“Actual” does not imply “feasible”
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 if some desirable state of affairs was actually achieved, then it was feasible that it was achieved. “Actual” does not imply “feasible,” as we put it. Here is our objection. “Feasible” implies “not counterfactually fluky.” But “actual” does not imply “not counterfactually fluky.” So, “actual” does not imply “feasible.” While something like the Flukiness Objection is sometimes hinted at in the context of the related literature on abilities, it has not been developed in any detail, and both premises are inadequately motivated. We offer a novel articulation of the Flukiness Objection that is both more precise and better motivated. Our conclusions have important implications, not only for the admissible use of history in normative argument, but also by potentially circumscribing the normative claims that are applicable to us.
KeywordFeasibility Appeal to History Flukiness Objection
Previous versions of this paper were presented at the Australian National University, the University of California San Diego, the Association for Political Theory annual conference and the Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference. We are very grateful to many friends and colleagues for their valuable feedback. We would particularly like to thank Christian Barry, Jesse Driscoll, Pablo Gilabert, Bob Goodin, Benjamin Kiesewetter, Colleen Murphy, Seth Lazar and an anonymous referee for this journal for detailed written comments. Research for the paper was supported by DP120101507 and DP140102468.
- Austin, J. L. (1956). Ifs and cans. Proceedings of the British Academy, 42, 107–132.Google Scholar
- Bratman, M. (2009). Intention, belief, practical, theoretical. In J. Timmerman, J. Skorupski, & S. Robertson (Eds.), Spheres of reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Brennan, G., & Nicholas S. (2007). Feasibility in action and attitude. In: T. Rønnow-Rasmussen, B. Petersson, J. Jonefsson, & D. Egonsson (Eds.) Hommage à Wlodek: Philosophical Papers Dedicated to Wlodek Rabinowicz, pp 1–25.Google Scholar
- Goodin, R. (1982). Political theory and public policy. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Maier, J. (2014). Abilities. In: E. N. Zalta (Ed.) The stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2014/entries/abilities/.
- McCann, H. (1991). Settled objectives and rational constraints. American Philosophical Quarterly, 28, 25–36.Google Scholar
- Miller, D. (2013). Justice for earthlings: Essays in political philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Nolan, S. (2013). Angelina Jolie and William Hague Team Up: Britain’s £10million bid to fight sex attacks in war zones. Daily Mail, 11 April 2013.Google Scholar
- Southwood, N. (2015b). The relevance of human nature. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy.Google Scholar
- Southwood, N. (Ms). Does ‘Ought’ Imply ‘Feasible’? unpublished paper.Google Scholar
- Vihvelin, K. (2013). The philosophy of free will. In P. Russell & O. Deery (Eds.), Free will demystified: A dispositional account. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Wiens, D. (2016). Motivational Limitations and the Demands of Justice. European Journal of Political Theory.Google Scholar
- Ypi, L. (2012). Global justice and avant-garde political agency. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar