Provisional Politics

Provisional Politics: Kantian Arguments in Policy Context

elisabeth ellis
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Provisional Politics
    Book Description:

    If we are to vindicate moral reasoning in politics, Elisabeth Ellis argues in this original and provocative work, we must focus on the conditions of political discourse rather than the contents of any particular ethical system. Written in an engaging, direct style,Provisional Politicsbuilds on Ellis's prize-winning interpretation of Kant's theory of provisional right to construct a new theory of justice under conditions of agency and plurality. She develops this new perspective through a series of cases ranging from the treatment of AIDS widows in Kenya to the rights of non-citizens everywhere, as well as the clash between democratic decision-making and the politics of species conservation. The book concludes with a sobering discussion of the probable limits of political agency.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15205-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. 1 introduction to provisional theory
    (pp. 1-22)

    Why do we fail so often to explain ourselves as a polity? Why is there such an enormous gap between our professed principles and our practical action? It is not simply that our political principles are mere feel-good balm, meant to soften the reality of interest-based politics. If this were so, we would behave very differently. Nor does this problem reflect any genuine divide between realists and idealists, fighting for temporary advantage and muddling our policies as we go. The problem, I argue in this book, is that our language of competing conclusive political principles is inadequate to the immense...

  5. 2 provisionalism and democratic theory
    (pp. 23-52)

    Democratic theory is a particularly good place for a book on provisionalism to begin; provisional theory’s insistence that theorists themselves ought not to attempt to reach particular policy outcomes that transcend temporal, geographical, and policy context is at least antipaternalist if not essentially democratic.¹ The task for provisional democratic theory will be to investigate the conditions of possibility for the principle of affected interest, that most abstract of democratic precepts. The principle of affected interest—roughly, that one ought to have a say in the policies that affect one—is of course not the only possible gloss of democratic principle....

  6. 3 provisionality and property
    (pp. 53-83)

    Provisionalism should allow us to respect the ubiquitous role played by moral discourse in politics without mistakenly reifying particular principles. We should be able to recognize the power of ethical arguments when and where they matter, and to locate the conditions under which different kinds of arguments are more and less possible. In this chapter, I demonstrate this sort of provisionalist enterprise with regard to the crucial case of property rights.

    Discussion of property rights among philosophers and political theorists tends to fall into one of two categories: either property rights are taken as self-evident natural rights and their consequences...

  7. 4 citizenship and provisional right
    (pp. 84-113)

    In this chapter, I argue that a provisionalist point of view supports the revision of currently prevailing views of citizenship away from the idea of citizenship as status and toward the idea of citizenship as standing. I draw an analogy between the judicial processes for establishing a person’s standing to enforce legal rights (the person must have a sufficient and protectable interest in the case) and a possible policy-based alternative to traditional geographically, culturally, or genetically based citizenship. Though they constitute an interesting empirical set of observations for a provisional theory of citizenship, nonnational voting rights cases do not overcome...

  8. 5 provisional and conclusive environmental politics
    (pp. 114-149)

    The coastal California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica) has the wrong personality for an endangered species.¹ It is loud, easy to find, and friendly. California gnatcatchers reside in the same small area over long periods of time, reappearing regularly to amuse the watcher with mewing calls and tail flips. To experience the presence of a member of an endangered species at first hand, one might be supposed to have to trek far into the wilderness, scale hundred-foot trees (for a spotted owl), risk one’s neck on precipice (for a peregrine falcon), or at least get pretty well torn up by chaparral...

  9. 6 conclusions
    (pp. 150-158)

    Environmental policy is a limit case for provisional right. Provisional theory contends that the facts of agency and plurality lead to a politics of permanent contestation. Adam Przeworski’s remark about democracy applies to provisional politics as well: “The essential feature of democracy is that nothing is decided definitively.”¹ As we have seen, this leads provisional theory to prioritize battles for substantive citizenship and other preconditions of agency and plurality, over battles for particular policy outcomes. On this understanding of politics, neither individual rights nor democratic justice are given absolute priority: everything is always at least potentially on the political table,...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 159-176)
    (pp. 177-190)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 191-194)