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Kymlicka’s Contemporary Political Philosophy 3

June 22, 2017

Chapter 6 – Communitarianism:

In Chapter 6, Kymlicka takes aim at liberal equality’s rival of the 1980’s: communitarianism. Linking their opposition of Sittlichkeit and Moralität, justice and community, the author distinguishes several strands of communitarianism, each with its distinct theses:

  • Community replaces the need for principles of justice.
  • Properly appreciating community requires one to rethink justice.
    1. Community is the source of justice (from society rather than universal principles).
    2. Community has a predominant role in determining the content of the principles of justice (the common good over individual rights).

From these three strands, i.e. 1.), 2a.) and 2b.), Kymlicka derives his chapter structure and devotes varying attention to each. The author quickly dispatches 1.) with reference to his arguments against Marxism (pp. 173-5) wherein he maintained that justice does not displace love or solidarity but instead keeps them free of domination or subordination. 2a.) comes and goes almost as swiftly, for he opines that the point of justice is often precisely that it stands apart from and at odds with the forms of life in society. Following Dworkin, justice is our critic, not our mirror. In the face of disagreement, competing standards will need evaluating in the light of more general standards, and local standards will inevitably yield less parochial standpoints.

In contrast, Kymlicka devotes considerably more time to 2b.) understood as methodological or substantive individualism which he deems the crux of the communitarian challenge to liberal equality. In other words, the focus on individuals and their right to self-determination exercises a deleterious effect on community and the common good. Accordingly, Kymlicka’s critical reading of communitarianism begins by a defense of liberal understandings of person. Key to self-determination is the idea of the person’s standing apart or being able to step back from her ends, instrumental or final. As a prime instance thereof, the author marshals a passage from Rawls’ 1980 essay, “Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory”, at page 544. From there, one arrives at two conditions for liberal self-determination and against state paternalism: a.) the person must lead her life “from the inside”, in accordance with her deeply held beliefs; b.) the person must be free to question and revise those beliefs. The combination thereof presupposes a cultural frame in which the person disposes of personal liberties and cultural awareness of other ways of life. In other words, the state must be neutral or, perhaps better, anti-perfectionist.

For certain “communitarian” authors, it is just this state anti-perfectionism which proves suspect. For some, it presupposes an illusory, epistemically dangerous capacity for human self-determination (2ba.). For others, the link between state anti-perfectionism and self-determination is less evident than it might seem (2bb.). Following Sandel, Kymlicka labels 2ba.) the “unencumbered self” objection whereon the liberal self is not seen as being “defined by [its] membership in any particular economic, religious, sexual, or recreational relationship, since [it is] free to question and reject any particular relationship” (221). The author recalls the Rawlsian formulation, itself of Kantian inspiration: “the self is prior to the ends which are affirmed by it” (TJ, p. 560). The objection amounts to the claim that the foregoing promotes a false view of the self by ignoring how existing social practices are, at least partially, constitutive of self, hence its “situated” or “embedded” character. Accordingly, following MacIntyre, self-determination can only be exercised within those practices and the roles operative therein. Indeed, this would seem closer to our reflective views on self.

Yet Kymlicka takes care in pointing out a number of counts on which this line of thinking goes wrong. First, if being able to revise one’s beliefs is important, this owes not to the importance of constant revision, but to the need to live one’s life from the inside. If the attributed role does not fit, then one should be free to find another which does. Such that the liberal self does not so much deny the given (in the sense of being set for us at one time or another) but deny that the given must hold one and the same form across all moments of one’s life. One can change that which figures in the given.

More vigorously challenging reflective views on self, the author formulates objections to two versions of Sandel’s “unencumbered self” critique, which represents a weaker version of 2ba.). On the first, the “self-perception” argument, the liberal self does not match with our deepest introspection. More simply, one does not detect a propertyless self at the bottom of our reflection. To this Kymlicka opposes the observation that the unencumbered self is merely an abstraction from the liberal self whereof one must be able to imagine that self with different ends, not without ends at all. Put differently, “the process of practical reasoning is always one of comparing one ‘encumbered’ potential self with another ‘encumbered’ potential self” (225). Thus, Sandel would have to argue that the person is incapable of imagining herself otherwise encumbered.

Wherefore the second version, the “embedded self” argument. This argument takes practical reasoning to be an exercise in self-discovery rather than self-determination, in learning who one already is rather than in deciding who one is to be. In this way, communal values are not merely associative but constitutive of one’s personal identity. That said, Sandel attaches a caveat to the latter claim when noting that the self’s boundaries are flexible in the sense that one could choose to pursue one of a set of already given, though conflicting constitutive aims. Yet, in allowing that fluidity, Sandel concedes, much like the liberal, that the self is prior to its ends. As the author puts it, the liberal and the communitarian “disagree over where, within the person, to draw the boundaries of the self; but this question, if it is indeed a meaningful question, is one for the philosophy of mind, not political philosophy” (227). As soon as Sandel foresees a capacity for revision, he introduces a fundamental ambiguity into the conception of person put forward by communitarian politics. A strong version thereof is implausible; a weak version thereof is, for all intents and purposes, a retreading of the liberal person. All in all, the author considers this a decisive setback for the communitarian challenge.

Kymlicka’s Contemporary Political Philosophy 2

June 21, 2017

Chapter 3 – Liberal equality:

In Chapter 3, Kymlicka turns to competing accounts of liberal equality to assess their relative soundness. He begins with Rawls and briefly sets out the reasons for which the latter rejects intuitionism and utilitarianism. He then recalls Rawls’ two principles of justice and the two arguments therefor: they provide a better spelling-out of the idea of equal opportunity (fairness); they follow from a hypothetical social contract. Kymlicka ultimately deems the first of these two arguments the stronger in that the second seems parasitic on the first insofar as it is merely “an intuitive test of fairness” (63). Indeed, the author sees the dispute over gamblers and natural handicaps within the original position as one which “cannot be resolved by appeal to contractual agreement” as “it would beg the question for either side to invoke its account of the contracting situation in defence if its theory of justice, since the contracting situation presupposes the theory” (68). If such questions must be decided in advance of and independently of the contracting situation, then this proves redundant and itself requires some independent justification. This, combined with the choice-insensitiveness of Rawls’ theory, leads Kymlicka to prefer Dworkin’s own, independent solution to the problem of equality of resources (notably in the form of auctions, insurance schemes, free markets and taxation, laid out in the latter’s “Equality” article series).

Otherwise, it bears mentioning that fears over the veil of ignorance’s consequences for personal identity (e.g. what is left of the self? Can one imagine oneself behind the veil?) are misplaced for the veil of ignorance is not a theory of personal identity. Accordingly, “the hypothetical contract is a way of embodying a certain conception of equality, and a way of extracting the consequences of that conception for the just regulation of social institutions” (64). This has the further consequence that, “since the premiss of the argument is equality, not contract, to criticize it we need to show that it fails to embody an adequate account of equality” and that it is neither sufficient nor relevant “to say that the contract is historically inaccurate, or that the veil of ignorance is psychologically impossible, or that the original position is in some other way unrealistic” (idem.). In a word, we must accept the conditions and examine whether the principles selected therein turn out to be fair upon reflection.

Certainly, Kymlicka’s interpretive charity is to his credit. That said, there seem at least two possible paths by which one might cast doubts on Rawls’ contractarianism without accepting the author’s conditions. First, we might ask, with Stout, whether Rawls’ own conditions for the original position are epistemologically fair, i.e. show equal consideration for all participants. Second, we might call into question, again with Stout, whether public reason, as the acceptable procedures for deliberation, is itself acceptable. Both positions grant Kymlicka’s conditions all while addressing different, though valid, issues.

At a more general level, the school of liberal equality also encounters problems in that it calls, at a theoretical level, for political reforms and action which, at a practical level, it is hard to cash out. Notable among these are the idea that increased “ambition-sensitivity” and decreased “endowment-sensitivity” comes at the cost of neoliberalism (92-94) and Jonathan Wolff’s (1998) suggestion that “liberal equality may indeed be the best theory of justice, from a purely philosophical point of view” albeit one which “promotes the wrong ethos of equality”. In forcing the disadvantaged to prove their disadvantage, liberal equality promotes “shameful revelation”, distrust and stigmatization while thereby sapping the solidarity and mutual concern necessary to sustain justice. All of which leads Kymlicka to conclude that, while it remains the most plausible account, liberal equality needs theoretical shoring-up at the level of political practice after consideration of what liberal principles can offer radicals and what radical principles can offer liberals.

Kymlicka’s Contemporary Political Philosophy 1

June 20, 2017

Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction
What, if anything, binds different approaches in contemporary political philosophy and what lessons might we draw therefrom?

Preface to the second edition:
Kymlicka opens his massive tome by briefly recollecting the reasons for which he set out to write such a work: he sought 1.) to provide a comprehensive overview of recent work in political philosophy and 2.) to highlight the interconnections between its different strands. If he draws attention to these (failed) ambitions, he nonetheless thinks that he succeeds in drawing attention to certain common themes or commitments which political theorists must share, whatever their take on problems and realities. (For instance, the possibility of progress in political philosophy (x).) One, highlighted in the Introduction to the First Edition, concerns the way in which governments attempt to show equal concern and respect for their citizens. Others, which go without explicit mention in the first edition, include the centrality of liberal democracy to contemporary political philosophy and the importance of responsibility in political thought. Of the former, Kymlicka adds that most political thought can be sorted into either of two camps: either defending liberal democracy or opposing it through outright rejection or careful supplementation and alternatives. Of the latter, the author notes that all contributors to political philosophy must provide “an account of who is responsible for meeting which needs or costs or choices”, of questions of “personal responsibility and collective responsibility” (xi).

Chapter 1 – Introduction:
Herein Kymlicka lays out his plan for the work to come and emphasizes just how the traditional left-right divide fails to capture the richness of exchanges and discussions in contemporary political philosophy. Accordingly, each approach seems to put forward a different ultimate value which does not map onto the aforementioned divide. Would a comprehensive theory of justice then attempt to incorporate bits and bobs from each of the different schools? Yet the author is quick to caution against just such a view. On his reading, different approaches do not so much set out from different ultimate values as they offer different takes on one and the same value: equality in the sense of treating people as equals (a suggestion which he borrows from Dworkin 1977 and gestures towards in the Preface). Put more explicitly, “a theory is egalitarian in this sense if it accepts that the interests of each member of the community matter, and matter equally” (3-4). To which one might reply, with Amartya Sen, “equality of what?”, a question to which each school purports to bring a different, albeit equally definitive, answer.
As to methodology, notably the content of political philosophy as distinct from other approaches, the author briefly lays out several considerations without considering the matter an open-and-shut case. After all, it is impossible to say what political philosophy is independently of a substantive account thereof. Notably he posits a fundamental continuity between moral and political philosophy on two counts. Following Nozick (1974), he maintains that moral philosophy sets certain bounds to that on which the government can reasonably coerce its citizens such that political philosophy “focuses on those obligations which justify the use of public institutions” (5). Otherwise, Kymlicka holds that any account of our public responsibilities must fit with and make room for the private responsibilities. There should be no crowding out of friends, projects or promises. Finally, as to the criteria by which we must test the different approaches to political philosophy, the author appeals to Rawls’ tried-and-true (tired-and-truthy) notion of reflective equilibrium between our considered convictions and more general principles. It remains to be seen how different schools try to meet that equilibrium.

Self-knowledge and political justification 7

June 19, 2017

IV: Can Stout rescue public philosophy and political justification?

Stout might try either of two tacks to bring Leiter around to his take on the connection between self-knowledge and political justification. As to the first, Stout expounds, in “Rorty on Religion and Politics” (2010b, 16-7), on how the beliefs of religious opponents to same-sex marriage may be analysed with an eye to the role that reasons play in rationalizing their opposition. For those (sadistic) homophobes who use religious rationalization wittingly as a cover for the emotive or affective response motivating that position, they are not tracking reasons for that opposition, and there is consequently little hope that they will react to pressure from reasons. For those (unwitting) homophobes who use religious rationalization unwittingly as a cover for the emotive or affective response motivating that position, neither are they tracking reasons for that opposition nor do they have any helpful first-order self-knowledge, but there is some hope that they will react to pressure from the right kind of reasons. (In that they are hateful but unaware of their rationalizations as being such and might otherwise consider themselves decent people, hence an argumentative foothold for the right kind of pressure, e.g. appeals to that decency.) Finally, there are those who, while not homophobic (well-intentioned opponents), have a negative emotive or affective response and find religious teachings a plausible explanation therefor and for whom “reasons are playing a greater role in the formation of their political position in the first place” (17). Accordingly, even if they are unaware of those reasons (and so lack thick self-knowledge), their beliefs track or are keyed to reasons and they themselves are more likely to be responsive to pressure on the reasons upstream of their beliefs. It would suffice to “show them that their scriptural reasons for opposing same-sex marriage fail to cohere with other commitments they hold with equal or greater confidence” (idem.). Notably, Stout also takes care to link the beliefs above to aspects of the social structure (in particular, the distinction between genders and its importance to the division of labor) and hence shows sensitivity to non-discursive factors at work in the attitude- and belief-formation behind political deliberation (17-9). Indeed, he thinks that changes in attitude are in part attributable to changes in the underlying social structure. In other words, Stout is aware, at least to some extent, of the emotivist, tribalist challenge posed by Leiter (cf. his discussion of alternative modes of moral inculcation at 2004, 162-8). We need only cite his recognition that “the intuitions from which moral reasoning proceeds are not the same” in different social structures. The question is then whether he fully understands and accepts the scope of the problem put by Leiter, namely that emotivism and tribalism are constitutive of all instances of attitude- and belief-formation and prima facie block self-knowledge and political justification. It is unclear whether Stout (or Leiter, for that matter) is ready to concede so much.

As to the other tack, other-knowledge (either thin or thick) leaves the public philosopher or interlocutor better-positioned to exercise precisely the kind of rhetorical pressure which Leiter envisions. A person’s thin self-knowledge can be brought to serve the same purpose. Put differently, the public philosopher or interlocutor may draw on discursive hygiene to arrive at (thin or thick) knowledge of the person’s perspective or inferential commitments from which the former may identify the kinds of reasons, at the level of form and content, most likely to apply the right kind of rhetorical pressure to the person’s attitude, belief or political position. This approach seems rather close to the practice of immanent criticism (see Singer, Bioethics Bites example). As Leiter himself allows, logical entailments can, at times, constrain attitudes, beliefs or political positions. At the same time, rhetorical pressure need not take the form of arguing from logical entailments, as Leiter remarked of Singer’s vivid description of animal suffering. Stout considers that “moral perception” has an important role to play in moral reasoning (Stout 2004, 216-24). Certainly, the emotional or affective responses constitutive of moral perception are “noninferential, but they are inferentially connected to moral passions, like awe and pity, and the actions for which they serve as warrant” (217). Accordingly, should we allow that emotivism and tribalism are constitutive of attitude- and belief-formation, this does not preclude their responsiveness to the right kinds of reasons depending on the circumstances. This last point is one for which Stout is well-prepared and has at the ready a battery of arguments.

To conclude, while Stout sketches a stronger connection between self-knowledge and political justification than Leiter thinks reasonable, Stout is ready to concede, to an extent, the limits which Leiter would set his account. Moreover, insofar as Leiter is not himself willing wholly to discount discursive hygiene and sees the need for rhetoric, he has need of a position not unlike Stout’s to flesh out his new discursive practice. In the end, while thick self-knowledge and justified political beliefs seem further out of reach than before, the exercises to which attempts at self-knowledge lend themselves in no way prevent the public philosopher or interlocutor from making full use of a mixed argumentative strategy to advance the end of political deliberation.

Self-knowledge and political justification 6

June 16, 2017

To further this claim, Leiter marshals two examples: the 2014 Steven Salaita controversy at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign showing how discursive hygiene on hard and fast legal norms can fail; Jonathan Haidt’s 2001 “incest experiment” to test a social intuitionist model of practical reasons and:

[…] according to which in most ordinary situations, moral judgments are produced by emotional or affective responses, the reasons adduced in their support being post-hoc: they do not explain the judgment, as evidenced by the resilience of the judgment even in the face of the defeat of the proffered reason […] (ibid., 57-8)

If these considerations do not disprove the effect of discursive hygiene on moral and political judgments, it serves as a limiting case to the overly rosy or optimistic take offered by public philosophers. With this, Leiter moves to the second limiting case to the practice of “discursive hygiene” in public discourse and political deliberation.  If “prejudice and bias are dominant forces in human life”, this owes in great part to what Leiter dubs “tribalism”, defined as follows:

Tribalism – the propensity of creatures like us to identify with those “like themselves,” and to view others as unacceptably different, deficient, depraved, and perhaps dangerous – is, as any realistic appraisal of human affairs will reveal, the dominant force in public life (59).

If, as Leiter concedes, such tribalistic mindsets have given some way with the rise of international and transnational bodies, the fact remains that such institutions as the United Nations and notions as universal human rights first emerged following horrendous, widespread conflict. To this end, Leiter notes that “argument played little or no role” therein; rather, such progress is to be attributed to “emotional revulsion at barbarity” (idem.). Linking this to his emotivist point on attitudinal recalcitrance, Leiter remarks:

The key point, however, is that we philosophers must recognize that moral change depends fundamentally on the emotional attitudes of people, and that these attitudes tend in a strongly Tribalist direction (60).

As evidence therefor, Leiter advances that Peter Singer, while perhaps the foremost public philosopher alive today, appeals similarly to attitudes with no deeper rational basis (i.e. the moral salience of suffering rather than species (60)) and argues most effectively when relying on “moral perception” (62) (cf. Stout 2004, 217-224), e.g. his description of factory farming (Singer 1973). The appeal of non-rational considerations “such as theoretical simplicity, methodological conservatism, and consilience” (60) might be adduced as still more evidence for tempering our expectations for public philosophy. If a leading public philosopher likewise counts on attitudes and emotional response to do the philosophical heavy lifting, Leiter, perhaps rightly, wonders what hope there can be for lay audiences at the time of public discussion.

Yet Leiter himself does not mean to sound the death knell of public philosophy and marshals several considerations therefor (62-3):

  • Being unable to contribute meaningfully to urgent ethical and political matters in no way diminishes the importance of finding an answer to those matters.
  • If we do not understand well the causal linkage between beliefs and attitudes at the time of discursive hygiene, this does not mean that discursive hygiene might not track the evolution of beliefs and attitudes. One should thus go on providing such hygiene.
  • Law, the discipline closest to philosophy, practices and recognizes the need for discursive hygiene in the sense that logical entailments can constrain attitudes when the time comes to rationalize the reasons proffered and the attitudes adopted.

Perhaps the most important lesson which Leiter draws from 3.) is the contention that law has understood something which philosophy has not: “rhetoric – the art of persuasion apart from appeal to what follows from discursive hygiene – matters, and often matters decisively, in what the public believes” (63-64). Indeed, “’belief fixation’, the process by which certain beliefs take hold in the cognitive and affective economy of the mind and thus yield action, does not necessarily track evidential, inferential and logical relations that interest philosophers” (64). Such that philosophers of a public vocation should add rhetoric to their argumentative toolbox while recognizing that “rhetoric does not tell us what beliefs we should try to produce with our rhetorical tools”. As examples of philosophers of a public vocation for whom rhetoric was an integral resource, Leiter cites Marx and Nietzsche, influential independently of discursive hygiene.

In a word, Leiter contends that philosophical argumentation must, at least at one level, track emotional and affective responses and attitudes if it is to retain currency within public discourse and political justification. Before assessing whether Stout can meet this last charge, it is worthwhile to step back and to take stock of whether and to what extent Leiter’s account modifies the connection which we have sketched between self-knowledge and political justification.

His emotivist charge, in connection with intuitionism and sentimentalism, purports to show that the person has first an emotional or affective response to a given set of circumstances for which she only afterwards adduces reasons. This would seem to cast doubt on both her claim to thick self-knowledge in that she deceives herself on the means by which she came to hold that belief. As to her thin self-knowledge, if she is aware of her belief on a given political position, she nonetheless mistakes her reasons therefor (in part because of a failing of thick knowledge). Accordingly, her thin self-knowledge is incomplete in part because of the incomplete character of the thick, and her political position is, at best, justifiable if not justified. What then of Leiter’s second charge of tribalism? If emotive or affective response determines political attitudes and emotive or affective response is divided along tribal lines, then political attitudes are divided along tribal lines. Such that the self-knowledge breakdown for the emotivist charge seems to cross-apply: while the person may know her belief on a position and the purported reasons for that belief, she also ignores how she came to hold that belief and adduce supporting reasons. Again, her political position is at best justifiable in light of other considerations but not justified by way of her own beliefs.

Given this failing of thick self-knowledge, Leiter contends that we must be ready to forego thick self-knowledge (if not thick other-knowledge) and apply rhetorical pressure to the thin self-knowledge. On a Pryorian reading, Leiter plays down the possibility of political justification in that few, if any, will hold justified (as opposed to justifiable) beliefs or political positions, however we might be attached to justified political belief. Does Stout have an answer to these challenges or is his view of public philosophy as expressive rationality consigned to obsolescence? For that matter, must we seek still another sense of justified political belief?

Self-knowledge and political justification 5

June 15, 2017

III: Can public philosophy do the heavy inferential lifting?

Leiter takes aim at philosophy which sees itself as “contribut[ing] philosophical insight or knowledge or skill to questions of moral and political urgency in the community in which it is located” (Leiter 2016, 51). As this prima facie concerns Stout’s appeal to public philosophy as an exercise in expressive rationality and inferential commitments, Stout must wrestle with the two paradoxes laid out by Leiter:

“[T]he first paradox of public philosophy is that philosophers enter into moral and political debate purporting to offer some kind of expertise, but the expertise they offer can not [sic]  consist in any credible claim to know what is good, right, valuable, or any other substantive normative proposition that might be decisive in practical affairs.” (ibid., 53)

“That brings us to the second paradox of public philosophy. If it is not substantive normative knowledge that philosophers bring to debate, then perhaps it is a method or way of thinking about contested normative questions that they offer […] Starting with certain normative intuitions, public philosophers work out their entailments, demonstrating claims of the form, “If you believe X, then you ought to believe Y,” and, “If you believe Y, you should not do Z.” What philosophers—at least those in the broadly Socratic traditions—are good at is parsing arguments, clarifying the concepts at play in a debate, teasing out the dialectical entailments of suppositions and claims, and so on: Socratic philosophers are, in short, purveyors of what I will call ‘discursive hygiene.’ […] Although philosophers can contribute no substantive knowledge about the good and the right, they can contribute discursive hygiene. But discursive hygiene plays almost no role in public life, and an only erratic, and highly contingent, role in how people form beliefs about matters of moral and political urgency. Both points deserve notice, but they are distinct.” (ibid., 53-55)

If we can associate Stout’s view of public philosophy as expressive rationality with the notion of “discursive hygiene” but find ourselves obliged to note the lack of “discursive hygiene” in political deliberation, under one form or another, we might nonetheless maintain that participants are amenable to the work of “discursive hygiene” either at their own or another’s behest. Yet Leiter finds that two broader positions give us reason to temper optimism about the latter, namely, emotivism and tribalism, which he finds at work in the present state of public discourse and political deliberation. While compatible with public philosophy as “discursive hygiene”, emotivism acts as a limiting case on the former. Leiter associates emotivism with Charles Stevenson’s seminal position, according to which:

Ethical disagreements are at bottom a function of disagreement in attitudes, rather than disagreements about beliefs […] the connection between particular facts and our attitudes is just a contingent psychological/causal fact: it is just a psychological fact about many creatures like us that if our beliefs change, our attitudes often change too […] (ibid., 53-4)

Political deliberation may take the form of conflict between either attitudes or beliefs. If between beliefs, then the conflict may be brought to an end by ensuring convergence between beliefs. If between attitudes, then the conflict may only be resolved with considerably more difficulty in that attitudes do not seem reason-responsive in the same way as beliefs. Certainly, we can allow that our beliefs influence our attitudes; we cannot, however, say with any certainty how or which beliefs influence attitudes. For we simply lack the means to plot the mechanisms by which such changes are effected. Moreover, attitudes may alter in light of beliefs which we ordinarily deem “ethically irrelevant” because “self-serving” (54-5).  All in all:

[…] changes in belief do influence changes in attitude, but only as a contingent, psychological fact; this includes changes in belief about the logical or inferential relations between beliefs or between beliefs and attitudes […] (ibid., 55)

As Leiter attempts to make clear, there are no rules, inferential or otherwise, governing the transformation and causal interaction between beliefs and attitudes. This would seem to throw doubt on whether thin knowledge of one’s beliefs induces changes in one’s attitudes and whether thick knowledge of how one came by those beliefs brings on change in one’s attitudes even if beliefs had causal traction over attitudes.

Self-knowledge and political justification 4

June 14, 2017

Yet a person may not always be in a position to take (thick) stock herself or to draw out what follows from the critical inventory made during the phase of piety and aired out in the phase of storytelling. Accordingly, the person may have need of a spokesperson, be this a philosopher to work out the inferential commitments underlying the reasons for her political position or a community organizer to extract the issue taking shape therein. Hence Stout’s view that public philosophy consists in making explicit and scrutinizing the commitments and norms implicit in political deliberation and reasons: in short, an exercise in “expressive rationality” as per Robert Brandom (5, 12-14). More concretely, this may entail taking norms or reasons, often expressed as material inferences “given that x, I shall y” for which we ordinarily acknowledge the premise x as a legitimate premise for the conclusion y, and working out the premise needed to make them formally valid (188-190). So, to statements like the following: “(a) Going to the store is my only way to get milk for my cereal, so I shall go to the store; (b) I am a lifeguard on the job, so I shall keep close watch over the swimmers under my protection; (c) Ridiculing a child for his limp would humiliate him needlessly, so I shall refrain from doing so”; we would need to append further premises: “(a) a statement expressing my desire to have milk for my cereal; to (b) the conditional that if I am a lifeguard, it is my responsibility to keep a close watch over the swimmers under my protection; or to (c) the principle that one ought not to humiliate people needlessly” (188). (Cf. Brandom 1994, 243-253)

This exercise presents the “advantage of putting the formerly implicit material inferential commitment in the explicit form of a claim, which in turn allows it to be challenged or justified inferentially in light of other considerations” and takes on still greater importance “when conflicts arise among different material inferential commitments that we have undertaken” (189). Certainly, political deliberation and justification may more often involve the strains of practical reasoning at work in (b) and (c) (“institutional” and “unconditional” obligations (Brandom 1994, 252, as cited by Stout 2004, 189)) rather than the desire-based seen in (a). Stout will go on to work out the moral perplexity surrounding the dirty hands problem in drawing on just such a scheme.

More important for our purposes is the way in which working out inferential commitments proves both case and exception to the link between self-knowledge and political justification outlined above. For, if our capacity for self-knowledge may help to secure the justified quality of our political positions by working out the entailments of our beliefs, our cognitive failings may also hinder arriving at (thick) self-knowledge and, hence, P-justified political positions. Such that the person may need to rely upon the public philosopher to arrive indirectly at the thick self-knowledge necessary for a justified political position. Indeed, the person may lack entirely the expressive resources necessary to render those commitments explicit (193). Likewise, those commitments may outstrip the person’s capacity for thin or thick self-knowledge.

How does this impact our main question, i.e. whether self-knowledge advances political justification? We have seen that self-knowledge is an important part of political justification and, if public philosophy advances self-knowledge, then it likewise advances political justification. On the other hand, public philosophy’s advancing self-knowledge hinges on thick other-knowledge and on the person’s taking responsibility for how she forms beliefs before and after the public philosopher’s work. Otherwise, the public philosopher’s work on the raw material of piety and storytelling and on logical entailments of the political positions exposed therein is for nought. (Moreover, it is unclear whether this requirement figures on governmental and institutional political justification as well as on the personal or associational.) Likewise, we may wonder whether public philosophy and its practitioners are themselves capable of articulating thick other-knowledge and thereby advancing indirect self-knowledge, a question to which Brian Leiter has turned his attention in recent years and the subject of our next section.