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Fr. 597

March 2, 2015

To what does this distinction between different fields owe? Leiter posits that it owes to a different in the fields’ commitments. Whereas science holds to certain epistemic standards, morality, law and public policy hold at least nominally to egalitarian or objective standards:

Moral and (many) legal claims are different from the claims of empirical science in this regard. If we accept them as legitimate or warranted only because of a mistake about their class- interest-specific genesis, then discovering that fact makes them unacceptable, since moral and legal claims are almost always presented as committed to a basic equality of interests. So, for example, if the reason current U.S. free speech doctrine protects unrestricted spending by the wealthy in elections is because this insures that the political system does the bidding of plutocrats, then most people have no reason to affirm the free speech value of unlimited political spending by the wealthy: if free speech is a value, it must be good for everyone, not just the wealthy […] So, too, with moral prescriptions and proscriptions: in both utilitarian and deontological versions, they present themselves as objective demands, not hostage to the interests of particular persons.

As Leiter points out correctly, we are right to question the broader acceptability of beliefs claiming to promote the common interest which we then later discover to stem from and promote contrary interests. For this reason, norms originating in such conditions are ideological, and our being aware of this tension between origin, aim and result is enough to warrant discarding or, more weakly, amending those norms and the related beliefs.

Leiter concludes the excerpt with a reflection on Marx’s preference for the self-avowedly class-interested beliefs and norms of communism as opposed to those proffered by “True” Socialists or the later Critical-Utopian Socialists. Insofar as the latter groups seek to remove the reference to class interests in favor of transcendence, and interests and acceptability thereby come apart, they remove what little separates non-ideological beliefs in morality, law and public policy from the merely ideological. Leiter sums this up best when he notes:

So the ethical imperatives of the Communist movement represent a class-interest-specific morality, just one in the interests of the vast majority, as opposed to the ruling class. And this morality is not ideological because its acceptability also does not depend on its not being class-interest-specific—indeed, there is no mistake about its genesis either: “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority.”

To come back to Stout’s epistemic responsibility, our question is then whether and to what extent this notion might accommodate genealogical and discursive analysis of the kind above. Although Stout might be generally sympathetic to specific elements of Marx’s views and seems to share certain basic sociological tenets with the latter, we are hesitant to hitch epistemic responsibility to a uniquely self-interested, socio-economic perspective and this for three reasons.

First, as suggested above, determining acceptability can meet with more difficulties than it might seem at first glance (e.g. what makes the acceptability of a religious belief?). Second, Marx’s view of the human person as a rational, self-interested agent has, without a doubt, significant basis in fact, but it is debatable whether this instrumentalist view exhausts our picture of the human person. Third, it is still unclear whether Stout’s notion of responsibility can be restricted in this way to socio-economic interest as it often bears on religious beliefs having no immediate socio-economic application (e.g. how do we determine the precise relationship between origin, interest and acceptability of beliefs about abortion?).

The fact remains that Marx’s ideological analysis stands as a strong candidate for a specific form of reason-giving. In fact, its being limited in some ways to the merely socio-economic may help it secure a place in the broader economy of epistemic responsibility and reason-giving, for it is a priori reasonable to suppose that no one model or explanation exhausts the plethora of cases submitted to and under consideration in these discursive practices.

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