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Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

Review: [untitled]
Author(s): Joshua Cohen
Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 83, No. 8 (Aug., 1986), pp. 457-468
Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2026330
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BOOK REVIEWS 457

BOOK REVIEWS
SpheresofJustice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality. MICHAEL
WALZER. New York: Basic Books, 1983. xviii,345 p. Cloth $19.95,
paper $9.95.*
SpheresofJusticeis Michael Walzer's fourthbook in politicalphilo-
sophy,and aims to provide a more systematicaccount of ideas im-
plicit in his previous work.' For beneath Walzer's many shiftsof
historicalsetting(fromdebates in theAthenianSenate to the My Lai
massacre) and subject matter (from workplace democracy to the
rightsof noncombatants)he has consistentlycome back to two cen-
tral themes.2
First,Walzer's substantiveviewson politicalissueshave commonly
reflectedan allegiance to egalitarianand democraticvalues. Writing
in a socialisttradition,he has drawnon thosevalues in criticizingthe
currentstructureof power and advantagein the United States. Near
the end of SpheresofJusticehe summarizeshis politicalperspective
thisway:
Theappropriate inourownsociety
arrangements arethose,I think,
of
a decentralized democratic socialism (emphasisadded); a strongwelfare
staterun,in partat least,bylocal and amateurofficials;
a constrained
market;an open and demystified civilservice;independentpublic
schools;thesharingofhardworkand freetime;theprotection ofreli-
giousandfamiliallife;a system
ofpublichonoring anddishonoringfree
fromallconsiderations ofrankandclass;workers' controlofcompanies
and factories;
a politicsofparties,movements,and publicdebate(318;
cf. also Obligations, ch. 11; Radical Principles, Introductionand chs.
15, 17).
The second theme is a "communitarian"conception of ethical
facts and ethical argument. Like other communitarians,Walzer
holds that membershipin communitiesis an importantgood, that
the primarysubjectsof values are particularhistoricalcommunities,

* I would liketo thankPaul Horwich,Joel Rogers, and Deborah Stone forhelpful


commentson an earlier draftof this review.
'The others are Obligations: Essays on Disobedience, War, and Citizenship
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970); Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument
with Historical Illustrations (New York: Basic Books, 1977); Radical Principles:
Reflectionsof an UnreconstructedDemocrat (New York: Basic Books, 1980). Ref-
erences to these earlier books willbe included parentheticallyin the text,withtitles
abbreviated. References to Spheres ofJustice will include page numbers only.
2 The two themes that I address do not play a leading role in Just and Unjust
Wars. This reflectsspecial featuresof the topic of thatbook, not a change of view.

0022-362X/86/8308/0457$01.20 (? 1986 The Journal of Philosophy, Inc.


458 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

and, whatis most important,thatthereis nothingmore to the cor-


rectnessof values fora particularcommunitythan thatthose values
are now embraced by thatcommunity.When, for example, he con-
siderswhatjustice requiresin the United States,Walzer appeals-or
claims to appeal-to values that are already part of the American
grain.To determinewhatjustice requiresin our own societywe must
ask, "What choices have we alreadymade in the course of our com-
mon life?What understandingsdo we (really)share?" (5). We must
ask this because a societyis just if it is faithfulto its traditional
values,or, as Walzer puts it,"if itssubstantivelifeis livedin a certain
way-that is, in a way faithfulto the shared understandingsof the
members" (313).
Spheres ofJustice thus aims to provide a sustained account of
social justice supportingcritical,democraticprincipleson commu-
nitarianfoundations.Walzer is committedto the strikingthesisthat
his conception of a just order is "latent already . . . in our shared
understandingsof social goods" (xiv).But particularlyin those parts
of his argumentwhere the democraticsocialistthemesare strongest
the parts that are most critical of current arrangements-this
thesisseems strainedand implausible.Critical,democraticsubstance
and communitarianmethodpull in different directions,and neither
is aided or clarifiedby being mixed with the other. To argue this
pointin detail (sectionii), a fulleraccount of the theoryin Spheresof
Justice is firstrequired.
I. JUSTICE AS COMPLEX EQUALITY
Walzer calls his account of justice a theoryof "complex equality"
(hereafterTCE) and contrastsit with "simple" egalitarianconcep-
tions.To understandthemotivationsof thetheoryitwillhelp to keep
social criticismsof the followingsort in mind:
1. It is wrongthatthe wealthyhave so muchpolitical power.
2. Accessto qualityeducationshouldnot be based on economicor
social status.
3. Technical expertiseshould not conferpolitical power.

In each case, the criticismfocuseson the factthatthe distributionof


one good is determinedor, as Walzer puts it, "dominated" by the
distributionof another.
A standard simple egalitarianview would aim to accommodate
these criticismsunder a general principleof justice such as: all re-
sources must be equally distributedunless it is for the common
advantage to permita departure fromequality.
Walzer rejectsthissortof egalitarianism.Its presumptionin favor
BOOK REVIEWS 459

of equal distributionis, he thinks,overlyabstract.It is manifestly


inattentiveto the way we understand particulargoods and, thus,
distortsour actual reasons forjudging distributionsunjust. What is
unjust,forexample,about wealthdeterminingpoliticalpowerin our
societyis thatthisviolatesour understandingofpower-what politi-
cal power is and what it is good for-not that it conflictswith a
general presumptionin favorof an equal distributionof all goods.
Some people findsimpleegalitarianismattractivebecause itsabstract
principlespromiseto free questions of distributive justice fromthe
prejudices reflectedin locally shared understandings.But, Walzer
holds,it isjust thisdisengagementthatleads simpleegalitarianismto
offera mistakenaccount of our politicalprincipleswhichis discon-
nectedfromour motivations.In mattersofjustice,theparticularities
of "history,culture,and membership"(5) are not prejudices; they
are all thereis.
Walzer thinksthatTCE can providea more compellingaccount of
the force of such criticismsas (1)-(3). This theoryhas two main
components:a theoryof value and an account of thejustificationof
distributivenorms.
The centralthesisof the theoryof value is a versionof communi-
tarianism:
(C) The subjectsof valuesare in thefirstinstancepoliticalcommuni-
ties,and not theindividual membersof thosecommunities (6-8,
28/9).
Of course, much more needs to be said about thisissue, and I will
returnbelow to the question of what it is for communitiesto have
values. Here, however,I want to point out that Spheres ofJustice
endorses a formof communitarianismimportantlydifferentfrom
Walzer's earlier conception.
As I indicatedearlier,Walzer has alwaysheld thatgroups are the
bearers of values. But the political communitywas never before
their chief bearer. Obligations, for example, was centrallycon-
cerned with conflictsbetween the demands of the state and the
obligationsthatindividualsincuras membersof "secondaryassocia-
tions" (e.g., unions and churches)whichare supposed to be subordi-
nate to the state (Obligations, esp. chs. 1, 6, 8, and 10). Secondary
associations,and the conflictsof obligationtheywere said to engen-
der, are virtuallyabsent fromSpheresofJustice.But the differences
cut stilldeeper. In previouswork,Walzeroftenexpressedskepticism
about whethercurrentpoliticalassociationsare genuine communi-
ties at all (Obligations, ch. 8). In the earlier conception,political
community was a social good to aim forand a good whose loss might
be lamented (Radical Principles, 12/3). It is not at all clear what
460 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

motivatedthese shiftstoward the Hegelian view that "the political


communityis the appropriate settingfor thisenterprise"(28).
Againstthe backgroundof this"political-communitarian" theory
of value, Walzer makes two more specificclaimsabout actual social
values.
(Cl) The objectsthatare sociallyvaluedare different fordifferent
politicalcommunities.
(C2) Communities typically
havepluralistic
values.Thatis,theyvaluea
variety
ofsocialgoods-for example,money, politicalpower,edu-
cation,freetime,love-whichare unordered, in thatthereis no
ranking of theirrelativevalue.3
The second main elementof TCE fitsthistheoryof value into an
account of thejustificationof distributivenorms.
(N) Each of theheterogeneousgoodsin a societyis associatedwitha
correctdistributive
norm,and thatdistributive
normis contained
in thesociallysharedunderstanding
of thatgood (8/9).
For example,we are said to understandthatmedicalcare is a need. It
follows,Walzer argues, that we should establisha national health-
care systemthatencourages thedistributionof healthcare according
to need (86-91). And our understandingof power requires,accord-
ing to Walzer, democracy in the factoryas well as in the state
(291-31 1).
Several importantconsequences followfromTCE. First,(C1) and
(N) implythatstandardsof distributive justice are differentfor dif-
ferentsocieties: "Justas one can describe a caste systemthatmeets
(internal)standardsofjustice, so one can describea capitalistsystem
thatdoes the same thing" (315).
Second, (N) and (C2) togetherimplythatthedistributive normsof
a singlesocietytypically forman unorderedplurality.When theydo,
there is a set of distinct"spheres of justice," each with its own
internalregulativeprinciple.Whatjustice then requires is the "au-
tonomy"of these spheres.That is, it requiresthatpersons' standing
with respect to one social good-their standingin one sphere of
justice-not be determinedby theiradvantage or disadvantagein
other spheres,and ratherthat it depend only on the principleap-
propriateto the social good in question. "No social good x should
be distributedto men and women who possess some other good y
merelybecause theypossess y and withoutregard to the meaning
of x" (20).
' As the explication of 'pluralism' indicates,Walzer uses the termin a somewhat
unusual way.On his usage, therecan be a pluralisticsocietywithno disagreementat
all about values.
BOOK REVIEWS 461

This generalrequirementof theautonomyof spheresleads back to


the illustrativecriticismsfromwhichI started.It is wrong that the
distributionof, for example, wealthdeterminesthe distributionof,
for example, political power, because thisdistributionviolates our
sharedunderstandingof the goods of wealthand power. This expla-
nation mayseem too shallow. It says thatthe distributionof wealth
should not determinethe distributionof power because of the dif-
ferencebetweenour understandingof thevalue of wealthand of the
value of power. It lacks the (apparent)depth thatcomes fromstand-
ingback fromour values and wonderingwhethertheyare themselves
reasonable. But on Walzer'sviewthisconcernfordepthis a sure sign
that philosophyhas gone "on holiday." "[I]n mattersof morality,
argumentsimplyis the appeal to common meanings" (29). There is
no perspectivethata philosopher-or anyoneelse-can adopt apart
fromthe values of a particularcommunity,and stillhope to engage
the concerns and aspirationsof any actual community.
II. CONSENT, CRITICISM, AND THE LIMITS OF COMMUNITY
Several aspects of Walzer's viewmeritmore criticalattentionthan I
can give themhere. For example, the pluralityof goods and princi-
ples suggeststheneed fora wayto adjudicate conflictsamong princi-
ples. But no proposalsare made. And not nearlyenough is said about
just how one argues fromshared understandingsof goods to dis-
tributiveprinciples.Here, however,I want to focus on the commu-
nitarianfoundations.I choose thisfocus in part because of its evi-
dent importancein Walzer's viewand in part because philosophers
attractedto communitarianideas are commonlymore attentiveto
familiarproblemswithalternativeapproaches than theyare to the
equally familiardifficultieswith their own. After firstpresenting
Walzer's view about communityand shared values, I will raise two
such difficulties,thefirstconcerningconsent,thesecond concerning
criticism.'
Ongoing societiesare characterizedbya varietyof institutions and
practiceswhichdeterminethe distributionof goods. Those societies
maybe said to embodyvalues whenone can describea set of values to
whichthe institutions and practicesbroadlyconform.A set of values
and an institutionalschemeconformwhenit is thecase thatsomeone
who understandsand endorses the values and knowshow the insti-
tutionsworkwould approve of theschemeof institutions. For exam-
ple, a societythat relies extensivelyon the marketas an allocative
4 There is verylittleexplicationof the notions of community
and shared values in
Spheres ofJustice.As a result,I am not certainthatI have Walzer exactlyright.My
remarksare, however, supported by his comments in a letter to The New York
Review of Books, July21, 1983.
462 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

mechanismmightbe said to embodyindividualistvalues, in contrast


witha societyin whichall allocativedecisionsare centrallymade. The
enterpriseof characterizingthe values embedded in a society'sprac-
tices is sometimescalled "value interpretation."
A second featureof ongoing societiesis thattheirmemberstypi-
callyact in conformity to the requirementsof the social order. Al-
though there are, of course, frequentdisagreementsand conflicts,
these do not challenge the existinginstitutionalframeworkexcept
during revolutionaryperiods. By conformingto social norms, the
membersmightbe said to share thevalues embodied in thatframe-
work.And it mightfurtherbe said that those shared values can be
discoveredthroughinterpretationof institutionsand practices,and
not (just) byintrospectionor byexaminingethicalintuitions.Shared
values, on thisview,do not exist in a collectivemind separatefrom
institutionalizedsocial action, nor do theyexist simplyin the sepa-
rate mindsof individualagents. Rathertheyexistin an ongoingway
of life.
1. Consent and Community.The firstissue about communitar-
ianism that I want to consider concerns the conception of consent
implicitin Walzer's view. For the purposes of thisdiscussion,I will
assume thatthe values embodiedin a society'sinstitutionsare clear
and determinate.
The account I gavejust above of whatis involvedin sharingvalues
was intentionallyovergeneral.In particular,I did not say anything
about whypeople complywithinstitutionalrequirements.In fact,
there are many reasons. Consent to a political order can reflecta
commitmentto preservingand advancing the way of life of that
order. But it can also resultfromcombinationsof fear,disinterest,
narrowself-interest, a restrictedsense of alternatives,or a strategic
judgment about how to advance values not now embodied in the
politicalcommunity.Only in the case of commitmentdoes it seem
right to say that the members share the values embodied in the
society.And even in this case one would want to know something
about thehistoryof thatcommitmentbeforetreatingit as authorita-
tivestatementof theirvalues.5
Like communitarianaccounts generally,however, Walzer's ac-
count of actual societiestends to disregardthe varietyof sources of
consent.He tends,rather,to identifythevalues embodied in institu-
tionsand practiceswiththevalues of themembers:"Everyparticular
measureis pushed throughby some coalitionof particularinterests.

5 Walzer acknowledgesthislast point in a footnote(on p. 9), but the acknowledg-

ment is not integratedinto the view as a whole.


BOOK REVIEWS 463

But the ultimate appeal in these conflictsis not to the particular


interests,not even to a public interestconceived as theirsum,but to
collective values, shared understandingsof membership,health,
food and shelter,work and leisure. The conflictsthemselvesare
oftenfocused,at least overtly,on questionsof fact;theunderstand-
ings are assumed" (82, emphases added).
But the diversity of sources of consentsuggeststhatin some cases
"the understandingsare assumed" in thatall membersare commit-
ted to an order thatembodies the understandings,whereasin other
cases that"assumption" consistssimplyin compliancewithan order
thatembodies them.In thelattercases theremaywellbe a varietyof
interestsand aspirationsthatare not embodied in the politicalorder
-nonfeudal aspirations in feudal societies, interestsin peace in
militaristicsocieties,or for that mattersimple egalitarianideals in
simplyinegalitariansystems.In such cases, even ifit is perfectlyclear
what values the existingorder embodies, it is hard to see whythe
embodied values provide the only point of departure for political
philosophythat claims to be rooted in actual aspirations.Political
philosophycan, rather,adopt a perspectivethatis "internal" to the
society,even if it is "external" to its institutionsand values.
2. Criticismand Community.Walzer holds that TCE provides a
criticalperspectivebybeingattentiveto currentvalues withoutbeing
beholden to currentpractices(26-28). The strategyis to show that
actual distributions,and even common beliefsabout just distribu-
tions,sometimesdo not conformto the distributivenormsthatfol-
low fromshared understandings.
But, on closer examination,this strategyappears to be seriously
flawed.Consider firstthe wayWalzer applies it to historicalcases. In
all these cases the values of the political communityare identified
throughitspractices.The existenceof an examinationsystemforthe
imperial Chinese bureaucracy tells us what understanding was
shared of the good of office(139-143). And the factthatAthenians
subsidizeddrama festivalsand attendanceat the Assemblymanifests
theirshared conceptionof human needs (69/70). The existingprac-
tices serve as evidence-in fact as the only evidence-for the ac-
count of the "collectiveconsciousness."
This methodof fitting values to practicesis whatI describedabove
as "value interpretation."As it is usually understood,value inter-
pretationaims to providea coherentand unifieddescriptionof the
practicesof a societyin termsof a set of values. But thissuggestsa
dilemmaforthe theoristwho appeals to shared communityvalues as
a criticalperspective.If the values of a communityare identified
through its current distributivepractices, then the distributive
464 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

norms subsequently"derived" fromthose values will not serve as


criticismsof existingpractices.For example, if we determinewhat
goods a communityunderstandsas needs byconsideringwhatgoods
thecommunitynow distributesaccordingto need, thenwe willnever
be in a positiontojudge thata communityoughtto distributea good
according to need, but does not. On the other hand, if we identify
values apart frompractices,witha view to assessingthe conformity
of practicesto those values,whatevidencewilltherebe thatwe have
thevalues right?Thus, ifa good is not distributedaccordingto need,
then in what sense is it true that the communityrecognizes it as a
need? I will call thisthe "simple communitariandilemma (SCD)." It
states,but oversimplifies, the reason forbelievingthatcommunitar-
ian viewsare intrinsically conservative.
To see the force of the SCD, consider the more contemporary
examples in Spheres ofJustice. Here Walzer is criticalof current
practices. But just because of this, the SCD leads us to expect an
arbitraryand tendentiousdescriptionof "our" values. For, in order
to be critical,Walzer must regard significantelements of current
practicesas not indicativeof our values. So we can expect thatonly
somecurrentpracticeswillbe said to embodyour values. But we can
also expect to be perplexed bythe principleof selection.And in fact
thisa priorisuspicion is confirmedby a number of examples:
a. Walzer defends a national health care systemfor the United
Stateson the groundthatwe understandthatmedicalcare is a need,
and thatgoods we recognizeas satisfying needs should be distributed
according to need (86-91). Our recognitionthat medical care is a
need is shown by the commitmentof public fundsto its provision:
"Now, even the patternof medical provisionin the United States,
thoughit stops far shortof a national health service,is intendedto
provideminimallydecent care to all who need it. Once public funds
are committed,public officialscan hardly intend anything less"
(88, emphasisadded). But surelythe factsthathealthcare is largely
privately,and veryunequally,providedare also data foran interpre-
tationof "our" conception of health care. It is not at all clear how
Walzer's interpretationfitsthese data, and, if it does not, whyit is
legitimateto disregardthem.
b. Walzer thinksthatquotas violate rights.By contrast,he holds
that programsinvolving"a significantredistributionof wealth and
resources (for the sake, say, of a national commitmentto full em-
ployment)"would be "in line with the social understandingsthat
shape the welfarestate." Unlike quotas, such measures "build on,
ratherthan challenge,understandingsof the social world shared by
the greatmajorityof Americans"(153/4). I agree withWalzer about
BOOK REVIEWS 465

the importanceof fullemploymentand redistribution, and disagree


about quotas. But, focusingfor now just on the interpretationof
shared values, I do not see how fullemploymentand redistribution
expressthe "the social understandingsthatshape the welfarestate,"
at least in theAmericancase. In the postwarAmericanwelfarestate,
onlywarfarehas broughtunemploymentbelow 4 per cent,and there
has been no redistributionof wealthand resources. In fact,an ex-
ceedinglygenerous "reading" of the welfarestate is that it repre-
sents a way to respond to the interestsof poor and working-class
Americans,in the absenceof any sociallyshared commitmentto full
employmentand income redistribution.
c. Walzer defends workplacedemocracyin termsof our under-
standingof power. Here his argumentsdepend on sustained criti-
cismof the receivedunderstandingthatworkand politicsbelong to
different social spheresand thata defenseof democracyin thepoliti-
cal spherewill,therefore,not carryover into the sphere of work.In
fact,Walzer's discussionof workplacedemocracyinterestingly chal-
lenges familiarand sociallyembedded distinctions.But as an inter-
pretationof existingunderstandingsit is virtuallywithoutsupport
fromcurrentpractices.
I have suggestedthatWalzer's account of our shared understand-
ingsis arbitraryand tendentiousand thatthisis the resultof his use
of communitarianfoundationsfor criticalends. There is a ready
replyto thisobjection.But,as we willsee, thisreplyin factpointsto a
way of deepening the objection.
The response is thatthe SCD grosslymisdescribesthe situationof
the interpreterof social values. Social institutionsand practicesare
the resultnot of legislativedesign by a singleagent actingon behalf
of a coherentsystemof values,but of conflictsamongindividualsand
groupsactingon behalfof diversevalues and ambitions.And, unlike
the product of a supremelegislativedesign,the outcomes of such a
historyare not likelyto be a set of coherent social practices that
completelyconformto anysingleschemeof values. Differentaspects
of the practices of a societywill support differentand conflicting
interpretations,and some will support interpretationswithcritical
consequences forotheraspectsof the order. For example,Medicare
and Medicaid supportthe need interpretation of our understanding
of healthcare. This interpretation can thenbe used to criticizethose
aspects of the medical-caresystemwhich are insensitiveto needs.
Thus theproblemraisedbytheSCD derivesfromtoo simplea picture
of the relationshipbetween values and practices.
These points about the SCD are correct. Social institutionsdo
have complex historiesand differentvalue interpretationswill fit
466 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

differentaspects of a single society.But what conclusions are sup-


ported by these observations?I can imagine three answers to this
question:
a. The existenceof conflictingvalues mightbe takento show that
there is reallyno political community,since there are no coherent
shared values. But TCE requires shared values to defenddistributive
norms. In the absence of such values, it says nothingabout what
justice requires.6
b. A second alternativeis to acknowledgethatwe have conflicting
values, but to hold that only some of those values are correctand
those are the values we ought to adhere to. This response is not
availableto Walzer,since on Walzer's viewthereis no forceto saying
thatvalues are correctbeyond that theyare ours.
c. This leaves a thirdpossibility,the one thatseems to fitWalzer's
argumentsbest: differentinterpretationscan be made to fit our
practices,but only one of those interpretationsis correct.That is,
onlyone captures the values thatwe really share. But Walzer gives
no contentto the claim that one member of a set of competing
interpretations,each of which fitsour institutionsand practices,
mightstill be the rightone. Beyond fittingthe way of life in our
community,there are no furtherconstraintsto be satisfied.This
response, therefore,reduces to the first.
The communitariantells us thatjustice consistsin followingour
sharedvalues,thata "givensocietyisjust ifitssubstantiallifeis lived
in a certainway-that is, in a wayfaithfulto the shared understand-
ingsof the members"(313). I have suggestedthatthisrecommenda-
tionis eitherconservativeor empty.When social practicessupporta
particular,coherentvalue interpretation-thatis, whenwe have de-
terminatevalues-it is conservative.When our practicesdo not sup-
port such an interpretation,it gives conflictingadvice and, as a
aspects of our actual practices
result,no advice at all. Since different
are, I believe, subject to importantly divergentinterpretations, this
argumentgives the conservativecommunitariannothing to cheer
about. But Walzer's use of communitarianism as a foundationfor
criticaldemocraticprinciplesis in trouble in eithercase.
III. CONCLUSION
To conclude, I wantverybrieflyto put the mainpointsof thisreivew
in a more general light.

6
Walzer notes (parenthetically)that when there are disagreements,"justice re-
quires that the society be faithfulto the disagreements,providing institutional
channels for their expression, adjudicative mechanisms,and alternativedistribu-
tions" (313). Unfortunately,Walzer offersthisremarkin his finalchapterand gives
no indication of how it mightbe incorporated into the rest of his view.
BOOK REVIEWS 467

In thePrefaceto SpheresofJustice,Walzer distinguishestwoways


of approachingissues in politicalphilosophy:
One wayto begin thephilosophical enterprise-perhaps theoriginal
way-is to walkout of the cave,leave the city,climbthe mountain,
fashionforoneself(whatcan neverbe fashioned forordinarymenand
women)an objectiveand universal standpoint.Thenone describesthe
terrainof everyday lifefromfaraway,so thatit loses its particular
contours and takeson a generalshape.ButI meanto standin thecave,
in thecity,on theground(xiv,emphasisadded).
There are certainlyserious disagreementsabout the enterpriseof
politicalphilosophy.But it is wrongto say thattheyare importantly
about where "to begin the philosophical enterprise." Plato began
withsuch local and particularethicalopinionsas thatjusticeis "truth
and returningwhatone takes," and argued thatone could be led to
philosophyby the contradictionsin these common opinions. Kant
took "common human reason" as his pointof departure.He argued
thatit is "impelled to go outsideitssphereand to takea step into the
fieldof practicalphilosophy"and thatit must do this "in order to
escape from the perplexityof opposing claims and to avoid the
danger of losing all genuine moral principlesthroughthe equivoca-
tion in whichit is easilyinvolved."7And Henry Sidgwickheld that
inconsistencies, equivocations, and ad hoc qualifications within
common-sensemoralityindicatethe need fora more systematicand
coherentmoral conception. For the deficienciesof common-sense
moralityrenderit inadequate as a guide to action in particularcases,
but "such particularquestionsare, afterall, those to whichwe natu-
rallyexpect answersfromthe moralist."8
So Walzer does not reallydisagreewithPlato or Kant or Sidgwick
about where "to begin the philosophicalenterprise."Rather,when
he tellsus thathis argumentis "radicallyparticularistic"(xiv)or that
"everysubstantiveaccount ofjustice is a local account" (314), he is
in fact advancinga view about where thatenterprisemust end up.
For Walzer, the notions of communityand shared values markthe
limitsof practicalreason, not its point of departure.
I have suggestedthat those limitingnotions are seriouslyflawed.
But thisconclusionis not surprisingin lightof the importanttheme
in the historyof ethics and political philosophy underscored by
Plato, Kant, and Sidgwick.As each argues, the pressureto consider
the reasonableness of conventional norms and values-to move
"outside" more local and particularisticethicalconceptions-comes

7Foundations oftheMetaphysics ofMorals,LewisWhiteBeck,trans.(Indianap-


olis: Bobbs-Merrill,1959), p. 22.
8 The Methods of Ethics, 7th ed. (London: MacMillan, 1907), p. 215.
468 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

from"inside" those conceptions themselves.In fact,whateverthe


meritsof their own substantiveethical theories, their arguments
undermine the dogma that there is a clear and sharp boundary
betweenwhatis "inside" and whatis "outside," betweencommunity
norms and criticalstandards,between common-sensemoralityand
philosophicalethics.Walzer has givenus no good reason to disagree
withPlato, Kant,and Sidgwickon thiscentralpoint. There stillis no
plausible way to fixthe limitsof practicalreason.
JOSHUA COHEN
MassachusettsInstituteof Technology

Goods and Virtues.MICHAEL SLOTE. New York: Oxford University


Press, 1983. 148 p. $19.95.
Despite the author's claim that "the unityof the presentworkis no
greater,but also no less, thanwhatone would expect to find,say,in
an articlethatattemptedto showthata certainphilosophicalanalysis
was in some respectstoo broad and in others too narrow" (1), it is
best read as a provocative series of essays, loosely connected by
themesand methodology.
First,themes:Chapter I argues in supportof the rationality of two
sortsof timepreference:(a) thathow muchsomethingcontributesto
the over-all goodness of one's life depends, in part, on when it
occurs; and (b) thatthe goals and successes characteristicof certain
periods of one's lifeare more importantfor one's lifeover all than
others.Chapter ii maintainsthatcertaintraitsof charactercount as
virtuesonlyunder certaincontingentconditions,in particular,that
havinga life-planis not a virtueat everytimeof life,thatachieving
one's valued ends mayrequireone to abdicate activepursuitof them,
and that rationalityis a virtue only relativeto certain contingent
featuresof the world. Chapter III contains a subtle analysisof the
value of certainvirtues-humility,conscientiousness,trust,sympa-
thy,civility,community-as dependent on the presence of further
virtuesthatmayor maynot underliethem.Chapter iv aims to show
thatthereare charactertraitsthatinherently dispose theagent to act
wronglyand are neverthelessadmirable,throughan extended dis-
cussion of Gauguin's decision to abandon his familyto go offto the
South Seas to paint. PresumablySlote intendsGauguin's example to
persuade us of this independentlyof the extraordinaryvalue we
accord Gauguin's worksthemselvesand theirconsequent power to
morallyexonerateor justifysuch a decision in his particularcircum-
stances. Chapter v contains the carefullyargued thesis that inher-
0022-362X/86/8308/0468$00.60 (? 1986 The Journal of Philosophy,Inc.