Stray deliberations (228)

A few late-night thoughts:

I mentioned in class that there are often fools who attach themselves to serious issues, and that the presence of fools ought not distract one from recognizing the seriousness of an issue. ‘Leaving the fools aside. . . ‘, I said, one could engage with moral serious opponents.

Okay, as far as it goes. But who is to determine who are the fools? What if the fools demand inclusion? What if they demand inclusion as fools (as in, We think this entire deliberation is a joke, and we want to be included to make that point)? What if they insist they are not fools, and deserve to be included among the morally serious?

I don’t know that Gutmann and Thompson have a response to that. Perhaps they do, later in the books, and I simply don’t remember, but I don’t know how much they take up this issue. One possible response is to state that all may be included at the outset, but that as deliberation develops, those taken to be less serious will come to be accorded less attention or respect or speaking time. Still, the possibility of disruption exists.

Then there is the question from the other side, those who are so morally serious that they are unwilling to engage the other side. They may not want to be tainted through any sort of association with such an obviously flawed argument or obviously morally defective group of people. Or they may not want to lend themselve in any way to a process which, while itself morally laudable (or at least neutral), might nonetheless lead to, say, mere reform of a system or policy which should be overthrown or replaced.

If, for example, you think the death penalty is wrong in every instance, would you want to involve yourself in efforts to reform the process of capital trials and punishment? If the death penalty is wrong, why would you seek to ‘improve’ this wrong rather than banish it?

Thus the problem here is not that someone or some group seeks to disrupt deliberation, but that by refusing to participate, the purists withhold a moral perspective vital to a truly democratic deliberation.

Again, I’m not sure Gutmann and Thompson have a response to this, and this may be an even more intractable problem than that of the fools, who could be dealt with democratically by including them, and deliberatively by granting them the attention they deserve, i.e., little. (If, on the other hand, the fools turn out not to be so foolish, they can then be granted the—greater—attention they deserve.) Gutmann and Thompson depend upon inclusion and participation; what is to be done with those who refuse to include themselves?

Finally, there is the ancillary issue of all those who just plain don’t want to participate. It’s not about moral seriousness, it’s about lack of interest, or a preference for engagement in other activities. Oscar Wilde famously said that he could never be a socialist—too many meetings; could the same critique be levelled at the deliberationists?

Anyway, as mentioned, stray thoughts after midnight. If anyone is reading this, I look forward to your responses.


About proftp

I teach political science and bioethics as an adjunct at a CUNY school.
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