Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Self, Community, and Time: A Shared Sociality

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Self, Community, and Time: A Shared Sociality

Article excerpt

Community and pluralism are often held to be at odds with each other, with a choice to be made between group conformity and individualism, community obligations or individual liberty, and this dilemma in large part structures much contemporary debate. Indeed, Alasdair MacIntyre thinks America may well be founded on incompatible moral and social ideals. On the one hand, a communitarian vision of a common "telos," and on the other hand, an ideal of individualism and pluralism. Thus he holds that "we inhabit a kind of polity whose moral order requires systematic incoherence in the form of public allegiance to mutually inconsistent sets of principles."(1) These tensions, which tend to dominate reflections on community, are rooted in incompatible understandings of the nature of the self and its relation to the communal order which it inhabits, understandings which are in turn inextricably intertwined with implicit temporal issues. These interrelated issues of self, community, and temporality will be the focus of the present paper.

Before developing a pragmatically based account of this interrelationship, the ensuing discussion will very briefly explore the positions of John Rawls, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Richard Rorty to elicit certain relevant features. As a sketchy caricature, and with all the dangers sketchy caricatures involve, it can be said that Rawl's position exemplifies the individual as the source of important community arrangements, MacIntyre's the individual as the product of community arrangements, and Rorty's the freeing of the issue from ontological entanglements and presumptions.

Rawl's position is rooted in the self-interest driven principles of abstract justice formed by isolated, presocial individuals operating through a veil of ignorance as to their own position in society. It emphasizes the primacy of the individual, and the social features stem primarily from the aggregate decisions of individual selves stripped of any particular attributes. While his position, at least in A Theory of Justice, can be seen to involve an atomism in which separate individuals are ontologically prior to their unity, in "Justice as Fairness," he reinterprets his position in light of communitarian criticisms. Here he argues that the concept of "artificial agents" deliberating in the original position is a device that does not imply any particular substantive conception of the self,(2) that the artificial or abstract self does not involve a metaphysical conception of the person.(3) Yet, even this modified position does assume that a self abstracted out from its concrete relations and roles can be coherently thought of as a functioning self, and that such a "self" can be a decision maker. The self that decides in Rawl's position is a peculiarly a temporal self, isolated from its historical attributes, ends, and attachments,(4) and the frame which emerges from the debate is a peculiarly atemporal, rationally constructed frame imposed from above upon the contingencies of real life existence and isolated from the historically changing conditions within and among types of identities.(5)

Although throughout A Theory of Justice Rawls speaks of the formation of these principles though "our" intuitions, in "Justice as Fairness" he again modifies these claims in light of certain objections. In this latter work he clarifies that there is a certain ideal implied--that of Western liberal democracies--(6) and he allows that the basic values of the agent, now called "citizen," are not derived from basic intuitions but from an overlapping consensus. However, Western liberal democracies seem to embody a pluralism such that there is no considered judgment that "we" must, as Rawls claims, "look for a conception of justice that nullifies the accidents of natural endowment and the contingencies of social circumstance as counters in quest for political and economic advantage."(7) Thus, while the formation of this frame is done from a basis of atomic self-interest driven individualism, it is peculiarly nonpluralistic. …

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