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Deweyan Democracy Defended

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David Rondel
Ryerson University

Robert Talisse has argued that John Dewey’s theory of democracy represents an inappropriate ideal for contemporary societies marked by what Rawls has called “the fact of pluralism”. I argue in this paper that Talisse’s argument misses its mark. First, I argue that Talisse incorrectly imbues Deweyan democracy with a coercive, oppressive dimension. Second, I argue that Talisse's argument Involves an erroneous conflation of two importantly distinct questions: (a) The Legitimacy Question, viz., “What are the justified limits of state power?” and (b) The Aspiration Question, viz., “What sorts of dispositions and attitudes ought to be encouraged in a particular society?” It would be odd to answer the second question by way of the first. For the question about a state’s legitimacy is not instructive about ethical ideals, about the kind of vision a society ought to regard as worthwhile, about what we, as a particular community, should make of ourselves. Deweyan democracy constitutes a social vision that some people will reasonably reject. But that possibility does not subtract from the ethical worthiness of the ideal. Deweyan democracy’s worthiness (if it is worthy) is not undermined or cheapened by the fact that it is an inappropriate candidate for a theory of liberal justice — by the fact that it is an unacceptable answer to the “legitimacy question”.


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