David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 8 (5):535 - 556 (2005)
Rationalism in political philosophy is the view that politics should be governed by moral principles and that those principles can and should be justified independently of the situations and circumstances that make up political reality. This traditional view of political philosophy implies that the meaning of right political action is determined by moral principles the rational authority of which derives from abstract philosophical reasoning, not from the situations and circumstances that are the substance of political reality. In this essay I argue that rationalist moralities must presuppose the understanding of particular situations and circumstances for their meaningful and correct interpretation. This means, I argue, that the rightness of political judgement and action is immanent in particular situations, not in abstract moralities. And this, I argue, suggests a shift from the traditional view of political society as the embodiment of abstract principles, towards a view of political society as the embodiment of the activity of situational judgement. A society worth hoping for, then, is one in which we can live in the light of our understanding of the situations and circumstances that are the substance of everyday life, rather than in the shadow of abstract moralities. Such a society would be sensitive to the particularities and complexities of political reality, but at the same time it does not succumb to moral relativism and skepticism.
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