Rortys kritik av kantianismen

Mot slutet av sin bok diskuterar Andrew Hurrell möjligheten att uppnå global rättvisa och konsensus kring vissa grundläggande normer. Han skiljer ut två ”broad and recurring patterns of thought on these questions” (Hurrell 2007: 300). Den ena är den kosmopolitiska betoningen på förnuftet som grund för universellt giltiga normer och principer. Den andra är det kommunitära och partikularistiska synsättet som misstror förnuftet som grund för moralen, och som hävdar att allt vi har att tillgå är de existerande normativa principerna och praxis så som de historiskt har kommit att utvecklats i olika samhällen och grupper.

Mitt reflektionspapper kommer att beröra dessa två moralfilosofiska traditioner, kanske främst kritiken av den förstnämnda, kantianska, traditionen. Mer specifikt kommer jag att förklara ett synsätt på dessa traditioner hämtat från Richard Rorty.

De partikularistiska tänkarna – Hurrell exemplifierar med Michael Walzer och David Miller – tvivlar på att moraliskt konsensus kan uppnås gällande universella principer, allra minst kosmopolitiska principer där människors partikulära gemenskaper inte erkänns. Å andra sidan, som Hurrell påpekar, så medför den partikularistiska betoningen av det redan existerade och historiskt betingade en påtaglig risk för att avhjälpliga orättvisor ges filosofiskt understöd, snarare än berättigad kritik.

Dessa problem och frågeställningar tycker jag att Rorty har behandlat på ett tankeväckande sätt. Jag tänkte därför försöka förklara hans perspektiv, framförallt så som det framkommer i essäerna ”Justice as a Larger Loyalty” och ”Human Rights, Rationality, and Sentimentality” (Rorty 2007: 42-56; Rorty 1998: 167-185). Rorty ligger i det stora hela i linje med Walzer och Miller gentemot den kantianska och universalistiska moralfilosofin.

Enligt ett vanligt sätt att se på moral så kommer värdena rättvisa och lojalitet ofta i konflikt med varandra. Detta brukar beskrivas som dilemman mellan å ena sidan det moraliska kravet på rättvis likabehandling och å andra sidan våra känslor och lojalitet gentemot nära och kära. Rättvisa kontra lojalitet. Anta att en familjemedlem har begått ett brott, och du har möjlighet att skydda denna genom att ge ett falskt alibi som istället skulle leda till att en oskyldig blir dömd istället. Detta moraliska dilemma tenderar vi att beskriva som en konflikt mellan vår lojalitet mot våra närmaste och det som rättvisan kräver: vi vet vad som ”egentligen är rätt” men vår lojalitet och känslor för familjemedlemmen kan eventuellt komma att övertrumfa.

Nu påpekar Rorty att denna konflikt naturligtvis känns mer akut om den oskyldigt dömde är vår granne än om det är en främling. Och oftast mindre akut om främlingen är av annan etnicitet eller språkgrupp. Detta kan ge skäl för en ombeskrivning av dilemmat. Om vi väljer att ge alibi och sedan får samvetskval – ”Handlade jag verkligen rätt?” – så är det för att vi betraktar den oskyldigt dömde som – om än avlägset – ”en av oss”. Svårighetsgraden i dilemmat – och även lösningen som vi till slut kommer fram till – är beroende av i vilken grad vi betraktar den andre som en av oss. Dilemmat beskrivs därför bättre som en konflikt mellan skiljda lojaliteter: vår starkare lojalitet med en mindre grupp människor och vår svagare lojalitet med en större krets människor. Rortys synsätt beskrivs av essäns titel, ”Justice as a larger loyalty”. Det vi kallar ”rättvisa” betyder helt enkelt den lojalitet och de skyldigheter vi känner inför en stor grupp människor: den vidaste grupp av människor som vi betraktar oss själva som en del av.

Viktiga saker står på spel när det gäller denna ombeskrivning. Arvet från Immanuel Kant är Rortys måltavla. Den traditionella kontrasten mellan rättvisa och lojalitet är nära förbunden med det kantianska synsättet att människan i sina moraliska dilemman slits mellan förnuft och känsla: mellan de moraliska principernas förnuft och våra oförnuftiga emotionella band. Enligt detta synsätt är rättvisan beroende av att vi låter förnuftets universella principer vägleda oss, och att vi står emot våra känslostyrda reaktioner. Våra känslor för nära och kära är alltså något som alltid hotar de universella principerna; känslorna gör att vi inte längre kan hålla huvudet kallt och välja det moraliskt rätta. Ur Rortys synvinkel – där den moraliska konflikten alltså förstås som en konflikt mellan två olika lojaliteter – kan dilemmat naturligtvis inte vara en kamp mellan förnuft och känsla. Snarare mellan olika känslor. De påtagliga dilemman vi ofta ställs inför är djupt personliga; de är konflikter mellan ”alternative selves, alternative self-descriptions, alternative ways of giving a meaning to one’s life”. Vår moraliska identitet, vilken är i fokus när vi hamnar i moraliska dilemman, bestäms av de grupper vi identifierar oss med: den grupp eller de grupper gentemot vilka ”one cannot be disloyal and still like oneself” (Rorty 2007: 45).

Detta är i linje med David Miller och Michael Walzer. Miller pekar ut den etiska universalismens främsta svaghet som dess tendens att skapa en stor klyfta mellan ”ethical duty and ethical identity”. Kort sagt, universalismen förlitar sig på ohållbara idéer kring både  ”moral agency” och ”ethical motivations” (Miller 1995: 57). Universalismen fokuserar på en rent rationell moral vars enda legitima utgångspunkt är det faktum att alla individer är likvärdiga medlemmar i mänskligheten, och där alla partikulära hänsyn utgör ”failure of rationality” (1995: 58). Detta är enligt Miller orimligt: endast möjligt för högst ett fåtal heroiska individer. För resten av mänskligheten är moral fortsatt en social institution fullkomligt genomsyrad av partikulära hänsyn och personliga relationer, och det vi kallar moraliskt beteende kommer alltid ha en mängd motivationer av ”irrationell” art. Miller kritiserar, med Rorty’s ord, ”Kant’s astonishing claim that sentimentality has nothing to do with morality, that there is something distinctively and transculturally human called ’the sense of moral obligation’ which has nothing to do with love, friendship, trust, or social solidarity” (Rorty 1998: 177-78).

Den partikularism som Miller företräder hävdar inte att vi saknar moraliska skyldigheter till människor i egenskap av blott människor. Den hävdar bara att moralen är ”bottom-up”: att vi har skyldigheter till familj, släkt, vänner, landsmän och så vidare. Mänskligheten är en sådan krets, gentemot vilken vi har moraliska skyldigheter. Det universalistiska perspektivet fastslår dock att denna krets är den enda relevanta, och alla andra indelningar och grupperingar är farliga bindningar som riskerar att förhindra det moraliskt riktiga beteendet. Utifrån Rorty, Walzer och Miller, som anser att moral är sammanbundet med vår identitet och relationer till andra, framstår denna kantianska rationalism som förfelad.

Andrew Hurrell tycks för övrigt dela detta synsätt:

What moral meaning can be attached to even the purest and most serene universalist voice—whether of the religious believer, the natural lawyer, or the Kantian liberal—echoing down from the mountain if those to whom it is addressed do not understand themselves to be part of even the thinnest and most fragile shared community? (2007: 300)

Vad är det egentligen som sker när sådana högstämda predikningar faller för döva öron? Många av de universalistiska predikanter som Hurrell pratar om tror jag har svårt att ge ett rimligt svar på denna fråga — vilket jag för övrigt betraktar som ett bevis på giltigheten i Millers kritik om en ”implausable view of moral agency”. Den partikulära traditionen, med dess fokus på människors moraliska identitet snarare än föreställningen om fristående individer utrustade med ett allmänmänskligt förnuft, ställer i min mening åtminstone rätt diagnos:

To get whites to be nicer to blacks, males to females, Serbs to Muslims, or straights to gays, to help our species link up into what Rabossi calls a ”planetary community” dominated by a culture of human rights, it is of no use whatever to say, with Kant: notice that what you have in common, your humanity, is more important than these trivial differences. For the people we are trying to convince will rejoin that they notice nothing of the sort. Such people are morally offended by the suggestion that they should treat someone who is not kin as if he were a brother, or a nigger as if he were white, or a queer as if he were normal, or an infidel as if he were a believer. They are offended by the suggestion that they treat people whom they do not think of as human as if they were human. […] This rejoinder is not just a rhetorical device, nor is it in any way irrational. It is heartfelt. The identity of these people, the people whom we should like to convince to join our Eurocentric human rights culture, is bound up with their sense of who they are not. (Rorty 1998: 178)

* * * *

 

[Se även: ‘Human Rights and the Boundaries of Moral Communities‘]

Referenser:

  • Hurrell, Andrew (2007) On Global Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
  • Miller, David (1995) On Nationality (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
  • Rorty, Richard (1998) Truth and Progress (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • Rorty, Richard (2007) Philsophy as Cultural Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Richard Rortys pragmatism

Nu är nummer 3/2010 av Filosofisk tidskrift tryckt och färdigt. Det vet jag eftersom 10 exemplar kom till mig med posten idag. Vilket i sin tur förmodligen beror på att jag är en av de medverkande.

Det gäller en essä betitlad ”Richard Rortys pragmatism”. Texten behandlar tre böcker: Philosophy as Cultural Politics, jubileumsutgåvan av Philosophy and The Mirror of Nature, samt Neil Gross biografi Richard Rorty — The Making of an American Philosopher. Essän inleds på följande vis:

Nånstans mellan Lomma och Landskrona, jag minns inte exakt, började bilradion ljuda av tonerna från John Lennons Imagine. Rastlöst lutade jag mig fram för att byta kanal – men stannade plötsligt upp. Några dagar tidigare hade jag läst klart Richard Rortys samlingsvolym Philosophy as Cultural Politics, och nu arbetade det undermedvetna – mil efter mil längs E6:an – med att greppa bokens teser.

Vad var egentligen kärnan i Rortys filosofi? ”Uttrycket ’Verkligheten som den är i sig själv oberoende av mänskliga behov och intressen’ är med mitt synsätt bara ännu ett av de underdåniga namnen för Gud”, skriver Rorty.

Så tog Lennon till orda.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try

Plötsligt gick hjärnan på högvarv. No heaven!

No hell below us
Above us, only sky

Jag sjönk tillbaka bakom ratten igen. Det är dags, säger Rorty, att helt och hållet sluta ”titta uppåt”. Det är dags att sluta tro på en objektiv verklighet som vi har skyldighet – och genom vetenskapen möjlighet – att komma i kontakt med. Above us, only sky.

Leder inte detta förkastande av ”Verkligheten” till farlig relativism och irrationalism? Nej, svarar Rorty, sådana hotelser är bara klerikal propaganda. No hell below us.

”The Aims of Political Philosophy”

Idag har jag läst ett paper av Colin Koopman (University of California, Santa Cruz) med titeln The Aims of Political Philosophy in John Rawls, Bernard Williams, and Richard Rorty. Dess abstrakt:

What ought a political philosophy seek to achieve?  How should political philosophy address itself to its subject matter?  What is the relation between political philosophy and other forms of reflective inquiry?  In answering these metaphilosophical questions, political philosophy has long been dominated by a roughly utopian self-image.  According to this conception, the aim of political philosophy is the rigorous development of theoretical ideals of justice, state, and law.  I show that leading political philosophers of the twentieth century, most notably John Rawls, have continued to perpetuate this utopian conception of the aims of political philosophy.  I then explicate an emerging alternative metaphilosophical view of political philosophy which has recently emerged in two seemingly disparate strands of political philosophy: the first strand being Bernard Williams’s realist conception of political critique and the second strand being Richard Rorty’s pragmatist conception of cultural criticism.  The views developed by Williams and Rorty leave to the side questions about political ideals and focuses instead on definite ways in which we can improve the situations in which we find ourselves.  Such improvement, Williams and Rorty provocatively argue, does not require an ideal theory of best justice.

Koopman noterar att det utopiska förhållingssättet ifrågasattes först av exempelvis ”feminist theory, critical theory and genealogy”, men att dessa ”alternative non-utopian approaches” sällan lyckades möta det gamla utopiska förhållningssättet i ”useful metaphilosophical debates concerning just what it is that we want a political philosophy to do.”

It is thus particularly noteworthy that there has emerged in the last decade or so an altogether different alternative conception of political philosophy which happens to be particularly well-positioned to engage in fruitful dialogue with the dominant utopian conception as it has been developed especially in post-Rawlsian analytic political philosophy.  This new alternative offers a melioristic conception of political philosophy and it is expressed in the recent work of, among others, Bernard Williams and Amartya Sen.  Williams’s conception was developed under the name of a “realism” which he explicitly contrasts to Rawlsian “moralism”. Sen calls his conception “comparative” in contrast to Rawlsian “transcendental” political philosophy. Williams’s and Sen’s conceptions are meliorist in the sense that they aim primarily to describe how we can improve or meliorate the political realities in which we find ourselves.  They think that for these purposes we do not require the sort of theoretical ideals developed by those wielding utopian, moralist, or transcendental conceptions. [s. 3]

Utöver Williams och Sen skulle jag vilja lägga till Raymond Guess, vars bok Philosophy and Real Politics som jag tidigare skrivit om här och här. (Jag hade ursprungligen tänkt att sammanfatta även bokens senare del  som behandlar Nozick och Rawls, men det lär nog inte bli av. Hursomhelst så kändes första delen som den viktigaste och resten var relativt standardmässig.) Guess kallar likt Williams sin variant för ”realism” och hans kritik vänder sig mot ”the ethics-first view”. Denna syn är…

. . . a theory about where one should start in studying politics, what the final framework for studying politics is, what it is reasonable to focus on, and what it is possible to abstract from.

[…]

The view I am rejecting assumes that one can complete the works of ethics first, attaining an ideal theory of how we should act, and then in a second step, one can apply that theory to the actions of political agents.

Det är vad Bernard Williams kritiserar under namnet ”political moralism”. (se ”Realism and Moralism in Political Theory” i In the Beginning was the Deed)

Colin Koopman går sedan vidare med att diskutera i vilken mening Rawls är utopisk, och framförallt innebörden av den senare Rawls’ modifikationer som ledde honom till att kalla sin inställning för ”realistically utopian”. Jag ska inte gå igenom hela resonamnget men Koopman anser att ”Rawls is still much too much the utopian” och hans rsonemang påminner här en del om Geuss. Avsnittet om Rawls avslutas som följer:

So even when he does attempt to tune his ideal theory to the actual political reality in which he finds himself, Rawls works from his ideal back to reality rather than from reality toward some ideal.  But we might wonder if this is the wrong direction in which to work.  Perhaps political progress gets made when we start from where we are and work from there up to some vaguely specified ideal.  One risk of focusing too much energy on specifying our ideals is that our realities will never be improved insofar as we have no idea of how we might level them up to the daydreams of the philosophers. [s. 13]

Koopman går sedan vidare med att diskutera Bernard Williams.

The essays gathered in Williams’s posthumous collection of political philosophical essays, In the Beginning Was the Deed, are best read as developing Williams’s claim from one of his earliest essays in political philosophy that “genuine historical understanding is of the first importance in the understanding of politics and political thought.”     [s. 13]

[…]

Williams wants to defend a certain conception of liberalism in this book, but he wants to do so in a manner that is obviously different from the typical defenses of liberalism we find in thinkers like Rawls.  Whereas liberalism is typically developed and defended from a perspective that is more or less ahistorical, Williams argues that liberalism must be understood and evaluated from a perspective that explicitly starts from where we find ourselves.  A political philosophy, Williams explains, “will seem to make sense, and will to some degree reorganize political thought and action, only by virtue of the historical situation in which it is presented.” [s. 14]

[…]

One point which gets repeatedly emphasized in Williams’s late work is that “[p]olitical philosophy requires history.” Williams offers in justification of this view the thought that detailed history inquiry is what provides abstract philosophical inquiry with traction in the cultural realities in which we find ourselves—philosophy can contribute to our understanding of ourselves only insofar as it has some such traction in historical reality. [s. 16]

Koopman exemplifierar sedan med Amartya Sen:

Sen’s argument is that, “It is not frivolous to seek a framework for a theory of justice that concentrates on advancement, not transcendence.” Sen’s notion of comparative advancement without a transcendental frame of reference against which such advancement is measured is an excellent illustration of the sort of melioristic politics featured in Williams’s late work. [s. 19]

I den utopiska fållan sorterar Koppman in Rawls, Nozick, Dworkin och Raz. Och i den icke-utopiska, ”melioristiska”, realistiska nämner han Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, Michael Walzer och Richard Rorty. I denna grupp så är Bernard Williams. . .

. . . I would suggest, is the clearest voice in a rising tide of anti-utopian melioristic political philosophy. Williams’s poignant challenge to the prevailing wisdom in political philosophy consists in this thought: the situations in which we find ourselves already contain the resources for their own improvement and so we need not transcend these situations with abstractions in order to develop the political conceptions we need for achieving justice, equality, and liberty.  Political progress, in short, can take place on the basis of ideas and practices in which we already find ourselves situated.  We do not require that flight to the ideal which has always tempted utopian political philosophers. We can get everything we need out of the situations in which we find ourselves here and now.  Improving these situations requires not an ideal of perfection against which we might supposedly measure ourselves, but only that these situations already feature some valuable elements which we can play against the pernicious elements also found in that situation.  Since we are indeed located here and now, and since we indeed have no direct and universal access to the utopian realm of the ideal, I would urge that we ought to take Williams’s challenge to political philosophy very seriously indeed. [s. 20]

Därefter ägnar Koopman sig åt att jämföra Williams med Richard Rorty. Han argumenterar för att de är mer lika än vad Williams ville erkänna samt att man inte ska överbetona Rortys tal om ”the end of philsophy” och därmed att han snarare hade en vision om ett annat slags filosofi (och därmed kommer han och Williams närmare varandra). Koopman noterar att Rortys sista volym heter just ”Philosophy as Cultural Politics”, och man kan tillägga att även Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature kan beskrivas inte som ett ”slut” för filosofin utan bara ett ersättande av en vetenskapligt insprirerad filosofi med en humanistisk, en ”edifying philosophy” istället för en ”systematic”.

Ur artikelns ”Conclusion”:

The melioristic conception of political critique common to Williams and Rorty (and others including Sen), I urge, might point us in a refreshing new direction for future work in political philosophy.  That work undertaken from this perspective might come to seem refreshing would be due at least in part to their claim that the prevailing directions in which we political philosophers travel have grown increasingly musty.  The challenge which the meliorists have issued to political philosophers could be summarized as follows: in order to develop political conceptions which might make some actual difference to the political realities which these concepts are supposed to be about we must begin by locating ourselves fully and firmly within these political realities.  This challenge runs against the ahistorical tendencies of so much canonical political philosophy, including Rawls’s relatively ahistoricist theory of justice and the relatively ahistoricist work of the bulk of contemporary post-Rawlsian political philosophy.  The view shared by Williams and Rorty which can be urged against Rawls holds that we should not abstract too much from our historical situation lest we lose a connection to it altogether. [s. 32]

[…]

The metaphilosophical conception of the conditions for political philosophy sketched by Williams and Rorty view is altogether different from this Rawlsian conception.  On their alternative model, reformist meliorism is always prioritized such that utopianism can be invoked but only insofar as it is in the service of improving the definite political realities in which we find ourselves around here just now.  Rather than formulating and defending ideal principles of justice which apply to abstracted entities, their idea is that we must start in the actual political realities in which we find ourselves and attempt to make definite improvements within these realities on the basis of the resources they make available.  Their view is that we do not need an ideal conception of what is best in order to enact actual transformations which are better.  We achieve better political situations not by transforming realities so that they better approximate ideal perfection, but by extending and augmenting what is already best in those situations.  A more just politics, on this view, is more just not in light of an ideal justice but in light of what is most just in the political realities in which we are already working.

All of this goes toward explaining just how Williams and Rorty have challenged the prevailing Rawlsian approaches that so thoroughly dominate one branch of contemporary political philosophy.  But more than just challenging the ahistorical orientation embodied by Rawls, they also sketch an actual alternative to it. [s. 34]

Human rights and the boundaries of moral communities

Jag har tittat igenom de texter jag skrev när jag studerade i USA för tre år sedan. Några av dem jag gick faktiskt att läsa utan att rodna. Följande text är lite för lång för att vara en bloggpost, så jag tänkte först citera några centrala stycken ur den för att ge ett hum om vad som avhandlas, och de riktigt tappra har givetvis fritt fram att läsa hela texten nedan.

Richard Rorty notes that crimes against human rights are not conceived of as such by the ones who commit them, simply because they do not perceive their victims as being humans (Rorty 1993, p. 112). This points to the fact that people can, in a sense, honestly subscribe to human rights while at the same time committing genocide. Which means, further, that what norms one subscribe to is only half the answer; the other being who one regard the norms to apply to.

Rorty notes that the man who famously thought it was self-evident that all men are born free and created equal, himself held slaves. And, to take another example, the abolitionists used — and this I find rather striking — a poster of a slave with the caption “And am I not a Man and a Brother?”.

Immoral acts do not, if we look at them from the perspective of moral psychology, actually constitute the breaching of norms, but simply the result of a narrow conception of to whom they apply.

In regard to Taylor and the plurality of justifications of norms, this means that some of these justifications might justify the same norms but without being equally good, in the sense that some justifications might more easily allow for a narrow application.

One of the things that [Tocqueville] discusses is the very idea of humanity. This idea is not likely to occur in an aristocratic society. People are too divided into classes and fraternities/guilds so that the idea of a unity amongst all men becomes a very unnatural one.  The same goes for the idea of universal human rights. Slavery, for example, is not, for an aristocratic mind, looked upon as obviously and inherently immoral. Not even to the slaves themselves, in ancient time, slavery seemed necessarily immoral. This is so because the general idea of humanity does not occur to the aristocratic mind, and if it did the idea would not seem very true to life. A certain degree of equality, it seems, is necessary for the idea to become plausible at all. And it takes even more for any humanism — any doctrine that allot moral importance to humans qua humans — to arise.

In the section about Mme. Sévigny Tocqueville’s explanation is not so much concerned with different values and virtues, but rather the scope of our moral community. Equality has, according to Tocqueville, made our moral community larger; the range of people we are able to feel with has become wider.

Do we have more sensitivity than our fathers? I do not know, but surely our sensitivity bears on more objects. (Tocqueville 2000, p. 538)

Mme Sévigny, who says hangings “appears to me a refreshment,” is not really insensitive to suffering, but the inequalities of her society has made it impossible to see herself in others.

One would be wrong to believe that Madame de Sévigny, who wrote these lines, was a selfish and barbaric creature: she loved her children passionately and showed herself very sensitive to the distress of her friends; and one even perceives in reading her that she treated her vassals and servants with goodness and indulgence. But Madame de Sévigny did not clearly conceive what it was to suffer when one was not a gentleman. (Tocqueville 2000, p. 537)

Hade jag skrivit denna text i dag så hade jag utan tvekan använt mig av Rawls distinktion mellan concept och conception. Jag hade nog också diskuterat David Hume explicit.

Human rights and the boundaries of moral communities

I.

The universalism of human rights poses interesting questions when it collides with different cultures and traditions. The ideas of human rights developed in a particular part of the world, yet it claims speak about all humans. Can the norms of the human rights culture spread without Western values in general necessarily being imposed on other cultures? This paper will discuss certain parts of Charles Taylor’s “Conditions of an Unforced Consensus on Human Rights”, and, in the course of this, some ideas of Richard Rorty will be used. The final part of the paper will give a Tocquevillian view of some of these issues.

Charles Taylor distinguishes between norms, the legal arrangements to enforce them, and the justifications of the norms. If we are hoping for a world consensus on the norms of human rights, Taylor advises us to leave room for different systems of ideas and justifications. The consensus would be a kind of Rawlsian overlapping consensus. Taylor thus invites us to think pragmatically about the philosophical underpinnings of the norms we desire. And such a view, presumably, should open our eyes to the value and potential of other cultures and traditions. Taylor’s fear is that the Western human rights culture, trying to impose itself, play into the hands of those people who might have values and norms that we abhor. Simply put, this may happen when the humans rights culture is proposed in such a way that adopting it would demand, or seem to demand, the abandonment of traditional values. If consensus of norms really is our goal, then our best strategy might rather be a pluralistic one. This would mean that we should be encouraging developments within a culture and tradition that seems to further the desired norms. This explains the importance that Taylor puts on the distinctions between norms, legal systems, and justifications: it is necessary that the human rights culture can be adopted in parts, not as a full-blown philosophical, political, and institutional doctrine. Human rights must not be conceived as necessarily involving of a radical modernization process that the culture in question must go trough.

The Western human rights culture is justified by a humanist doctrine that, so to speak, put humanity at the top of the creation, and the individual derives its dignity by being part of the human race. With the scientific revolution, with the end of the idea of a telos in nature, humanity suddenly stood out as an exception. Originally, humans were a part of, and being controlled by, a cosmic order; but now humans found themselves not only to be the exception in the world, but virtually ‘on the top of the world’ and in control.(fotnot 1)  Individuals, being part of humanity, therefore received intrinsic value, and the idea of human dignity and human rights evolved. The norms that sprung out of this humanism are the important things, but the question is: can they be justified in other ways?

The pragmatic view of philosophical justifications that Taylor started out with allows us to ask whether some ways of justifying the norms are better, more secure, than others. Here I have some concerns regarding Taylor’s optimism regarding other justifications and the possibility of consensus of norms.

Taylor is optimistic on reaching some agreements on fundamental norms:

One can presumably find in all cultures condemnations of genocide, murder, torture, and slavery, as well as of, say, “disappearances” and the shooting of innocent demonstrators. (Taylor 1999, p. 125)

In my view, agreement on these abstract norms doesn’t take us very far when it comes to issues of human rights. In the most obvious case, disputes of human rights violations don’t come in the form of one part claiming that it is wrong to shoot innocent demonstrators and the other part claiming it’s rather okay; the dispute is instead, in this case, on the question of innocence. This obvious point can be expanded, for it raises the question: who counts as human?

II.

Here I will use some of Richard Rorty’s views on human rights. Rorty notes that crimes against human rights are not conceived of as such by the ones who commit them, simply because they do not perceive their victims as being humans (Rorty 1993, p. 112). This points to the fact that people can, in a sense, honestly subscribe to human rights while at the same time committing genocide. Which means, further, that what norms one subscribe to is only half the answer; the other being who one regard the norms to apply to. When rights are derived to individuals in virtue of them being humans — being part of the human race — then the definition of “human” becomes the moral battleground, so to speak. For Rorty, the attempt to justify universal rights by reference to any shared human nature will not work as an argument. Justifications may be found that gives “all” a certain right, but this justification might not by itself give an inclusive “all”. Rorty notes that the man who famously thought it was self-evident that all men are born free and created equal, himself held slaves. And, to take another example, the abolitionists used — and this I find rather striking — a poster of a slave with the caption “And am I not a Man and a Brother?”.

In regard to Taylor and the plurality of justifications of norms, this means that some of these justifications might justify the same norms but without being equally good, in the sense that some justifications might more easily allow for a narrow application. There is no doubt that religions may justify some of the same norms as those of the Western individualistic humanism; we might all be, for example, ‘Children of God’. But using such language to justify norms become subject to the same kind of problems; those who commit crimes against the rights so-derived will not conceive it as crimes, because they do not regard the victims as fulfilling the conditions for being treated according to the norms, i.e. as “humans” or “Children of God”. Immoral acts do not, if we look at them from the perspective of moral psychology, actually constitute the breaching of norms, but simply the result of a narrow conception of to whom they apply. That is how the great moral rules of religions can fit together with the cruelest of actions.

For Rorty, this is reason enough to let the question of justifications rest. Any justification in terms of ‘something we all have in common’ inevitably carry with it a possible way of exclusion, a way of constructing a “us” worthy of moral recognition and a “them” — for instance, the “Sons of Satan” — that can be neglected without a breach of the universal norms. For Taylor, who, unlike Rorty, talks about different theoretical justifications for the same norms, these reflections result in a concern whether all justifications are equally good. The pragmatic question in regard to justifications can perhaps be put like this: which justification is most easily used to exclude some people as unworthy of recognition? After all, to me it seems that it is here rather than in regard to the norms themselves that the important disputes takes place. I don’t know to which extent these comments will be a criticism of Taylor, but for my own part they grew out of a suspicion that the analytically clear distinction between norms and their justifications over-simplified the matter. Norms that appear the same, taken at face value, might find very different applications due to how they are being justified.

How different are the justifications that Taylor has in mind? Taylor is critical of the adoption of simple modernization theories that, for instance, result in the view that “Asian values” are simply pre-modern. There is an “inability of many Westerners to see their culture as one among many” (Taylor 1999, p. 143), an inability which seem to make us prescribe other cultures to copy our own ideas to ensure human rights. I am not sure, however, how strong Taylor’s claims and demands for pluralism are. The example he puts forward, of a reformed Buddhism, a “protestant Buddhism”, seem to fit in well with a standard modernization process, and some of the emerging Buddhist ideas of autonomy seem to take away some of the differences. Hence, the claims of there being a big difference between justifications for similar norms is not convincing, simply because the ideas that justify the norms seem to be ideas that clearly move in the direction of Western ideas. That a modernization process will take partly different ways and expressions seems rather obvious, and this claim I have no qualms with. A movement within Buddhism that resembles a protestant reformation was news to me, but very uplifting news indeed. But it does look like just another route to more individualism and humanism within Buddhism, and a move away from “Asian values”. And I am not sure if that really is what Taylor wants the example to show. At times I understand him to allow for much more different justifications and ways of thinking.

III.

The ways in which modernization takes form in different traditions are interesting to study. How uniform is the process, and which ideas can play roughly the same roles in different traditions? In the section where Taylor describes the development in the West, where greater importance is given to suffering, a footnote points to Alexis de Tocqueville. I have a Tocquevillian outlook deeply ingrained in me, and I find that it can give a few interesting points in regard to the Western ideas that Taylor discusses: the humanism and the sensitivity to suffering. So I will end this paper by sharing this Tocquevillian view.

Tocqueville uses aristocratic and democratic society as ideal types.(2)  Democratic society is not necessarily democratic in the political sense of the word; what is meant is a society characterized by equality. This is contrasted to the aristocratic society that is characterized by inequality, the individuals being separated in classes and castes. When Tocqueville travels to America he is not interested in America for its own sake, but as the country where equality is most prevalent. He wants to get a clear picture of the ideal type of democratic society. In the second volume (1840) he discusses the influence that equality has on human intellect and sentiments.

One of the things that he discusses is the very idea of humanity. This idea is not likely to occur in an aristocratic society. People are too divided into classes and fraternities/guilds so that the idea of a unity amongst all men becomes a very unnatural one.(3)  The same goes for the idea of universal human rights. Slavery, for example, is not, for an aristocratic mind, looked upon as obviously and inherently immoral. Not even to the slaves themselves, in ancient time, slavery seemed necessarily immoral. This is so because the general idea of humanity does not occur to the aristocratic mind, and if it did the idea would not seem very true to life. A certain degree of equality, it seems, is necessary for the idea to become plausible at all. And it takes even more for any humanism — any doctrine that allot moral importance to humans qua humans — to arise.

The most profound and capacious minds of Rome and Greece were never able to reach the idea, at once so general and so simple, of the common likeness of men, and of the common birthright of each to freedom: they strove to prove that slavery was in the order of nature, and that it would always exist. Nay, more, everything shows that those of the ancients who had passed from the servile to the free condition, many of whom have left us excellent writings, did themselves regard servitude in no other light.

All the great writers of antiquity belonged to the aristocracy of masters, or at least they saw that aristocracy established and uncontested before their eyes. Their mind, after it had expanded itself in several directions, was barred from further progress in this one; and the advent of Jesus Christ upon earth was required to teach that all the members of the human race are by nature equal and alike. (Tocqueville 2000, p. 413)

In the section of Democracy in America that Taylor refers to when he discusses the Western development regarding suffering, Tocqueville tries to find an explanation. Taylor’s own “the affirmation of ordinary life” is not part of this, even though it is on the whole very Tocquevillian: the ordinary life during times of democracy versus the ‘higher realms’ advocated in aristocratic times. It is certainly in line with Tocqueville’s thinking that in aristocratic times other values than suffering and pain were of overriding importance. However, in the section about Mme. Sévigny Tocqueville’s explanation is not so much concerned with different values and virtues, but rather the scope of our moral community. Equality has, according to Tocqueville, made our moral community larger; the range of people we are able to feel with has become wider.

Do we have more sensitivity than our fathers? I do not know, but surely our sensitivity bears on more objects. (Tocqueville 2000, p. 538)

Mme Sévigny, who says hangings “appears to me a refreshment,” is not really insensitive to suffering, but the inequalities of her society has made it impossible to see herself in others.

One would be wrong to believe that Madame de Sévigny, who wrote these lines, was a selfish and barbaric creature: she loved her children passionately and showed herself very sensitive to the distress of her friends; and one even perceives in reading her that she treated her vassals and servants with goodness and indulgence. But Madame de Sévigny did not clearly conceive what it was to suffer when one was not a gentleman. (Tocqueville 2000, p. 537)

And in our times, the ideas of racial inequality made some people unable to conceive, for example, what it was to suffer if one was a Jew. So we are back at the question of the boundaries of our moral community. These boundaries, which determine the indifference to suffering, is according to Tocqueville not culture bound — for instance, specific to Western civilization — but always the result of underlying inequalities and its corresponding mindsets. That is — in regard to Asian values as well as the Shari’a — a positive thesis, because it at least makes away with the idea of other cultures as being inherently more indifferent to individual suffering.

Footnotes:

(1) And from this view it looks obvious why autonomy and consent of the individual in relation to the authority of society becomes so important in Western thought: being under authority will always  seem unnatural and as an necessary evil at the most.

(2) Max Weber picked up the idea 60 years later by reading Tocqueville and made it an explicit tool of social science.

(3) The idea of humanity is requires at least some degree of equality: ”As conditions become more equal and each man in particular becomes more like all the others, weaker and smaller, one gets used to no longer viewing citizens so as to consider only the people; one forgets individuals so as to think only of the species.”

References:

Rorty, Richard. 1993. ”Human Rights, Rationality, and Sentimentality.” In On Human Rights,    ed. Stephen Shute and Susan Hurley. New York: BasicBooks, 111-134.

Taylor, Charles. 1999. “Conditions of an Unforced Consensus on Human Rights.” In The
East Asian Challenge for Human Rights
, ed. Joanne R. Bauer and Daniel A. Bell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 124-144.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. 2000. Democracy in America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

”The sidewalk Socrates” om pragmatismen

Jag läste alldeles nyss ett par slagkraftiga omdömen av Sidney Morgenbesser angående pragmatismen.

”It’s all very well in theory but it doesn’t work in practice.”

”The only problem with pragmatism is that it’s completely useless.”

Mycket eleganta formuleringar. Och de uttrycker dessutom exakt min ståndpunkt, inte minst den första. Även om pragmatisterna har ”rätt” så vore det helt förödande om deras synsätt skulle etableras. Detta gäller både för vetenskapens praxis och i diskussion om moralfrågor. Ibland förvånas jag över exempelvis Rortys insisterande på att vi måste byta vokabulär och bli pragmatister hela bunten, för även om han skulle ha rätt gällande ”myten” att vetenskapen ”speglar” eller på annat sätt når fram till en objektiv verklighet, så måste han rimligtvis sedan också bedöma om inte dessa myter har varit oerhört nyttiga. Det är framförallt här som jag tycker Rorty misslyckas med att övertyga.

Som Morgenbessers kommentar antyder så kanske pragmatister borde nöja sig med en slags ”second order”-pragmatism och inse att det vore fullständig katastrof om vetenskapen  skulle anamma filosofisk pragmatism. (Denna möjlighet är dock inte öppen för Rorty, han stänger dörren själv genom att säga, och här är det knepigt att förstå honom, att han inte vill inta en position i realism vs. anti-realism-debatten utan snarare lämna den debatten helt.)

Apropå Morgenbesser. Låt mig citera ur (den i övrigt värdelösa) boken Stop me if you’ve heard this. A History and Philosophy of Jokes.

The greatest of all spontaneous counterexamples—and quite possibly the best philosophical joke of all time—is famously due to Sidney Morgenbesser. A few decades ago the Oxford philosopher J. L. Austin was giving an address to a large audience of his fellow philosophers in New York. In the course of this address, which was about the philosophy of language, Austin raised the perennially interesting issue of the double negative.

”In some languages,” Austin observed in his clipped Oxbridge diction, ”a double negative yields an affirmative. In other languages, a double negative yields a more emphatic negative. Yet, curiously enough, I know of no language, either natural or artificial, in which a double affirmative yields a negative.”

Suddenly, from the back of the hall, in a round Brooklyn accent, came the comment, ”Yeah, yeah.”