John Dewey (1859–1952) was an American philosopher, political activist, and public intellectual. After earning a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Johns Hopkins University, Dewey secured teaching positions at the University of Michigan (1884–1894) and the University of Chicago (1894–1904) before moving to Columbia University in 1905, where he remained for the remainder of his career.
Widely recognized as one of the three founders of pragmatism, John Dewey formulated a more systematic version of pragmatism than can be found in his pragmatist predecessors, Charles Peirce and William James. At its heart is Dewey’s Darwinian conception of experience. Unlike sensationalistic forms of empiricism, Dewey’s pragmatism begins with an organic conception of experience according to which experience is the continual doing and undergoing performed by each living creature within its physical and social environment. This conception allows Dewey to bring empiricism into line with what he regarded as the most important scientiic advance of our time – Darwinian biology – while also eschewing many of the philosophical problems occasioned by traditional empiricism, including skepticism and mind–body dualism.
The centerpiece of Dewey’s philosophy is the conception of inquiry that emerges out of his empiricism. According to Dewey, inquiry is fundamentally aimed at problem-solving rather than accurately representing facts or states of affairs. Dewey thought that inquiry is the directed attempt to address experimentally the problematic factors within an environment. Dewey held that scientific method was simply a more explicit and precisely designed version of inquiry in general.
Michael Sandel (b. 1953) is an American political theorist and public intellectual. He earned his Ph.D. from Oxford University in 1981, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He currently is Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he teaches a popular course on Justice that has become the subject of a PBS series, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?
Sandel focuses on the relationship between ethics and politics, and he is especially concerned with the question of whether a democratic state should aspire to be neutral with respect to moral controversies. Much of his work is critical of prevailing forms of liberalism, which contend that states must be neutral when it comes to controversies concerning the good life. Holding that such neutrality is chimerical and that the aspiration to it is socially perilous, Sandel advocates a communitarian form of civic republicanism according to which political participation and moral engagement with one’s fellow citizens is an essential element of a good life. He sees the job of the democratic state to be that of inculcating among its citizens the virtues and attitudes appropriate to citizenship in self-governing communities.
Sandel’s irst book, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (1982) is an extended criticism of liberalism aimed in particular at John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice. Along with influential works by Charles Taylor, Alastair MacIntyre, and Michael Walzer, Sandel’s book remains a definitive articulation of “the communitarian critique of liberalism.” Taking Rawls’s original position to capture the core liberal commitment to the priority of the right to the good, Sandel argues that liberalism as such presupposes a conception of the self according to which selves are always prior to, and thus detachable from, the moral ends they affirm.
Richard Rorty (1931–2007) was an American philosopher and public intellectual. After earning a Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University in 1956, Rorty secured professorships at Wellesley College and Princeton University. He spent twenty years in Princeton’s Philosophy Department, and then took up the Kenan Professor of Humanities at the University of Virginia in 1982. In 1997, he moved to Stanford University’s Comparative Literature department.
Rorty’s earliest work is focused on standard topics in analytic philosophy, including meaning, reference, intentionality, and materialism. He was an early defender of a broadly Quinean naturalism and a Sellarsian eliminativism in the philosophy of mind. By the 1970s, however, Rorty’s interests began to expand and he drew inspiration from Martin Heidegger, the later Wittgenstein, Jacques Derrida, and especially John Dewey. These shifts resulted in Rorty’s highly influential 1979 book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Calling his view pragmatism, Rorty argues for a radical version of anti-foundationalism according to which all of the traditional aims of philosophy – including truth, rationality, knowledge, objectivity, and the accurate representation of reality – are rendered disposable. In place of these philosophical objectives, Rorty offers the pragmatized ideals of solidarity, empathy, shared hopes, unforced agreement, and social progress along social democratic lines. Rejecting the very idea of a philosophical foundation for these aims, Rorty unabashedly embraces “ethnocentrism.” In fact, he endorses what he calls “ironism,” claiming that it is the mark of a civilized person to be willing to stand unflinchingly for these ideals even after he or she realizes that they lack any philosophical grounding whatsoever.
In the Introduction, I characterized the problem to which this book is addressed as that of finding an alternative to a Hobbesian war of all against all under conditions of moral pluralism. This characterization of the problem is, of course, very rough and imprecise. In order to make headway in understanding, and hopefully solving, the problem that moral pluralism sets for democratic politics, we will need to begin from a more detailed and nuanced analysis of that problem. This is what I provide in this chapter.
THE PARADOX OF DEMOCRATIC JUSTIFICATION
Framing the paradox
Imagine a society in which the legitimacy of the government – its institutions, procedures, laws, decisions, office-holders, and policies – is held to rest, at least indirectly, upon the consent of those it governs. Imagine further that action on the part of both the government and the citizenry is constrained by a set of rules specified in a public constitution. This constitution contains procedural provisions not only for holding regular elections, dividing political authority, checking political power, and punishing abuses, but also for its own criticism and revision. Additionally, let us say that the constitution specifies a set of protections for individuals from interference by the government, by foreign governments, and by other individuals, what is often referred to as a “menu” or “schedule” of rights and liberties. This menu specifies rights to hold and exchange property, to privacy, to equal protection under the law, to due process, and so on.
The argument thus far has been focused on highly theoretical questions concerning the reasons that can be given to citizens living in a morally divided society to sustain their commitment to a democratic political order, even in cases where such a commitment seems to conflict with their core moral convictions. In this final chapter, I begin by taking up a series of issues of a slightly more concrete nature concerning the state of contemporary democratic politics. With these issues addressed, I will make a case for thinking that a dialogically democratic society requires an epistemically perfectionist state. In the discussions with which the book concludes, I evaluate a few policy suggestions proposed by Ronald Dworkin.
DEMOCRACY AND PUBLIC IGNORANCE
The dialogical view of democracy that I have been developing expects a lot from democratic citizens. Dialogical democracy seems even more demanding than many of the deliberativist views, since it emphasizes the activities associated with truth-seeking and reason-exchanging. On the dialogical model, political decision is to reflect ongoing rational deliberation; thus, the dialogical view presupposes that citizens are epistemically capable of rational discourse. The kind of rational deliberation envisioned requires, at the very least, that citizens are able to draw correct inferences from given premises. More importantly, the dialogical conception of democracy presumes that citizens are capable of recognizing and understanding the basic political facts from which their deliberations are to begin.
In Chapter 1, I presented the problem of deep politics. To repeat, the problem emerges out of the fact that citizens of contemporary democracies increasingly turn to their respective moral commitments – religious and secular – for guidance in political action. Yet citizens are deeply divided at the level of these commitments. Accordingly, contemporary democratic citizens do not regard themselves as engaged in a process by which their individual preferences are aggregated to make public policy that is fair and hence justifiable to all; instead, citizens increasingly see themselves as embroiled in a zero-sum contest among conflicting and incompatible religious and moral visions: a civil war by other means. As these visions represent deep commitments about fundamental matters of the good, it is difficult to see how democratic processes can be justified to those whose values lose out. Those who lose have a strong incentive to exercise what Albert Hirschman (1970) fittingly characterized as “exit.” But since many citizens take the project of instantiating their deepest value commitments in the political order to be morally imperative, and perhaps overriding, their “exit” is not likely to take the form of a total (and peaceful) withdrawal from politics; rather, it is likely to manifest in a rejection of the idea that their political ends should be pursued by democratic means. That is, they will exit from democratic politics, not politics as such.
Thus far the discussion has been devoted primarily to stage-setting. I have argued that the most popular responses to the problem of deep politics share the presumption that if we are to avoid a modus vivendi politics based in a Hobbesian truce, we must identify a “minimal moral conception” that could both support democratic politics and sustain the loyalty of citizens otherwise deeply divided over fundamental moral commitments. In this way, the dominant responses hold that democratic theory must be “freestanding,” that is, free from deep moral entanglements but, nonetheless, sturdy enough to function as a moral foundation for democratic politics. In Chapter 2, I argued that this strategy is for several reasons non-viable. In general, the problem confronting the freestanding strategy is that even a minimal moral conception is contestable both in terms of its standing qua moral conception and as an interpretation of the “shared fund” of commonly accepted principles. This is especially so when the minimal conception places controversial constraints on citizens' political deliberation, advocacy, and action. In order to fill in the details of the freestanding account, one must tell a philosophical story about the normative appropriateness of the “shared fund;” but to tell such a story is to provide specific philosophical and moral content to that which was supposed to be freestanding, thereby inviting the kind of moral controversy that was supposed to be circumvented.
Democracy is in crisis. So we are told by nearly every outlet of political comment, from politicians and pundits to academicians and ordinary citizens. This is not surprising, given that the new millennium seems to be off to a disconcerting and violent start: terrorism, genocide, torture, assassination, suicide bombings, civil war, human rights abuse, nuclear proliferation, religious extremism, poverty, climate change, environmental disaster, and strained international relations all forebode an uncertain tomorrow for democracy. Some hold that democracy is faltering because it has lost the moral clarity necessary to lead in a complicated world. Others hold that “moral clarity” means little more than moral blindness to the complexity of the contemporary world, and thus that what is needed is more reflection, self-criticism, and humility. Neither side thinks much of the other. Consequently our popular democratic politics is driven by insults, scandal, name-calling, fear-mongering, mistrust, charges of hypocrisy, and worse.
Political theorists who otherwise agree on very little share the sense that inherited categories of political analysis are no longer apt. Principles and premises that were widely accepted only a few years ago are now disparaged as part of a Cold War model that is wholly irrelevant to our post-9/11 context. An assortment of new paradigms for analysis are on offer, each promising to set matters straight and thus to ease the cognitive discomfort that comes with tumultuous times.
It may seem that we have journeyed a great distance from our topic, which, you may remember, is democracy. However, if you will grant the arguments from Chapter 3 to the effect that the characterization I have offered of folk epistemology is accurate and not simply a distillation of our provincial epistemic folkways, then we are well on our way to justifying democracy. The argument of the present chapter is intuitive and can be stated succinctly: only in a democracy can an individual practice proper epistemic agency; put in other words, only in a democracy can one be a proper believer. Since we are already committed to proper believing, we are implicitly committed to democratic politics. Folk epistemology accordingly justifies democracy: democracy is the political entailment – indeed, the political manifestation – of the folk epistemic commitments each of us already endorses.
To be sure, there are many details to be filled in. This is what I shall undertake in the present chapter. It is worth emphasizing that, if my arguments prove to be successful, I will have devised a solution to the problem of deep politics. If folk epistemology justifies democracy, then citizens have a reason to sustain their commitment to democratic political arrangements despite the fact that they are deeply divided at the level of their moral and religious commitments.
FOLK EPISTEMOLOGY AND THE JUSTIFICATION OF DEMOCRACY
The basic argument
I argued in Chapter 3 that believing commits us to certain activities. For example, I argued that the fact that we hold beliefs at all commits us to the norms associated with assertion, and chief among these is the norm of articulating, exchanging, and responding to reasons.
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