Political philosophers are accustomed to conceiving of their activity as a philosophical elaboration and defense of a specific theory of justice. We seek the one, best, theory of justice — or account of moral social life — by which to order our common existence. Like Plato, who continues to cast a spell over our profession, the deep conviction is that the best state would, in a deep sense, be a morally homogenous one. Our current, real-world communities, characterized by disagreement and moral dispute, may be the best we can attain, but fall far short of the ideal or perfect. Like Plato, we see the moral community as a person writ large; if a just person is moved by a well-thought out and consistent theory of justice, so too must a just community. And the most just community would be one that is moved by the best theory of justice.
In this lecture I suggest that this ancient pursuit of the ideal, while seductive, is perilous. The moral life of a society is better understood as normative system of a very different type: what I call a “complex normative system,” in which the very diversity and disagreements of the participants sustain the community’s moral life. I argue that societies that do not concur on the best theory (or principles) of justice are better able to sustain a “moral constitution” that all can endorse than those that have settled on what they see as the one, best or true, theory.
Date: Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 Level 5)
Speaker: Gerald Gaus, James E. Rogers Professor of Philosophy, University of Arizona
About the Speaker: Gerald Gaus is the James E. Rogers Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona, where he directs the program in Philosophy, Politics, Economics & Law. He is the author of a number of books, including On Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (2008), Contemporary Theories of Liberalism (2003), Justificatory Liberalism (1996) and Value and Justification (1990). He was a founding editor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics. His most recent book is The Order of Public Reason, published by Cambridge in 2011. His main area of work is social and political philosophy, though he rejects the dominant highly idealized and objectivist moral suppositions of the field. His work focuses on how a society can achieve a public moral framework that is freely endorsed by diverse normative perspectives. For more, see his website www.gauz.biz.