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Moral Selfhood in the Liberal Tradition

Moral Selfhood in the Liberal Tradition

PAUL FAIRFIELD
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 336
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442677371
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  • Book Info
    Moral Selfhood in the Liberal Tradition
    Book Description:

    Beginning with a wide-ranging discussion of liberal philosophers, Fairfield proposes that liberalism requires a complete reconception of moral selfhood, one that accommodates elements of the contemporary critiques without abandoning liberal individualism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7737-1
    Subjects: Philosophy
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction (pp. 3-12)

    Historically, liberalism is founded upon a gesture of opposition to political conditions at variance with autonomous individuality and to the doctrines that make those conditions possible. From the seventeenth century to contemporary times, liberal and protoliberal writers have sought to identify all that negates the free expression of individual natures and to issue a critique informed by a conception of individual agency and its conditions of possibility. Ancient and medieval doctrines both political and philosophical had given expression to a view of human beings as primarily members of a community dependent in their beliefs, ends, and identity on the social...

  5. Part One: The Metaphysics of Individuality
    • 1 The Classical Liberals (pp. 15-50)

      From its inception, liberalism′s principal aim has been to identify the conditions of the possibility of individuality. There is a part of human existence, liberalism maintains, that properly lies beyond the rule of collective opinion, beyond custom, authority, tradition, and above all beyond the legitimate reach of state power. Liberalism holds that an individual′s life ought never lack a certain sphere or jurisdiction in which one is at liberty to determine one′s own manner of living and choice of values. It was above all the values of individual freedom, autonomy, self-creation, self-expression, and civility that found expression in classical liberal...

    • 2 Utilitarian and New Liberals (pp. 51-86)

      If the self of classical liberalism was conceived primarily within the vocabulary of atomistic individualism – of materialist and idealist metaphysics, and of utilitarian economics – the notion of moral selfhood in liberal thought from the late eighteenth century to the dawn of the twentieth underwent profound transformation. Nineteenth-century liberalism contained both important elements of continuity with earlier liberal thought as well as significant modifications with respect to political principles and assumptions concerning the individual and society. That century witnessed both the appropriation of atomistic individualism in utilitarian strains of liberal doctrine as well as its wholehearted rejection in the...

    • 3 Neoclassical Liberals and Communitarian Critics (pp. 87-140)

      If it is an accurate observation that the liberal tradition from Hobbes to Hobhouse is characterized by considerable diversity, at the levels of political ideology, methodology, and the view of the self, the observation still more adequately describes liberal theorists of the twentieth century. The assortment of twentieth-century writers working in this tradition ranges broadly at the level of ideology from egalitarian social democrats, barely distinguishable from moderate socialists, to libertarians at the opposite end of the spectrum; while at the methodological level liberal doctrine has been defended on a variety of grounds from nineteenth-century utilitarianism to contractarianism to new...

  6. Part Two: The Politics of Individuality
    • 4 Changing the Subject, Refashioning the Liberal Self (pp. 143-183)

      The communitarian critique serves as a reminder of the pressing need for the liberal tradition to overcome in a more thoroughgoing and radical fashion the legacy of Hobbes in conceiving liberalism′s fundamental unit of analysis, the individual agent. While the inference frequently drawn by communitarians and those on the political left that a historicized and socialized conception of the self entails a socialized, collectivized, or otherwise illiberal conception of justice fails for the reasons mentioned in Chapter 3, it would be a mistake for liberals to reject outright the substance of the communitarian argument, thus failing to appropriate important lessons...

    • 5 Rational Agency (pp. 184-209)

      Zoon logon exon: In these words Greek philosophy defined the human being as the being that possesses thelogos. As beings that ′by nature desire to know,′ as Aristotle famously expressed it in the opening sentence of theMetaphysics, human beings are endowed with rational natures which constitute our defining characteristic and elevate us above the order of nonhuman nature. Reason has from the time of Plato been understood as a faculty of cognition – the ′eye of the mind′ – which ascertains the truth about the world either directly or through the mediation of mental representations.

      In modern times...

    • 6 The Political Conditions of Agency (pp. 210-241)

      Since the Enlightenment, political thought has been torn between two conflicting impulses at the levels of both political ideology and social ontology. One views the constitution of the individual agent as the foundation of all political legitimacy. Its underlying moral passion lies with the freedom of the individual to fashion its life in accordance with its own choices as well as its liberation from all unchosen obligations. The principal function of government, in this view, is to secure the conditions that allow for the expression of individual natures. The second impulse favours collective mutuality and the ties that bind individuals...

  7. Conclusion (pp. 242-246)

    Conceptions of moral selfhood in the liberal tradition have undergone periodic transformation in response to either political critiques (primarily from the left), advances in scientific knowledge, or developments in other areas of philosophy which bear on the notions of individuality, community, and rationality. Assumptions both metaphysical, ontological, psychological, sociological, economic, and moral regarding the constitution of the self as a moral and political agent on which the classical liberal problematic was originally premised were fundamentally reconceived in the decades of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Mill, Green, Hobhouse, Hobson, and Dewey. What each of these figures perceived...

  8. Notes (pp. 247-260)
  9. Bibliography (pp. 261-274)
  10. Index (pp. 275-278)