5 thoughts on “Charles Taylor, 1/3”

  1. As someone earning about 5000 dollars a year teaching political scince at a community college in Michigan,ican aonly look on thes esataistics with awe.

  2. I actually think this raises a significant issue that is rarerly if every addressed within modern political theory.

    I’m going to run this example through G.A. Cohen because his recent work helps accentuate the point. Which is this: no political philosophers who would claim to be either socialist or liberal egalitarian pay much attention, if any, to the utterly arbirtary fact that modern western capitalist societies disproportionately reward intellectual abilitiy, particularly in the case of academics. That is, if you are born clever in this world, you have a far higher chance of ending up in material comfort/affluence than those who are born less intelligent (cet par).

    I know Cohen might claim that he addresses this point in “If You’re an Egalitarian”, but the point i’m trying to make is slightly different. From what I remember, in that book he makes the point that academic political philosophers may not be as rich as say, corporate lawyers, but are better off than most. That having been said, there is a big question mark as to whether affluent political philosophers should do more than just pontificate in the lecture hall about equality.

    That to me seems all true, but surely there is a deeper point. Cohen is not on your list, but given that he is Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory, and fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, we can assume he gets paid a packet. But this ultimately stems from the fact that he was born clever and had that raw intelligence nurtured and encouraged. This is utterly arbitrary. That clever people generally do better than the less clever seems to me something that cannot be justified convincingly. One might reply that this way efficiency is promoted and all do better off (e.g. “any difference principle will be predicated on rewards for the most intelligent”), but that surely is not the heart of the issue. And Cohen in particular can’t use that reply, because then “the intelligent” look a lot like “the talented” he uses to bash Rawls with. Problem now is of course, he’s one of the talented.

    And so are all the rest of them (you!).

    Obviously its understandable that professional academic philosophers haven’t questioned whether the one thing that makes them what they are – their sheer intelligence – is arbitrary and hence not deserving of material reward. But it’s still a problem. Or at least I think it is.

  3. I think Cohen would agree with what is written above, as well as with the notion that intelligence does not inherently deserve material read. I think he would also be supportive of a Singer-style notion that, morally, rich political philosophers should use their wealth for social benefit rather than the advancement of personal fulfillment. Cohen is also dubious about efficiency arguments for inequality and points out a few logical flaws in Rawls’ defence of them.

    My sadly deceased phil pol tutor, Susan Hurley, used to used to use Dworkin as an example during these kind of discussions, asking how he could justify wearing $1k suits if he was an egalitarian. Those were truly excellent classes.

  4. CG: I’m not at all sure that this is a “significant issue that is rarerly if every addressed within modern political theory”, since what you describe seems to me to be exactly what GAC talks about in If You’re An Egalitarian…, and I’m not quite sure why you think otherwise.

    But, as Brian Leiter once put it, “If high quality moral theory won’t get high-quality moral philosophers to change their behavior, then it seems utopian, at best, and delusional, at worst, to think it will contribute anything to mass political action against injustice.” (Brian Leiter, “The Hermeneutics of Suspicion”, in his “The Future for Philosophy”, discussing Thomas Nagel’s review of Cohen in the TLS, 23 June 2000.)

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