Monday, August 25, 2014

David Thunder's "Citizenship and the Pursuit of the Worthy Life"

David Thunder has been a research Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society, University of Navarra, Spain, since September 2012. Prior to moving to Spain, Thunder served as a visiting assistant professor at Bucknell University and at Villanova University, in addition to completing two years of postdoctoral research – one year at the Witherspoon Institute and the other in Princeton University's James Madison Program. His work has appeared in publications such as the American Journal of Political Science, Political Theory, and the Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy.

Thunder applied the “Page 99 Test” to his recent book, Citizenship and the Pursuit of the Worthy Life, and reported the following:
The central goal of the book, as stated in its preface, is "to rehabilitate an ethically grounded ideal of citizenship and public service, one that refuses to separate political endeavors from the quest for human excellence" (xi). Classical authors, such as Plato and Aristotle, viewed all domains of human action as expressive - at least, ideally - of the agent's commitment to live a decent or worthy human life. Modern thinkers, such as Luther, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke, have tended to insulate political action from citizens' ethical and/or religious ideals, in the name of liberty, public order, toleration, or public reason. Citizenship and the Pursuit of the Worthy Life challenges this modern effort to "quarantine" political reasoning from fundamental ethical commitments - associated in recent times with thinkers such as Rawls, Niebuhr, and Walzer - and attempts instead to develop an "integrationist" vision of citizenship that permits citizens to give full play to their deepest ethical commitments in their role as citizens and public officials. The motivation for this project is my convictions that the insulation of public life from citizens' ethical commitments puts in jeopardy not only our integrity as persons but also the legitimacy and moral resilience of our political communities.

One version of the modern separationist approach, John Rawls's, comes in for criticism for its attempt to rule out "conceptions of the good" as legitimate grounds for political action. I critique several of Rawls's arguments for this position, but on page 99 specifically, I address Rawls's argument that conceptions of the good are illicitly biased toward the subject's interests. My reply is that
[g]iven Rawls's rather permissive understanding of conceptions of the good, it is far from obvious that they can be treated indiscriminately as sources of illicit bias in the selection of principles of justice, analogous to social status, wealth, or race. While some conceptions of the good, such as that of the single-minded hedonist or careerist, are patently self-serving, others, such as that of the educator or human rights campaigner, may be sincerely oriented toward a worthy human life, which might involve, among other things, the creation of a better and more just social order for all. While we might preemptively rule out narrowly self-serving conceptions of the good as irrelevant to the principles of justice, it is much less obvious why we should rule out more other-oriented, caring conceptions of the good as valuable and relevant sources of insight.
Learn more about Citizenship and the Pursuit of the Worthy Life and its author at David Thunder's website and the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue