Social and Political Philosophy: Contemporary Perspectives

By James P. Sterba | Go to book overview

14

ROUTES TO LAKE WOBEGON

Claudia Card

Garrison Keillor, narrator of the popular radio show A Prairie Home Companion, reports that in Lake Wobegon all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average. Presumably, the men are strong, too, and the women also good looking, and how could the children of such parents fail to be above average? The Lake Wobegon self-image is not only idealized but, in a sense, androgynous. Whatever the realities, this ideal remains compelling, especially if we expand it to include and emphasize traits of character. But how to make such an ideal a reality? James P. Sterba has some suggestions, for here and now. I have some alternative suggestions.

In Justice for Here and Now Sterba offers a refreshing and attractive “peacemaking” way of doing philosophy. 1 He seeks practical reconciliations of alternative moral and political perspectives by drawing on positions held in common by those who have those perspectives, exploring the implications of their positions with a view to locating a compromise that honors something important, equally, in each position. He argues creatively that libertarians’ minimal interpretation of morality commits them, for all practical purposes, to acknowledging rights to welfare and equal opportunity and even to something like the equality that socialists endorse. He then applies this libertarian/welfare-liberal morality to the cases of feminist, racial, homosexual and ethnic justice.

Throughout Justice for Here and Now, philosophical argumentation is conducted in a peacemaking spirit of compromise. But Sterba also recognizes that not everything should be up for compromise. Morality, for example, is not to be compromised, although both egoism and altruism are, and morality represents the compromise between them. Feminism, likewise, is not compromisable. It is presented as the application of morality (justice) to certain kinds of issues. Yet the feminism also defended in this book is presented as itself a compromise—or intermediate—between two extreme views about women, a different sort of compromise from that of morality. One of the extremes between which it is a compromise is the view of women as merely victims. The other is the view of women as superior beings. Both

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