Moral ontology of Walzerian social criticism : an argument for philosophical conservatism
This thesis advances a reconstructed and more sophisticated version of Michael Walzer's social criticism. It does so through an analysis of the suppressed premises that underpin Walzer's argument. One central premise in Walzer's work tacitly asserts that social criticism should reflect the nature of the 'self as whole', as conceived of in the terms of the post-Kantian tradition of moral and political thought. This conception of self follows naturally from the way in which social criticism 'embeds' the individual in a particularist social and historical context. Another central premise comes in response to the implications of this embeddedness: in order to meet the objection that the social thesis leads both to moral relativism and a loss of individual moral freedom, Walzer commissions a second and even more tacit conception of self. This second conception is a thoroughly liberal and (at first sight) Kantian conception of self, and thus leads to a crucial internal tension with the rejection of 'philosophy' that is central to social criticism. This thesis is thus in part a critique of Walzer and the inconsistencies of his position. Nevertheless, this thesis also, ultimately, acts as a vindication of Walzer's social criticism. My argument is that the two conceptions of self can be reconciled without contradiction. We therefore arrive at an argument for a third conception of self: one that combines the virtues of both the 'communitarian' and 'liberal' conceptions of self, and hence the merits of their respective accounts of both agency and moral argument. Such an account of self thus purchases phenomenological sophistication without sacrificing non-relative normative justification. The position that this yields, as this thesis argues, is a species of philosophical conservatism based upon a naturalistic conception of self. This arises from the endorsement of a broadly Oakeshottian conventionalism. The thesis therefore rejects Walzer's own substantive commitment to egalitarianism, and argues instead for a social structure that takes the normative implications of 'spheres' seriously; and thus a social structure in which there are in fact significant elements of social and political hierarchy in 'our' culture of western 'liberal democracies'. This hierarchy is based upon the individual criteria of desert and distribution that we find in separate spheres. The thesis thus concludes that it is unjust to impose an egalitarian pattern of distribution on this complexity. The conclusion is original both because it rests upon an original interpretation of Walzer, and because the resulting Walzerianism is one that offers an original conception of the ontology of value and moral argument.