Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Interview with Michael Sandel

The new online journal "Art of Theory: A Political Philosophical Quarterly" features an interview with Professor Michael Sandel (Harvard):

12 Questions with Michael Sandel


Art of Theory: What features of our political life most puzzle you?
Sandel: I would say the largely arid terms of political discourse, the thinness of public discourse in the world’s leading democracies. That’s the single most striking and worrisome thing.
It’s partly the tendency, over the past three decades, of economics to crowd out politics. This has been an age of market triumphalism. We’ve come to the assumption that markets are the primary instruments for achieving the public good. I think that is a mistaken notion and people are now beginning to question that.
It also has led to political discourse being preoccupied with technocratic, managerial, economic concerns. The broader public questions and ethical questions have been crowded to the side. (....)
At the level of political theory (and this is what I’ve tried to do in some of my work), we need to challenge the premise that a pluralist society, or a society based on mutual respect, must avoid or set aside substantive moral and spiritual questions or questions of the good life.
Also at the level of political theory, I think there needs to be a challenge to economistic visions of democracy. (....)
Excellent political theory is determined by how interesting the question is. (....) After the question is chosen I am a methodological pluralist — a radical methodological pluralist — to the point where I don’t even think we could lay down any meaningful criteria for the right research method.

Michael Sandel is Professor of Government at Harvard University. His latest book is "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009).

See some of my previous posts on Michael Sandel here, here, here & here.

Toward a Positive Theory of Public Reason

Gillian Hadfield & Stephen Macedo have posted a new paper on SSRN:

"Rational Reasonableness: Toward a Positive Theory of Public Reason"

Why is it important for people to agree on and articulate shared reasons for just laws, rather than whatever reasons they personally find compelling? What, if any, practical role does public reason play in liberal democratic politics? We argue that the practical role of public reason can be better appreciated by examining the structural similarities in normative and positive political theory. Specifically, we consider the analytical parallels between Rawls’ account of political liberalism and a rational choice model of legal order recently proposed by Hadfield & Weingast (2011). The positive model proposes that a shared system of reasoning – a common logic – plays a key role in coordinating a stable equilibrium when legal rules depend on decentralized collective enforcement efforts by individual agents. The common logic enables individuals to predict how others will behave in the face of wrongful conduct and incentivizes participation in costly collective punishments by reassuring agents that their personal concerns will be taken into account in the resulting equilibrium. Rawls’s theory of political liberalism, we argue, is based on a comparable recognition that citizens in a pluralistic society face a practical as well as a moral problem in sustaining a stable political conception of justice. How can individual citizens have confidence that others will reciprocate their commitment to support fair and reasonable governing principles that depart from their own ideal conceptions of truth and value? Citizens face a practical problem of mutual assurance that public reason helps them solve by making individual ongoing commitments to a political conception of justice a matter of common knowledge. The solution, on both views, requires citizens’ reciprocal commitment to basing law on a system of shared public reasons. Both views thus place public reason at the core of liberal democratic politics in conditions of diversity, and for quite similar reasons. Our argument illustrates the (often) complementary roles of positive and values-based analysis in constitutional (in the broadest sense) design.

Gillian Hadfield is Professor of Law at the University of Southern California. See some of her recent papers here.

Stephen Macedo is Professor of Politics at Princeton University.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New book: Jürgen Habermas - Key Concepts

Jürgen Habermas: Key Concepts

ed. by Barbara Fultner

(Acumen, 2011)

256 pages


A rare systematic thinker, Habermas has furthered our understanding of modernity, social interaction and linguistic practice, societal institutions, rationality, morality, the law, globalization, and the role of religion in multicultural societies. He has helped shape discussions of truth, objectivity, normativity, and the relationship between the human and the natural sciences. This volume provides an accessible and comprehensive conceptual map of Habermas's theoretical framework and its key concepts, including the theory of communicative action, discourse ethics, his social-political philosophy and their applications to contemporary issues. It will be an invaluable resource for both novice readers of Habermas and those interested in a more refined understanding of particular aspects of his work.


Introduction, Barbara Fultner

1. Historical and Intellectual Contexts, Max Pensky

Part I: Communicative Rationality

2. Postmetaphysical Thinking, Melissa Yates
3. Communicative Action and Formal Pragmatics, Barbara Fultner
4. System and Lifeworld, Joseph Heath
5. Autonomy, Agency, and the Self, Joel Anderson

Part II: Moral and Political Theory

6. Deliberative Democracy, Kevin Olson
7. Discourse Theory of Law, Christopher Zurn

Part III: Politics and Social Change

8. Civil Society and Social Movements, Keith Haysom
9. Cosmopolitan Democracy, Ciaran Cronin
10. Rationalization, Modernity, and Secularization, Eduardo Mendieta

Barbara Fultner is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Denison University, Ohio. She is translator of Jürgen Habermas's "Truth and Justification" (MIT Press, 2003) and his "On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction" (MIT Press, 2000).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Review of "The Philosophy of Richard Rorty"

At "Notre Dame Philosophical Review", Paul Redding reviews "The Philosophy of Richard Rorty" (Open Court, 2010), ed. by Randall E. Auxier and Lewis Edwin Hahn:

Review of "The Philosophy of Richard Rorty"


"And for Rorty, as for Mill, the good community is one which maximizes the chances of individuals creating unique lives, which for Rorty implies fashioning the "vocabularies" with which they shape their outlooks and behaviors. To the extent that traditional philosophy seeks a source for norms in something other than human agreement, it is to be regarded as just an extension of religion. In short, to see our ideas or language as trying to represent something essentially independent from us - seeing philosophical knowledge as ideally a "mirror of nature" - is just another instance of thinking of ourselves as responsible to something other than other human beings."

Paul Redding is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

G.A. Cohen: Essays in Political Philosophy

On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice,
and Other Essays in Political Philosophy

by G. A. Cohen

(Princeton University Press, 2011)

288 pages


G. A. Cohen was one of the most gifted, influential, and progressive voices in contemporary political philosophy. At the time of his death in 2009, he had plans to bring together a number of his most significant papers. This is the first of three volumes to realize those plans. Drawing on three decades of work, it contains previously uncollected articles that have shaped many of the central debates in political philosophy, as well as papers published here for the first time. In these pieces, Cohen asks what egalitarians have most reason to equalize, he considers the relationship between freedom and property, and he reflects upon ideal theory and political practice.

Contents [preview]

Part One: Luck Egalitarianism

Ch. 1: On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice [pdf]
Ch. 2: Equality of What? On Welfare, Goods, and Capabilities
Afterword to Ch. 1 & 2
Ch. 3: Sen on Capability, Freedom, and Control
Ch. 4: Expensive Taste Rides Again
Ch. 5: Luck and Equality
Ch. 6: Fairness and Legitimacy in Justice, And: Does Option Luck Ever Preserve Justice?

Part Two: Freedom and Property

Ch. 7: Capitalism, Freedom, and the Proletariat

Ch. 8: Freedom and Money [paper]
Two Addenda to Ch. 8

Part Three: Ideal Theory and Political Practice

Ch. 9: Mind the Gap

Ch. 10: Back to Socialist Basics
Ch. 11: How to Do Political Philosophy
Ch. 12: Rescuing Justice from Constructivism and Equality from the Basic Structure Restriction [draft]

Gerald A. Cohen (1941-2009) was Professor of Social and Political Theory at All Souls College, University of Oxford, from 1985 to 2008.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Habermas on "The Political"

In a new book edited by Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, entitled "The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere" (Columbia University Press), you will find essays by Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, Judith Butler and Cornel West.

Here are some excerpts from Jürgen Habermas's contribution ""The Political": The Rational Meaning of a Questionable Inheritance of Political Theology" (pp. 15-33):

"In the welfare state democracies of the latter half of the twentieth century, politics was still able to wield a steering influence on the diverging subsystems; it could still counterbalance tendencies toward social disintegration. (....) Today, under conditions of globalized capitalism, the political capacities for protecting social integration are becoming dangerously restricted. As economic globalization progresses, the picture that systems theory sketched of social modernization is acquiring ever sharper contours in reality. According to this interpretation, politics as a means of democratic self-determination has become as impossible as it is superfluous. (....) "The political" has been transformed into the code of a self-maintaining administrative system, so that democracy is in danger of becoming a mere facade, which the executive agencies turn toward their helpless clients." [p. 15f]

"Today the social sciences lay claim to the political system as their subject matter; they deal with "politics" that is, with the struggle for and the exercise of power, and also with "policies" - that is, the goals and strategies pursued by political actors in different fields. Besides normative political theory, philosophers have long since lost their special competence for the "political system". "The political" no longer appears to constitute a serious philosophical topic alongside "politics" and "policies"." [p. 16f]

"If we continue to understand "the political" as the symbolic medium of self-representation of a society that consciously influences the mechanisms of social integration, then the expansion of markets (....) involves, in fact, a certain degree of "depoliticization" of the society at large. [p. 20]. (....) In Carl Schmitt's view, liberalism is the force that robs politics of its significance for society as a whole - on the one hand, a functionally differentiated society is emancipated from the shaping force of politics and, on the other, the state is decoupled from a privatized religion that has lost its sting. Schmitt, therefore, develops a new and provocative concept of "the political" that is superficially adapted to mass democracy but preserves the authoritarian kernel of a sovereign power with its legitimizing relation to sacred history." [p. 21f]

"Of course, Carl Schmitt's clericofascist conception of "the political" is a matter of the past, but it must serve as a warning to all those who want to revive political theology. (....) In one way or the other, the diagnosis of a progressive "negation of the political" does not seem to have been refuted. The remaining worry can be put in a nutshell: How can respect for the inviolability of human dignity, and, more generally, a public awareness of the relevance of normative questions, be kept alive in the face of growing and disarming systemic strains on the social integration of our political communities?" [p. 23]

"In a liberal democracy, state power has lost its religious aura. And, in view of the fact of persisting pluralism, it is hard to see on which normative ground the historical step toward the secularization of state power could ever be reversed. This in turn requires a justification of constitutional essentials and the outcomes of the democratic process in ways that are neutral toward the cognitive claims of competing worldviews. Democratic legitimacy is the only one available today. (....) This is, however, not to deny the great insight of John Rawls: The liberal constitution itself must not ignore the contributions that religious groups can well make to the democratic process within civil society. (....) Rawls .... offers, with his idea of the "public use of reason", a promising key for explaining how the proper role of religion in the public sphere contributes to a rational interpretation of what we still might call "the political" as distinct from politics and policies. The only element transcending administrative politics and institutionalized power politics emerges from the anarchic use of communicative freedoms that keeps alive the spring tide of informal flows of public communication from below. Through these channels alone, vital and nonfundamentalist religious communities can become a transformative force in the center of a democratic civil society - all the more so when frictions between religious and secular voices provoke inspiring controversies on normative issues and thereby stimulate an awareness of their relevance." [p. 24f].

"The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere" is based on lectures given at SUNY Stony Brook in October 2010. Materials related to this event, including audio recordings and transcripts of the panel sessions, are available here.

See my previous post on the book here.

See excerpts from Craig Calhoun's afterword to the book here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Honneth speaks in Lyon

Axel Honneth will speak about "Market and Morality" at a conference in Lyon on "Social Philosophy and Social Sciences", March 24-25, 2011.

See the programme here.

Other participants are: Jean-Philippe Deranty (Sydney), Stéphane Haber (Paris), and Yves Sintomer (Paris).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Habermas nominated for Russian award

Jürgen Habermas has been nominated for Mikhail Gorbachev's new award "Man Who Changed The World".

Other nominees include ex-Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, film director Steven Spielberg, CNN founder Ted Turner, and U2 singer Bono.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Should academics join the government?

In "The New Republic" (March 11, 2011) Professor Martha Nussbaum (Chicago) asks:

"Should academics join the government?"

"I keep thinking of Cicero’s acerbic commentary on philosophers who refuse to serve the public realm: “Impeded by the love of learning, they abandon those whom they ought to protect.” Even worse, he accuses them of arrogant self-indulgence: “They demand the same thing kings do: to need nothing, to obey nobody, to enjoy their liberty, which they define as doing what you like.” It’s difficult not to hear that voice in one’s dreams, even if one believes, as I do, that writing itself can serve the public good."

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Feminist Interpretations of Richard Rorty

At "Notre Dame Philosophical Review", Elizabeth A. Sperry reviews Marianne Janack (ed.) -Feminist Interpretations of Richard Rorty (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010):

Review of "Feminist Interpretations of Richard Rorty"

Elizabeth A. Sperry is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at William Jewell College, Liberty, Missouri.

See a preview of the book here.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

David Ingram on "Habermas and Group Rights"

Professor David B. Ingram has posted a new paper on SSRN:

"Habermas and Group Rights"

I focus on the recent attempt by Habermas to provide a formal criterion for testing the legitimacy of group rights. Habermas argues that group-rights are legitimate only when they protect groups from discrimination by other groups. Group rights that aim to preserve groups against their own members, by contrast, are illegitimate. In my opinion, this way of drawing the distinction overlooks the link between anti-discrimination and preservation. Furthermore, I argue that preservation of a group identity can be legitimate so long as the group in question allows freedom of exit from the group.

The paper will be presented at the Western Political Science Association 2011 Annual Meeting, April 21 - 23, 2011, San Antonio, Texas.

David Ingram is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University Chicago. He is the author of "Habermas and the Dialectic of Reason" (Yale University Press, 1989), "Group Rights: Reconciling Equality and Difference" (University Press of Kansas, 2000) and "Habermas: Introduction and Analysis" (Cornell University Press, 2010).

"Creating Capabilities": New book by Martha Nussbaum

Creating Capabilities
The Human Development Approach

by Martha C. Nussbaum

(Harvard University Press, March 2011)

256 pages


If a country’s Gross Domestic Product increases each year, but so does the percentage of its people deprived of basic education, health care, and other opportunities, is that country really making progress? If we rely on conventional economic indicators, can we ever grasp how the world’s billions of individuals are really managing?

In this powerful critique, Martha Nussbaum argues that our dominant theories of development have given us policies that ignore our most basic human needs for dignity and self-respect. For the past twenty-five years, Nussbaum has been working on an alternate model to assess human development: the Capabilities Approach. She and her colleagues begin with the simplest of questions: What is each person actually able to do and to be? What real opportunities are available to them?


1. A Woman Seeking Justice
2. The Central Capabilities
3. A Necessary Counter-theory
4. Fundamental Entitlements
5. Cultural Diversity
6. The Nation and Global Justice
7. Philosophical Influences
8. Capabilities and Contemporary Issues

Martha Nussbaum is Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago.

See my previous posts the on the capabilities approach here, here and here.