Analyse & Kritik

Journal of Philosophy and Social Theory

Focus: Symposium on Laura Valentini, Morality and Socially Constructed Norms

2024 (46) Issue 1


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Table of Contents

Focus: Symposium on Laura Valentini, Morality and Socially Constructed Norms

Title: Do Socially Constructed Norms have Moral Force? Précis to a Symposium
Author: Laura Valentini
Page: 1-11

Do not chew with your mouth open! Take your hat off when you enter a church! Do not skip the queue! Pay your taxes! Do not cross on a red light! These are familiar imperatives, and their immediate source are ‘socially constructed norms’: norms that exist as a matter of social fact. These range from informal etiquette and politeness norms to the complex norms making up our legal systems. While we often feel bound by these norms, we are also aware that they can be pernicious: the product of injustice and vehicles for its perpetuation. The question thus arises: when and why, if ever, does the fact that a socially constructed norm requires us to perform a certain action place us under a genuine moral obligation to comply? In Morality and Socially Constructed Norms, I answer that such an obligation, when it exists, is grounded in a broader, familiar duty, namely the duty to respect people’s permissible and authentic exercises of agency. This is what I call the ‘Agency-Respect View.’ The first part of the book outlines and defends the view, the second part considers relevant applications.

Title: Moralism and Realism in Theorizing Social Norms
Author: N. P. Adams
Page: 13-24

In Morality and Socially Constructed Norms, Valentini searches for a unifying principle that underlies whatever genuine obligations we might have to obey the norms of any and all social practices, ranging from line queueing norms, through offsides rules in soccer, to obligations not to break the law. I argue that this search is driven, and distorted, by a commitment to what Bernard Williams labeled the ‘morality system’. Once we see this, we should question the value of the unifying project. Most social norms can be considered on their own terms, as part of a rich and variegated ethical life, without subsuming them under the question of whether others’ moral rights are at stake. Similarly, political obligation needs to be understood in relation to the practical activity of politics, not as an abstract moral quandary.

Title: Two Types of Social Norms
Author: Åsa Burman
Page: 25-36

In Morality and Socially Constructed Norms, Laura Valentini poses and answers this overall question: When and why, if at all, are socially constructed norms morally binding? Valentini develops an original account, the agency-respect view, that offers an answer to this general question by offering a moral criterion in terms of agency respect. I agree with the criterion proposed by the agency-respect view, given the account of socially constructed norms that it assumes. However, its account of socially constructed norms seems too narrow to answer the general question. More specifically, I argue that the account of social norms is too narrow, even according to Valentini’s own standard, since it does not account for teleological social norms, which are about standards of excellence rather than standards of behavior. Taking teleological social norms into account calls the moral criterion proposed by the agency-respect view into question: it is plausible concerning the type of social norm assumed by the agency-respect view, but not for teleological social norms. Hence, the general question has not been fully answered.

Title: Political Obligations and Respect for Social Norms
Author: George Klosko
Page: 37-50

This paper examines Laura Valentini’s attempt to explain political obligations through her account of social norms, her ‘Agency-Respect View’ (ARV). A great strength of ARV is preserving the ‘content-independence’ of political obligations. However, ARV does not mesh well with the moral phenomenology of political obligations. ARV is able to generate moral requirements that are strikingly weak. Accounting for the far stronger moral force of requirements to obey the law requires appealing to law-independent considerations. Valentini’s account of these factors suggests greater explanatory force of an alternative view she dismisses, to which she refers as the ‘deflationary view.’ In addition, among alternative theories that Valentini rejects is one based on the principle of fair play. I respond to Valentini’s criticisms, thereby demonstrating the continuing applicability of fair play.

Title: Must I Honor Your Convictions? On Laura Valentini’s Agency-Respect View
Author: Katharina Nieswandt
Page: 51-65

Laura Valentini’s novel theory, the Agency-Respect View, says that we have a fundamental moral duty to honor other people’s convictions, at least pro tanto and under certain conditions. I raise doubts that such a duty exists indeed and that informative conditions have been specified. The questions that Valentini faces here have a parallel in Kant’s moral philosophy, viz. the question of why one has a duty to value the other’s humanity and the question of how to specify the maxim of one’s action. Additionally, I discuss the concept of a social convention and Valentini’s use of it.

Title: Social Norms and Obligation: Rescuing the Joint Commitment Account
Author: Titus Stahl
Page: 67-83

In Morality and Socially Constructed Norms, Laura Valentini argues that moral obligations to respect social norms can be explained without invoking the concept of ‘joint commitment.’ Her resulting account is, in one important sense, individualistic, and therefore struggles to account for widely held intuitions about the normative significance of social norms. I argue that we can rescue the notion of joint commitment from Valentini’s objections, and incorporate it into a version of her account that preserves its insights.

General Part

Title: Moral Paradigms of Intergenerational Solidarity in the Coronavirus-Pandemic
Author: Niklas Ellerich-Groppe, Irmgard Steckdaub-Muller, Larissa Pfaller and Mark Schweda
Page: 85-119

Solidarity between generations served as a prominent but controversially discussed normative reference point in public debates about the Coronavirus-pandemic. The aim of this contribution is the empirical reconstruction and ethical evaluation of prominent notions of intergenerational solidarity and their underlying assumptions in the public media discourse on the pandemic in Germany. After a brief introduction to the concept of intergenerational solidarity and the pertinent discourses during the pandemic, we present the results of a comprehensive qualitative content analysis of 149 articles from leading media in Germany. On this basis, we carve out three typical understandings of intergenerational solidarity: (a) communal care, (b) mutual support, and (c) responsible use of freedom. We discuss these understandings and the underlying ‘moral paradigms’ and evaluate their theoretical and practical implications from an ethical point of view, drawing conclusions for discourses on future societal crises.

Title: The Weight of History After October 7 and the Gaza War: Shaping a New Future
Author: John Strawson
Page: 121-139

The trauma of the October 7 massacre for Israelis and the catastrophe that Gazans have experienced in the subsequent war mark a new stage in the Palestinian–Israeli conflict. While October 7 and indeed the Israeli response are exceptional, we cannot overcome their consequences without addressing the root of the conflict. Calls for an immediate ceasefire are understandable but fall into the trap of seeing the solution as being a military decision. This echoes to the attitude of the current Israeli government which poses the response to October 7 as a military one. A new international political initiative is required to change the atmosphere by setting the goal of resolving the conflict on the basis of self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians. That needs to inform the approach we adopt to ending the current conflict by replacing Hamas and Israel in Gaza with an international security mechanism.

Title: Germany, Israel’s Security, and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism: Shadows from the Past and Current Tensions
Author: Gert Krell
Page: 141-164

The Gaza War is a watershed moment not only in the Middle East. It has also increased political divisions in Germany, where Israel’s security and the fight against anti-Semitism are part of its historical legacy and political and moral identity. Incidents of anti-Semitism have increased dramatically, as have overdrawn accusations of it. An analysis of controversies about the definition of anti-Semitism, about the use of the term apartheid for the situation in the West Bank, of the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), and particularly the characterization of Israel as a settler-colonial state shows how difficult it has become to maintain a fair, honest, and frank discussion considering different points of view. The current crisis should be used as an opportunity for Germany to, on the one hand, face the unavoidable contradictions in its responsibilities stemming from the crimes of its Nazi past and, on the other hand, come to grips not only with Arab and Iranian terrorism and eliminationist rhetoric but also with the deficiencies in Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Germany’s new leitmotiv ought to be: ‘Between the River and the Sea, Jews and Arabs should be free.’

Title: Kantian Rights and the Zionist Settlement in Palestine
Author: Yitzhak Benbaji
Page: 165-189

Zionism aimed to establish a national home for Jews in Palestine. It involved settlement of Zionist Jews in the region, despite facing resistance from many local Arabs. Was the unilateral Zionist settlement morally permissible, or was it an instance of wrongful colonialism? Three objections will be discussed here and they all stem from the Kantian ethics of state-building and the minimalistic conception of statehood that follows from it. According to the ‘neutralist objection’, the establishment of a national home is not a just cause for a state building project. The ‘cosmopolitan’ objection argues that unilateral settlement is permissible only in extreme circumstances and that typically, it violates the locals’ right to self-rule. Finally, the imperialist objection argues that Zionist unilateralism exploited the wrongful colonial rule to which Arab Palestinians were subject. I will show that no Kantian objection to Zionism is decisive.

Title: War and Self-Defense: Some Reflections on the War on Gaza
Author: Raef Zreik
Page: 191-213

This paper reflects on the current war on Gaza in 2024 that followed the Hamas attack on October 7th 2023, reading the events is a wider historical context. The paper has three main parts. In the first part, the paper argues against the fragmentation of the question of Palestine historically and geographically, arguing instead for the importance of the overall context of the conflict. The second part considers the issue of Palestinian resistance. How can the Palestinians resist occupation? This part is mainly descriptive and indicates the impasse that the Palestinians found themselves in it after the Oslo accords in 1993. The third and last part moves to normative questions regarding the question of self-defense both on the part of the Palestinians and on the part of Israel and tries to outline the ways these arguments can develop.


Title: What is Classical Realism?
Author: Richard Ned Lebow
Page: 215-228

Jonathan Kirshner misrepresents classical realism in fundamental ways. His wants to reclaim classical realism, but he never tells us what it is or engages other scholars who have developed the paradigm. He pleads for a more sophisticated realism but spends much of the book engaging neorealism and ‘hyperrationality.’ He foregrounds Thucydides but reads him superficially and indefensibly in terms of contemporary realist tropes. He asserts – incorrectly – that classical realism eschews abstract formulations but then offers his own. I critique his formulation, reading of Thucydides, and offer an overview of classical realism. I argue that classical realism is an ethical project embedded in a tragic understanding of life. It foregrounds human miscalculations, misjudgments, and their causes, sees tight connections between domestic and foreign policy, and the values that motivate both; and regards great powers as likely to be their own worst enemies.

Title: Do We Learn Anything from Kirshner?
Author: Stephen D. Krasner
Page: 229-235

Kirshner may be right that domestic politics does matter, but he does not tell us how to understand domestic politics. How are we, for instance, to understand domestic cohesion? How are we to understand national purpose? More important, what is the impact of nuclear weapons? Do these weapons obliterate all past information about power? Are nuclear weapons all that matter? Is it possible to fight a limited nuclear war? Is North Korea as strong as the United States? Such questions have been around since the 1950s. Kirshner does not help us to answer them.

Title: Classical Realism is not ‘Everything, Everywhere, All at Once’
Author: Jonathan Kirshner
Page: 237-248

In their assessments of An Unwritten Future: Realism and Uncertainty in World Politics, two distinguished scholars of World Politics engage in a spirited contestation about the role of classical realism in International Relations (IR) theory. Richard Ned Lebow aspires to defend the paradigm from what he suggests are barbarians at the gate. In this response I offer rejoinders to his treatment of E. H. Carr and Robert Gilpin, and his characterization of the ways in which we each engage Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War as an inspirational text. Stephen Krasner raises a number of thoughtful and savvy constructive criticisms of An Unwritten Future, some of which ring true. Yet he and I continue to markedly disagree about the importance of analytical uncertainty for understanding IR, and also with regard to the role of history in explaining behavior in world politics. And in an otherwise sophisticated critique, Krasner ultimately reduces classical realism to a caricature. In my response I clarify why in fact it is his preferred approach, structural realism, which, on its own, is irretrievably indeterminate and leaves scholars needing much more that its minimalist disposition can possibly hope to provide. I conclude with a short elaboration of why classical realism offers a more productive way forward.