The Perils of Pluralism: An Exploration of the Nature of Political Disagreements about Economic Justice
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Much of contemporary mainstream political philosophy operates under the assumption that if reasonable people deliberate about matters of basic justice in the right conditions, agreement will emerge. This assumption implies that although reasonable people will likely disagree about private matters concerning the nature of the good life, they will nonetheless agree about public matters of justice. I reject this assumption, and in this dissertation I argue that reasonable people are likely to experience deep and persistent disagreements about matters of basic justice. I concede that there are some domains of justice where broad agreement has been achieved in modern democratic societies, namely those concerning the scope and content of civil and political liberties. However, when it comes to the scope and content of economic liberties, there is little agreement to be had. This is because reasonable people can be committed to radically different premises about matters of basic justice as well as the fact that basic agreed-upon concepts can be interpreted and interconnected in significantly different ways. Even in ideal theory, then, where we restrict ourselves to idealized reasonable people, rational consensus is not a feasible goal on certain core matters of justice. From here, I turn to the realm of non-ideal deliberation about justice and explore the difficult problem of rational political ignorance. I further discuss the effects of the Internet on non-ideal political deliberation, and I look at the ways in which online deliberation can fuel normal cognitive biases and deepen political polarization. I argue that matters of economic justice are characterized by both moral pluralism and epistemic complexity, both of which tend to be downplayed within the deliberative enclaves that proliferate on the Internet. How are we to deal with these problems of political disagreement and polarization? To help answer this question, I turn to the tradition of American pragmatism, and especially the writings of William James, to suggest a re-orientation of political philosophy away from the assumption of rational consensus and toward a more humble, but more constructive, vision in which the philosopher attempts to fashion new ideals that might help overcome currently entrenched disagreements.