Justification and Judgment: A Politics of Principle in an Imperfect World?
Posted: 22 Feb 2011
Debates in political theory often pit champions of universal rational principles against proponents of sensitivity to contingency, context, and particularity. For instance, one may contrast Kantians like Rawls and Burkeans like Oakeshott, or contemporary cosmopolitans like Charles Beitz and critics like David Miller. In this paper, I argue that a defensible political theory (which I assume must be a democratic one) must find a way of integrating concern for both justifications of general principle and contextual judgments about the relation of those principles to contingent political realities. What one must not do is to take sides, as if either sort of reasoning might ever be sufficient on its own. I focus on Kant and Hegel as offering two exemplary attempts to combine concern for both sides of the question (although this challenges certain common readings of each author). I argue that even sophisticated views like Habermas's, which reduce judgment to the 'application' of previously justified rules, fail to do justice to the complex interdependence of particulars and universals. Finally, I sketch the rudiments of an alternative view in which the relation of principles to particulars runs both ways and demands democratic interpretation in its own right in every particular case. The paper uses a critical reading of Kant and Hegel to make a unique contribution to debates in contemporary democratic theory.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation