[lit-ideas] Re: Reason and Politics

  • From: wokshevs@xxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, Phil Enns <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2006 16:04:24 -0230

Replies to Phil cont'd, again. Debate picks up at "***" below.

Quoting Phil Enns <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxxxx>:

> Walter Okshevsky wrote:
> "Surely not everything a great philosopher writes is great."
> True, but here the Sage of Koenigsberg is spot on.  So let me try to unpack
> that wonderous sentence.
> 'There is no true freedom of religion in a democracy if there is no freedom
> to burn heretics and apostates as required
> by our religion.'
> If someone were to aver the above, it would appear to produce a
> contradiction, namely, that the freedom of a [liberal] democracy must
> include the freedom to rob others of their freedom.  This claim, however, is
> problematic in two distinct ways.  First, the argument involves the
> rejection of its own presupposition.  To burn heretics and apostates is to
> deny the freedom of religion presupposed by the claim that burning heretics
> and apostates is permitted by freedom of religion.  We have, then, a
> misunderstanding of reason regarding what is entailed by freedom of
> religion.
> It would be good if pointing out this misunderstanding of reason were
> sufficient for resolving the problem, but it isn't.  Reason becomes
> preoccupied with its contorted paths and fails to step back and realize that
> it aims for peaceful social relations.  In this case, reason ought to step
> back and realize that burning those who fail to share ones own beliefs
> cannot produce a peaceful and enlightened society.  The use of reason is not
> a good in itself but is good when it aims towards the good society.  A use
> of reason that includes the reduction of freedom for others produces a
> disunity.  Recognizing that reason aims towards a lasting tranquility of
> sense and understanding, one is forced to step back from the argument in
> order to identify where reason went off the rails and then, hopefully, in
> humility once again engage in reasoning to pursue ones proper goals within a
> liberal democracy.
> What makes this such an ideal defence of liberal democracy is the manner in
> which [it]orients reason within the political realm.  In a liberal democracy,
> reason has its proper end and it is that end that guides the proper use of
> reason.  

W: I believe the Sage of K. would insist (rightly) that no particular end is
able to itself determine the autonomous use of practical reason. Ends,
conceived as goods, are of moral worth only as cases of universalizable maxims
or policies. Democracy, considered as such an end, is but an institutional
version of rational/universalizable speech and thought; the former is
consequent upon the latter, not its original or guiding source. Without
practical reason, we would lack an understanding of autonomy, illegitimate
self-exemption, persons as ends-in-themselves and a Republic of Ends. 

Thanks so much for an interesting and thoughtful reply. Looking forward to
Phil's and others' responses on this theme of reason and poltics.

Walter Okshevsky
Memorial University

> A liberal democracy is not a Rortian 'anything goes' nor is it a
> framework within which one pursues, according to a brutal rationality,
> ideological outcomes.  Rather it is, borrowing from Oakshott, a ship at sea
> that aims for a distant unseen shore, using reason to adapt to changing
> conditions.  Reason is not for itself but rather a means for arriving at a
> truly free and enlightened society, surely a message as relevant today as it
> was over 200 years ago.

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