The name of this blog derives from the work of the social theorist, W.B. Gallie, and the political philosopher, John Rawls pictured below.¬† Gallie taught us that reasoning often founders on those essentially contested concepts central to arguing for practical conclusions, but which have different senses for different people or for the same people from different perspectives. Concepts such as “truth,” justice” and even perhaps “the American Way” may be embraced by everyone. Yet, when we base social policy or any practical judgment on these concepts, consensus is beyond reach. The reason? While everyone is committed to these concepts, their meaning is systematically ambiguous or essentially contested. And so, while these concepts are fundamental to our reasoning, since their meaning is essentially contested each of us will reach different conclusions based on the same concepts. Rawls taught us that reasonable disagreement is inevitable in a pluralist democracy because obstacles to consensus known as “the burdens of judgment” render consensus almost out of the question. How should we respond to the essential contestability of concepts and the burdens of judgment? Deliberatively! Pragmatically! We need to provide reasons for our conclusions, vigilantly check and re-check these reasons, take seriously the opposing conclusions of others, and with humility try to formulate the most comprehensive perspectives possible. At that time we will either have achieved consensus, or what is so much more likely, we will have refined our conflicts so that we understand just what is at stake.
[Added November 20, 2006] ECA has posted everyday since its inaugural post on October 20, 2006. One point of clarification: America is essentially contested, but ECA will not be exclusively devoted to essentially contested concepts or the burdens of judgments. ECA will take positions on controversial subjects and welcomes comments from readers having diametrically opposed views. ECA is designed to be a forum for examining important intellectual, legal, political, and culturally controversies, not by ad hominen arguments against those who have taken a stand on these controversies, but by backing up one’s position with the best arguments available.