Saturday, October 01, 2005
Sketch of a project
February 24, 2004
[I] Kant improved on Hume in that Kant saw that empirical reality couldn't be understood as being completely mind independent, and that, therefore, the self could not be understood as a mere passive receptor but instead took an active role in constituting reality. But Kant also held that this thought could not be seperated from rationalism. Dewey and the pragmatists were a corrective to Kant in that they showed how to harmonize empiricism with the notion of an active self.
- One of the core problems of latter day Kantian moral theory is that of showing how pure rationality could yield an other-directed morality (that is, the problem of showing how pure rationality could lead one to value other rational agents as such). The leading Kantians of two decades ago ago offered accounts which boiled down to rational consistency, but left it unclear why agents should be committed to consistency. More recent authors (Herman, Korsgaard) have given a fuller account of the way that agents develop conceptions of value over time. These proposals solve the problem of value commitment, but fail to explain why agents are constrained to choose a conception of value that fits Kantian precepts.
- Pragmatic thought, especially that of Dewey, also has the resources to explain the development of a conception of value over time. Unlike Kantians, pragmatists seem not to be committed to the claim that all ethical rules are linked by a core commitment to autonomy (or, to the-self-as-rational). Since this is so, pragmatists are free to say that different activities each have their own distinctive good.
[II] Pragmatism shares with Kantianism the idea that agents ought to be responsive to other rational agents as such -- this much seems implicit in the ideal of inquiry. It is significant, however, that inquiry could be done independently. Or, to put the point another way, it is significant that it is a contingent fact that the world contains other reasoners. Our obligation to be responsive to such agents is similarly contingent.
- Pragmatic thought provides a way to build an empirical conception of a reason responsive self. The pragmatic conception of the self is that of an agent who creates knowledge by interacting -- sometimes in a way that could be characterized as experimenting -- with the world. It turns out that some of the most salient features of the world in which we live are other other selves which interact with the world in similar ways. Moreover, these other selves both make demands on the agent and respond, sometimes favorably, to demands made by the agent. We can refer to these facts by saying that we exist in a social world. An important upshot of the fact that we live in a social world is that our interpretation of the world is fundamentally shaped by our perception of reasons. Which is to say that one of our basic projects is that of sorting out legitimate and illegitimate demands.
[III] Rawls identifies as fundamental to democratic thought the idea that the polity is composed of individuals who are capable of developing and acting on their own conception of the good. A second fundamental commitment is that this capacity justifies democratic forms of government. In particular, it justifies a commitment to democratic conceptions of equality.
- About the only argument Rawls gives for either of these is the fact that both seem to be inseperable from a commitment to democratic forms of government. This line of thought boils down to: if you are committed to democracy, then you ought to be committed to this. But this seems circular, since the point was to justify the commitment to democracy.
- In Theory (40), Rawls hints at another source for justifying this commitment, namely the Kantian idea of autonomy.
- But the Kantian justification can't be satisfactory, since Kantianism isn't able to provide a compelling argument for the parallel point about individual reasoners. Pragmatism, on the other hand, does have the resources to provide an empirical account of the self which implies this claim.