Top political philosophy books of the noughties

by Chris Bertram on December 17, 2009

Jacob Levy is asking his Facebook friends to nominate their tips for the best political philosophy books (best, most enduring, most interesting) of the decade that Brits are now referring to as “the noughties”. Global justice has obviously been the defining topic, but, whist there have been some good books on the issue, I can’t bring myself to think that any of them will be thought of as essential reading in 20 years or so, in the way that some of the offerings of the 1970s and 1980s still are today. I can’t really think beyond If You’re an Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich? (2000) and Rescuing Justice and Equality (2008). But then, as a former Jerry Cohen pupil, I’m biased. Nominations?

{ 62 comments }

1

Javier 12.17.09 at 6:55 pm

I would say two plausible candidates are:

Jeff McMahan, Killing in War
Samuel Scheffler, Boundaries and Allegiances

2

Matt 12.17.09 at 7:30 pm

I’ll leave aside books by friends/former teachers and the like, and will say that I feel unsure about calling things “best”, as there are just too many things that I didn’t read and I’m unsure what will endure, given how that depends a lot on things we cannot know, but a few books from the ’00s that I found very interesting, learned a lot from, and enjoyed include Matthew Gibney’s The Ethics and Politics of Asylum (the best philosophical book on immigration related issues I’ve read), David Miller’s National Responsibility and Global Justice (the best book I’ve read by him, though I disagree at many points), Jan-Werner Muller’s Constitutional Patriotism (the best, or at least most interesting, account of a non-nationalist but not strongly cosmopolitan position I’ve seen), and Anthony Simon Laden’s Reasonably Radical (a very interesting attempt to meld ideas from Rawls and Catherine MacKinnon, along with a good discussion of Hegel and Rousseau.)

(I really liked and profited from Scheffler’s book, too, but given that it was a collection of articles, mostly published before ’01, I’m not as inclined to include it here.)

3

Dan Butt 12.17.09 at 7:50 pm

Two books which I really enjoyed are Liam Murphy’s Moral Demands in Nonideal Theory (2000) and David Schmidtz’s Elements of Justice (2006). I disagree with the overall argument of the former and with almost everything in the latter, but they’re terrific books.

4

Brett 12.17.09 at 7:56 pm

Unlike Matt, I’ll shamelessly recommend two books by people I like:

(1) Right now Robert Dahl is looking pretty relevant for a variety of reasons, so how about: How Democratic Is the American Constitution? (2002).

(2) My old grad school colleague Corey Robin’s work on fear is pretty interesting (as I recall from drafts of parts of the dissertation that eventually became the book): Fear: Biography of an Idea (2004). If you think part of the task of political philosophy is to illuminate partially hidden (but consequential) aspects of contemporary political culture, Corey’s work fits the bill.

5

Russell Arben Fox 12.17.09 at 8:09 pm

Here are ten political theory/political philosophy/history of political thought books from the past ten years that stand out in my mind, and strike me as potentially having a lasting influence, either on the relevant scholarship or as foundational works or both:

Daniel A. Bell, East Meets West
G.A. Cohen, Why Not Socialism?
Jean Bethke Elshtain, Soveriegnty: God, State, and Self
Mark Lilla, The Stillborn God
Sankar Muthu, Enlightenment Against Empire
Nancy Rosenblum, On the Side of Angels
Michael Sandel, Justice
Rogers M. Smith, Stories of Peoplehood
Charles Taylor, A Secular Age
Jeremy Waldron, God, Locke, and Equality

All of these were new, stand-alone books when they were published, not collections of essays. If we wanted to include any of those, I would add Sheldon Wolin’s update of Politics and Vision, Cohen’s If You’re an Egalitarian, and probably several others.

6

Harry 12.17.09 at 9:05 pm

I think God Locke and Equality is pretty fantastic. I like Murphy’s book a lot too: does it really count as being in political philosophy? I’d go with GL andE or Rescuing.

7

LFC 12.17.09 at 9:06 pm

It’s addressed to a broad audience rather than just a scholarly one, but Alan Wolfe’s The Future of Liberalism is a book that I recently read and reviewed. Not flawless, but very readable and, in parts, interesting.

8

Chris Brooke 12.17.09 at 9:51 pm

Istvan Hont, Jealousy of Trade
Michael Sonenscher, Before the Deluge
John Robertson, The Case for the Enlightenment

9

Maurice Meilleur 12.17.09 at 10:11 pm

Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics
George Harris, Reason’s Grief
Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness

10

Maurice Meilleur 12.17.09 at 10:12 pm

And if you’re willing to consider an essay that was only finally published in book form in the 2000s: Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit

11

Greg 12.18.09 at 12:58 am

I haven’t quite finished it yet, but Sen’s The Idea of Justice certainly seems to be a contender.

12

loren 12.18.09 at 1:09 am

been falling out of love with scholarly books of late. rarely find much that couldn’t have been said in a few judiciously constructed articles. increasingly appreciating trees over tomes.

13

Ruchira 12.18.09 at 2:36 am

I’m curious what people think of Serena Olsaretti’s Liberty, Desert, and the Market? I haven’t read it, but was intrigued by the summary of her argument in David Singh Grewal’s Network Power.

14

Salient 12.18.09 at 4:25 am

I’m going to call it in the air (and probably get rightfully creamed for it as I have no expertise whatsoever) and nominate The Idea of Human Rights by Charles Beitz, and maybe On Human Rights by James Griffin.

Also: +1 to Sen, if we’re voting as well as suggesting new possibilities…

15

Chris Henrichsen 12.18.09 at 6:16 am

I am having a bit of a hard time. Many of my initial choices turned out to actually be from the 1990s.
Here are a few shots:
Mandle. What’s Left of Liberalism? An Interpretation and Defense of Justice as Fairness (2000).

Barry. Culture and Equality: An Egalitarian Critique of Multiculturalism (2001).

Pogge. World Poverty and Human Rights (2002)

Nussbaum. Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (2006)

Still, I agree with Chris that these will not stand up in the way that the greats of the 1970s and 1980s have.

16

novakant 12.18.09 at 6:23 am

Some very interesting suggestions, or so it seems to me at least. I really wish I had the time or the head for this right now – maybe I can get away with just reading the reviews…

17

Matt 12.18.09 at 11:30 am

I didn’t want to get into discussing other people’s works, but since the new Sen volume has been mentioned twice now by people who haven’t finished or even read it, let me suggest that it is in fact not that good. (I finished it a little bit ago.) I’ll soften that- for non-philosophers it’s likely to seem like an inspiring volume, and if it can help make people in development, economics, etc. think about things other than GNP or whatever it will be useful. But as a work of philosophy it’s not very good at all. Much of it is devoted to criticism of Rawls that’s based on, at best, seriously contentious readings. I’d go further and say that they are pretty gross mis-readings. That alone was very annoying. (I suspect that welfarists will also find his attacks unfair but am less able to say for sure.) Next, the positive theory is a hodge-podge of ideas that are not at all clear and do not add up to a theory of, or even really an idea of, justice. It’s also not in the least clear how they would be applied, and this is more of a flaw than one would normally think in a philosophy book as Sen makes real-world applicability one of his goals. We are left with a vague intuitionism where we are supposed to compare different states of the world (possible or actual) in pair-wise ways, but with multiple, partly incompatible, values being considered in each pair. We then pick the one that’s most just. How this is supposed to be done is left a complete mystery. The book is also over-long. Many people have mentioned the invocation of Indian history, stories, and philosophy, but as far as I could see this was all a side-show: they really added nothing and could have been just left out. One could write several interesting types of books using these examples- exploring their history, working out a full theory in light of the, and so on, but Sen doesn’t do either- they just clutter things up. Finally, every idea he’s ever had is in there, whether it moves things forward or not. The book is a sort of vague, rambling summing up of a great man’s life. If you want that it’s a fine book, but as philosophy it’s not good at all. People would be much better off spending the time reading his earlier works.

18

engels 12.18.09 at 11:39 am

been falling out of love with scholarly books of late. rarely find much that couldn’t have been said in a few judiciously constructed articles

I believe that several of the books nominated above are essentially reprintings of a few judiciously constructed articles…

19

Cord 12.18.09 at 12:45 pm

Two very recent books on political authority are among the best I’ve read in the field in the last couple of years:

Anna Stilz: Liberal Loyalty. PUP 2009

Arthur Ripstein: Force and Freedom. HUP 2009

I also loved A. John Simmons’ brief introduction “political philosophy” published at OUP last year. I think it is the first serious contender for Kymlicka’s classic “contemporary political philosophy”.

20

Russell Arben Fox 12.18.09 at 12:49 pm

We are left with a vague intuitionism where we are supposed to compare different states of the world (possible or actual) in pair-wise ways, but with multiple, partly incompatible, values being considered in each pair. We then pick the one that’s most just. How this is supposed to be done is left a complete mystery.

Matt expresses my own take on the basic argument of the book very well. I liked Taylor’s A Secular Age, so I’m hardly in a position of complaining about books being rambling and overlong, but Taylor’s at least connects, repeatedly and accurately, with deep and hard philosophical and moral questions. Sen’s book, by contrast, when it comes to such questions, essentially insists that thinking about justice shouldn’t be that hard. (Because we all know slavery is bad, right? So there you go.)

21

Pete 12.18.09 at 1:58 pm

I have Ripstein’s “Force and Freedom,” and though I haven’t read it yet, I have read several of the articles that provide the source material for the book. I find it to be an excellent account of Kant’s political philosophy that, among other things, provides a compelling defense for the special moral status of the basic structure of society.

I’d also nominate Rawls’ “Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy.” It isn’t “Theory,” of course, but it’s stellar as a history text.

22

Matt 12.18.09 at 3:57 pm

Something I feel foolish for forgetting in my first list is Allen Buchanan’s Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination. It’s the best philosophical book around on international law and very important for those thinking about global justice and legal theory more generally.

23

Jon Quong 12.18.09 at 4:51 pm

I agree with both of Chris B’s initial recommendations, though I’d say Rescuing is the deeper, more important book. I also agree with Dan B’s two suggestions (and his opinions of them), as well as Javier’s recommendation of McMahan’s Killing in War, which is fantastic. But I’m really surprised that no one so far has mentioned what seems to me the most obvious choice: Dworkin’s Sovereign Virtue (2000). OK, it’s really a collection of papers, but for me it is roughly tied (with Rescuing) for most important and likely-to-be-enduring book of the decade.

24

Chris Bertram 12.18.09 at 5:31 pm

The trouble with the Dworkin is that most of the important stuff in it is from the 1980s (and the early 80s at that), so nominating it as one of the books of the 00s is a bit perverse.

25

Jim Johnson 12.18.09 at 6:24 pm

I’m going to change the subject slightly to an assessment of the past decade. If the books mentioned here – including many fine ones, I’d add – are the best political theorists have produced, the enterprise is in a sorry state. There is not a single title mentioned thus far that has staying power in the field. And I’d argue that not a single one will be noticed outside the field (Sen’s recent work perhaps will be an exception but manly because he is an economist). I’d say we face a sort of stultifying scholasticism.

I’d be interested in reactions.

26

Chris Bertram 12.18.09 at 6:29 pm

Some very odd remarks there Jim. Some of the books are very recent, so it is a bit early to say whether thay have “staying power in the field”, but I’d bet on the Cohens here (and Waldron GLE). Taylor, which I personally disliked, has had plenty of notice outside the field.

27

kmack 12.18.09 at 7:22 pm

Odd, indeed. Though I mainly read what I “have to” in philosophy, I have been struck by the vibrancy and diversity of political philosophy over the last ten years. By comparison, I’m sad to say, ethics–normative and meta–seems stagnant, entrenched in tired or refashioned debates carried on with increasing rigor.

28

Questioner 12.18.09 at 7:24 pm

What’s wrong with the Taylor book? Have you mentioned its defects elsewhere?

29

Harry 12.18.09 at 8:31 pm

I’d bet on the second Cohen (not the first), Waldron (GLE), Buchanan, Barry, Pogge, and Nussbaum all being attended to outside the field (plus, obviously, Sen and Sandel). As for staying power — well, again, the second Cohen, Buchanan, Nussbaum (Frontiers) and Waldron all have it (probably). What, from the eighties, do we still read? (That’s not the rhetorical question it seems to be, I’m curious).

30

Matt 12.18.09 at 9:00 pm

What, from the eighties, do we still read?

This will vary for different values of “we”, but political philosophy books published in the 80’s that I still see discussed, at least sometimes, include:
MacIntryre’s After Virtue
Shue’s Basic Rights
Okin’s Justice, Gender, and the Family (1st edition came out in Dec. ’89)
Dworkin’s Law’s Empire
Simmon’s Moral Principles and Political Obligations
Raz’s The Morality of Freedom
Gauthier’s Morals by Agreement (though arguably not political philosophy)
Larmore’s Patters of Moral Complexity (partly political phil.)
Pateman’s The Sexual Contract (often ignored by philosophers but important and interesting, not ignored by others)
Sandel’s Liberalism and the Limits of Justice
Walzer’s Spheres of Justice
And probably others I’m not thinking of. (Some Habermas probably falls in here, too, but I’m not sure when the various books were published, especially if we look at the dates for the German publications rather than the translations.) Again, whether “we” still read these books or not depends on who “we” is, but I’ve seen all of them discussed, and not just to be dismissed, in articles and books published in the last several years.

31

Harry 12.18.09 at 9:05 pm

Thanks Matt. Almost all of those are ones I do read, and with the exception of Raz I have in my head that they are from the 70s and 90s (MacIntyre, Shue, Simmons, Sandel, Walzer in the 70s; Okin, Larmore in the 90’s). The ones I think of as being from the 70s were, presumably, written then!

32

Russell Arben Fox 12.18.09 at 9:53 pm

Matt, your forgot Taylor, Sources of the Self (Harvard, 1989). If MacIntryre, Raz, and Gauthier can make a list of “political philosophy,” then Taylor’s work certainly does as well.

33

Matt 12.18.09 at 9:57 pm

Sure Russell- I was basing my list almost entirely by what’s in my library, so can’t say it’s representative. (I have some other Taylor, but not that one.)

34

djw 12.19.09 at 2:53 am

My tastes lie a bit more toward political theory than political philosophy:

Honig, Democracy and the Foreigner
Fraser, Scales of Justice
Rosenblum, On the Side of Angels
Benhabib (and Honig, Waldron, Kymlicka), Another Cosmopolitanism
Richardson, Democratic Autonomy
Young, Inclusion and Democracy (if 2000 counts)
Connolly, Pluralism

As to the question about what will endure, we collectively have no idea. It’s fun to speculate, but silly to think we’ve got any kind of a handle on it.

35

Jim Johnson 12.19.09 at 4:52 am

Chris,

I was not clear. I’d bet none have much staying power in the sense of being “essential reading” in a couple of decades. And I am pretty confident too that none will have much impact outside a narrow readership in political theory/philosophy.

Cohen’s Why Not Socialism? is a repackaged article. (I really like the repackaging, but still …) His recent argument against Rawlsi (however smart) is, to my mind, an insider’s game. The same goes for Waldron’s Locke. Unless you are concerned with the history of ideas – and of liberalism in particular – I don’t see much outside impact. It wi ll be another citation in a long list (C.B. MacPherson anyone?) but is not bound to set the world off its axis. As a set of lectures it is not meant to do so.

I am not saying that this (in either case) is not smart work. But it is not setting an agenda. And it surely is not going to have influence across disciplines or outside the academy. (Again, that is a bet or a prediction.)

Taylor’s book might be the best bet to meet the second expectation. But its heft alone will likely make it oft cited, little read.

If we combine the nineties & the ‘noughties’ there is nothing to rival: Social Choice & Individual Values; The Human Condition; A Theory of Justice; Anarchy, State & Utopia; The Theory of Communicative Action; Discipline & Punish …. indeed, I’d add Karl Marx’s Theory of History to that list!

Maybe I’m being unfair. It may simply be year-end despair at the state of the field. But as I look down the title’s people have suggested, I don’t have much enthusiasm.

Jim

36

Jim Johnson 12.19.09 at 4:54 am

PS: Along with Taylor in terms of having influence more broadly, perhaps Pogge too. But I feel (again perhaps unfairly) that he is playing out the Rawlsian string.

37

Chris Bertram 12.19.09 at 8:20 am

To the 80s list, I’d add Mike Taylor’s, _Community, Anarchy and Liberty_ and Bob Goodin’s books _Protecting the Vulnerable_ and _Reasons for Welfare_.

38

Chris Bertram 12.19.09 at 8:41 am

Well I agree there is something to what you say, Jim.

The big flourishing (1970s and 1980s) seem to me to be the results of analytical philosophers with political committments (post-68/cold war) trying to get those commitments straight. A lot of subsequent work had to do with further refinement of the initial attempts. Since then we’ve seen two big developements:

1. A kind of normalization, with keepers of the Rawlsian flame (having seen off the communitarians) repeating pat answers to all objectors and sometimes coming close to enforcing an orthodoxy via institutional controls (see PPA, passim …). Cohen (GA) is the great outlier here: too big and smart to be ignored or disciplined.

2. A switch to the application of earlier work to specific topics: notably, global justice. Here you get the same kind of normalization, but at least there’s a bifurcation in the ranks of Rawlsianism with the orthodox (Freeman, Nagel, Blake etc) not getting it all their own way against a different brand of the same franchise (Pogge, Tan …).

All a massive caricature, I know…..

39

Chris Brooke 12.19.09 at 9:44 am

Oh, and to add to my earlier list: Frederick Neuhouser, Foundations of Hegel’s Social Theory.

40

LFC 12.19.09 at 2:25 pm

Kai Nielsen, Equality and Liberty: A Defense of Radical Egalitarianism (1985) was an ’80s book that I read — well, read parts of. (Mixed reaction.)

Returning to the noughties: Has anyone here read Joe Schwartz’s recent book (Future of Democratic Equality)? I haven’t.

41

Russell Arben Fox 12.19.09 at 3:50 pm

David,

Benhabib (and Honig, Waldron, Kymlicka), Another Cosmopolitanism

Good call. That’s an excellent essay-with-responses volume.

Chris,

with keepers of the Rawlsian flame, having seen off the communitarians…

Are the communitarians aware that they’ve been sent off? Perhaps outside of Etzioni and his crowd few people use the communitarian language which many pushed in the 80s, but if you look at the whole communitarian argument broadly, which would surely include debates over social capital, civil society, republicanism, and virtue ethics, and thus would include folks as diverse as Elshtain, Sandel, Pettit, and many others, it seems to me that the communitarian response(s) to Rawls continue quite vibrantly.

42

anxiousmodernman 12.19.09 at 6:16 pm

My votes go to two recent books, one big and juicy, the other short and sweet.

G.A. Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality
Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics

43

Tom Hurka 12.19.09 at 9:48 pm

I like Chris’s comment #1, about the keepers of the Rawlsian flame enforcing orthodoxy via institutional controls (see The Journal of Rawlsian Studies, passim). I don’t see any caricature there at all.

But about “seeing off the communitarians”: one of the very bad things about 1980s political philosophy was its assumption that there are only two serious views: Rawlsian liberalism and communitarianism. But communitarianism was a mixture of independent views that don’t have to be accepted together, e.g. you can be a non-neutralist about the good in political philosophy but no kind of relativist, i.e. you don’t think that what’s good in a culture depends on culture-relative facts such as what its members believe, and you can also be entirely individualist about the good. The Rawlsians thought that by dismissing the crazy parts of the communitarian mix they were dismissing all alternatives to themselves. Not remotely true!

And I can’t believe that people are seriously suggesting Geuss’s book for this list.

44

djw 12.19.09 at 10:16 pm

Russell, I’ve found myself thinking that a) Another Cosmopolitanism is considerably more engaging and successful than Benhabib’s two previous books (both of which were perfectly fine), and b) perhaps (a) is evidence for some version of the deliberative thesis. (Although most essays+responses books don’t work out anywhere near that well.)

45

Ingrid Robeyns 12.20.09 at 12:27 pm

Tom Hurka @43: I haven’t read Geuss’s book, but since it’s on my wish-list, would you mind elaborating a little?

46

Russell Arben Fox 12.20.09 at 1:51 pm

[A]bout “seeing off the communitarians”: one of the very bad things about 1980s political philosophy was its assumption that there are only two serious views: Rawlsian liberalism and communitarianism. But communitarianism was a mixture of independent views that don’t have to be accepted together

Very true, Tom. “Communitarianism” potentially describes a huge range of philosophical and moral views, from Aristotelians to natural law types to Tocquevillians to socialists. (Indeed, if you agree with the critiques of people like Andrew Sabl, Cohen is a communitarian too!) As handy a label as it may be, giving it a single theoretical expression was always going to be next to impossible (I do my best here); for Rawlsian liberals and other egalitarian individualists to assume that there was only one kind of communitarian argument which stood in the way of the triumph of their theory was an annoying presumption which I, at least, felt that I was encountering again and again as I worked through this stuff in the 90s.

David,

I’ve found myself thinking that a) Another Cosmopolitanism is considerably more engaging and successful than Benhabib’s two previous books (both of which were perfectly fine)

You’re a better reader of theory, or more generous (or both), than I: I haven’t actually made it through any of Benhabib’s earlier books. I’ve learned much from several of her essays, though.

47

Jacob T. Levy 12.20.09 at 3:11 pm

I’m struck by Chris Bertram’s initial comment “Global justice has obviously been the defining topic.” Do others think that’s obviously so?

If it is so, has it been “defining” in anything like the sweeping way that justice as such was for the 70s, communitarianism and distributive justice/ ‘equality of what’ were for the 80s, and deliberative democracy and multiculturalism/ nationalism/ recognition/ etc were for the 90s?

I guess it’s been the most frequent topic in PPA; and it’s one of the few topics I can think of that’s shared by two or more of my own inchoate list of books (Buchanan’s and Miller’s). But it’s also seemed very self-contained to me, whereas those ‘defining topics’ of the 70s/ 80s/ 90s tended to draw people in– lots of people who weren’t devoting their whole intellectual projects to the subject nonetheless decided that they either wanted to bring the subject to bear on their own interests or wanted to bring their own interests to bear on the subject.

From where I sit there are two trends that I’ve noticed a lot more frequently. One is that work in democratic theory has gotten much, much better than was typically the case during the 90s boom– sometimes philosophically deeper and richer (Christiano, Estlund); often institutionally engaged at a much more serious and sophisticated level (Ober, Rehfeld, Schwartzberg, Brettschneider, Fung and collaborators, Goodin’s new book, Rosenblum, Young, etc.) And the second is the attempt to broaden post-Rawlsian liberal and democratic theories to take better account of emotions, passions, and affect, including in particular the use of rhetoric in democratic politics as a way of reaching others (Nussbaum, Garsten, Krause, Elster, the Kingston ed. volume, etc.) Without being a part of any of the three, I guess I’ve noticed interesting conversations going on in these two areas more often than I’ve noticed them in global justice.

Still thinking about my own list of books, though it’s got overlap with Chris Brooke’s, djw’s, and (to a lesser extent) Russell’s. And I’m sure it includes one that hasn’t been mentioned here: J.G.A. Pocock’s Barbarism and Religion.

48

Kieran Healy 12.20.09 at 3:36 pm

Patters of Moral Complexity

This would be a great name for a book.

49

Chris Bertram 12.20.09 at 3:46 pm

On “seeing off the communitarians”, perhaps I should elaborate ….

What I meant was that the keepers of the Rawlsian flame answered “the communitarian critique of liberalism” ™ to their own satisfaction, and moved on. I think, by the way, that insofar as that critique amounted to the specific points made by, say, Sandel, in LLJ, the Rawlsians were basically correct to announce victory (since Guttman, Kymlicka and Pogge – to name but three, hit him for six on his understandings of Rawls). I didn’t mean to suggest that any critique of liberalism that might plausibly be labelled “communitarian” had been seen off.

However, I would also say that the communitarian text most mentioned in the thread (Taylor’s A Secular Age) struck me as an ill-focused historical ramble rather than a decent bit of argument and that Taylor’s yearnings for the enchanted consciousness of the middle ages didn’t enlighten (sorry!) all that much for me.

50

Brian 12.20.09 at 3:55 pm

Tom Hurka reviews the Geuss book here:
http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=15086

Having read the book a few weeks ago, it seems to me a wholly fair assessment. The book is an almost complete disappointment, esp. for those like Hurka or myself who are well-disposed towards a Rawls skewering. Much of the discussion of Rawls proceeds at a level of sophomoric mischaracterization. There are two chapters in Geuss’s book “Outside Ethics” which are much better on Rawls than anything in this book. The strongest complaint he musters here is a version of the one Hare first made decades ago about the method of ‘reflective equilibrium,’ namely, that such a method has no way of checking the moral correctness of the intuitions that are baseline data points for the theory (Geuss frames the point in terms of such intuitions being possibly ideological in the pejorative sense).

51

Russell Arben Fox 12.20.09 at 5:45 pm

I would also say that the communitarian text most mentioned in the thread (Taylor’s A Secular Age) struck me as an ill-focused historical ramble rather than a decent bit of argument and that Taylor’s yearnings for the enchanted consciousness of the middle ages didn’t enlighten (sorry!) all that much for me.

Fair enough, Chris; as I said (I think over on Jacob’s original Facebook entry) I think A Secular Age is a complete mess of a book, but a glorious mess, bursting with fascinating ideas. I would add, though, that I would be hard pressed to make an accounting of that book which resulted in it being labeled a “communitarian text.” Those sorts of arguments, however varied, aren’t central to its thesis (or theses) at all. If Taylor penned anything truly “communitarian” (however defined) in the last ten years, it wasn’t A Secular Age, but rather his contributions to the Bouchard-Taylor report on Quebec (which I would argue deserves to be taken seriously as a work of public political theorizing).

Jacob, give us your list!

52

Donald Johnson 12.20.09 at 6:53 pm

“I think A Secular Age is a complete mess of a book, but a glorious mess,”

Maybe I’ll give it a third try. (I’m just a layperson, but as a Christian interested, at least in theory, in what Taylor has to say. In practice I just couldn’t get more than 50-100 pages into it.)

53

Hidari 12.20.09 at 8:59 pm

I haven’t read (or, for that matter, heard of) any of the books published above, and so therefore feel free to recommend a book that none of you will have read or heard of.

Michael Steinberg’s The Fiction of a Thinkable World: Body, Meaning and the Culture of Capitalism, strikes me as being one of the genuinely great books of our era, unifying contemporary cognitive psychology, contemporary political philosophy, geography, history, and moral philosophy in a genuinely stimulating and profound manner.

David Graeber correctly states: that (this book) ‘is a groundbreaking work of ethical theory and a fascinating read. I don’t know if this book will be considered important fifty years from now. But I certainly hope so, because it deserves to be.’

http://www.monthlyreview.org/books/fictionthinkableworld.php

54

Yarrow 12.21.09 at 2:05 am

Hidari@53: I just ordered The Fiction of a Thinkable World. Thanks for the reference.

55

djw 12.21.09 at 2:41 am

But it’s also seemed very self-contained to me, whereas those ‘defining topics’ of the 70s/ 80s/ 90s tended to draw people in—lots of people who weren’t devoting their whole intellectual projects to the subject nonetheless decided that they either wanted to bring the subject to bear on their own interests or wanted to bring their own interests to bear on the subject.

Jacob, I take no position on whether global justice has been the defining issue of the 00’s, but I do think that if you take a broader view of what constitutes the literature on global justice than an intra-Rawlsian debate about the the boundaries of distributive justice, it has drawn a number of people in. Not just young scholars, but notable senior scholars whose work wasn’t directly about global political theory before but have recently turned their attention to the subject include: Fraser, Nagel, Young, Habermas, Miller, Connolly, Benhabib, Singer, Derrida, Connolly, Dallmyar…

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djw 12.21.09 at 3:37 am

Obviously there was an html tag failure, I meant to highlight the first para as Jacob’s…

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Hidari 12.21.09 at 9:15 am

#54 Judging by your website, I think you will particularly enjoy it.

Merry Christmas!

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Praisegod Barebones 12.21.09 at 1:04 pm

One book writtne in the last 10 years which I think should have got more attention from people working in analytic political philosophy is Philip Kitcher’s Scıence Truth and Democracy

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Praisegod Barebones 12.21.09 at 1:04 pm

written, even.

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Tom Hurka 12.21.09 at 5:59 pm

Ingrid:

Just back to the thread, and Brian at #50 links to my review of Geuss, which actually is more polite than it could be. Geuss huffs and puffs about an alternative view he has but doesn’t do anything to show that it’s even coherent, and his criticisms of Nozick and Rawls are juvenile and unfair. (Those of Nozick, e.g., assume tjat the whole content of ASN is given in its first sentence.) Enough said.

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donpaskini 12.22.09 at 1:43 am

One book which no one has mentioned which I enjoyed is ‘the Persistence of Poverty’ by Charles Karelis.

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David Morrice 12.23.09 at 9:59 am

Very interesting as all this speculation and judgement has been, I think it might be premature. The decade now known as the noughties does not end until 2010 does. I know it is ten years since we celebrated the new millennium, but we were one year early then also. I understand that in 2010 Dworkin publishes his new book on justice, which might well be a contender.

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