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A ‘Weak’ Theory of Political Obligations for a ‘Strong’ Version of Realism? On Margaret Gilbert’s Joint Commitment Theory

Political Leadership
Political Methodology
Political Theory
Zoltán Gábor Szucs
Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Zoltán Gábor Szucs
Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Abstract

The possibility of a distinctively political normativity has recently become the subject of intense controversy between political realists and their opponents. While realism’s opponents think that a strict separation of political and moral normativity is a core element of political realism and criticize it as highly problematic, what all realists share in common is a less ambitious claim. The claim is that the authority of the peculiar way of thinking about moral issues over politics – called ‘applied morality’ (Williams) or ‘ethics-first view’ (Geuss) – should be rejected. It is only the strong version of realism that claims a strict separation while weak – mostly Williamsian – realism would be satisfied with allowing the existence of genuinely political ethics that is responsive to the specific needs of the realm of politics. This paper will put aside the problem of a weak version of realism. It will argue that the crux of the strong version of realism concerning political normativity is not how a distinctively political normativity can be conceived of in highly abstract metatheoretical terms in the first place. Instead, they need to answer how this claim can be put to work to solve classical political theoretical problems. One of these classical problems is the problem of political obligations where there is a difference between theories based on a strong claim that political obligations can be built on a ‘justificatory model’ (which is a form of ‘applied morality’) and weak theories that look for a normative explanation for political obligations without the help of the justificatory model. The paper will argue that Margaret Gilbert’s joint commitment theory that explicitly denies that political obligations would belong to the genus of moral obligations is a perfect candidate to meet the criteria of a strong version of realism.