Nagel's `paradox' of equality and partiality

Res Publica 9 (3):257-284 (2003)
Abstract
Nagel' s pessimistic conclusion that current welfare state arrangements approximate to the most pragmatically effective way of reconciling the demands of morality and of an egalitarian liberalism, while not removing a deep seated incoherence between these view, can be resisted. The objective/subjective dichotomy, in this case applied via the agent-neutral/agent-relative distinction, is identified as his problematic assumption: understood in Hegelian terms as the "placing" of different categories of reason, even a minimal realism makes it difficult to understand how embedding agent-relativity alongside the agent-neutral can be understood as adding to the relevant values, just by moving from a more particular to a less particular conception of the world. This transition also cannot be seen as giving us insight into the intrinsicality of certain values, as that would be to renege on the idea that the subjective point of view is still a point of view on value and one that is expanded, not renounced. It is argued that the standard objection that contractualism is fatally circular is even more plausible in the case of its use as a theory of political legitimacy and Nagel's use of it is quite open about this circularity. Criticising Nagel's philosophical anthropology allows one to develop his positive arguments for egalitarianism; the development of civic virtue, from a perspective in which "the personal" acknowledges the demands of others in one's political community, leads to a political egalitarianism located in a distinct political morality independent of a moralised politics.
Keywords agent-relativity  citizenship  contractualism  egalitarianism  legitimacy  partiality
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