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The View from Within

Normativity and the Limits of Self-Criticism

Menachem Fisch and Yitzhak Benbaji

Publication Year: 2011

The View from Within examines the character of reason and the ability of an individual to effectively distance himself from the normative framework in which he functions in order to be self-critical and innovative. To accomplish this task, Menachem Fisch and Yitzhak Benbaji critically employ or reject the recent writings of Brandom, Friedman, Frankfurt, Walzer, Davidson, Williams, Habermas, Rorty, and McDowell to offer a fundamental analysis of the character of reason and the problem of relativism. This ambitious book forcefully raises the problem of rational normative change and makes the unique and insightful claim that although we cannot be convinced by normative criticism to modify or replace our norms, we can be rationally motivated to do so by the effect of exposure to trusted critics. Its unprecedented analysis, with its solution to the problem of normative self-criticism that has baffled philosophers for the past sixty years, will be welcomed by both students and scholars of philosophy.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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pp. vii-ix

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiii

This book has been long in the making. A commitment to grounding agency in a capacity for normative self-criticism had permeated our work long before we decided to explore the prospects of joining forces in summer 2001. The initial idea to collaborate was Fisch’s, who, as reader of Benbaji’s dissertation on moral relativism...

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Chapter 1. Setting the Stage: The Problem with Rationality

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pp. 1-30

Theories of rational action fall under two main headings. The first pronounces an action rational if, given the circumstances, it is perceived to be the right or proper thing to do. To act rationally is to act in ways that, given the actor’s needs, desires, and, situation, meet expert approval. On this view, what is scrutinized in assessments...

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Part 1. Through Thick and Thin

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pp. 31-34

The special character of moral diversity and moral disagreement has long been considered the basis for a normative irrealism that has led several writers to deny in general that normative discourse is factual. In their opinion, our diverse normative commitments are to be explained by appealing to noncognitive mental...

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Chapter 2. Comparative Irrealism and Community-Based Semantics: Kripkenstein and Beyond

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pp. 35-55

Imagine a “conservative” and a “liberal” community who happen to share the same territory.1 Their relationship and proximity are “accidental”; they just happen to be neighbors, although they share different cultural heritages and are privy to different historical memories. Suppose further that the ethical outlook of the conservative...

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Chapter 3. Factuality without Realism: Normativity and the Davidsonian Approach to Meaning

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pp. 56-83

The restricted version of normative relativism presented in the previous chapter was argued for on the basis of two main premises: acknowledgment of the phenomenon of Normative Diversity and commitment to a community-based approach to meaning. The aim of the present chapter is to argue that despite his decidedly...

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Part 2. Rationality from Within

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pp. 85-91

We have sought in Part I to establish how acknowledgment of the fact of normative diversity commits the two main approaches to meaning to a restricted yet significant form of normative relativism. The arguments we offered were detailed yet, we believe, sufficiently general to enable us to ignore the otherwise substantial...

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Chapter 4. The Limits of Connectiveness: Criticism from Within and the Interpretive Account of Normativity

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pp. 92-118

According to “the interpretive account of normativity,”1 normative argumentation and rational disagreement make sense only within the assembly of institutions and practices that constitute a communal normative outlook. Normative reasoning is an interpretation of the existing practice of a particular community. So...

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Chapter 5. Rationality as Agreement: Friedman’s Special Case for Science

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pp. 119-159

Taken together, chapters 2 and 3 have argued that the very assumption of Normative Diversity commits one to a bounded, yet crucially significant form of normative relativism almost regardless of one’s approach to meaning. If normative diversity exists, or is even possible, then, we have argued, two sufficiently diverse...

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Chapter 6. Toward a Critical Pragmatism: A Brandomian Beginning

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pp. 160-190

Friedman's understanding of science and its development draws heavily on Kant, while his account of the rationality of scientific change draws on Habermas. The latter account, however, suppresses the implied disputational and deliberational nature of Habermas's communicative rationality. Still, if our reading of...

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Part 3. Normative Self-Criticism

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pp. 191-193

The key to moving forward requires going a crucial step beyond both Brandom and Walzer. In later work, as we show at the outset of chapter 7, Brandom addresses the problem of norm determination but nowhere raises the question central to our concerns here of normative modification or replacement. He offers interesting...

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Chapter 7. The Critical Stance

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pp. 194-228

For those who concede both Normative Diversity and Comparative Irrealism, the problem of rationality boils down in the first instance to whether norms can be found normatively wanting by those they bind—not merely vague, incoherent, self-contradictory, or mutually inconsistent, but wrong, bad, inappropriate...

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Chapter 8. The Achievement of Self-Criticism

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pp. 229-271

The final end of all rational discourse is the transformative moment of successful self-criticism, which reaches its high point, we would like to think, when self-applied to one’s very standards of thought and action. Normative self-criticism is also the ultimate form of criticism from within, the should-be culmination...

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Chapter 9. Science Revisited

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pp. 272-301

Rationality’s high point, that at which firm normative commitment is made to yield to self-critical review, is a moment of profound personal reckoning, yet one that is possible, we have argued, only within a social environment of keen, trusted normative criticism. Normative self-criticism becomes a philosophically...


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pp. 302-356


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pp. 357-374


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pp. 375-394

E-ISBN-13: 9780268079710
E-ISBN-10: 0268079714
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268029043
Print-ISBN-10: 0268029040

Page Count: 408
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2011