A Debate On The Argument From Contingency by Russell Bertrand

By Russell Bertrand

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Even if epistemology in a traditional sense is overcome, actual claims for knowledge and their impact will have to keep being investigated. Rather than pretending not to know anything about history, as Rorty implicitly does, such epistemic claims need to be investigated in the historical context in which they are made. As I tried to argue above, much of the history of the social sciences and of social philosophy can be read as knowledge claims being made in problematic situations and with the practical aim to solve those problems.

Such state-oriented social science deWned the major political issue of the time, which in many countries was called ‘the social question’ or ‘the labour question’, in terms of Wnding a smooth way to exit from the earlier restrictive liberalism (or even, as in Germany, old regime). The growth of state involvement, while necessary, was mostly not seen as a radical break with earlier practice. Social élites just had to be more responsive to the needs of the population than they had been. Empirical social analysis was meant to both demonstrate the need for reforms, also against élite resistance, as well as develop and propose the type of measures that were required.

The restructuration of political orders and their modes of justiWcation created aporias that should accompany political thinking until the present. Political philosophy in the aftermath of these revolutions has often been seen as being on the decline. I will try to show that all the transformed ways of understanding political matters that emerged during the nineteenth century can be read as modes of dealing with the post-revolutionary aporias. They were centred, aYrmatively or critically, on the liberal idea of the The Viability of the Polity 37 polity, but – as social sciences – they insisted that liberal-individualist political philosophy on its own was insuYcient to understand a social order.

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