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Title: Experts or Mediators?
Subtitle: Philosophers in the Public Sphere
Author(s): DUSCHE, Michael
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 9    Issue: 1   Date: 2002   
Pages: 21-30
DOI: 10.2143/EP.9.1.503841

Abstract :
This paper is inspired by the 1995 dispute between the philosophers Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls in the Journal of Philosophy about the role of the philosopher in the public sphere. I am criticizing Habermas in his attempt to depict Rawls as a kind of justice expert. I am grounding my defence of Rawls in an argument that parallels Quine’s indeterminacy argument.

This crossover of argumentative strategies taken from analytic philosophy into moral and political theory maybe can account for the relevance of this paper to post-linguistic-turn philosophy, firstly, because the syncretistic nature of such an attempt bears a certain affinity to postmodern fashions of thinking. Secondly, I believe that a thinker such as Quine who is firmly rooted in the analytic tradition nevertheless surpasses this tradition in a way that in some respects may be seen as paralleling the developments in post-structuralist and postmodern thought.

In Quine and some of his contemporaries and disciples, analytic philosophy turns away from the positivist assumptions of its fathers. It no longer stipulates a single way of representing the positive world in the one and only true theory. Truth, in fact, comes to be looked at as relative to a theory of which there can be many. However, if many theories serve the same purpose equally well, then truth, as theory dependent, becomes a pluralistic concept itself.

This much I think I should say to guard against the misunderstanding that all analytic philosophy is positivistic and hence that all moral and political theory that avails itself of argumentative strategies from the analytic school is infected by positivism. Analytic philosophy has of course inherited the scepticism of the positivists with respect to classical metaphysics. It refused to tackle metaphysical problems directly because it very often dismissed them as merely a confused way of speaking.

In order to assess where the problem is real or where, in fact, there is no problem at all, analytic philosophy turned towards our common way of speaking about the problem in question. Instead of directly asking, for example, whether human beings have a free will, analytic philosophers would ask: how do we talk about freedom? Or: what do we mean by the word 'freedom' in our everyday conversation?

Consequently, either the metaphysical problem would go away or it had to be reformulated and clarified in terms of a language that we do understand. Asking these kinds of questions is of course critical of classical metaphysics, but it is not necessarily positivistic.

Thus, it seems that we have to distinguish two kinds of philosophical schools both operating under the paradigm of the linguistic turn: the early positivist and the later non-positivist schools of analytic philosophy. Both share the view that reflection upon language is the primary step in philosophical investigation. They differ in their respective monistic and pluralistic conceptions of science and truth.

Now, the question arises as to where to place moral and political theory within this paradigm. Until the early seventies when Rawls's Theory of Justice appeared, it was commonly held among analytic philosophers that moral and political theory had no place at all in modern post-metaphysical philosophy. It was either not scientific enough or it would be subsumed under the social sciences.

It is Rawls, precisely, who made this view obsolete demonstrating that moral and political theory can operate outside the whole paradigm of post-linguistic-turn analytic philosophy and still not fall prey to the inadequacies of the old-fashioned metaphysics that had been dismissed. I would therefore call Rawls an early post-linguistic-turn philosopher.

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