This essay presents a brief summary of the Sen/Nussbaum conception of liberalism, offers some main points of criticism, and contrasts their conception of human flourishing and politics with an alternative one. The ultimate aim will be to show that they do not advance the cause of liberalism properly understood but actually retreat from it. The “human capabilities argument,” “public reasoning,” “internalist essentialism,” and other key concepts are discussed. The paper concludes that Sen and Nussbaum fail to adequately defend the premises (...) of the human capabilities argument and that their argument invites a retreat from liberalism. Moreover, on their theory individuals have no basis upon which to erect borders for their resources or themselves and to say to any and all that some areas are off limits no matter who may benefit. Rather, there is only the relentless and enforced pursuit of capabilities. (shrink)
In this essay, I consider whether the alleged demise of metaphysical realism does actually provide a better way for defending the cognitive status of ethical judgments. I argue that the rejection of a realist ontology and epistemology does not help to establish the claim that ethical knowledge is possible. More specifically, I argue that Hilary Putnam's argument does not succeed in making a case for ethical knowledge. In fact, his account of the procedures by which our valuations are warrantedultimately begs (...) the question in a number of crucial ways. Moreover, it prejudices the moral and political discussion in certain ideological respects. Finally, though Putnam has apparently modified to some extent his approach to the issue of realism in recent years, I will point out that these modifications are not fundamental and do not help to advance the case for ethical knowledge. I note also that Martha C. Nussbaum's appeal to Putnam’s argument actually works against her attempt to make a case for an Aristotelian conception of human flourishing. Ultimately, I conclude that metaphysical realism is vital for ethical knowledge. (shrink)
This essay is a response to Peter E. Vedder's Fall 2007 review of the authors' book, Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for Non-Perfectionist Politics. Vedder argues that the authors 1) have a Kantian notion of self-directedness, and 2) are inconsistent in the application of their philosophical anthropology to their view of political liberty. In denying both claims, the authors assert that Vedder both fails to define certain terms and holds them to positions they do not accept.
In response to Robert Hartford's criticisms of his Spring 2006 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies essay, "Regarding Choice and the Foundations of Morality," Rasmussen argues against "the official" interpretation of Rand's ethics as resting on a basic "choice to live." Drawing from his work with Douglas Den Uyl, Rasmussen argues that Rand's metaethics is best understood in "biocentric," neo-Aristotelian terms: that human choice does not set the context in which it operates and that "man's life qua man" is the natural (...) end of human life. (shrink)
This essay examines the relationship between human choice and Rand's ethical standard for moral goodness and obligation. It shows that the neo-Aristotclian interpretation of Rand's ethics—an interpretation that does not accept the doctrine of "premoral choice" but instead claims that flourishing as a rational animal is the telos of human life and choice—is crucial to the viability of her ethical theory. The defenders of premoral choice confuse the conceptual order with the real and, despite their intentions, make Rand's ethics into (...) a voluntarist ethics, that is, an ethics in which reason is subordinate to will. (shrink)
Douglas B. Rasmussen examines, in this revised and extended version of his 1990 address to the Ayn Rand Society, whether Rand's ethics are best interpreted as dependent on a "pre-moral" choice. He argues that such an interpretation undercuts Rand's claim to provide a rational foundation for ethics. He suggests an alternative, neo-Aristotelian interpretation of Rand's ethics, which treats "man's survival qua man" as the telos of human choice and takes the obligation to achieve this ultimate end as the result of (...) its being the good for human beings. (shrink)