Reason, the Good and Righs

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The Trouble with Liberalism
Discovery or Invention?
Reason, the Good and Righs


Marc Stier

Summary of the Book

This book has two main aims. The first is to present a conception of the nature and structure of political philosophy that places the rational consideration of human nature and the human good at the center of political philosophy. The second is to present a defense of human rights that acknowledges the preeminence in political philosophy of a view of the human good and yet provides firm support for what I hold to be the central human rights-to civil liberty and to consent to the government of the state and other institutions serving common purposes. After a number of chapters that sum up the arguments of The Trouble with Liberalism and Discovery or Invention?, present an account of the possibility of reasoning about the human good that builds upon the philosophical psychology I develop in Discovery or Invention?  Then I discuss the relationship between a general account of the human good and an account of our own good and presents a new view of the nature of the virtues. This enables me to develops a new understanding of the relationship between theory and practice that rests on my account of reasoning about the human good. With this account of the human good in hand, I turn to the development of a pragmatic rationalist conception of ideal rationality. I hold that there are two aspects of ideal rationality, a formal aspect that has been elucidated by Jürgen Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel and a substantive aspect that has been worked out by Hilary Putnam. I combine and deepen both these accounts by arguing that, ultimately, it is the possibility of reasoning about the human good that allows for rational discussion of all other issues. I then develop the framework for a new account of human rights that rests on both the theory of pragmatic rationalism and my account of reasoning about the human good. My claim is that the priority and importance of rights can be derived from an understanding of both the necessary preconditions of rational argument and debate and the limited possibilities for realizing these preconditions in political life. On my view, certain procedural rights (such as to civil liberty and to consent to government) may be defended prior to any conception of the human good. But only a formal standard for substantive rights (such as to equality of opportunity, distributive justice and political equality), as well for the justification of different forms of government is provided by this analysis. The concrete application of these formal standards is shown to depend upon a conception of the human good and the good of the members of a particular society as well as on an analysis of the political and social institutions of a polity and society. In subsequent chapters, I draw out the implications of this view of political philosophy for most of the central concerns of contemporary political philosophy. I first address the question of how we should choose a form of government. Here I present a framework for resolving certain problems for the contemporary liberal theories of democracy, such as the appropriate role for consent in both the state and corporate governance, the legitimate grounds of political inequality, the range of common goods that may justifiably be provided by the state, and others. Then I present a new account of the justification and scope of civil liberty. My account is original in that justifies both a non-neutral state and a very strong right to freedom of thought and action. Next I develop a theory of distributive justice. I discuss the theories of justice presented by John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin and Michael Walzer and argue that each of these theorists can be reconstructed as a formal account of justice that might be appropriate in some times and places, depending upon the conception of the good found in a particular political community. However each formal account must be completed precisely by such an account of the good. I also show how these theories of justice must be supplemented by moral notions grounded in care or equity. Then, in the next chapter, I make some suggestions about the sources of moral action while giving an affirmative answer the age old question, is it rational to be moral? In the concluding chapter I discuss the possibilities for developing a form of political life that both serves the human good and protects human rights. I argue that, at least in contemporary circumstances, such a polity must be highly pluralist and decentralized in nature.

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