Volume 41, 1998
Kevin M. Graham
The Ideal of Objectivity in Political Dialogue
If political dialogue is to identify and redress existing forms of injustice, participants in the dialogue must be able to appeal to the concept of objectivity in order to exchange claims, attitudes, and background beliefs which distort or conceal various forms of injustice. The conceptions of objectivity traditionally employed in liberal democratic political philosophy are not well-suited to play this role because they are insufficiently sensitive to the social and ideological pluralism of modern societies. Some liberal political philosophers have recently offered more context-sensitive and pluralistic conceptions of objectivity, requiring participants in political dialogue to frame their demands for justice in terms of a conception of justice acceptable to all participants in the dialogue. I argue that this conception of objectivity constitutes an improvement over traditional liberal conceptions. However, it is ultimately unacceptable because it does not take adequate account of the limited and distorted knowledge that members of dominant social groups tend to possess about the oppression experienced by members of subordinate and marginalized groups. As a result, this conception of objectivity wrongly deems the demands for justice voiced by members of subordinate and marginalized groups to be subjective simply because they seem unreasonable from the limited and distorting standpoint of dominant social groups.