GROUNDING POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT
(2
nd [WWW] edition)

CHAPTER 8:

THE "WAYS OF RELATING" PERSPECTIVE




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I. Our Relations With Others

In this and the next chapter I want to discuss the general rationale behind my approach to political development. I don't mean the narrow logic of my argument, which stands or falls by the arguments advanced either in the previous chapters of this work or in DPD. I mean instead some general considerations that led me to look for this sort of conception. Because those considerations first coalesced for me in the phrase "ways of relating", this chapter discusses the phrase's connotations and clarifies some of the complexities of its usage.

As I argued in Chapter 6, people relate to one another in ways that have an overall coherence, at least insofar as the individuals share the same culture. The phrase "ways of relating" is intended to convey this image of coherence among different relations. Political, economic, and social institutions, whether formal or informal, simply embody possible ways of dealing with each other. Our support of, opposition to, acquiescence in, or creation of such institutions represents how we choose to relate to others. Moral philosophies, principles of justice, care, responsibility, or obligation-all these simply describe ways of relating to people.

But the connotations of the phrase extend a little beyond mere coherence: I also intend the phrase to imply that we must look at our relationships with all others. We all have a moral relationship with every other human being on the planet, whatever character that relationship might take.(1) I Even the denial of relationship is, in this view, only one possible way that people relate to one another. For example, to deny a relationship with someone on the grounds that they are not a fellow citizen is simply to affirm that our relationships with people will differ according to their citizenship.

There is both less here than meets the eye, and more. On the one hand, I am not making a sentimental argument that we owe the same things to all people (love, responsibility, care, etc.). It seems clear that we are concerned for those close to us in a way that we cannot be for those far away. To say that I have relationships with all humans is more an analytical, almost tautological, statement than a characterization of those relationships.

But on the other hand, this framework does have some bite, in two ways. First, the perspective pointedly insists that in choosing the character of our relationships, we recognize the implications of these ways of relating for everyone, not just for those admitted to our moral universe. Our relationships are often used to divide those to whom we must explain our actions from those to whom no such explanations are deemed necessary. For example, many people hold themselves answerable to their fellow citizens but cannot conceive of having obligations independent of those defined by law. Their moral discourse would revolve around the legal-illegal distinction, to which they hold themselves and their fellow citizens equally bound. But since this distinction breaks down when dealing with citizens of other countries, moral discourse becomes impossible. So the first consequence of this perspective is to require us, when justifying how we will relate to others, to discuss what character we want any particular relationship to have, not whether the relationship exists in the first place.

The second consequence of this perspective is to require that we face the Other mutually and reciprocally. This requirement applies even to those we know poorly, although obviously more time would be required to work through many miscommunications. Phrasing this point in the negative, the perspective means that our justifications to one another cannot be simply a Hobbesian standoff of egoisms; as Gaus (1990) argues, such an impoverished view of our obligations to one another would require us to give up almost everything of what we consider human.

The recognition of all relationships provides a check on our moral categories. When supporting an institution, or choosing a set of moral principles, or making a moral decision, we have to be able to face in honor and mutual respect every other person, if only in our imagination, and affirm as our relationship what this institution, principle, or decision represents. We cannot avoid the issue by claiming that the Other is somehow not pan of our moral universe.

This is, I believe, a key aspect of John Rawls's (1971) theory. Choosing among principles of justice behind the "veil of ignorance" in the "original position," people do not know their interests, talents, or social position, and so are forced to consider their relationship with all other people. Whether Rawls's two principles would indeed be chosen under these conditions is not my concern here; what I wish to point out is that the conditions of the original position implicitly recognize relations among all people.(2)

I should note that even though relationships "flatten out" as we deal with people increasingly distant from us (as I argue later), we still owe something - respect, reciprocity, justice - to everybody. Our debt may of necessity be impersonal, but it cannot be inhumane.


II. Feminist Criticisms of Abstracted Relations

Mentioning Rawls leads me to criticisms by feminist scholars (e.g., Gilligan, 1982; Benhabib, 1986; Fraser, 1986) of general, abstract notions of our interrelations represented by the work of Rawls (1971), Lawrence Kohlberg (1981, 1984), and Jürgen Habermas (1979), hereafter referred to as "Rawls (etc.)" Feminists make essentially two points in attacking general theories of social justice. First, they argue that such general theories, spoken in the (male) voice of rights and duties, fail to address concerns of care and responsibility that are spoken in the different (female) voice.(3) They argue that we need to meet people in their particularity, where issues of care and responsibility are more important than those of abstract rights and justice. Second, they argue that attention to the general as opposed to the particular effectively silences people outside the power structure (e.g., women, minorities, etc.). In their view, the Rawlsian "original position, whatever its theoretical merits, becomes in practice the forum of white, upper-class males. Even if those villains are willing to assume a "veil of ignorance," abjuring any knowledge of their estates, the dominance of white, upper-class, male understandings of the world would remain.(4)

The perspective of this chapter's first section would seem subject to such attacks.(5) The very language used there (e.g., that we face people "if only in the imagination") contemplates what Benhabib (1986) terms the "generalized" as opposed to the "concrete" other.

But these objections are unpersuasive. First, the charge that Rawls (etc.) ignores particularity ignores the possibility of a reasonable division of moral labor. The web of our relationships with people "thickens" as they become nearer to us, not because they are more deserving of fundamental ethical respect but rather because our calculations can be more attentive to their particular situation. There is nothing inherently wrong with adopting as a policy that everyone devote more care and take more responsibility for those close to them than for those more distant.(6)

The division of moral labor means that our concern "flattens out" as we attend to people increasingly distant from us. This flattening reflects not a lessening of concern but rather the decreasing particularity of that concern - a shift away from responsibility and towards justice. As Fraser (1986) points out, theories rooted in the concrete other are limited to the small frame and thus are not helpful in considering how we are to relate even to our fellow citizens, much less to all people. Theories of justice concern what we owe to all people, while theories of care and responsibility "overlay" them.(7) This overlay is most prominent in our dealings with people close to us, so that we are only rarely concerned with the broader dictates of justice. As we turn our attention to people more distant from us, however, our sense of particular care and responsibility decreases, so that our concerns become increasingly dictated by the underlying configuration of our theory of justice, based on a sense of generalized, even impersonal, care. Although I don't know any starving Sudanese, I do know that care includes eating. The sense of universal relationship provides reason for acting, even if the action necessarily cannot be individualized.

The second feminist objection, of bias in practice, needs to be taken seriously, inasmuch as public discourse in U.S. society (and undoubtedly all societies) is not that of free and equal citizens. But this objection has a peculiar status. It is not a theoretical objection, claiming that the approach of Rawls (etc.) to justice is inherently oppressive. Instead, the objection is practical, demanding that Rawls (etc.) provide some assurance that their perspective can be carried out in practice. Rawls (etc.) cannot simply hypothesize that the discourse in the original position is that of free and equal citizens, and then blandly ignore the practical difficulties of conducting such discourse. Thus this second feminist objection can only be met by a practical political platform committed to an ongoing critical stance toward existing forms of domination.

Rawls and his fellow generalists am at least cognizant of these practical concerns. For example, Rawls (1971) clearly does not want to rest with an idealized original position, since he emphasizes that one of the problems with utilitarianism, and thus one reason to prefer his theory, is that utilitarianism does not take seriously the difference among persons. The ideally sympathetic individual contemplated by utilitarians cannot substitute, in Rawls's view, for the concrete confrontation of different understandings. The truth of Rawls's assessment (that utilitarianism does not respect the difference among persons) is not the issue here. The point I am making is that Rawls sees his own theory as taking into account concrete differences among real people.

But awareness of the need for an emancipatory political practice is not the same as that practice, so we still face the objection that general theories provide no real mechanism for giving voice to the silent. The feminist objections point social theory towards practical concerns.(8) Feminists have established at least a prima facie case that theoretical discourse can become an unwitting agent of oppression. Social theory cannot overcome their objections simply by further theorizing; the intermingling of practical consequences with theoretical discourse requires a new, praxis-based social theory. Sooner rather than later, theoretical approaches must be disciplined by the demands of concrete social practice.(9)



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FOOTNOTES

1. Like Rawls (1985), I will not engage in an unresolvable, metaphysical debate over whether "relationships to all other humans" is a statement of some metaphysical reality, instead of merely a way of looking at moral issues. My claim is that the "ways of relating" perspective is useful, not that it is metaphysically or existentially "true." However, contra Rawls, this perspective can be extended to our relationships even to people who apparently have no sense of justice, and perhaps beyond: to animals and to all living things. 

2. In later work, Rawls (1985) argues that his perspective does not imply any metaphysical claims about the nature of justice. He might argue, likewise, that he intends no such claims about any inherent relationship or lack thereof among human beings. But even given Rawls's limitation of his argument, some flavor of inherent interrelationship persists. First, the original position clearly incorporates relationships among all people within the liberal democratic societies Rawls says the "justice as fairness" perspective pertains to. Second, as Raz (1990) argues, Rawls's presentation of "a theory of justice, rather than a theory of social stability" (Raz, 1990:14) entails some claims about the nature of justice, one of these being that justice is characterized by consensus. Our sharing common Moral ground Sufficient to achieve such a consensus in reflective equilibrium is a practical issue varying from situation to situation. Such sharing is not something to be built into the definition of justice itself. 

3. This dichotomy between the male and female voice is of course not absolute; men can and do use the language of care and responsibility, and women can and do use the language of rights and duties (Ford and Lowery, 1986). The reference here to male and female voice is to tendency or preference, not a statement of some inherent absolute division. 

4. In Fraser's elegant description of this domination:

By sociocultural means of interpretation and communication I mean things like: the officially recognized vocabularies in which one can press claims; the idioms available for interpreting and communicating one's needs; the established narrative conventions available for constructing the individual and collective histories which are constitutive of social identity; the paradigms of argumentation accepted as authoritative in adjudicating conflicting claims; the ways in which various discourses constitute their respective subject matters as specific sorts of objects; the repertory of available rhetorical devices; the bodily and gestural dimensions of speech which are associated in a given society with authority and conviction. Suppose it were the case that by and large such sociocultural means of interpretation and communication expressed the point of view of dominant groups in society (1986:425).
5. DPD relied to some extent on Kohlberg's work, and so weaknesses of Kohlberg's theory are implicitly weaknesses in DPD's definition of political development I am not dismissing Gilligan's (1982) objections to Kohlberg's (1981, 1984) work, merely its applicability to my concerns. Gilligan points out that Kohlberg's theory and scoring system pertain to the language of justice and abstract rights, not to the language of care and responsibility. Kohlberg (1984:Appendix A) in effect accepts this criticism by referring to "justice reasoning" instead of the previous "moral reasoning." As argued in DPD (Chilton, 1988b:63n.3), this concession does not alter DPD's conception of political development. DPD bases its conception of political development on the development of structures of moral reasoning, not on Kohlberg's specific theory. Gilligan does not deny that some universal sequence of structural stages exists; she only denies that Kohlberg's particular stages embrace the universe of moral discourse. 

6. Such a policy, like any other way of relating, has to be justified to everyone, but it certainly has a prima facie reasonableness, since we are more able to assume responsibilities and to adopt an attitude of care for those we know well than for those we do not. The pinch comes, of course, when we face those who are left worst off by this policy: the homeless; the elderly; the insane; the orphans - all those whose social connections have disappeared or worn away, so that the division of moral labor leaves them without support. Here it seems to me that a Rawlsian perspective is a natural one: will our caring less for those close to us advantage those more distant? To some extent it will, of course; the concern and responsibility foregone for those close to us can to some degree be converted to care for those more distant, through such institutions as shelters, orphanages, county nursing homes, residential treatment centers, and so on. However unsatisfactory these are, they certainly reflect concern for those whose social moorings have been cut. But it is an empirical question, and thus beyond the scope of this book, whether less attention to those close to us will benefit those more distant At some point failure to care for those close to us makes us unable to care for anyone at all, both because our own needs for companionship and intimate relations are not met and because we will have no concrete way to learn what relationship means. 

7. Recall that Rawls's intention is to develop a theory of social justice applied to the basic structure, not to present a comprehensive theory of individual morality (Rawls, 1971:Section 2). 

8. My understanding of the theoretical consequences of feminists' practical concerns has been enriched by Vaillancourt's (1986) description of Marxian theoretical approaches, even though Vaillancourt herself would probably not agree with the praxis-based approach advanced here. 

9. This discipline is intellectual, not political. We must not subordinate theoretical discourse to political concerns. Theory and practice retain equal dignity, standing in dialectical opposition to each other.


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