Can’t we all just…? No, we can’t.

Jonathan Derbyshire points out a problem with anti-foundationalism for people who have moral and/or political commitments. First he quotes John Holbo in a post I would have commented on then if I’d had time –

The real problem is that Rorty’s torn between a ‘Pyrhhonist’…anti-foundational epistemology and a progressive politics, in which he would like to demand lots of social changes, for the sake of social justice. His reformist reach exceeds his justificatory good conscience. He really thinks he’s right, but doesn’t think he can give his opponents rational grounds that they are compelled to accept.

Then he adds:

In other words, Rorty’s philosophical views prevent him from justifying or defending his progressive politics – and that’s politically problematic. So it’s not just that political liberalism needn’t line up with philosophical pragmatism or anti-foundationalism: if our fundamental liberal values don’t rest on certain substantive moral commitments – if, in other words, we’re prohibited from regarding those values as true – then are they really values at all?

To put it another way: if we don’t think we can give our opponents rational grounds that they are compelled to accept, then we have a problem, and the very first thing we need to do is recognize it rather than trying to conceal it or minimize it. I’m not sure myself that we can give our opponents rational grounds that they are compelled to accept, but I see that as worrying rather than cheery, and in either case I think it’s disastrous to pretend that there is no difficulty. But that’s what anti-foundationalists often do. They pretend that ‘we can all agree’ on certain basics and that that’s enough really. But in fact we can’t agree even on certain basics, and it’s a terrible idea to pretend that we can, because then we lose track of the fact that there really are people (lots of them) who truly don’t share our commitments to human rights or equality or women’s rights or whatever it may be.

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