MANCEPT Workshops in Political Theory 2021 (online)
ERC-funded project “The Enemy of the Good. Towards a Theory of Moral Progress”
8–9 September, 2021
Organisers: Federico Bina (Vita-Salute San Raffaele), Hanno Sauer (Utrecht)
The possibility of moral progress has received great attention in recent years, especially within naturalistic ethics (Kitcher 2011; Buchanan & Powell 2018). Among the main reasons for the growing interest in this topic is the significant mismatch between the need to satisfy the most pressing normative demands of our time – which require high levels of cooperation and motivation – and humans’ hard-wired psychological constraints. Pessimistic interpretations of the available data from cognitive and social psychology suggest that many desirable moral improvements are difficult to accomplish, at least in the short term and through ordinary means (Thaler & Sunstein 2008; Persson & Savulescu 2012).
Although some scholars have tried to defend an idea of moral progress which directly requires improvements in individual actors’ epistemic capacities and moral agency (Buchanan & Powell 2018; Harris 2011), others have defended socio-institutional accounts which consider moral progress to be feasible despite our cognitive and motivational limits. According to these views, significant moral gains have been (and can be) reached thanks to the right arrangement of social institutions – such as markets or democracy – which can produce progressive changes precisely by relying on humans’ limited capacities (Sauer 2019).
Recently, relevant contributions to the debate have also been offered by linking societal moral progress to metaethics. For instance, according to Luco (2020), progressive socio-political changes are caused by objective, natural moral facts. According to this view, human moral cognition has been selected for its capacity to grasp such natural facts (e.g. the impartial promotion of well-being of people facing a social dilemma); when other natural facts occur, such as higher control over action resources (e.g. wealth, intellectual skills, exchange of ideas), socio-political progressive changes emerge (cf. Welzel, 2014).
This panel aims at bringing together scholars who work on the topic of moral progress to explore potential links and synergies among these different approaches to the issue. Papers which address the following questions would be particularly welcome: