Political Theory

H02(b) - Justice, Rationality, Property, and Agency in Liberalism

Date: Jun 12 | Time: 10:15am to 11:45am | Location: 680 Sherbrooke St. West 1165

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Marc Hooghe (University of Leuven)

Why should liberals care about collective agents as such?: Xavier Boileau (Université McGill)
Abstract: Liberals have difficulty recognizing the importance of collective identities as a source of justice in their own right (Moore, 2015). When they do, it's often only to recognize their instrumental value to the individual well-being of community members, like Will Kymlicka (1995) or Alan Patten (2014). While this approach goes some way to explain the importance of collective identities for individuals, it fails to show how a collectivity can suffer harms that are not reducible to individuals. We aim to show that the methodological individualism defended by liberals opens the door to at least three problems in contexts where several autonomous political communities cohabit, whether in plurinational or postcolonial societies. Firstly, by focusing primarily on individuals, liberals open the door to interventions by an external authority within the community to protect the individual rights of these members (Coulthard, 2015; Eisenberg, 2022; Chevrier, 2019). Secondly, by considering only the instrumental role that collective identities play for individuals, liberals diminish the meaning and scope of the concept of collective autonomy itself (Young, 2007; Allard-Tremblay, 2018). Finally, the third problem relates to liberals' limited understanding of collective identity, which risk reducing the number of reasonable solutions we can envision to resolve these conflicts. To avoid these problems, one possible solution would be to adopt a more precise conception of cultural and political institutions. To this end, we propose to revisit Kymlicka's concept of the structure of culture in light of the work of Seymour (2017), Descombes (2013), and De Schutter (2016).

Moral Comfort and Pathologies of Conscience: Probabilistic Moral Reasoning and the History of Liberalism: Joseph Dattilo (University of Toronto)
Abstract: Studies in the history of liberalism often focus on the material conditions that gave rise to it and studies of the philosophical content of liberal ideals throughout time. Likewise, the moral psychology of liberalism has been well-studied from contemporary and empirical perspectives. However, the historical development of liberal moral psychology has not received as much attention. My study traces the moral-psychological aspects of liberalism to the tradition of probabilistic moral reasoning and casuistry in the early renaissance. In this era, scholars were often preoccupied with crises of conscience. By turning to various thinkers of the 15th to 16th centuries, like Jean Gerson and Pierre Nicole, I show the beginning of a newfound concern with the nature of moral certitude and the implications of moral complexity for the consciences of political actors. Questions of conscience were flavoured by the religious pre-occupations of renaissance and early modern eras, but the differing approaches to seeking moral comfort and resolving crises of conscience led to a fruitful theoretical dialogue that engendered the rise of modern liberalism. By bringing the works of Gerson and his contemporaries and successors into conversation with later theorists of moral psychology like Shklar, Smith, Mandeville, and Weber, I demonstrate the impact of the early modern probabilistic moral reasoning. In so doing, this paper provides perspective on how liberal societies handle complex moral information, contested claims of moral right, and negotiating the boundaries of toleration. Thus, I show how, for liberal societies to navigate the challenges of moral contestation and rising intolerance, they must engage with their history of case-based reasoning and moral probabilism.

Civic Education in Hierarchical Societies: A Rawlsian Framework: Jimmy Lim (National University of Singapore)
Abstract: This paper explains the place of public justification in hierarchical societies, by reinterpreting Rawls’s concept of public justification as something that involves the empathetic power to place oneself in the shoes of those to whom one disagrees with while evaluating the normativity of law. Following Stephen Darwall, I call this the power to take up the second-person standpoint in moral reasoning. This is a more accurate reading than that given by Rawls’s critics. On this interpretation, what makes justification as a mode of reasoning “public” is not a situation where everyone gathers in some outdoor space to debate with one another (which makes justification an event) but the presence of an implied addressee (which makes justification a normative, second-personal, concept). Citizens may pursue public justification collectively, in a raucous townhall, or intra-personally, without ever participating in face-to-face debates. Reconceiving Rawlsian public justification as second-personal justification liberates us from liberal and idealized conceptions of public justification. For Rawlsian public justification can take place in hierarchical societies where empathy is valued, and in the classroom, small enough where everyone can participate in moral debates. East Asian educators can therefore apply Rawls's account of public justification in their classrooms; the pedagogical key here is not to begin civic education with liberal ideals of political freedom but with their own political constitutions as foundational doctrines for debates about basic justice and constitutional essentials.