What's Truth Got to Do With It? John Dewey and Michael Oakeshott on Non-Foundational Political Philosophy Without Nihilism?
Williams, Conor P.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, philosophers were searching to find their role in an uncertain political world. Scant one hundred years after the universal aspirations of Enlightenment-era ethics, Nietzsche declared that moral ideals took their vitality from the stirrings--and strength--of the human will. Humans, in other words, are free--and able--to construct their own moral ideals on their own terms. How should politics be conducted in a world where certainty has been fundamentally shaken? Or, alternatively, if philosophy can no longer credibly offer substantive, fixed truths, what remains for it do? John Dewey and Michael Oakeshott both took these questions very seriously. Importantly, each argued that modern liberal pluralism could be defended without making recourse to metaphysically grounded absolutes. In their view, Western philosophers were in dire need of better reflection on the commitments implied by their particular historical traditions. In subsequent decades, many Western philosophers responded to the same theoretical conditions in a variety of ways. These can largely be grouped into two rough categories: 1) those who seek to reestablish monism and ethical consensus, and 2) those who celebrate epistemological uncertainty to such a degree that their work culminates in nihilism. I argue that Dewey and Oakeshott's response to this situation represents a significant improvement on the last century of political philosophy.
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