Rebirth of Reason

Favorite EditSanction this itemFrom Rationality to Equality by James P. Sterba
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From Rationality to Equality
Since Socrates and Plato, there have been philosophers arguing that morality is a requirement of rationality. Kant made an original and influential pitch for such a thesis. James Sterba, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, makes his own attempt in From Rationality to Equality (Oxford 2013), hewing closer to Kant’s conception of the way morality is necessitated by rationality than to Aristotle’s or Rand’s.

Many contemporary moral philosophers do not think any defense of morality on account of rationality is possible, though Aristotelian, Hobbesian, and Kantian ethics pulling the other way are also prevalent. Prof. Sterba has some affinity with Kant, as I said, but he argues Kant “relies too heavily on a commitment to an incompatibilist conception of freedom, failing to recognize that additional grounds are required if morality is to be shown to be rationally preferable to egoism” (2).*

Having arrived at rationally required morality, which he regards as a libertarian morality, Sterba proceeds to argue that it entails substantial equality, indeed egalitarianism and welfare liberalism. Sterba’s program is in contrast to that of Rawls, who did not attempt to derive morality from rationality nor equality from liberty. Sterba has conversed with libertarians who are professional philosophers for years. He knows what they are saying and aims to dissuade them, starting that dissuasion with his arguments for significant shared positions.

In this academic book, Sterba does not sweep Ayn Rand under the rug. He engages Rand, drawing on her essays in The Virtue of Selfishness and on The Fountainhead. He engages a little with Nozick 1974, and he engages in more extended argument with Tibor Machan, Eric Mack, and Jan Narveson. Sociological aside: in his Selected Bibliography, journal articles listed by Sterba include a couple from Social Philosophy & Policy, but none from The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies or Reason Papers. Perhaps the circle of academic readership of JARS and RP do not extend so far as Sterba.

* Sterba takes amoralism to be a form of immorality and egoism to be a form of immorality, perhaps the same one.
    While egoism is an ethical perspective because it provides norms about how one should behave, it is not what I would regard as a moral perspective because it never requires a person to sacrifice her overall interest for the sake of others. Yet even when egoism is seen in this way as an ethical, not a moral, perspective, the egoist can still be regarded as immoral when she fails to conform to requirements of morality. (22n2)
Added by Stephen Boydstun
on 2/01, 6:59am

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