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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 33, 2017
Power and Public Reason

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Displaying: 1-10 of 16 documents


1. Social Philosophy Today: Volume > 33
Zachary Hoskins, Joan Woolfrey, Introduction
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part 1: keynote addresses
2. Social Philosophy Today: Volume > 33
Noëlle McAfee, Humanity and the Refugee: Another Stab at Universal Human Rights
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This paper takes up the questions of (1) how the refugee crisis exhibits the fault lines in what might otherwise seem to be a robust human rights regime and (2) what kinds of ways of seeing and thinking might better attune us to solving these problems. There is surprising agreement internationally on the content of human rights, although there is a huge gulf between international agreements on human rights and the protection of those most vital. The subtitle of the paper, “another stab at universal human rights,” has a double entendre: in the midst of a crisis that is stabbing international agreements on human rights to its core, I will take a stab at using the crisis situation to point a way forward toward a cosmopolitan social imaginary that uses human imagination, not just as an ability to represent in one’s mind what one has seen elsewhere, but also as an ability to imagine something radically new. This social imaginary points to the necessity of according everyone, refugees included, as having a right to politics and thus a hand in shaping their own world, including their new, host communities.
3. Social Philosophy Today: Volume > 33
Gerald Gaus, Is Public Reason a Normalization Project? Deep Diversity and the Open Society
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At one point Rawls thought that “a normalization of interests attributed to the parties” is “common to social contract doctrines.” Normalization has a great appeal: once we specify the normalized perspective, we can generate strong and definite principles of justice. Public reasoning is restricted to those who reason from the eligible, normalized, perspective; those who fall outside the “normal” are to be dismissed as unreasonable, unjust, or illiberal. As Rawls’s political liberalism project developed he increasingly relaxed his normalization assumptions, allowing room for not only different conceptions of the good, but of justice. This paper explores the post-Rawlsian movement in public reason to maximally relax, or even abandon, normalizing assumptions, drawing on a maximal diversity of normative perspectives in public justification. The public reason project is at a critical juncture. Are we to look back, defending Rawls’s substantive conclusions by devising new defenses of normalization, circling the wagons around the cherished two principles? Or are we to seek to fulfill the promise of public reason as providing a common public and moral world in the midst of diversity?
part ii: power and public reason
4. Social Philosophy Today: Volume > 33
Jeremy Butler, Participation, Legitimacy, and the Epistemic Dimension of Deliberative Democracy
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The aim of this paper is to elucidate a significant epistemic dimension of deliberative democracy. I argue that the role of citizens’ political judgments in deliberative democratic theory commits deliberative democracy to a view of deliberation as an essentially epistemic enterprise, one aimed at identifying correct answers to questions of political morality. This epistemic reading stands in contrast to prevailing views of deliberative democracy that tend to hold that the normatively significant function of deliberation is merely to legitimate democratic decisions, regardless of their substantive correctness. These views tend to regard any epistemic benefit of deliberation as a mere welcome side effect, ancillary to the aim of securing legitimacy. My argument, however, shows deliberative democratic legitimacy itself to depend on the epistemic success of deliberative procedures with respect to questions of political morality. I approach this argument by way of a contrast between deliberative democracy and the so-called aggregative conception of democracy. It will turn out that the important philosophical differences between the two views are located in their different conceptions of political participation and democratic legitimacy. I then go on to argue that the deliberative conceptions of participation and legitimacy give rise to an epistemic dimension which is generally underappreciated, but which is crucial to a proper understanding of deliberative democracy. I conclude that it is incumbent upon deliberative democrats to offer a compelling account of the epistemic value of deliberative procedures. The epistemic value of deliberation is not just a convenient epiphenomenon of deliberative democracy’s legitimation procedures. Rather, it is a necessary condition of those procedures playing their legitimating role at all.
5. Social Philosophy Today: Volume > 33
Melissa Yates, Public Reasoning under Social Conditions of Strangerhood
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Political philosophers have long focused on how to explain democratically legitimate governance under social conditions of pluralism. The challenge, when framed this way, is how to justify a common set of political principles without imposing controversial moral, religious, or metaphysical doctrines on one another. In this paper I propose an alternate starting point, replacing the concept of “social conditions of pluralism” with the background assumption that democratic societies must respond to “social conditions of strangerhood.” In the first section, I make my case for viewing political relationships in terms of relationships with and as strangers, partly illustrated by empirical examples. In the second section, I explain why I think solutions to the challenges of democratic pluralism in terms of the support for public deliberation and reasoning are doomed to fail in addressing much deeper dilemmas posed by the persistence of governing as strangers to the extent that they depend on ties of cultural or epistemic familiarity and commonality. Finally, in the third section, I propose ways we might change our expectations of democratic legitimacy to better facilitate our political relationships with and as strangers.
6. Social Philosophy Today: Volume > 33
Emily McGill-Rutherford, Liberal Neutrality and Gender Justice
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At the center of many critiques of liberalism is liberal neutrality, which is attacked on two fronts. First, it is argued that neutrality yields a restrictive sphere of public reason. Contentious views—like those endorsed by citizens with marginalized comprehensive doctrines—are outlawed from public consideration. Second, state policies must have neutral effects, lest they differentially impact those with unpopular views. Contentious state actions—like those endorsed by citizens with marginalized moral views—are outlawed from implementation. It is this combination of demands for neutrality at the individual and state levels that produces the concern: if marginalized comprehensive doctrines cannot be discussed in the realm of public reason, and if marginalized moral views cannot be acted upon by the state, how will we ever achieve the goals of feminism, itself a marginalized moral view? Does liberal neutrality prohibit progress toward gender equality? In this paper, I argue to the contrary. Many objections regarding liberalism’s supposed failure to secure gender justice rely on a conception of neutrality as neutrality of effect. But at both the individual and state levels, liberalism’s demand for neutrality is about justification. Liberalism, specifically political liberalism, requires neither neutral content of public reasons nor neutral effects of state policies.
part iii: aspects of power: rights, oppression, and vengeance
7. Social Philosophy Today: Volume > 33
Martin Gunderson, Realizing the Power of Socioeconomic Human Rights
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Human rights are high priority norms that empower right holders to demand the benefits protected by their rights. This is no less true of socioeconomic human rights than civil and political human rights. I argue that realizing human socioeconomic rights requires that they be enacted into state law in such a way that individual right holders have the power to bring legal action in defense of their rights. Contrary to Thomas Pogge, it is not enough for states simply to provide the benefits required by human rights. Unfortunately, limited resources mean that successful litigation by right holders threatens to disempower other right holders by distorting a fair distribution of limited resources, since those with the resources to litigate can command a disproportionate and unjust share of limited resources. Using the human right to health as an example, I argue that an important part of the solution requires specifying different aspects of the content of the right to health and adopting appropriately strong standards of judicial review.
8. Social Philosophy Today: Volume > 33
Geoffrey Karabin, Impotent Vengeance: Is Afterlife Belief a Vehicle to Avenge?
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The afterlife has been imagined in a diversity of ways, one of which is as a vehicle for vengeance. Upon outlining, via the figures of Tertullian and Sayyid Qutb, a vengeful formulation of afterlife belief, this essay examines Friedrich Nietzsche’s critique of such a belief. The belief is framed as an expression of impotence insofar as believers imagine in the beyond what they cannot achieve in the present, namely, taking vengeance upon their enemies. Nietzsche’s critique leads to the essay’s central question. Is a vengeance-based formulation of afterlife belief an expression of impotence? To respond, this essay will analyze the practices and rhetoric of the Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram, while also briefly mentioning Al Qaeda and ISIS. As a result of the analysis, a simplistic and unqualified form of the impotence critique is to be rejected. Nonetheless, the critique remains relevant. Boko Haram’s lack of emphasis on afterlife belief in general and its omission of a vengeance-based formulation in particular highlights the possibility that a radical religious group’s approach to the afterlife is related to the group’s relative strength or weakness. Such a possibility carries practical ramifications when assessing the scope of that group’s aims and its willingness to act.
9. Social Philosophy Today: Volume > 33
Youjin Kong, “Non-Idealizing Abstraction” as Ideology: Non-Ideal Theory, Intersectionality, and the Power Dynamics of Oppression
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Recently, social and political philosophers have shown increased interest in the ideological nature of ideal theory and the importance of non-ideal theory. Charles Mills, who sparked recent critiques of ideal theory, invokes the notion of “non-idealizing abstractions” and argues that these are helpful when applying non-ideal theory. In contrast, I argue that the notion of non-idealizing abstractions is not a helpful tool for non-ideal theory. I suspect that it pays insufficient attention to the actual power dynamics of oppression, which significantly influence judgments about whose experiences and interests are worth being reflected by an abstraction. Failing to take account of the power differences among the oppressed, what Mills considers non-idealizing abstractions falls into ideology, which cannot reflect the experiences or interests of less-privileged minorities, and only concerns those of more-privileged minorities. I examine cases in which the concept of “patriarchy,” which Mills alleges to be a non-idealizing abstraction, functions as what I refer to as the “Colonialist Concept of Patriarchy” that marginalizes Third World women’s experiences of intersectional oppression. I suggest that a more suitable and less ideological way to apply non-ideal theory should avoid asserting that an abstraction is “non-idealizing” and should, instead, protect “resignifiability” of the abstraction.
part iv: issues in social philosophy
10. Social Philosophy Today: Volume > 33
Elizabeth S. Piliero, Debating Collective Responsibility: Arendt and Young
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This paper elucidates Hannah Arendt’s conditions for collective responsibility in light of her political writings. In turn, it pushes back on Iris Marion Young’s reservations about Arendtian collective responsibility and demonstrates its compatibility with Youngian political responsibility. At issue is how to understand (a) Arendtian collective responsibility as political and therefore forward-looking, (b) Arendt’s view of responsibility in the political realm as different from her view in the moral-legal realm, and (c) what Arendt’s vision of collective responsibility requires of everyone. If Young’s political responsibility relates to Arendt’s collective responsibility more than she thinks, then this may call for a significant rethinking of Young’s reliance on Arendt. My inquiry into their debate leads to a standpoint from which one can contribute to contemporary discussions about responsibility in a world with growing and elaborate public spheres.