Pluralism, Politics and Practical Reason
Political decisions carry high stakes. Holders of political office regularly make decisions with very grave moral consequences for other people; often very large numbers of other people. To the considerations involved in assessing the substance of any policy decision — themselves complex and multiple — must be added several other kinds: to do with staying in power, pursuing one’s own political vocation and continuing to be able to make a difference; in democracies, involving the moral authority transmitted from the people; the allegiance to one’s political party; obligations incurred to support friends and oppose their enemies; the balance between one’s life in politics and family, friendship and love outside it. This far from an exhaustive list holds for ordinary political decisions like taxing and spending, design of the criminal law, or environmental policy, where relatively minor political changes can make the difference between freedom and incarceration, or prosperity and poverty. Questions of war and peace only raise the number of competing claims that must be assessed.
Pluralists claim that our reasoning is pulled in different directions. Their reasons include claims that different sets of values clash, that values themselves are incommensurable, that the sources of value are multiple, that choosing between claims made by competing values requires sacrifice, that our different roles demand we feel the force of many values simultaneously. On the pluralist view, conflicts cannot be resolved or avoided, they must be confronted, and how we do so, and the way we reflect and act in response to the confrontation affects our moral character, and can itself generate moral obligations. The pluralist approach to practical reason draws heavily on political history and literature, as the writings of Isaiah Berlin, Thomas Nagel, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Walzer, Stuart Hampshire and Susan Wolff attest.
Papers may address any aspect of practical reason in the field of politics. Please send abstracts to the convenor at the address below by May 30 2012.
Garvan Walshe (Manchester)