Food deserts include any area in the industrialized world in which reasonably priced, nutritious food is difficult to obtain. They constitute a pressing public health concern insofar as inhabitants of food deserts disproportionately suffer from a variety of diet-related ailments. Economist Amartya Sen has written extensively about how famines are the result of governmental failure. I draw on his considerations to defend two claims. First, the perpetuation of food deserts constitutes a failure specifically of democratic governance. Second, this breakdown is best addressed by implementing programs and policies that reflect Sen’s capabilities approach to conceptualizing what justice for inhabitants of food deserts requires.

Political Deliberation and the Challenge of Bounded Rationality

Politics, Philosophy & Economics, 13(2) (2014)

Many proponents of deliberative democracy expect “reasonable” citizens to be able to engage in rational argumentation. But this expectation runs up against findings by behavioral economists and social psychologists revealing the extent to which normal cognitive functions are influenced by bounded rationality. People regularly utilize an array of biases in the process of making decisions, which inhibits our argumentative capacities by adversely affecting our ability and willingness to be self-critical and to give due consideration to others’ interests. Although these biases cannot be overcome, I draw on scientifically corroborated insights offered by Adam Smith to show that they can be kept in check if certain affective and cognitive capacities are cultivated.  Smith provides a compelling account of how to foster sympathetic, impartial, and projective role taking in the process of interacting with others, which can greatly enhance our capacity and willingness to critically assess our own interests and fairly consider those of others. 

Solidarity as Public Morality: Reconstructing Rorty’s Case for the Social Value of the Philosopher

Contemporary Pragmatism, 11(1) (2014)

I reconstruct Richard Rorty’s account of the specific roles and practices that make philosophy as a profession politically valuable. Rorty makes clear why it is that the work of metaphysicians—his name for those who engage in technical and abstruse forms of philosophy—is unfit for public life. Moreover, he insists that seeking to ground political practice in theory is at best a distraction. But in contrast to the received view of Rorty’s thought, I show that he is equally concerned about reliance on ironism—or radically doubting the certainty of the positions one defends—to address political concerns. Both metaphysics and ironism should be regarded as private means of edification. The political value of the philosopher instead resides in her willingness to be either a pragmatist or a prophet: one who clears away conceptual roadblocks strewn throughout the tradition or inspires hope in imagined future communities marked by increased solidarity.

Religion in the Public Sphere: Incentivizing Reciprocal Deliberative Engagement

Philosophy & Social Criticism, 40(6) (2014)

Most theorists of deliberative democracy assume that citizens who engage in political deliberation should do so in a specific way. When citizens defend or promote laws and policies they favor, they should offer fellow deliberators reasons that they expect their interlocutors to regard as acceptable. A number of religiously minded theorists argue that this assumption places an undue burden on religious citizens. It inhibits their ability to appeal to religious reasons, which they may feel duty-bound to rely on as a matter of faith, because interlocutors who do not share their creed may not accept the reasons offered to them. In response, I develop a conception of political deliberation that provides unlimited latitude regarding the sorts of reasons that can be introduced into deliberation, so long as those who offer them are prepared to defend them against criticism. Moreover, I contend that religious citizens have a powerful incentive, based on their religious convictions, to be fully responsive to criticism.

In Defense of Homelessness

Journal of Value Inquiry, 48(1) (2014)

I offer a twofold defense of homelessness. First, I argue that specifiable socio-economic forms of organization that are common among the homeless and that operate at least partially independently of state and philanthropic institutions embody valuable and worthwhile ways to live and to make a living. Second, the norms underlying the current institutional response to homelessness facilitate psychological distress and social fragmentation not just among the homeless but among the housed as well. As a result, the ways in which the homeless seek to live and to make a living may be conducive to the wellbeing of the housed as well.

Attention Deficit, Yes, But Not Democracy: Reply to Berger

in Civic Virtues, Divided Societies, and Democratic Dilemmas, ed. Jeffrey Gautier (Charlottesville, VA: Philosophy Documentation Center, 2013)

Ben Berger provides a number of “modest proposals” intended to prevent widespread and radical political disengagement among citizens. This is the most adverse manifestation of citizens’ invariable “attention deficit,” or their incapacity to maintain the focus and energy necessary to remain deeply and perpetually politically engaged. While attention deficit is ineradicable, its worst effects can be kept enduringly in check, Berger argues. This is necessary for the maintenance of a functional democracy. In response, I argue that democracy in America, which is Berger’s specific focus, has not endured and for reasons that relate only indirectly to attention deficit. While certain of his prescriptions are worthy of endorsement, how to implement them must be put into a context that more accurately reflects the current character of our political landscape.

Talisse’s Epistemic Justification of Democracy Revisited

Contemporary Pragmatism, 10(1) (2013)

Paul Ott offers three related arguments against Robert Talisse’s epistemic justification of democracy. According to this justification, inclusive public deliberation is necessary for the development of legitimate and generally reliable laws and policies. Together, Ott’s arguments are intended to support the proposition that an alternative justification of democracy provides a better explanatory basis for how to facilitate the development of legitimate and reliable laws and policies. I contend that each of Ott’s argument is fails. As a result, none of them reflects a successful critique of Talisse’s conception of democracy. Nor do any of Ott’s arguments provide support for his defense of an alternative justification of democracy. I close by offering a more promising line of criticism against Talisse’s epistemic justification.

Secularity and Biblical Literalism: Confronting the Case for Epistemological Diversity

International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 71(3) (2012)

Stephen Carter, a law professor who writes on social and religious policy, argues that biblical literalism is predicated on a radically different conception of truth and belief than that which is maintained by members of the scientific community. Biblical literalists assert that biblical claims are self-verifying, while scientists contend that such claims are to be judged according to empirical verifiability. By relying on insights offered by Charles Taylor as well as on evidence from recent sociological studies, I argue that Carter’s thesis is incorrect. Biblical literalists and scientists are divided but not by competing notions of truth and belief. The divide between them is instead ethical in nature. This indicates that deliberative engagement between these parties—which depends on shared norms of truth and belief—is possible, at least in principle.

On the Epistemic Incentives to Deliberate Publicly

Journal of Social Philosophy, 41(4) (2010)

In this article, I focus on why we should engage in public deliberation when we run into opposition. I draw on considerations offered by two prominent nineteenth-century philosophers—John Stuart Mill and Charles Sander Peirce—and one contemporary philosopher—Huw Price—to argue that citizens have two salient incentives to continue with public deliberation under such conditions. Public deliberation provides us with the opportunity to develop beliefs that endure over time because they stand up effectively to concerted scrutiny. It also prevents beliefs from becoming what Mill calls “dead dogmas,” or empty creeds that are “enfeebled, and deprived of [their] vital effect on the character and conduct.”

Truth, Negation, and the Limits of Inquiry: Revisiting the Problem of Buried Secrets

Southwest Philosophy Review, 25(2) (2009)

John Nolt has developed a novel critique of Charles Sanders Peirce’s conceptualization of truth as an epistemic ideal—or as the quintessential property exhibited by propositions the acceptance of which would be warranted indefeasibly no matter how much further inquiry into their subject matter is pursued. Nolt argues that we should model this conceptualization in terms of a “semantics of confirmation.” But by doing so, we encounter distressing drawbacks that arise when attempting to develop a coherent understanding of how Peirce should conceive of negation. As such, Nolt concludes that we should reject Peirce’s conceptualization of truth. I challenge Nolt’s assertion by showing that he misconstrues vital aspects of Peirce’s discussion of the character and function of truth. Most significantly, he fails to recognize that Peirce is not attempting to develop a definition of truth but is instead offering an account of its pragmatic meaningfulness: of what the experience of grasping truth would involve.

Communication and Conviction: A Jamesian Contribution to Deliberative Democracy

Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 21(4) (2007)

In recent years, proponents of deliberative democracy have drawn on the work of pragmatists to exceptionally good effect. Yet reference to William James’s thought has remained noticeably absent within these discussions, in all likelihood because his approach to moral and political theorizing does not appear to fit well with the theoretical underpinnings of the deliberative democratic tradition. I argue, however, that James’s thought is not only compatible with the main components of a conception of deliberative democracy that has gained considerable traction among pragmatists, but that it also offers two tangible contributions to deliberativists.  First, it reveals just how important it is for deliberators to develop “responsive sensibilities” toward their own blindnesses, which increases the possibility of achieving mutually acceptable political decisions. Second, it ably supports a recent move by deliberativists to widen how to conceive of political argumentation in order to respond to the objection that deliberative democracy often excludes politically marginalized constituencies.

Closer But Still No Cigar: On the Inadequacy of Rawls’s Reply to Okin’s ‘Political Liberalism, Justice, and Gender’

Social Theory and Practice, 30(1) (2004)

In “Political Liberalism, Justice, and Gender,” Susan Moller Okin argues that John Rawls equivocates concerning whether the internal dynamics of the family should be governed by principles of justice that guarantee free and equal citizenship to all. So Rawls ends up effectively ignoring the manner in which the internal dynamics of the family disproportionately place women in positions of inequality and vulnerability, which in turn leads him to overlook how this restricts the ability of women to be free and equal citizens within the purview of the political sphere. Rawls offers a direct response to Okin’s criticisms and also has taken his thought in a provocative direction that can be drawn on to fill out this response. Nevertheless, I suggest that Rawls still fails to adequately reply to Okin. This threatens to undermine his wider defense of political liberalism.

Pluralism and Political Legitimacy: Toward a Perfectionist Defense of Deliberative Democracy

in Environmental Philosophy as Social Philosophy, ed. Cheryl Hughes and Andrew Light (Charlottesville, VA: Philosophy Documentation Center, 2004)

Both John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas address how to ensure that all “reasonable” citizens have the capacity to live a good life when there exist in modern society a wide variety of competing conceptions thereof. Yet, according to James Bohman both thinkers in fact fail to resolve this “dilemma of the good.” He offers a deliberative conception of democracy intended to make up for their shortcomings. I argue that Bohman’s conception covertly relies on moderately perfectionist values that cause him to fall prey to what Bert van den Brink calls the “tragic predicament” of liberalism: Bohman cannot articulate how a resolution to the dilemma of the good can be achieved without defending ideals that let some doctrines of the good life appear more worthy of state promotion than others. But far from undermining Bohman’s conception, explicit acknowledgement of his moderate perfectionism can, ironically, serve to strengthen it.

William James and the Politics of Moral Conflict

Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 40(1) (2004)

While William James has garnered widespread praise for his contributions to moral thought, he also has received considerable criticism for his inability to translate these contributions into a viable political philosophy. I suggest, however, that James’s thought is particularly well suited to aid in addressing difficulties raised by a core feature of contemporary political life. A vast number of the political disagreements that we face today revolve around acerbic moral conflicts between citizens. This potentially has the effect of driving all but the most zealous political actors from public forums and undermining the means for citizens to peacefully resolve their differences. I set out to show that James’s thought proves particularly helpful in seeking to respond to both of these concerns. First, he offers uniquely beneficial guidance regarding how to develop the proper sort of motivation to engage in political action. Second, he provides a particularly useful sense of how such action should be undertaken.

Semantic Externalism, Authoritative Self-Knowledge, and Adaptation to Slow Switching

Acta Analytica, 18(1) (2003)

I argue against the viability of Peter Ludlow’s modified version of Paul Boghossian’s argument for the incompatibility of semantic externalism and authoritative self-knowledge. Ludlow contends that slow switching is not merely actual but is, moreover, prevalent;it can occur whenever we shift between localized linguistic communities. It is therefore quite possible, he maintains, that we undergo unwitting shifts in our mental content on a regular basis. However, there is good reason to accept as plausible that despite their prevalence we are in fact able to readily adapt to such switches, as well as to the shifts in mental content that accompany them. The prevalence of slow switching between linguistic communities does not then necessarily entail incompatibility after all.