Normative Inquiry after Wittgenstein

Dissertation, Boston College (2007)
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Abstract
"Dissertation Advisor: Richard Cobb-Stevens Second Reader: David Rasmussen My overall concern is with the Kantian legacy in political thought. More specifically, I want to know if normative talk is still viable in the wake of Wittgenstein and the linguistic turn; and if so, in what form. Most commentators today believe we have to choose between these two thinkers, either sacrificing a real concern with normativity (“relativism”) or a convincing engagement with our ordinary language (“universalism”). I follow Hilary Putnam in thinking we do not have to choose between these rather drastic construals. It might still be possible to defend the force and relevance of normative exchange while still being alive to the drift of ordinary communication. This middle stance is best exemplified, I believe, by what I have called normative evaluation. Basically, I am building on and extending insights and styles of argumentation that Putnam has pioneered over the years. The universalist’s rigid dichotomies (norms vs. values, rules vs. attitudes, thick vs. thin ethical concepts, justice vs. the good life, etc.) all fail the test of ordinary language. As Putnam has also shown, however, we do rely on paired concepts like these and they might still be argued to be strong—rational—enough to justify making *relative distinctions*. A relative distinction between values and norms is decisive, I think, because it would put us in the position to talk meaningfully about and reasonable settle what is more proper to one particular individual, group, or society from what is less so, thereby also making possible a normative exchange *between* them. I am therefore taking Putnam as pointing out a way to preserve key Kantian insights about the irreducibility and ubiquity of the normative while discarding his transcendental wrapping, all the while avoiding the kind of slide to wholesale cultural relativism that so easily follows in the wake of standard critiques of Kant. Chapter 1: General survey. Chapter 2: Historical background (Kant, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein). Chapter 3: Basic language philosophical arguments. Chapter 4: Rejection of the quasi-transcendental model (Apel & Habermas). Chapter 5: Confrontation with Political Liberalism (the later Rawls).
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