Critical Theory is an umbrella term to denote those theorists who take up the task described by Karl Marx as the self-clarification of the age struggles and wishes of the age. As such, two elements are crucial: (a) a connection to social and political struggles of emancipation, and (b) self-reflexivity.
Critical Theorists differ—sometimes quite fundamentally—about what these two elements require (and how they relate). For example, some such theorists (such as Max Horkheimer or Michel Foucault) take the normative orientations of struggles for emancipation as something that does not require grounding at the level of theorizing, while others (such as Jürgen Habermas) think such grounding is the main task of Critical Theory, securing moral validity for the struggles. These substantive differences also mean that there are no accepted methods on which all Critical Theorists would agree. To stay with the example, those Critical Theorists who reject discursive grounding of its normative standards tend to engage in genealogy and other disclosing forms of social critique; while those who seek discursive grounding employ reconstructive and/or constructivist methods.
The existence of fundamental substantive and methodological differences among proponents of Critical Theory means that it is difficult, or perhaps even impossible, to give a uniform characterization of it. Sometimes, Critical Theory is defined institutionally. Then it is denoting a succession of theorists (often classed into different generations) who are connected to the Institute of Social Research and/or the Philosophy Department in Frankfurt am Main, Germany—the so-called “Frankfurt School.” However, this institutional definition has only limited use. The disagreements among thinkers within the Frankfurt School tradition can run deep—sometimes deeper than they run with theorists, like Foucault, who are not connected institutionally to it. And it is an open and contested question whether everyone institutionally connected to the Frankfurt School is engaged in Critical Theory. Thinking systematically about the task of self-reflexively connecting to struggles of emancipation requires a different approach.
It is helpful to understand Critical Theory as a broad and varied tradition, with core cases (such as Horkheimer’s 1937 text “Traditional and Critical Theory”), but no sharp boundaries. Understood that way, there cannot be a fully comprehensive treatment of Critical Theory, but it is possible to think of this tradition as involving multiple morphing sequences, whereby approaches are amended in various ways over time and thereby change into something else. One important dividing line is how historical or transcendental one takes Marx’s task to be—some proponents of Critical Theory are, in effect, historical contextualists, while others seek to establish the conditions of possibility of human interaction as such.
Mirya R. Holman and Erica Podrazik
Religiosity is a combination of public and private religious practices, beliefs, and experiences. While diversity exists in how religiosity is measured, three central components are consistent across the scholarship: organizational religious engagement, non-organizational religious activities, and subjective religiosity. To measure organizational religious engagement, scholars frequently look at church attendance and participation in congregational activities. Non-organizational religious activities include frequency of prayer, reading the Bible or other religious materials, or requesting others to pray for you. Subjective or intrinsic religiosity includes self-assessed religiousness (where respondents are asked, “How religious would you consider yourself?”) or strength of affiliation, as well as specific beliefs, such as views of the afterlife, hell, and whether the Bible is the literal word of God.
Various groups express different levels of religiosity. One of the most well-documented and consistent group-based differences in religiosity is that women, including white women and women of color, are more religious than are men across religions, time, and countries. Women report higher rates of church attendance, engagement in religious practices (including prayer and reading the Bible), and more consistent and higher levels of religious interest, commitment, and engagement. Many explanations for these gaps in religiosity exist including differences in personality and risk aversion, gendered socialization patterns, and patriarchal structures within churches. Scholars have engaged in robust debates around the degree to which explanations like risk assessment or gender role theory can account for differences in religious behavior between men and women. Yet unresolved, these discussions provide opportunities to bring together scholarship and theories from religious studies, sociology, gender studies, psychology, and political science.
Religiosity shapes a variety of important political and social attitudes and behaviors, including political ideology and participation. The effects of religiosity on political attitudes are heterogeneous across men and women—for example, highly religious women and men are not equally conservative, nor do they equally oppose gay rights. The process by which religiosity shapes attitudes is also gendered; for example, the effects of women’s religiosity on political attitudes and participation are mediated by gendered attitudes. And while religiosity increases political participation, the effects are not even for men and women, nor across all groups of women. Future research might examine the differing effects of religiosity on subgroups of men and women, including evaluations of how intersecting social categories like race, gender, and class shape both levels of religious engagement and the degree to which religiosity influences other political and social behavior.
The study of constitutionalism often begins with the question of what a constitution is. Sometimes the term refers to a single legal document with that name, but the term “constitution” may also refer to something unwritten, such as important political traditions or established customs. As a result, scholars sometimes distinguish between the “Big-C” constitution, that is, the constitutional document, and the “small-c” constitution, the set of unwritten practices and understandings that structure political life.
Constitutionalism is typically associated with documents and practices that restrict the arbitrary exercise of power. Most constitutions contain guarantees of rights and outline the structures of government. Constitutions are often enforced in court, but nonjudicial actors, like legislatures or popular movements, may also enforce constitutional provisions.
The relationship between democracy and constitutionalism is not at all straightforward, and it has received an enormous amount of scholarly attention. Constitutionalism seems to both undergird and restrain democracy. On the one hand, constitutions establish the institutions that allow for self-government. On the other, they are often said to restrict majoritarian decision-making.
Related to this question of the relationship between constitutionalism and democracy are questions about how constitutions change and how they ought to change. Can written constitutions change without changes to the text, and can judges bring about these changes? Do extratextual changes threaten or promote democracy?
Finally, not only do individual constitutions change, but the practice of writing constitutions and governing with them has also changed over time. In general, constitutions have grown more specific and flexible over time, arguably, allowing for a different kind of constitutional politics.
The concept of exploitation is often invoked in situations where relatively impoverished people are treated unfairly in economic and social contexts. While the claim that exploitation involves taking unfair advantage is broadly accepted, there is little consensus about what fairness requires and whether unfairness is seriously wrong in the context of exchanges. One family of accounts claims that exploitation involves the maldistribution of resources, either because exploitative transactions result in distributions that violate substantive norms of fairness, or because procedural flaws in the way exploitative transactions come about entail that their outcomes are unfair.
A second, domination-based approach to exploitation claims that the moral flaw embodied by exploitative relations is the exploiter’s disrespectful use of his power over the exploitee. While exploiters’ domination of others may lead to maldistributions, defenders of the domination-based approach argue that distributive unfairness is neither necessary nor sufficient for exploitative relations.
These approaches both face two kinds of challenges. The first concerns the scope. Neither appears to provide necessary and sufficient conditions that are adequate to capture all and only cases commonly described as exploitation. The second concerns the normative status. Exploitation is typically assumed to be morally impermissible, yet neither approach seems to satisfactorily explain how exploitations that nevertheless generate significant welfare gains for both parties can be wrong.
John Stuart Mill is a liberal icon, widely praised in particular for his stirring defense of freedom of speech. A neo-Millian theory of free speech is outlined and contrasted in important respects with what Frederick Schauer calls “the free speech ideology” that surrounds the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and with Schauer’s own “pre-legal” theory of free speech. Mill cannot reasonably be interpreted to defend free speech absolutism if speech is understood broadly to include all expressive conduct. Rather, he is best interpreted as defending an expedient policy of laissez-faire with exceptions, where four types of expression are distinguished, three of which (labeled Types B, C, and D) are public or other-regarding, whereas the fourth (labeled Type A) is private or self-regarding. Types C and D expression are unjust and ought to be suppressed by law and public stigma. They deserve no protection from coercive interference: they are justified exceptions to the policy of letting speakers alone. Consistently with this, a moral right to freedom of speech gives absolute protection to Type B public expression, which is “almost” self-regarding. Type A private expression also receives absolute protection, but it is truly self-regarding conduct and therefore covered by the moral right of absolute self-regarding liberty identified by Mill in On Liberty. There is no need for a distinct right of freedom of expression with respect to self-regarding speech. Strictly speaking, then, an expedient laissez-faire policy for public expression leaves the full protection of freedom of private expression to the right of self-regarding liberty.
An important application of the neo-Millian theory relates to an unjust form of hate speech that may be described as group libel. By creating, or threatening to create, a social atmosphere in which a targeted group is forced to live with a maliciously false public identity of criminality or subhumanity, such a group libel creates, or significantly risks creating, social conditions in which all individuals associated with the group must give up their liberties of self-regarding conduct and of Type B expression to avoid conflict with prejudiced and belligerent members of society, even though the libel itself does not directly threaten any assignable individual with harm or accuse him or her of any wrongdoing of his or her own. This Millian perspective bolsters arguments such as those offered by Jeremy Waldron for suppressing group libels. America is an outlier among advanced civil societies with respect to the regulation of such unjust hate speech, and its “free speech ideology” ought to be suitably reformed so that group libels are prevented or punished as immoral and unconstitutional.
A wide range of issues in moral, political, and legal philosophy fall under the heading of “intergenerational justice,” such as questions of justice between the young and the old, obligations to more-or-less distant past and future generations, generational sovereignty, and the boundaries of democratic decision-making.
These issues deserve our attention first because they are of great social importance. Solving the challenges raised by aging, stable pension funding, and increasing healthcare costs, for example, requires a view on what justice between age groups demands. Climate change, resource depletion, environmental degradation, population growth, and the like, raise serious concerns about the conditions under which future people will have to live. What kind of world should we bequest to future generations?
Second, this debate has theoretical significance. Questions of intergenerational justice force reconsideration of the fundamental commitments (on scope, pattern, site, and currency) of existing moral and political theories. The age-group debate has led to fundamental questions about the pattern of distributive justice: Should we care about people’s lives considered as whole being equally good? This has implausible implications. Can existing accounts be modified to avoid such problematic consequences?
Justice between nonoverlapping generations raises a different set of questions. One important worry is about the pattern of intergenerational justice—are future generations owed equality, or should intergenerational justice be cast in terms of sufficiency? Another issue is the currency of intergenerational justice: what kind of goods should be transferred? Perhaps the most puzzling worry resulting from this debate translates into a worry about scope: do obligations of justice extend to future people? Most conventional views on the scope of justice—those that focus on shared coercive institutions, a common culture, a cooperative scheme for mutual advantage—cannot easily be extended to include future generations. Even humanity-based views, which seem most hospitable to the inclusion of future generations, are confronted with what Parfit called the nonidentity problem, which results from the fact that future people are mostly possible people: because of the lack of a fixed identity of future people, it is often impossible to harm them in the comparative sense.
Bas Van Der Vossen
Libertarianism is a theory in political philosophy that strongly values individual freedom and is skeptical about the justified scope of government in our lives. Libertarians see individuals as sovereign, as people who have a right to control their bodies and work, who are free to decide how to interact with willing others, and who cannot be forced to do things against their will without very strong justification.
For some, the argument in support of this view hinges on the principle of self-ownership. To them, individual rights are morally foundational, the basic building blocks of their theory. Many others, however, take a broader view, arguing that societies flourish when they offer people large degrees of freedom in both personal and economic matters.
As a result, libertarianism sees the state as playing at most only a very limited role in matters concerning distributive justice. Libertarians are skeptical about calls to reduce material inequality for its own sake, strongly favor free trade, and defend opening borders for migrants. They see policies that violate these commitments as inevitably involving wrongs against free and equal persons.
Mark R. Brawley
Two approaches currently enjoy widespread popularity among foreign policy analysts: Analytical Liberalism and Neoclassical Realism. On the surface, they seem remarkably similar. Both emphasize domestic factors, yet each claims to employ domestic variables in a distinct fashion. How do they differ? To answer that question, it would be helpful to reflect upon examples where scholars applying each approach have addressed the same case, allowing us to contrast their descriptions directly. Few such comparisons exist, however. Instead, as is apparent to even the casual observer, each approach fits neatly into its own niche. Neoclassical Realism appeals to scholars addressing security policy, whereas Analytical Liberalism dominates research in international political economy. Why would both approaches enjoy limited applicability? Here too, a direct comparison of their arguments might illuminate their comparative strengths and weaknesses. A review of how each approach works provides insight into their respective strengths and weaknesses. Under certain conditions, the key traits of the approaches can be revealed. These conditions identify a series of cases deserving closer empirical analysis, which would provide evidence concerning the relative utility of each approach.
William Smith and Kimberley Brownlee
Civil disobedience and conscientious objection are distinct but related social practices that display people’s opposition to specific laws, policies, directives, or schemes. In general, these two practices arise from people’s deeply held commitments. Civil disobedience is more overtly communicative and political than conscientious objection. Civil disobedience is also, almost by definition, a breach of law, which people engage in to push for changes in either governmental or nongovernmental practices. Conscientious objection, by contrast, does not always break the law: sometimes it is a legally protected form of nonconformity. It is also less overtly political than civil disobedience, stemming as it does from people’s desire not to participate in practices they oppose, rather than from their ambition to change those practices. Both practices can be morally justified under specific conditions that, among other things, include doing only limited harm to other people. Moreover, under even more specific conditions, both practices could be said to be protected by moral rights. Civil disobedience and conscientious objection generate pressing normative and political challenges concerning the nature of the rule of law, respect for the rule of law, conditions for deliberative democracy, equality before the law, policing, adjudication, and punishment.
Ethics and foreign policy have long been considered different arenas, which can only be bridged with great analytical and practical difficulty. However, with the rise of post-positivist approaches to foreign policy, much greater attention has been paid to the way that ethical norms and moral values are embedded within the way states understand their own actions and interests, both enabling and constraining their behavior. Turning to these approaches raises a different question to whether ethics and foreign policy can mix, that of how best to understand, analyze, and critique the role that ethics inevitably play within foreign policy making? What are required are perspectives which, instead of constructing an ethical theory in the abstract and applying it to a concrete situation, start from the ethics of the foreign policy arena itself.
Two ways of looking at ethics are especially useful in this regard: a virtue-ethics approach and a relational-ethics approach. These can be best explored by observing how they work in a particular foreign policy context, such as the highly controversial U.K. decision to join the invasion and occupation of Iraq from 2003. This was a policy where ethics came particularly to the fore in both the decision-making process and its justification. The case study can therefore help show the types of questions virtue and relational ethics ask, the way they work as analytical and critical frameworks, and the problems they raise for the role of ethics in foreign policy. They also point toward important future directions for research in the area.