Practice-dependence and epistemic uncertainty

Journal of Global Ethics 13 (2):187-205 (2017)
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A shared presumption among practice-dependent theorists is that a principle of justice is dependent on the function or aim of the practice to which it is supposed to be applied. In recent contributions to this debate, the condition of epistemic uncertainty plays a significant role for motivating and justifying a practice-dependent view. This paper analyses the role of epistemic uncertainty in justifying a practice-dependent approach. We see two kinds of epistemic uncertainty allegedly playing this justificatory role. What we call ‘normative epistemic uncertainty’ emerges from dealing with the problem of value uncertainty in justifying applied principles when our higher-level principles are open-textured, that is, when their content is too vague or unclear to generate determinate prescriptions. What we call ‘descriptive epistemic uncertainty’ emerges from dealing with uncertainty about empirical facts, such as the problem of moral assurance, that is, the problem that the requirements of justice cannot go beyond arrangements that we can know with reasonable confidence that we can jointly establish and maintain. In both cases, practice-dependent theorists conclude that the condition of epistemic uncertainty justifies a practice-dependent approach, which puts certain restrictions on theorizing regulative principles and has wide-ranging practical implications for the scope of justice. Our claim in this paper is that neither kind of epistemic uncertainty justifies a practice-dependent approach.



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Eva Erman
Stockholm University

References found in this work

Rescuing Justice and Equality.G. A. Cohen (ed.) - 2008 - Harvard University Press.
Law’s Empire.Ronald Dworkin - 1986 - Harvard University Press.
Thinking how to live.Allan Gibbard - 2003 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Justice beyond borders: a global political theory.Simon Caney - 2005 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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