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Gaus, Gerald. The Tyranny of the Ideal: Justice in a Diverse Society.

GAUS, Gerald. The Tyranny of the Ideal: Justice in a Diverse Society. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2017. xxii + 289 pp. Cloth, $39.50--Gerald Gaus is the James E. Rogers Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona. This work follows two previously published volumes, Order of Public Reason and Justificatory Liberalism. The book lays out a vision of how we should think about justice in a diverse society. Put another way, Gaus asks, how might a free and equal people facing intractable struggles and irreconcilable conflicts share a common moral life shaped by an agreed upon concept of justice?

The problem he addresses is certainly a real one. Absent moral or cultural unity in a people, how is governance possible? How can a common good be pursued when there is no agreement with respect to what is right or just?

Political philosophy, Gaus maintains, often falls under the spell of the Platonic conviction that there is a just social arrangement that wise people will eventually embrace, and that political activity should be oriented in its light.

In advancing his own position, Gaus at once examines critically and draws upon the work of John Rawls, Karl Popper, and Amartya Sen. Rawls is known widely for his Theory of Justice, and Popper for his The Open Society and Its Enemies. The Indian philosopher and economist Amartya Sen, although a Nobel laurate for his work in economics, is perhaps less well known but has written influentially on the morality of social welfare.

Gerald Gaus writes from an assumed materialist or Darwinian perspective that severely limits his approach. He refers to Plato as the first ideal political theorist but never examines his concept of justice as one of the cardinal virtues. There is no reference at all to Aristotle or to his treatment of justice as found in the Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics, not to mention Cicero and the Stoics. Gaus's treatment of his subject is ahistorical, as he sets out to identify the ideally optimal or perfectly just society, while recognizing that identification of the ideal social order does not tell us how to achieve it.

Gaus acknowledges that his brand of political liberalism is incompatible with a Christian conception of human nature and its biblical understanding of the source of moral law. "There is only one world," he confidently proclaims, "and it is the secular world revealed by science." By contrast, "An Evangelical Christian has a very different understanding of the social world--its real, underlying features--than does a secular Darwinist philosopher. The social world of the Evangelical perspective is one where sin and sanctity are features of states of affairs; they are not merely values or preferences, but basic aspects of the ontology of the world that determines the circumstances of social life." These features do not exist in the world of the secular Darwinist. In that world they are regarded as illusions or fantasies. Nevertheless, showing a kind of backhanded respect, he quotes Sen's defense of freedom of religion as "a sort of liberty to participate in one's ancestral culture." That the natural order invoked by Christians is supported by pagan philosophers who antedate Christianity is beyond Gaus's purview.

Given that a diverse society is composed of heterogeneous agents with differing understandings of the social order, what then is justice? Gaus answers, "Justice is the way our species has found to live well together, to prosper and discover.... Justice is not fixed because our limited knowledge of the workings of social institutions is always open to revision, and what is best depends on circumstances."

Gaus is right when he acknowledges in a concluding passage, "Only a relatively stable public social order is truly open to diversity. If the basic framework of social relations is constantly changing as new perspectives enter and leave our public world, its inhabitants will be deeply uncertain about the concept of openness." That a stable social order exists in the Western world may be due to the fact that it is living off moral capital accumulated before Gaus's secular Darwinism became fashionable in the academic world.--Jude P. Dougherty, The Catholic University of America
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Author:Dougherty, Jude P.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2017
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