Enlightenment Presuppositions

death-of-justiceA primary reason liberalism is able to maintain its perception of philosophical legitimacy is that its principles are presupposed, rather than defended and articulated in any serious way. When liberalism is critically examined, it collapses like a house of cards.

“Modern academic philosophy turns out by and large to provide means for a more accurate and informed definition of disagreement rather than for progress toward its resolution. Professors of philosophy who concern themselves with questions of justice, and of practical rationality turn out to disagree with each other as sharply, as variously, and, so it seems, as irremediably upon how such questions are to be answered as anyone else. They do indeed succeed in articulating the rival standpoints with greater clarity, greater fluency, and a wider range of arguments than do most others, but apparently little more than this. And, upon reflection, we should perhaps not be surprised.

Consider, for example, one at first sight very plausible philosophical thesis about how we ought to proceed in these matters if we are to be rational. Rationality requires, so it has been argued by a number of academic philosophers, that we first divest ourselves of allegiance to any one of the contending theories and also abstract ourselves from all those particularities of social relationship in terms of which we have been accustomed to understand our responsibilities and our interests. Only by doing so, it is has been suggested, shall we arrive at a genuinely neutral, impartial, and, in this way, universal point of view, freed from the partisanship and the partiality and onesidedness that otherwise affect us. And only by so doing shall we be able to evaluate the contending accounts of justice rationally.

One problem is that those who agree about this procedure then proceed to disagree about what precise conception of justice it is which is as a result to be accounted rationally acceptable. But even before that problem arises, the question has to be asked whether, by adopting this procedure, key questions have not been begged. For it can be argued and it has been argued that this account of rationality is itself contentious is two related ways: its requirement of disinterestedness in fact covertly presupposes one particular partisan type of account of justice, that of liberal individualism, which it is later to be used to justify, so that its apparent neutrality is no more than appearance, while its conception of ideal rationality is consisting in the principles which a socially disembodied being would arrive at illegitimately ignores the inescapably historically and socially context-bound character which any substantive set of principles of rationality, whether theoretically or practical, is bound to have.”

– Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? – 


– Lucas G. Westman


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