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Article

Franz Mang and Joseph Chan

In contemporary Anglo-American political philosophy, perfectionism is widely understood as the idea that the state may, or should, promote valuable conceptions of the good life and discourage conceptions that are worthless or bad. As such, debates over perfectionism occupy a central place in contemporary political philosophy because political philosophers are deeply concerned about whether or not a liberal state is permitted to promote any particular ethical or religious doctrine or impose it on its citizens. In general, contemporary perfectionists do not argue for the state’s pursuit of any religious doctrine. They only maintain that the state is permitted to make a wide range of public policies with the aim of promoting the good life. These policies, commonly found in liberal democratic societies, may include subsidizing museums and art galleries, preserving cultural heritage, setting up public libraries and providing free access to reading materials, encouraging athletic excellence, conserving nature and biodiversity, and educating citizens about the harm of recreational drugs. Nevertheless, perfectionism remains controversial among philosophers and political scientists. It might be beneficial to take a sympathetic view of perfectionism and consider how perfectionists might defend their position against some of the common objections. These objections mainly include: (a) that the state does not possess legitimate authority to make decisions about the good life and seek to promote it; (b) that perfectionist policies are generally illiberal and paternalistic; and (c) that conceptions of the good life are objects of reasonable disagreement and hence cannot legitimately be promoted by the state. In addition, the nature and importance of perfectionist policies and politics will be discussed.

Article

The concept of impartiality is frequently invoked in moral and political debates. In moral theories, impartiality features prominently in both Act and Rule Consequentialism, Kantian ethics, the Humean general point of view, and Ideal Observer theory. In political theory, impartiality is frequently connected with justice and a commitment to equality. The connection of impartiality with moral and political theories is clear. In the personal realm, impartiality directs an agent not to act selfishly or unfairly toward others. In the political realm, impartiality requires that the structure of society and its institutions should not be rigged, for morally irrelevant reasons, to favor some groups over others by giving them benefits and opportunities that are not open to all. However, there is prolonged disagreement both in moral and political theory between impartialists, who accord significant weight to the value of impartiality, and partialists, who emphasize the value and importance of close personal relationships, meaningful life projects, autonomy, allegiance to one’s country and conationals, and duties of a state toward its citizens. Yet others see the quest for impartiality as a distraction from other more pressing concerns, such as the abuse of power, and domination. For all, this disagreement concerns the nature and extent to which impartiality should influence moral and political thought and actions. The debate may remain intractable because, in many situations, morality itself seems to demand partiality. Is the impartialist notion that everyone matters equally from the moral point of view compatible with widely held intuitions that agents are morally permitted to devote more of their time, energy, and other resources to people and projects whose value depends on their relationship to the agent? If not, so much the worse for impartial moral theory, because most people think parents are not merely permitted, but likely required—depending on the size of the harms and benefits involved—to attend to their own children’s needs ahead of helping the child of a stranger, or that a person who never placed their friend ahead of others when allocating their time, concern, and resources has not grasped the meaning of the term “friendship.” People tend to agree that a life devoid of meaningful projects is impoverished. Similar tensions arise in the political realm. Should political theories treat the good of all people everywhere as equally important, or should they make space for a state’s special duty to its own citizens and to allow compatriots to favor each other? What if we cannot agree on what constitutes “the good” of the people? The debate between impartialists and partialists looks set to continue unless progress is made in elucidating a concept of impartiality that can accommodate the concerns of both. Several authors agree that the concept of impartiality is underexplored, with the result that each side ends up talking past the other. To make progress, a deeper understanding of impartiality and the role it can play in moral and political thought is needed.

Article

Arto Laitinen

Solidarity is widely held to be an under-theorized, elusive, or vague notion, and there is no clear-cut canon of theories of solidarity, but there are some core intuitions on this subject that rival theories try to capture in different ways. One such core intuition is that solidarity concerns people who share their lives and whose fates are tied together—social solidarity, civic solidarity, or group solidarity are related to the strength of ties of dependency and mutual support of people who are “in the same boat.” Another core intuition is that solidarity can be extended even beyond one’s own society, community, or group—maximally to the whole of humankind. Nonexclusive human solidarity can play a vital role in sustaining moral standards and for example in the collective measures against climate change or a pandemic. A third core intuition is that solidarity can be needed and expressed in struggles against injustice or wrongs of various sorts. If the first core idea of solidarity concerns the normal stages of society, the third concerns the even revolutionary struggles to change important aspects of the existing forms of life. The metaphor of “being in the same boat” may seem suspect and misleading when attention is paid to the injustices of current arrangements—instead, what is needed is political solidarity in the attempt to fight those injustices. A fourth core intuition is that the dark side of solidarity raises suspicion: An internally solidary group may be repressive of the individuality of the members, it may be parochial and sometimes even lead to a dehumanization of outsiders, and it may be exercised in pursuit of unjustifiable ends. These forms of solidarity are discussed in the introduction (“Solidarity: Toward More Detailed Conceptions”). Among the theoretical questions concerning solidarity are, first of all, what exactly is it? Is it a specific type of relationship one can have (like friendship), or can any relationship, group, or way of acting be more or less solidary (like being friendly toward anyone, not just one’s friends)? Is solidarity a certain kind of action or a motivational basis out of which one can act? What sorts of things can be solidary (acts, attitudes, relationships, groups, practices, etc.), and can solidarity be realized or expressed via coercively sanctioned institutions? When macro phenomena are explained by microfoundations, is solidarity something to be explained or something that explains? Is solidarity a descriptive or evaluative notion, or both? Can solidarity be something bad? (“The Nature of Solidarity”). Normative questions concerning solidarity include: What kind of reasons or duties are there for being solidary? What is their relation to universalistic modern morality? What is human solidarity? (“Moral Solidarity”). What does thicker societal or in-group solidarity add to the universal demands of human solidarity? What is the relationship of solidarity to justice, democracy, social freedom or welfare state institutions? (“Perspectives on Societal Solidarity”). What is solidarity in the context of political struggles and social movements for change? (“Political Solidarity”). In what sense can these forms of solidarity be global? (“Solidarities in Global Contexts”).

Article

Welfare  

Guy Fletcher

Welfare is the measure of how well someone’s life is going for them (either at one time or over a whole life). This concept is crucial throughout practical philosophy, appearing in debates in ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of law, and beyond. Philosophical discussions of welfare have centered around the extent to which welfare is purely a matter of the quality of one’s experience, the extent to which it is a matter of getting what one desires or, instead, acquiring some fixed set of desire-independent goods and the extent to which it is related to one’s nature. Another set of debates concerns possible theories of welfare, questions about how many theories of welfare are needed to account for all of the facts about welfare, and whether discourse about welfare is linguistically or conceptually pluralistic in a deep and significant way.

Article

Robert Jubb

Realism in political philosophy is usually understood as a position in debates about how political philosophy should be conducted. Alison McQueen suggests in her Political Realism in Apocalyptic Times that realists are united by four commitments: to the distinctiveness of politics as a form of activity, to politics’ agonistic or conflictual character, to the fragility of order, and to rejecting political philosophy that does not take seriously the constraints on political action these other commitments imply. Realism in this sense is then particularly focused on political order as a way of channeling and managing disagreement. This gives it its distinctive approach to political philosophy, which relies on interpretations of how particular political values or judgments operate in particular situations. Following Edward Hall, we can think of the centrality of understanding what role a particular value or judgment plays in a particular context as imposing what in 2017 he called a “realism constraint.” Realism in this sense comes in three rough types: foundationalist realism, radical realism, and sober realism. For all three, though, it is crucial that they are able to articulate and defend an account of how they meet the realism constraint. Foundationalist realists avoid moral commitments, relying instead on authentically political sources of normativity to give their political judgments force. This creates an additional burden for them compared to radical and sober realists. They must show that the values on which they depend are both not moral and appropriately political, which may be difficult given the way morality is entangled with many of our other judgments and commitments. Both radical and sober realists are distinguished by the content and not the source of normativity for their judgments. Radical realists reject the status quo as in one way or another unacceptable, just as sober realists focus on the significance of the goods made possible by political order and so the importance of preserving it. The power of any form of realism depends on the plausibility of its interpretation of the political situation it theorizes and how well its judgments respond to that interpretation. Giving plausible interpretations of political situations will mean engaging with a range of material, from intellectual history to various kinds of contemporary social scientific enquiry. If realists do this, though, there is every reason to think that they can provide significant political insight.

Article

Timo Jütten

Recognition can be understood as a positive acknowledgment or affirmation of a person’s existence, identity, rights, or achievement. It is sometimes said to be a necessary condition for self-confidence, self-respect, and self-esteem. Although the concept has origins in Hobbes, Rousseau, Fichte, and Hegel, it has come to renewed prominence since the early 1990s, when philosophers such as Charles Taylor and Axel Honneth developed theories of recognition. These showed that the need for social recognition underlies many social and political movements from struggles for civil and labor rights to modern multiculturalism. In social and political philosophy, Honneth has argued that three forms of social recognition—affective care, equal respect, and social esteem—are preconditions of individual autonomy and that the principles governing these three forms of recognition should be the core of a conception of social justice. According to the theory of recognition, modern capitalist society can be evaluated as a recognition order that institutionalizes the distribution of respect and social esteem according to people’s individual achievements in their contributions to socially shared goals. Methodologically, Honneth uses an approach of normative reconstruction. Rather than constructing principles of justice on the basis of hypothetical agreement, he reconstructs the normative principles that are immanent in our social practices and institutions and sometimes contain a “normative surplus” that points beyond the status quo. This approach has been very productive in elucidating the importance of social recognition in the sphere of work, but critics have suggested that it limits the scope of radical social criticism. Honneth has proposed the concept of ideological recognition, where there is a chasm between the evaluative promise entailed by a form of recognition and its material fulfilment, in order to address this problem. More generally, critics have questioned whether recognition must be understood as positive rather than ambivalent, because this limits the scope of misrecognition and means that phenomena such as interpellation or objectification cannot easily be analyzed as forms of misrecognition.

Article

Andreas T. Schmidt

Freedom is among the central values in political philosophy. Freedom also features heavily in normative arguments in ethics, politics, and law. Yet different sides often invoke freedom to establish very different conclusions. Some argue that freedom imposes strict constraints on state power. For example, when promoting public health, there is a limit on how far the state can interfere with individual freedom. Others, in contrast, argue that freedom is not just a constraint but also an important goal of state power and collective action. Good public health policy, for example, promotes people’s freedom. Of course, different arguments often draw on different theories of freedom. So, to evaluate such arguments, we need to analyze these different theories and their implications and assess their plausibility. The broadly liberal tradition views freedom as being about external options. Such theories typically start with an account of when someone has a specific freedom or unfreedom to do something. For example, some argue that only a narrow set of interpersonal interferences count as constraints on freedom. Others argue that a far broader set of factors, including ill health and natural constraints, can reduce one’s freedom. Since the 1980s and 1990s, scholarship has increasingly recognized that to use liberal freedom in normative arguments, one must move beyond specific freedom and unfreedom. Most laws and policies both subtract and add specific freedoms. What matters is how a person’s freedom is affected overall. Philosophers and economists have thus engaged in intricate debates about how to measure overall freedom. Moreover, policies and law affect not only one person at one point in time but also multiple persons across time. So, liberal freedom-based arguments also require distributive criteria for intertemporal and interpersonal distributions of freedom. In the early 21st century, republicanism has developed into a prominent alternative to liberal theories. Republicans argue that being a free person is not just, or not even primarily, about liberal option-freedom. Freedom requires being free from dominating power. Republicans and liberals have engaged in a lively debate on who offers the better theory. In developing the republican ideal, republicans also engage in intramural debates. For example, is domination primarily an interpersonal or structural phenomenon? And what economic institutions does republicanism imply? Theorizing around freedom has become richer and moved from narrower questions regarding specific freedom and unfreedom to overall freedom and to republican theories of nondomination. But recent theorizing also seeks to extend its focus and scope. Historically, theorizing started with the freedom of able-bodied male citizens within nation states. Recent theorizing shifts the focus to include issues around gender, disability, freedom at the international level, and the freedom of nonhuman animals and future generations. Beyond fascinating implications of existing theories, a more inclusive focus is likely to also yield important lessons on how current theories can be improved.

Article

The publication of John Rawls’s Political Liberalism put public reason squarely on the agenda of contemporary political theory. Ever since, it has been a central topic in the field. Although Rawls developed a distinctive account of public reason, his account is but one among many. Indeed, some commentators have insisted that public reason is a very old notion, one that can be found in the political writings of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant, for example. Public reason has a distinctive subject matter. It applies to the common good of a modern political society and the political institutions that serve that common good, and it contrasts with forms of reasoning that apply to less inclusive associations and communities that exist within a modern political society, such as churches, voluntary clubs, or professional associations. Public reason also contrasts with applications of reason that are not transparent and/or acceptable to adult citizens of modern political societies. The demands of transparency and acceptability have proven to be complex and contentious, and rival articulations of these notions have generated rival accounts of public reason. Public reason informs public political justification, and proponents of public reason often hold that public, political justification of at least the fundamental political arrangements of a political society is necessary for its political order to be legitimate. The reasons for insisting on public reason and the reasons for rejecting it are diverse. Common to all defenses of public reason is the thought that it represents a fitting response to the fact of intractable disagreement in modern political societies.

Article

Renaud-Philippe Garner

Nationalism is a set of beliefs about the nation: its origins, nature, and value. For nationalists, we are particular social animals. On the one hand, our lives are structured by a profound sense of togetherness and similarity: We share languages and memories. On the other hand, our lives are characterized by deep divisions and differences: We draw borders and contest historical narratives. For nationalism, humanity is neither a single species-wide community nor an aggregation of individuals but divided into distinct and unique nations. At the heart of nationalism are claims about our identity and needs as social animals that form the basis of a series of normative claims. To answer the question “what should I do” or “how should I live,” one must first answer the questions “who am I” and “where do I belong.” Nationalism says that our membership in a nation takes precedence and ultimately must guide our choices and actions. In terms of guiding choice and action, nationalist thought proposes a specific form of partiality. Rather than treat the interests or claims of persons and groups impartially, the nationalist demands that one favors one’s own, either as a group or as individual persons. While nationalism does not claim to be the only form of partiality, it does claim to outrank all others: Loyalty or obligations to other groups or identities are subordinated to national loyalty. Together, these claims function as a political ideology. Nationalism identifies the nation as the central form of community and elevates it to the object of supreme loyalty. This fundamental concern for the nation and its flourishing can be fragmented into narrower aims or objectives: national autonomy, national identity, and national unity. Debate on nationalism tends to divide into two clusters, one descriptive and one normative, that only make partial contact. For historians and sociologists, the questions are explanatory: What is nationalism, what is a nation, how are they related, and when and how did they emerge? Philosophers and political theorists focus on the justification of nationalism or nationalist claims: Is national loyalty defensible, what are the limits of this loyalty, how do we rank our loyalties, and does nationalism conflict with human rights?

Article

Torbjörn Tännsjö

All conservatives have something in common, a particular argument, even if they disagree about the rationale behind this argument. The conservative argument can be stated thus: Some orders ought to be maintained because they are existing and well established. The reason given by conservatives why orders that are existing and well established ought to be maintained is varied. Typically, it has to do with pessimism with regard to the human moral nature or human rationality, or it has to do with pessimism with regard to rational argumentation combined with optimism about what has evolved historically speaking. The reasoning, then, is instrumental and pragmatic. However, there are also conservatives who claim that an existing and well-established order, such as a nation, a Volk, a species, or some cherished institution, has final value.