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Article

Perfectionism  

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

Solidarity  

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

Freedom in Political Philosophy  

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

Nationalism  

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

Consequentialism  

Martin Marchman Andersen

Consequentialism is a theory of moral rightness, where the domain of morality is to be understood in the broadest sense, covering politics and normative economics as well as more personal morality. It holds that an action is right if and only if no other available action leads to a better outcome seen from an agent-neutral perspective. Thus, according to consequentialism we must maximize the good seen from an agent-neutral perspective. Consequentialism is demanding not only because our actions are right only if they lead to the best outcome—second or third best are never good enough—but also because the evaluation of what the best outcome is should be given from an agent-neutral perspective: The reasons we give, for acting in one way or another, should be reasons for anyone. Consequentialism is a basic moral theory in the sense that we need to specify its values for it to be operational, for it to tell us how to act, what to do. Our considerations over the values of consequentialism must result in answers to several questions, most importantly as to what it is we should maximize. This includes the specification of not only the consequentialist currency, for example, welfare, but also how that currency ought to be distributed, for example, by maximization, and between whom it ought to be distributed, for example, conscious human beings. The most famous version of consequentialism is utilitarianism, holding that actions are right if and only if they maximize the sum of welfare.

Article

Democracy  

Ludvig Beckman

Democracy is a term that is used to denote a variety of distinct objects and ideas. Democracy describes either a set of political institutions or an ideal of collective self-rule. Democracy can also be short for a normative principle of either legitimacy or justice. Finally, democracy might be used to denote an egalitarian attitude. These four uses of the term should be kept distinct and raises separate conceptual and normative issues. The value of democracy, whether democratic political institutions or democratic self-rule, is either instrumental, non-instrumental, or both. The non-instrumental value of democracy derives either from the alleged fairness of majority rule or from the value of the social relationships enabled by participation in democratic procedures. The instrumental value of democracy lends support from a growing body of empirical research. Yet, the claim that democracy has a positive causal effect on public goods is inconclusive with respect to the moral justification of democratic institutions. Normative reasons for democracy’s instrumental value must instead appeal to the fact that it contributes to equality, liberty, truth, or the realization of popular will. Democracy as a principle of either political legitimacy or justice is a normative view that evades concerns with the definition and value of democracy. Normative democracy is a claim about the conditions either for legitimacy or justice of either public authority or coercion. Debates in normative democracy are largely divorced from the conceptual and empirical concerns that inform studies of democracy elsewhere. The boundaries of the people entitled to participate in collective decisions is a question that applies to all four uses of democracy. The boundary question raises three distinct issues. The first is the extent of inclusion required among the members of the unit. The second is if membership in the unit is necessary for inclusion or if people that are not recognized as members are on certain conditions also entitled to participate. The third and final issue concerns the boundaries of the unit itself.

Article

Queer as Materialism  

Sophie Noyé and Gianfranco Rebucini

Since the 2000s, forms of articulation between materialist and Marxist theory and queer theory have been emerging and have thus created a “queer materialism.” After a predominance of poststructuralist analyses in the social sciences in the1980s and 1990s, since the late 1990s, and even more so after the economic crisis of 2008, a materialist shift seems to be taking place. These recompositions of the Marxist, queer, and feminist, which took place in activist and academic arenas, are decisive in understanding how the new approaches are developing in their own fields. The growing legitimacy of feminist and queer perspectives within the Marxist left is part of an evolution of Marxism on these issues. On the other side, queer activists and academics have highlighted the economic and social inequalities that the policies of austerity and capitalism in general induce among LGBTQI people and have turned to more materialist references, especially Marxist ones, to deploy an anticapitalist and antiracist argument. Even if nowadays one cannot speak of a “queer materialist” current as such, because the approaches grouped under this term are very different, it seems appropriate to look for a “family resemblance” and to group them together. Two specific kinds of “queer materialisms” can thus be identified. The first, queer Marxism, seeks to theorize together Marxist and queer theories, particularly in normalization and capitalist accumulation regimes. The second, materialist queer feminism, confronts materialist/Marxist feminist thought with queer approaches and thus works in particular on the question of heteropatriarchy based on this double tradition.

Article

Ideal and Nonideal Theory in Political Philosophy  

Christopher Thompson

The distinction between ideal and nonideal theory is an important methodological concern in contemporary political theory. At issue is the extent to which political theorizing is a practical endeavor and, consequently, the extent to which real-world facts should either be factored into political theorizing or else be assumed away. The distinction between ideal theory and nonideal theory was first introduced by John Rawls in his classic A Theory of Justice. Rawls’s ideal theory is an account of the society we should aim for, given certain facts about human nature and possible social institutions, and involves two central assumptions. First, it assumes full compliance of relevant agents with the demands of justice. Second, it assumes that historical and natural conditions of society are reasonably favorable. These two assumptions are individually necessary and jointly sufficient for his ideal theory. For Rawls, nonideal theory primarily addresses the question of how the ideal might be achieved in practical, permissible steps, from the actual, partially just society we occupy. The account of ideal and nonideal theory advanced by Rawls has been subject to criticism from different directions. Amartya Sen accepts Rawls’s distinction between ideal and nonideal theory but argues that Rawlsian-style nonideal theory is too ideal. Given the many and severe injustices we face we do not need to know what ideal (or “transcendental”) justice looks like; our focus should not be on how to transition toward this ideal. Instead, the advancement of justice requires a comparative judgment which ranks possible policies in terms of being more or less just than the status quo. G. A. Cohen, by contrast, argues that Rawlsian-style ideal theory is not really ideal theory as such, but instead principles for regulating society. Our beliefs about normative principles should, ultimately, be insensitive to matters of empirical fact; genuine ideal theory is a form of moral epistemology (an exercise of identifying normative truths).

Article

Relational Egalitarianism  

Kristin Voigt

For relational egalitarians, equality is about how individuals relate to one another: equality requires that individuals regard and treat each other as equals. Different relational egalitarians have fleshed out this idea in different ways and use of the umbrella term “relational equality” should not detract from the differences between relational egalitarian views on offer. One question about relational equality is whether its requirements apply to individuals, institutions, or both. Some relational egalitarians focus primarily on what it means for individuals, or co-citizens, to relate to one another as equals, highlighting, for example, the problematic nature of status hierarchies and stigmatization of certain groups, or the need to give equal consideration to everyone’s interests. Such accounts sometimes also emphasize the importance of certain self-regarding attitudes, especially self-respect, as a component or requirement of relational equality. For other relational egalitarians, relational equality applies—primarily or additionally—to how institutions, especially states, relate to individuals. Institutional requirements can arise instrumentally (which institutions are best suited to produce egalitarian relations among individuals?) or because the demands of relational equality apply to institutions directly. A second crucial distinction, cutting across the first, is whether relational equality is taken to issue requirements about our treatment of others, our attitudes toward them, the attitudes expressed toward them, or a combination of these. Specifying where relational equality applies is important, not least because egalitarian treatment, egalitarian attitudes, and expression of egalitarian attitudes need not run together. Relational egalitarians have offered different views as to why relational equality matters in the first place. Relational equality may be valuable instrumentally (i.e., it promotes values such as self-respect); or because it has non-instrumental, impersonal value (i.e., the world is better if relationships are egalitarian); or because it expresses a deontic requirement about how individuals must treat each other. Relational egalitarians initially developed their views in response to distributive accounts of equality (such as luck egalitarianism), which assume that equality requires the equal distribution of a metric such as welfare. While relational egalitarians reject that assumption, they emphasize that distributions matter for equality for several reasons, for example when they interfere with egalitarian relationships, or when they are caused by relational inequality. Relational egalitarians have explored the real-world implications of their views, often opposing markets in favor of state provision of social services such as education or healthcare. Questions about the scope of relational equality are particularly crucial when it comes to determining its requirements: while relational egalitarians typically focus on requirements arising within political communities, it is not clear that relational equality can or should be limited by state boundaries; some relational egalitarians have begun to explore the possibility of a global relational egalitarianism. Similarly, tying requirements of relational equality to reciprocity may limit the theory to individuals with specific cognitive capacities. One striking aspect of the literature is the pluralism to which relational egalitarians are committed, for example when it comes to the reasons why relational equality is valuable, or the criteria used to identify when relational equality obtains. This does not make relational equality incoherent, but it creates the possibility of conflicting requirements.

Article

Religious Values and Worldviews  

Raja M. Ali Saleem

Values are enduring beliefs that impact human actions and behavior. They are conflated with norms, morals, traits, and attitudes, but they are different. Worldviews, held consciously or unconsciously, are interpretive frameworks or a set of presuppositions about the basic constitution of reality that provides the foundation for people’s lives. Religious values can be specific to a religion or universally shared. In the developed world, religious values are losing their potency, but in developing countries, where people are existentially insecure, these values still guide individual and social action and behavior. Although people have had religious worldviews from times immemorial, a conscious effort to develop and present such worldviews to counter more secular worldviews was first initiated in the late 19th century. It was thought that religions, particularly Christianity, could better withstand the onslaught of secularization and modernization by presenting themselves as worldviews. Since then, the presentation of religions as worldviews has gained momentum, and the initiative by a few Protestant evangelicals has spawned hundreds of articles, books, courses, and workshops that cover almost all major religious worldviews.