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Why We Must, But Cannot, Accept Incommensurability
by John Zillmer, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee

I argue that value incommensurability is a pervasive feature of moral life, and that a satisfactory theory of agency implies such incommensurability. Though some writers hold that incommensurability is a failure either of ethical theory or of the agent herself, I will argue that these claims are untenable and that incommensurability is to be expected as an implication of any metaethical theory that respects a strong conception of agency.

Nostalgia and the Exhaustion of Utopian Energies
by Daniel Malloy, University of South Carolina

In his essay “The New Obscurity” Habermas discusses the exhaustion of utopian energies and suggests that the thesis is flawed. He claims that rather than being exhausted, a particular form of utopia, a utopia based on social labor, has been proven insufficient. The purpose of this paper is to propose that a new form of utopianism is taking its place: nostalgic utopianism. The first section of the paper lays out the connection between nostalgia and utopia. It then goes on to analyze the specific aspects of nostalgic utopia. The final section of the paper considers the ramifications of nostalgic utopianism for utopianism as such.

Pluralism and the Pursuit of Political Legitimacy: Toward a Perfectionist Defense of Deliberative Democracy
by Andrew F. Smith, SUNY--Stony Brook

Recently, both Rawls and Habermas have sought to resolve among the most persistent dilemmas facing normative democratic theory: how to ensure that the interests of all citizens in leading a good life matter equally when there exist in modern society a wide variety of competing conceptions of the good. This dilemma (D), I take it, supports their mutual reliance upon three key premises: (1) the fact of pluralism regarding conceptions of the good must constrain normative theory; (2) the legitimation of laws backed by state coercion requires the unanimous consent of all citizens; (3) public deliberation via public reason provides the best means to resolve D. Yet, James Bohman notes that while unanimous consent in principle is an appropriate criterion of legitimation, neither Rawls nor Habermas adequately explains how public deliberation can aid in practice in its realization—and thus how equal respect for the interests of all in leading a good life actually can be reconciled with the fact of pluralism. He thus develops a pragmatically oriented, and (I argue) highly promising, theory intended to reveal how a weaker criterion of legitimation can better address D. In so doing, however, he relies upon certain moderately perfectionist values that cause him to fall prey to what Bert van den Brink calls the “tragic predicament” of liberalism: he cannot resolve D without covertly maintaining ideals that allow some conceptions of the good to appear more valid than others. But far from undermining his theory, I argue that this in fact strengthens it.

John Dewey's Anti-Essentialism and Social Progress
by Gregory Bynum, Columbia University

John Dewey’s philosophy is anti-essentialist in its emphases on communication and growth over aspects of life that are more readily conceivable as stable and permanent. Applied to social relations, Dewey’s anti-essentialism shifts attention from people’s “intrinsic natures” to the relations between people. In this regard, Dewey’s thought resembles contemporary anti-oppression critiques that refuse to look at oppressor-oppressed relationships in ways that affirm as essential the qualities of people who appear as “the oppressed” or “the oppressors” (e.g., by saying, with Nietzsche, that the oppressors are intrinsically strong and resourceful while the oppressed are intrinsically weak and sickly). Avoiding such divisive essentialism, Dewey’s thought focuses instead on cultivating a social relatedness that opposes oppression and approaches the ideal of a full-souled, democratically collaborative way of living. Consistent with this philosophy, Dewey opposed classism, racism, and sexism. However, critics such as Richard Rorty, Charlene Haddock Siegfried, and Cornell West argue that Dewey’s social idealism is inadequate for social reform. Our society is profoundly articulated by sexism, racism, economic injustice, and homophobia, and Dewey’s thought lacks needed, concerted critiques of these evils. Further, in order effectively to oppose society’s evils, would-be social reformers require a non-Deweyan essentialism in order clearly to mark points where evil must be opposed. Reformers within an unjust society may also need to take anti-social and self-isolating attitudes, contrary to Dewey’s social idealism.

Ultimately, Dewey’s social idealism is more complemented than refuted by his critics, since social reformers require not only tactics and critiques for opposing existing evils, but also a strong vision of the kind of right social relatedness that is their desired goal.

A closer Look at Kant's teleological argument for the higher function of reason at Groundwork 394 -- 396, and its philosophical importance.
by Nobel Ang, University of Florida

At Groundwork 394-396, Kant musters a teleological argument in an attempt to offer further support for his famous proclamation of the unconditioned value of the good will, with which Groundwork I begins. This argument, which seeks to show that reason serves the higher function of producing a good will, has been virtually ignored or dismissed by commentators, who conclude that, at best, it plays a merely “subsidiary role” (Paton) in Kant’s overall moral framework. I seek to show that this argument, though far from well-formulated, deserves much more critical attention than has been received thus far. This is so because closer examination of this argument and of developments immediately preceding and following it reveals that it plays an important role in linking the notions of the good will and that of duty, and also explains how the finite, imperfectly rational human agent is capable of fulfilling the dictates of duty. I will begin by examining the teleological argument itself, pointing out the intractable internal difficulties which have led commentators to dismiss it as being of little philosophical value. In the second part of my paper, I will go on to elucidate the positive role that this argument plays in Kant’s subsequent exposition of duty, concluding that this argument, though seriously flawed, cannot be dismissed as unimportant.

But Would That Still Be Me? An Integrity Approach to Identity
by Jim Mazzouccoulo, University of Tennessee

In this paper I argue that previous approaches taken (particularly essentialism and social constructionism) in the effort to explain gay and lesbian identity issues arising from the “coming out process” have been misguided. The source of this confusion can be attributed in large part to 1) treating identity solely as a metaphysical question about the existence or non-existence of an endurable and “true” self and 2) treating identity solely as a matter of the interplay between individual autonomy and the inescapable influence of power relations inherent in communities. The experience of the individuals going through the coming out process, particularly the individual’s self-questioning of their identity and the consideration of whether their own conceptions of their identity may change, has been largely neglected by previous approaches. I maintain that philosophical exploration of this experience is the proper focus for the study of gay and lesbian identity issues. Further, I will argue that the best vehicle for this exploration is an approach that views the identity issues involved in the coming out process as at their core being questions regarding the integrity of the “coming out” individual.

Abortion and Proportional Harms
by Robert Sloan Lee, Wayne State University

I endeavor to show, with certain qualifications, that one cannot consistently maintain both that abortion is morally permissible and that it is impermissible for fathers to refuse to pay child support. In order to do this I refer to certain empirical facts and formulate and employ a moral principle – namely, the principle of proportional damages. According to this principle, if one action is no more harmful than another action, then (all other things being equal) the first action is morally permissible if the second action is morally permissible. The use of such a principle can increase the internal consistency among one’s various moral positions.

Page last updated 9.4.02.