Logical and epistemic foundationalism about grounding: The triviality of facts and principles

Res Publica 15 (4):337-353 (2009)
In this paper, I seek to undermine G.A. Cohen ’s polemical use of a metaethical claim he makes in his article, ‘ Facts and Principles’, by arguing that that use requires an unsustainable equivocation between epistemic and logical grounding. I begin by distinguishing three theses that Cohen has offered during the course of his critique of Rawls and contractualism more generally, the foundationalism about grounding thesis, the justice as non-regulative thesis, and the justice as all-encompassing thesis, and briefly argue that they are analytically independent of each other. I then offer an outline of the foundationalism about grounding thesis, characterising it, as Cohen does, as a demand of logic. That thesis claims that whenever a normative principle is dependent on a fact, it is so dependent in virtue of some other principle. I then argue that although this is true as a matter of logic, it, as Cohen admits, cannot be true of actual justifications, since logic cannot tell us anything about the truth as opposed to the validity of arguments. Facts about a justification cannot then be decisive for whether or not a given argument violates the foundationalism about grounding thesis. As long as, independently of actual justifications, theorists can point to plausible logically grounding principles, as I argue contractualists can, Cohen ’s thesis lacks critical bite
Keywords G.A. Cohen  Facts and principles  Contractualism  Constructivism  Rawls  Justification
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DOI 10.1007/s11158-009-9097-z
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References found in this work BETA
Thomas Scanlon (1998). What We Owe to Each Other. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
John Rawls (1993). Political Liberalism. Columbia University Press.
John Rawls (2009). A Theory of Justice. In Steven M. Cahn (ed.), Philosophy and Rhetoric. Oxford University Press 133-135.

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Citations of this work BETA
Enzo Rossi (forthcoming). Facts, Principles, and Politics. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice:1-16.

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