Subjectivism’s Necessary Appeal to Juridical Power

Quote of the Day for Saturday, Nov 20, from Georgia Warnke, in Justice and Interpretation (MIT Press, 1994):

MacIntyre insists that the "only rational way in which these disagreements could be resolved would be by means of philosophical enquiry aimed at deciding which out of the conflicting sets of premises, if any, is true."  But within the liberal tradition, not only can individual claims to what the good life is for human beings not be understood or appear as validity claims in the sphere of public discussion; the same restrictions apply to the set of assumptions that would be used to support these claims. They too are reduced to subjective preferences. And, since liberal individualism thus denies that any conception of the good or any set of assumptions can be true or false, where conflicts occur they must be resolved by other means.


MacIntyre concludes that the characteristic mark of liberalism is that it does not seek a real resolution of conflict in genuine philosophical inquiry. Rather, liberalism simply accepts the verdicts of the legal system, verdicts that have been formed through appeals to whatever position in the philosophical debates seems to support them most easily at the time. "The lawyers, not the philosophers, are the clergy of liberalism," MacIntyre claims.

Discussing Alasdair MacIntyre, in Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (University of Notre Dame Press, 1989)

It’s not hard to predict that a cultural philosophical framework of moral relativism will culminate in a system where might makes right, but MacIntyre’s observation has the virtue of showing us how this proceeds in our case, and it is a case of putting the cart before the horse. A legal system needs to be able to draw on a knowledge of the good in order to produce an order of justice. When the lawyers themselves define the “good,” the place of good is usurped by self-interest, and justice is cashed out for political advantage.