Facts, Principles, and Politics
14 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2014 Last revised: 23 May 2014
Date Written: April 2014
Should our factual understanding of the world influence our normative theorising about it? G.A. Cohen has argued that our ultimate normative principles should not be constrained by facts (e.g. about feasibility, human nature, and so on). In this paper I dispute that claim by advancing the argument that, in order to resist the conclusion that ultimate normative principles rest on facts about possibility or conceivability, one has to embrace an unsatisfactory account of how principles generate normative political judgments. So political theorists have to choose between principles unbiased by our current understanding of human motivation and political reality, or principles capable of reliably generating political judgments. I conclude with wider methodological observations in defence of the latter option.
Keywords: facts and principles, G.A. Cohen, realism and idealism, methodology in political theory
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