Chapter 2. Values as premises in practical arguments

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The paper focuses on a fragment of the public debate (in the UK) on whether or not the inequality of high pay and bonuses for bankers should be tolerated or not in the wake of the financial crisis. Our discussion builds on the view of the structure of practical arguments we advance in our forthcoming book (Fairclough &#38; Fairclough forthcoming), i.e. practical arguments take goal, value, circumstantial and means-goal premises. Drawing on Searle&#8217;s (2010) view of the construction of social reality, we advance the view that values enter practical arguments in two ways: as actual <i>concerns</i> (what people actually value, or &#8216;desire-dependent&#8217; reasons) and as objective, socially recognized, institutional <i>facts</i> (&#8216;desire-independent&#8217; reasons). The former type of reason constitutes the value premise which underlies the goal premise. The latter is part of the circumstantial premise: it is a fact that can motivate action but does not always do so: agents may choose to disregard commitments (values) that they are otherwise bound by. The typical argument in favour of &#8216;tolerating inequality&#8217; is a prudential argument based on people&#8217;s alleged actual interests and concerns: inequality allegedly serves the common good. The moral argument against inequality starts from a normative <i>concern</i> for justice but also from the state&#8217;s commitment to justice as an <i>institutional</i> <i>fact</i>. The UK government, for example, is publicly committed to justice and has a duty to act justly, whether it is actually concerned to act justly or not.


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