Group Membership and Morally Risky Epistemic Conditions

Social Philosophy Today 24:53-67 (2008)
Abstract
Johann Gottlieb Fichte argues that one semantic presupposition of claims about our entitlements is the idea that others are capable of autonomy. Individuals cannot demand anything from others, even submission, unless they also presuppose—although perhaps without acknowledging this to themselves—that others are free agents. Thus, the autonomy of others is a pre-condition of our exercise of autonomy. Why do individuals and groups often try to justify their own entitlement to rights at the expense of the freedom of others, thereby simultaneously assuming and denying their freedom? This paper investigates what constitution of group agency gives individual members of the group the best chance to develop and sustain a moral character consistent with the ideal of equal autonomy. I argue that liberalism fosters the sort of group agency that improves individuals’ chances to acquire epistemically reliable beliefs about the moral status of others. I apply my findings to the discussion of court decisions in Gaines, Brown, and the race nuisance cases
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