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New Book: The Scandal of Reason

The Scandal of Reason: A Critical Theory of Political Judgment

By Albena Azmanova (University of Kent in Brussels)

Columbia University Press – March 20, 2012

296 pages

Book description:

Theories of justice are haunted by a paradox: the more ambitious the ideal of justice, the less applicable and useful the model is to political practice; yet the more politically realistic the theory, the weaker its moral ambition, rendering it unsound and equally useless. Brokering a resolution to this “judgment paradox,” Albena Azmanova advances a “critical consensus model” of judgment that serves the normative ideals of a just society without the help of ideal theory.

Tracing the evolution of two major traditions in political philosophy—critical theory and philosophical liberalism—and the way they confront the judgment paradox, Azmanova critiques prevailing models of deliberative democracy and their preference for ideal theory over political applicability. Instead, she replaces the reliance on normative models of democracy with an account of the dynamics of reasoned judgment produced in democratic practices of open dialogues. Combining Hannah Arendt’s study of judgment with Pierre Bourdieu’s social critique of power relations, and incorporating elements of political epistemology from Kant, Wittgenstein, H. L. A. Hart, Max Weber, and American philosophical pragmatism, Azmanova centers her inquiry on the way participants in moral conflicts attribute meaning to their grievances of injustice. She then demonstrates the emancipatory potential of the model of critical deliberative judgment she forges and its capacity to guide policy making.

This model’s critical force yields from its capacity to disclose the common structural sources of injustice behind conflicting claims to justice. Moving beyond the conflict between universalist and pluralist positions, Azmanova grounds the question of “what is justice?” in the empirical reality of “who suffers?” in order to discern attainable possibilities for a less unjust world.

Andrew Arato’s review of the book:

Albena Azmanova navigates between abstract, universalist conceptions of justice and legitimacy and situated, particularistic claims that disguise their implicit norms. Her work on judgment solves many of the problems of existing theories of deliberative democracy without surrendering normative justification. What is especially valuable in her work is that she transforms deliberative theory in a way that will be more usable for both empirical analysis and political orientation.

Albena Azmanova’s recent related paper: Social Injustice and the Pragmatics of Universal Justification

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