Public reason may be possibly the most boring topic in contemporary political philosophy, which takes some doing, but it is also the name of a new blog by a bunch of political philosophers which looks as if it might become quite good. They’ve got a distinguished line up of contributors, not all of whom have yet contributed, and I suppose those of us with a sense of history will worry that this looks a little bit too much like the old Left2Right blog, which looked so promising at first, but never seemed to me to do that much beyond hosting some great posts by Elizabeth Anderson on Hayek and other related topics, and rather ran into the buffers. Anyway, I’m particularly pleased to see my old-friend-whom-I-haven’t-seen-in-years Alyssa Bernstein on the roster, as she’s great fun, if not a little Rawlsian.
Thinking of Rawlsians, this thread over at Brian Leiter’s place could become great fun, and possibly quite heated. In my balanced splitting-the-difference kind of way, I’m comfortable with the thought that Rawls was both a political philosopher of the first rank and that much Rawlsian thought is very possibly deep down “a generalizing [of] one’s own local prejudices and [a] repackaging [of] them as demands of reason”. And I think I’m comfortable with that thought because it seems obvious to me that much top-notch political philosophy has always been that, but the good stuff has never been just that, and one of the reasons progress gets made in philosophy, if it does, is through thinking about the extent to which this might in fact be the case and what, if anything, we might do about it. What’s funny is that philosophers sometimes get quite so defensive about the idea that their work might just be a little bit more parochial and a little less universal than they like to think it is, and that historians too often use their discipline’s own distinctive and not always attractive prejudices as a way of avoiding thinking hard about the difficult, interesting stuff.
Thanks also to this thread from Harry B at Crooked Timber, who asked the important question, “are philosophers scruffy?”, thereby reminding me of one of my favourite bits of De Civitate Dei, at the start of Book XIX, in which Augustine discusses Varro’s demonstration that there are 288 logically possible sects of philosophers, 144 of which are scruffy (“following the habits and fashions of the Cynics”), which I suppose follows naturally from our discussion of bearded philosophers from a few days ago.
Right: back to work.