When confronted with a law that they find morally unconscionable, citizens sometimes engage in civil disobedience – they publicly break the law with a view to communicating their judgment that it is unjust. Citizens in similar situations sometimes take a different stance – they engage in conscientious objection, they quietly disobey, seeking only to keep their own conscience clear.
A common view of these matters has it that the conscientious objector is deserving of special respect, and even accommodation, whereas the civil disobedient engages in a politically risky and morally questionable practice. In her new book, Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience (Oxford University Press, 2012) Kimberley Brownlee reverse this picture. She contends that properly-conducted civil disobedience is more deserving of accommodation and respect than conscientious objection. Her case turns on a detailed and subtle analysis of the very concepts of conviction and conscience.
In political philosophy, republicanism is the name of a distinctive framework for thinking about politics. At its core is a unique conception of freedom according to which freedom consists in non-domination, that is, in not having a master or lord, in not being subject to the arbitrary will of another. This republican conception of the free person contrasts with a competing and familiar view according to which freedom is primarily a property, not of persons, but of choices. In this view, one is free insofar as one enjoys the absence of interference.
For the past few decades, Philip Pettit has been engaged in a sustained effort to revive republicanism as an approach to political philosophy. In a series of articles and books, he has developed and defended the republican conception of freedom. In his latest book,On The People’s Terms: A Republican Theory and Model of Democracy(Cambridge University Press, 2012), Pettit articulates a conception of democracy to accompany the fundamental republican commitment to freedom as non-domination. The book examines the full range of topics, from justice to legitimacy and institutional design. This is a highly detailed and meticulously argued book.
It’s taken for granted among analytic philosophers that some of their primary areas of inquiry – ethics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language, in particular – involve a special and characteristic methodology that depends essentially on the use of intuitions as evidence for philosophical positions. A thought experiment is developed in order to elicit intuitive judgments, and these judgments have a special epistemic status. Paradigm cases of this methodology include Gettier cases, in which we judge whether the subject in the scenario has or does not have the knowledge, and Putnam’s Twin-Earth cases, in which we judge whether the contents of thought depend on the physical nature of a thinker’s environment. The new experimental philosophy movement also accepts this assumption, as it is premised on rejecting it by conducting real experiments (with non-philosophers as subjects) rather than thought experiments.
In Philosophy Without Intuitions(Oxford University Press, 2012), Herman Cappelen, professor of philosophy at the Arche Philosophical Research Centre at the University of St. Andrews, argues that this assumption is simply false as a descriptive claim about the practice of contemporary analytic philosophy. Instead, a detailed look at the thought experiments shows that uses of the term “intuition” or “intuitively” are better interpreted as an unfortunate verbal tic or as a conversational hedge indicating that a claim is just a snap judgment or a bit of pre-theoretic background. What is not true, he claims, is that the judgments have bedrock epistemological status, are considered justified without appeals to experience and without inference, that inclinations to believe these judgments tend to be recalcitrant to further evidence, or that these judgments are based on conceptual competence or have a special phenomenology.