November 14, 2014
"The Paradoxes of Public Philosophy"
This is a lightly revised version of a paper I gave last week at a very enjoyable conference with philosophers and lawyers on "Philosophy in the Public Sphere" at the Jindal Global University in Sonipta, India, near Delhi; the abstract:
The idea of “public philosophy”—that is, philosophy as contributing to questions of moral and political urgency in the community in which it is located—is paradoxical for two reasons. The first is that normative philosophy has no well-established substantive conclusions about the right and the good. Thus, philosophers enter into moral and political debate purporting to offer some kind of expertise, but the expertise they offer can not consist in any credible claim to know what is good, right, valuable, or any other substantive normative proposition that might be decisive in practical affairs. But philosophers—at least those in the broadly Socratic traditions--do bring to debate a method or way of thinking about contested normative questions: they are good at parsing arguments, clarifying the concepts at play in a debate, teasing out the dialectical entailments of suppositions and claims, and so on: Socratic philosophers are, in short, purveyors of what I call “discursive hygiene.” This brings us to the second paradox: although philosophers can contribute no substantive knowledge about the good and the right, they can contribute discursive hygiene. But discursive hygiene plays almost no role in public life, and an only erratic, and highly contingent, role in how people form beliefs about matters of moral and political urgency. I call attention to the role of two factors in moral judgment: non-rational emotional responses and “Tribalism,” the tendency to favor members of one “tribe” at the expense of others. The prevalence of emotional responses, especially tribalist ones, undermines the efficacy of discursive hygiene in public life.
I conclude that the role for public philosophy is quite circumscribed, though public philosophers should learn from their cousins, the lawyers, who appreciate the role that rhetoric, beyond discursive hygiene, plays in changing moral attitudes and affecting action. Along the way, I discuss Stevenson’s emotivism, what we can learn from Peter Singer’s schizophrenic role as a public philosopher (lauded for his defense of animal rights, pilloried for his defense of killing defective humans), evolutionary explanations of tribalism, the lessons of American Legal Realism for the possible relevance of discursive hygiene, and Marx and Nietzsche as "public" philosophers.
October 17, 2014
An oldie (but goodie!): Leiter v. Shapiro on Bloggingheads TV...
October 02, 2014
Leiter & Skeel at the Veritas Forum at Northwestern...
September 08, 2014
Why Tolerate Religion?
September 02, 2014
Some papers posted on SSRN during the summer...
...in case they're of interest to anyone who took a vacation from blogs during the summer:
August 24, 2014
"Why Tolerate Religion?" now in paperback...
August 13, 2014
Replying to critics of "Why Tolerate Religion?"
The journal Criminal Law & Philosophy kindly organized a symposium on my book, with essays by F. Boucher (Montreal) & C. Laborde (UCL), F. Schauer (Virginia), C. Brettschneider (Brown) and P. Jones (Newcaslte). A draft of my reply is here.
July 13, 2014
"Marx, Law, Ideology, Legal Positivism"
This draft is for a conference in the fall at UVA Law School on "Jurisprudence and History" organized by Charles Barzun and Daniel Priel; I may not revise it before then, but I will definitely revise it afterwards and before publication.
July 04, 2014
Intelligent write-up about Hobby Lobby issues...
...by journalist Dan Fisher at Forbes. I talked to him prior to the perplexing injunction on behalf of Wheaton, but he integrated that effectively. And Justice Sotomayor gets it exactly right in the bit he quotes: it really is preposterous on its face that anyone's free exercise of religion is burdened by a bit of paperwork (if only it were so--I might find God!). (The 7th Circuit disposed of the other argument in the Notre Dame case--Justice Sotomayor noted the relevant bit, as does Mr. Fisher.)
June 26, 2014
On Raz's service conception of authority
Anyone working in legal philosophy ought to read this essay.