Developing themes from Jo Wolff's book Ethics and Public Policy and applying these themes to my experience as Chair of Newport City Council's Fairness Commission, I will explore two features of the relationship between social ideals and reality. First, I examine the meaning and scope of 'reaching an agreement' - that is, between parties who are being consulted over policy but who also know that 'fairness' is a highly contested (even essentially contested) concept. Second, I examine the meaning and scope of a 'bottom-up' approach to understanding the relationship between abstract theorising and practical politics - that is, where philosophical principles are informed in the first place by the detail of every-day experience and policy-making. My main contention is that Wolff's claim that philosophers tend to emphasise difference in argument while policy-makers seek consensus, although is a helpful starting-point in understanding the relationship between ideals and reality, oversimplifies the nuanced positions of both philosophers and policy-makers. That either philosophers or policy-makers often do not conform to type (as defined by Wolff) and that, as a result, the boundaries between abstract philosophising and practical policy-making are more blurred than suggested by him. Following this analysis, I also argue that the bottom-up approach recommended by Wolff is flawed, not because it overestimates the power of example and description in the 'next-step' of theorising, but (like the top-down approach) it tends to falsely assume that the detailed description of policy or a 'policy area' is devoid of theory.
|Title of host publication||N/A|
|Publication status||Unpublished - 4 Mar 2014|
- fairness commissions
- jonathan wolff
- applied philosophy
- philosophical method