Archive for the ‘Political Philosophy’ Category

Last week, I discussed Ronald Dworkin’s reframing of the debate regarding the appropriate role of religion in public life. Dworkin argues that advocates on the Right and Left have fundamentally different notions of the relationship between church and state, which accounts for the shrillness of the public debate on the issue. The Right believes that we are a religious nation that tolerates nonbelief. The Left believes that we are a secular nation that tolerates religion. Dworkin suggests that by thinking in terms of these competing models, we can formulate our arguments in ways that actually address our underlying disagreements and thus, have a more productive debate.

I think Dworkin’s general approach to political debate is a good one. It’s far more productive to focus on core disagreements than to argue about discrete policy preferences. In this case, however, Dworkin sets up a false dichotomy. His tolerant secular society is not the neutral state he imagines it to be and it excludes, whether explicitly or implicitly, individuals of faith.


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In Is Democracy Possible Here?, Ronald Dworkin laments the lack of productive argument in today’s political discourse. By “argument”, he means “the old-fashioned sense in which people who share some common ground in very basic political principles debate about which concrete policies better reflect these shared principles.” Nevertheless, Dworkin suggests that by reframing our ideological differences, we could “actually find shared principles of sufficient substances to make a national political debate possible and profitable.”

Consider Dworkin’s characterization of the debate regarding the appropriate role of religion in public life. (more…)

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Kenny Pearce has an interesting post on what is means to have a “right,” specifically, the right to be treated a certain way. Kenny’s libertarian inclinations lead him to draw a sharp distinction “between public or political morality and private or individual morality.” Accordingly, he assumes “that there are many ways people ought to treat me in which I nevertheless do not have a right to be treated.” In response, he articulates what he calls the “Grievance Criterion for Rights”:

(GCR) A has a right against B to be treated in manner m =df. (i) B ought to treat A in manner m and (ii) if B does not treat A in manner m, A has a legitimate grievance against B.

I think Kenny is on to something and hopefully, he will fill in the details in a later post. But Kenny consciously avoids what strikes me as a simpler solution. He suggests that one could define a “right” as that which entails an obligation upon another to treat me in a certain way, but rejects “shifting all of our moral language to rights language in this way.” I don’t think any language shifting is involved here, though.

Kenny’s initial assumption “that there are many ways people ought to treat me in which I nevertheless do not have a right to be treated” is plausible only if we limit “rights” to political rights. That is, my moral obligation to behave in a particular way towards a person obviously does not entail that the state ought to compel me to behave in that way, by way of recognizing (and enforcing) that person’s right against me. But in the non-political context, what does it mean to say that people ought to treat me a certain way, if not that I have a right to be treated in that way? Assuming, of course, that it makes sense to talk about rights in the non-political context. But that’s a subject for another post.

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