Vol.11 No.4 ---- Fall 1997


Pluralism or Relativism?

Pluralism or Relativism?
Jeffrey Friedman

Essays and Review Essays

The Graying of Berlin
Isaiah Berlin
by John Gray
Daniel Weinstock

Pluralism after Liberalism?
Enlightenment's Wake
by John Gray
by John Gray
Pratap B. Mehta

Frank H. Knight and Ethical Pluralism
Richard Boyd

Nietzche and the Premodernist Critique of Postmodernism
Nietzche: The Ethics of an Immoralist
by Peter Berkowitz
Michael Allen Gillespie

Solidarity, Objectivity, and the Human Form of Life: Wittgenstein vs. Rorty
Greg Hill


Hayek on Social Justice: Reply to Lukes and Johnston
Edward Feser

Is the Idea of Social Justice Meaningful? Rejoinder to Feser
David Johnston

Pluralism or Relativism? | Jeffrey Friedman

Daniel Weinstock | The Graying of Berlin

In Isaiah Berlin, John Gray interprets Berlin as having made value pluralism the basis of an anti-rationalist, "agonistic" liberalism. Gray argues that Berlin's value pluralism actually stands in tension with his liberalism, and that a whole-hearted affirmation of value pluralism should have led him to reject the claim that liberal institutions are morally superior. But Berlin's pluralism is more moderate than that ascribed to him by Gray, in that it does not allow for diminishing the value of liberty beyond a certain point. This version of pluralism is more compatible with the objectivity Gray claims for pluralism than is his own version.

Pratap B. Mehta | Pluralism after Liberalism?

John Gray argues that the doctrine of value pluralism poses a serious challenge for liberalisms of the Rawlsian and Millian kind. The only proper political doctrine that is compatible with value pluralism is a modus vivendi that can take various forms. But in truth, value pluralism does little to diminish the appeal of liberalism. Under modern conditions, any half-decent modus vivendi will look more like liberalism than Gray supposes.

Richard Boyd | Frank H. Knight and Ethical Pluralism

For Frank Knight, the fact that we are free to engage in economic pursuits brings out what is both best and worst in human nature. The same competitive economy that liberates individuals to choose their own desired ends also provides them with socially undesirable wants and fosters habits potentially at odds with the demands of liberal democracy. Given Knight's desire both to defend human liberty and his concession that liberty is likely to be abused, his version of liberalism must of necessity be anticonsequentialist. Paradoxically, Knight's philosophical pluralism - his insistence that there are any number of incommensurable perspectives on the good or just society - underlies both his criticism of the "ethical" possibilities of the competitive order and his defense of human liberty against the dangers of social planning.

Michael Allen Gillespie | Nietzche and the Premodernist Critique of Postmodernism

The crisis of modern reason culminates in Nietzsche's proclamation of nihilism. Drawing upon Nietzsche, postmodernists suggest that reason itself is defective, while "premodernists" argue we can regain our balance by returning to premodern rationalism. Peter Berkowitz suggests, however, that Nietzsche is a contradictory thinker who fails in his attempt to combine ancient rationalism with modern voluntarism. Postmodernism thus rests upon a defective foundation. Berkowitz's critique of postmodernism is telling, but he does not recognize dangerous millenarian elements in Nietzsche's thought. Moreover, the concept of ancient reason he holds up as an alternative is under-developed and undifferentiated.

Greg Hill | Solidarity, Objectivity, and the Human Form of Life: Wittgenstein vs. Rorty

Reason, objectivity, and human nature are now suspect ideas. Among postmodern thinkers, Richard Rorty has advanced an especially forceful critique of these notions. Drawing partly on Wittgenstein's philosophy of language, Rorty contends that objectivity is no more than metaphysical name for intersubjective agreement, and that "human nature" is an empty category, there being nothing beneath history and culture. Wittgenstein himself, however, recognized within the world's many civilizations "the common behavior of mankind," without which Rorty's ethnocentric "solidarity" would be inconceivable. This common form of life - the life of those who speak - encompasses countless human activities that presuppose and are interwoven with the concepts of reason and objectivity.

Edward Feser | Hayek on Social Justice: Reply to Lukes and Johnston

Hayek's attack on the ideal of social justice, though long ignored by political theorists, has recently been the subject of a number of largely unsympathetic studies (those of Lukes and Johnston being the most recent) in which his critique is dismissed as at best simply mistaken and at worst frivolous. The responses to Hayek's case against social justice, however, fail to draw any blood, for they do not seriously deal with Hayek's central claim that the very notion of social justice is incoherent.

David Johnston | Is the Idea of Social Justice Meaningful? Rejoinder to Feser

Hayek claimed that the idea of social justice is meaningless in a market economy because in that context, no identifiable agent intentionally brings about the distribution of wealth. But the assumption that the existence of injustice entails an identifiable agent of injustice is erroneous. Moreover, Hayek ignores the fact that in a market economy, the broad pattern of economic outcomes is foreseeable even if detailed, person-by-person outcomes are not. Hayek's rejection of the idea of social justice reveals a striking naivete' about his own ethical presuppositions.

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