In recent years, some theorists have raised their distrust in metaethical research. Such worries include concerns about the intelligibility of metaethical discourse; claims about the meaninglessness of metaethical discussions; and finally the idea that metaethical debates are to be addressed by substantive theorizing only, namely that metaethical discussions are actually dealt by engaging in first-order, normative discourse. According to these worries, metaethics is either useless or just is a part of normative ethics and metaethicists are either hopeless, or simply in denial about what they are doing. Prominent examples of such convictions are Roanld Dworkin [Dworkin 1996, 2011] and Catherine Korsgaard [Korsgaard 2003]. I call this “metaethical quietism”. Such aggressive attitude has also been prominent in mainstream political philosophy since Rawls. According to Rawls, political philosophy should not engage with questions of the ontology of morals, or metaethics in general, to be more practically useful. In this paper, I question whether quietism can be successful and argue that metaethical inquiry may be useful to normative theorizing. The paper proceeds as follows: first, I consider and rebut Dworkin and Korsgaard’s arguments for metaethical quietism. Second, I compare them to Rawls’s political liberalism and argue that, despite some common aims, Rawls’s approach differs significantly from theirs. Finally, I consider whether metaethics can be useful to political philosophy. In attacking metaethics, Dworkin and Korsgaard have different aims. The first wants to rule out all forms of scepticism about values made possible by defending any kind of Archimedeanism. A theory is Archimedean if it purports to “stand outside a whole body of belief and to judge it as a whole from premises or attitudes that owe nothing to it” [Dworkin 1996, 88]. The latter, on the contrary, presents a theory of the practical function of moral concept as a broad charge against moral realism, intended as a metaphysical theory about normative entities, which exist independently of moral concepts. Despite such differences, they can be considered metaethical quietists for they share three main claims: 1) there is no metaethical grounding for normative ethics, thus morality is autonomous; 2) we should give up on metaphysics, moral theories need to be metaphysically light ; 3) moral philosophy is to provide normative judgments and practical solutions to moral problems and, thus, moral philosophy is to be considered eminently practical. Considering these three points, it might be possible to wonder whether Rawls’s political liberalism should be considered a form of metaethical quietism. Indeed, holding that non-moral theses are irrelevant to the justification of moral theories, Rawls defends moral theory as a discipline independent from any philosophical inquiry [Rawls 1974]. Moreover, proposing a freestanding conception, neutral towards any moral and philosophical doctrine to provide the basis for an overlapping consensus, political liberalism explicitly aims not to appeal to any metaphysics to sustain itself [Rawls 1993]. Finally, political liberalism employs political constructivism, which “deliberately stays on the surface, philosophically speaking” [Rawls, 1985]. However, despite these apparent similarities, there is a fundamental difference between Rawls’s account and Dworkin and Korsgaard’s metaethical quietism. Although Dworkin and Korsgaard present their positions as if they were opposing metaethics as a theoretical enterprise, they cannot help to work within its field. Dworkin presents a two-step argument against metaethics contending that the distinction between normative and metaethical claims dissolves because it is not possible to have a metaethical proposition neutral about the content of substantive moral claims. Metaethics fails to be neutral, the argument goes, if two conditions apply: if it is possible to find a plausible normative interpretation of metaethical claims; and it is also possible to demonstrate that metaethical claims are philosophically distinct from normative propositions. Contra Dworkin, it is important to stress that providing cases in which the two conditions apply is not enough to prove that all possible metaethical claims are in fact normative. Consider the following proposition “there is a right answer to the question whether X is morally right”. This is a distinct metaethical claim, not committed to any normative view for it is consistent with both X being morally right, or X being morally wrong. More generally, it is possible to wonder whether anti-Archimedeanism can be defended without taking an Archimedean standpoint: does not anti-Archimedeanis need Archimedean leverage to be consistent? If Dworkin says that his anti-Archimedeanist position is indeed metaethical, his account is self-refuting. If he succeeds in showing that anti-Archimedeanism is actually a part of normative philosophy, it is not clear why he engages in a debate he considers non-existent. Korsgaard, on the contrary, argues for a sharp contrast between theoretical and practical reasonings, which have different kinds of content. In this sense, theoretical reasoning purports to describe reality, whether practical reasoning refers to the solution of a practical problem. Korsgaard seems to think that since theoretical and practical reasoning are different in content and metaethics regards itself as a theoretical discipline, it is misplaced. Indeed, moral concepts are practical and, thus, “there is [no] difference between doing metaethics and doing normative or practical ethics.” [Korsgaard 2003, 121] However, if Korsgaard is aiming to go “beyond” metaethical debates, it is not clear why she engages with and directly challenges traditional metaethical theories, such as realism and expressivism. Moreover, it is possible to argue that Korsgaard is just defending a peculiar metaethical theory, a sort of response-dependence realism [McPherson 2010]. Dworkin and Korsgaard endorse metaethical quietism in order to defend the idea that normative ethics is autonomous in the sense of not being influenced by non-moral theories. However, their views cannot really do without metaethics, so I now consider whether Rawls’s political constructivism can achieve such aim. Rawls claims the autonomy of political philosophy and he maintains his political conception to be “robust”, so that changes in other related fields of inquiry do not challenge its justification. In this sense, Rawls is more radical than Dworkin and Korsgaard for he argues for the independence of political philosophy not only from metaethics, but also from substantive moral theories. Moreover, he does not question the value of metaethics per se: from his point of view, citizens can discuss metaethical questions as much as they want. However, a political philosopher who wants to provide a solution to a practical problem (in his case that of the stability for the right reasons in liberal pluralistic societies) needs to avoid such questions. Metaethical issues are misplaced in political philosophy because they rely on a different ground. This is why political constructivism does not compete with moral intuitionism or Kantian constructivism. It simply does not engage with questions about the nature of moral propositions. Here Rawls’s proposal resembles Rorty’s invite to “stop the debate” for it pragmatically does not work [see, Rorty 1982], and his attempt to reconcile different worldviews looks like a Wittgensteinian therapy for liberal societies. I call this, “philosophical quietism”. It seems that quietism wants to secure the independence and autonomy of normative theory. The discussion above shows that such a strategy is at least problematic. And if metaethics can be considered an independent field of inquiry (though it may not be neutral) it seems that there are certain problems, relevant also to political philosophy, that need to be addressed by metaethical inquiry to be correctly evaluated. One the most long-standing problems in political philosophy is that of disagreement in pluralistic society, but disagreement is a traditional and inescapable subject for metaethicists. Indeed, it makes a difference whether disagreement is dealt from a relativistic, subjectivist, or objectivist perspective for this affects how moral disputes are to be considered and handled. If emotivism turns out to be correct disagreements are to be settled by persuasion, whereas if moral realism is true a posteriori argument are going to be weighted more than if error theory is correct. The point is that if political philosophers are to address the problem of disagreement, metaethical understanding is fundamental to assess the object of inquiry. Different understandings of disagreement, let them be more ore less consistent with our experience, imply different normative answers. In this sense, disagreement is a paradigmatic case for the need of metaethical understanding in political philosophy.
Should Political Philosophy be done without metaethics? / G. Bistagnino. ((Intervento presentato al 20. convegno The answers of philosophy tenutosi a Alghero nel 2012.
|Titolo:||Should Political Philosophy be done without metaethics?|
BISTAGNINO, GIULIA (Primo)
|Data di pubblicazione:||set-2012|
|Settore Scientifico Disciplinare:||Settore SPS/01 - Filosofia Politica|
|Citazione:||Should Political Philosophy be done without metaethics? / G. Bistagnino. ((Intervento presentato al 20. convegno The answers of philosophy tenutosi a Alghero nel 2012.|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||14 - Intervento a convegno non pubblicato|