I sketch a very general account of what I call “agentive norms” and “enabling norms,” explain their different logics, and locate the general problem of the objectivity of agentive norms (which address the choice of suitable goals of life) within the space of the temper of our times—bearing, then, on such topics as “emancipation,” equality, justice, rights and the like.
My sense is that it’s impossible to advance suitable agentive norms, in terms that rely on expressly cognitive claims or claims somehow addressed to the authority of reason, or that neglect the unavoidable contribution of contingent sittlich norms, adventitious events, and ideological or personal conviction. These are strenuous but ineluctable concessions that commit us to what might be called “second-best” moralities, politics, economies, religions, educations and the like. “Emancipation” is reasonably treated, then, as a norm (more or less within the terms of liberal democracy/liberal capitalism) of the sittlich sort. The central problem of philosophies of practical life (ethics and politics, say) is, quite simply, that, under the conditions given, there are bound to be endless quarrels about what to take as the best of our “second-best” options for our agentive norms. I try to place the problem of such reasoning in the context of post-Darwinian paleoanthropology and the intertwined biological and cultural evolution of the human person (as artifactual transform of the human primate, Homo sapiens sapiens). As it happens, the recent terrorist attack, in Paris, on Charlie Hebdo shows very plausibly how important events often arise to define unavoidable problems of ethical and political conscience as clear challenges and possible extensions or revisions of our customary practices, suited to second-best proposals. The question that arises is whether we have sufficient conceptual resources here for resolving such challenges. My own sense is that the best we can do is seek a tolerable modus vivendi as partisans committed to our form of life, open to revisions among our agentive norms and their capacitation. Under the circumstances, the generous extensions of what we ourselves take to be our best agentive norms to excluded or deprived populations cannot be disqualified if any privileged distribution is deemed defensible.