MANCEPT Workshop - Prudence and Politics

September 7, 2021 - September 10, 2021
University of Manchester

United Kingdom

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University of Tampa

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Considerations of prudence plausibly underlie a number of important political debates. Consider, for example, debates between moderates, progressives, and conservatives about social and political change. Moderates often allege that radical approaches to change are likely to backfire by alienating swing voters in the political center. Conversely, progressives often allege that moderates imprudently set back the cause of justice by playing into the status quo. Finally, Burkean conservatives contend that radical change is unwise because it can have—and has a history of having—catastrophic unintended consequences.

Considerations of prudence also appear to be latent within certain forms of liberal political theory. For example, although John Rawls does not explicitly couch his project in prudential terms, Rawls’ primary concern in Political Liberalism is to provide a theory of justice that can explain how a deeply pluralistic society can remain stable and non-oppressive over time. Similarly, in The Law of Peoples, Rawls provides a theory of international law and practice for how diverse peoples can live peacefully with each other in a reasonably just world.  An idea arguably implicit in both works is that it would be imprudent to pursue any conception of domestic or international justice that cannot be expected to realize reasonably stable and peaceful conditions in a diverse and pluralistic world—or what Rawls telling terms a ‘realistic utopia.’ Finally, prudence looms large in many applied political debates, such as how to deal best with climate change, terrorism, pandemics, and the development of artificial intelligence. For example, is it prudent to wage a ‘war on terror’, or is such a war only likely to produce more terrorists and bloodshed? Would experimenting with technological forms of climate engineering be an imprudent risk? Were COVID lockdowns prudent, or an imprudent form of short-term political thinking?

However, as pervasive as concerns about prudence appear to be in political debates, there has been comparatively little theorizing about prudence and politics. In recent years, an increasing number of philosophers have developed novel theories of prudence. For example, in Choosing for Changing Selves (Oxford University Press, 2019), Richard Pettigrew defends a detailed framework for making prudent life-choices in an ever-changing world. Similarly, in A Theory of Prudence (OUP, 2021), Dale Dorsey purports to give a comprehensive theory of prudence. However, the implications of prudence for political theory and practice are relatively underexplored. In Neurofunctional Prudence and Morality: A Philosophical Theory (Routledge, 2020), Marcus Arvan outlines a unified theory of prudence, morality, and justice informed by behavioral neuroscience, holding that prudence and morality ultimately support a broadly Rawlsian conception of justice as fairness. However, in In the Shadow of Justice (Princeton University Press, 2019), Katrina Forrester argues that Rawlsian liberalism is ill-suited to our current political moment: a volatile time of political crises in which more radical forms of political theorizing and action may be more (prudentially?) effective in achieving important forms of social and political change.

Panel Program:

Visitors are welcome to attend. There is a £15 registration fee for visitors. Please register here first, and then email a confirmation of your registration to the panel convenor ([email protected]) to be provided with the Zoom links for each day of the panel. The schedule is below:

Prudence and Politics

Convenor: Marcus Arvan (The University of Tampa): [email protected]

*All times are British Summer Time (BST)


Tuesday 7th September

Session 1: The Logic and Limits of Prudence

14.00-14.30 – Welcome and Introductions

14.30-15:25 –  “Prudence in Kant’s Political Philosophy” – Tom Bailey (London School of Economics)

15.30-16.25 –  “Powerless Dystopian Populations and the Limits of Political Prudence” – Adriano Mannino and Marina Moreno (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich & Solon Center for Policy Innovation)

16.30-17.25 – “The Logic of Prudence” – Manali Kumar (Universität St. Gallen)

17.30- Continued Discussion / Social Gathering


Wednesday, 8th September

Session 2: Prudence and Liberalism

15.00-15.55 – “Respect and Reasonable Pluralism about Prudential Rationality” – Michael Cholbi (University of Edinburgh)

16:00-16.55 – “Nudging for Changing Selves” – Richard Pettigrew (University of Bristol)

17.00- Continued Discussion / Social Gathering

Thursday, 9th September

Session 3: Prudence, Democracy, and Moral Progress

16.00-16.55 – “Reasonability Facades: A Flaw in the Deliberative Model of Democracy” – Clair Baleshta (University of Guelph)

17.00- Continued Discussion / Social Gathering

Friday, 10th September

Session 4: Prudence and Extremism

14.00-14.55 – “Edgelording: Provoking Criticism through Offense” – Mark Bowker (University College Dublin)

15.00-15.55 – “Adolphe, Political Quietism, and the Spirit of Inaction: Benjamin Constant on the Abyss of Reflection” – Jialin Liang (University of Chicago) 

16.00-16.30 – Coffee break/social

16.30-17.25 – “The Prudence of Rooting out Extremism in the US Military” – Ruby Tamariz (Independent Scholar / US Air Force Officer)

17.30- Continued Discussion / Social Gathering

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