Thick Moralities, Thin Politics

Social Integration Across Communities of Belief

Thick Moralities, Thin Politics

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: Published: April 2003

Author: Benjamin Gregg

Politics > Political Theory, Sociology, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

At the center of pluralistic societies like the United States is the question of how to make broadly consensual social policy in light of the different moral values held by a heterogeneous population varying in ethnicity, sexual identity, religion, and political belief. In Thick Moralities, Thin Politics Benjamin Gregg develops a new approach to dealing with conflicting values in the policymaking process. Arguing that public policy suffers when politics are laden with moral doctrines, Gregg contends that "thickly" moral public philosophies cannot be the basis of a successful political process. He offers a "thin" model of political decision-making which brackets moral questions (within the public sphere), deliberately working around them whenever possible—not toward political consensus, but rather the more realistic goal of mutual accommodation.

Thick Moralities, Thin Politics grapples with the work of theorists from both sides of the Atlantic, including Jürgen Habermas, Anthony Giddens, and Niklas Luhmann, as well as George Herbert Mead, Erving Goffman, and Harold Garfinkel. Gregg develops a model of validity for arguments made in the public sphere, for understanding among competing worldviews, and for adjudicating disputes generated by normative differences. He applies his theory of politics to specific issues of contemporary social life, including those relating to the place of women, minorities, and multiculturalism in American and European society today. He also addresses the scientific study of religion, issues of legal interpretation, and the critique of ideology, in each case illuminating how different epistemic systems, as well as competing value systems, can achieve some understanding of one another. Gregg demonstrates, ultimately, that thin politics actually further, rather than reduce, citizens' engagement in the political process.


"Benjamin Gregg . . . articulates a theory that supports pluralism while being mindful of its dangers. . . . [This] is a book animated by the spirit of John Locke and John Stuart Mill and is guaranteed to inspire class discussion, which I believe is a major reason that Gregg wrote the book." — Ken De Luca, Perspectives on Political Science

"Gregg practices what it preaches, judiciously and fairly considering an impressive range of theory. As a result, Thick Moralities, Thin Politics is an important contribution to debates about the possibility of politics in pluralistic societies." — Courtney Bender , Theory and Epistemology

"Gregg shows that social theory does indeed have something to contribute to political theory, and, as political theorists, we should be aware of these resources." — Lasse Thomassen , Political Theory

"Gregg's book should be read by anyone with an interest in a sociologically grounded political theory." — Wendy Mee, Thesis Eleven

"This is a book for anyone interested in questions concerning pluralism and moral conflict. . . . Insofar as Gregg's work is interdisciplinary, it contains much that is insightful, and thus much to recommend." — Jason Scott Ferrell , Political Studies Review

"This is a book that deserves careful reading. . . ." — Stefano Bertea, Social & Legal Studies

“With superb insight, Benjamin Gregg melds theory and research in sociology and political science into an approach to communitarianism that in content advances the arguments of Amitai Etzioni and in form rivals the touch of Jeffrey Alexander. Gregg’s concept of ‘enlightened localism’ merits close attention by researchers and theorists alike.” — David Sciulli, author of Corporate Power in Civil Society

”The dividing line between liberalism and communitarianism is steadily eroding, as is evident in a number of recent books dealing with ‘liberal pluralism’ and the like. Thick Moralities, Thin Politics resolutely carries forward this trend. Written from a pragmatist perspective enriched by critical theory, the text articulates the conception of a public sphere composed of several communities with ‘thick moralities’ and held together by a framework of ‘thin’ political rules allowing for diversity and contestation. An important contribution to the debate about democratic multiculturalism.” — Fred R. Dallmayr, University of Notre Dame


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Benjamin Gregg is Associate Professor of Government at the University of Texas, Austin.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

I. Thick Moralities, Thin Politics in Social Integration

1. Thick and Thin 17

2. Social Integration within Cosmopolitan Societies 40

3. Social Integration among Diverse Communities 67

4. Solidarities, Understandings, Identities 90

II. Thick Moralities, Thin Politics in Political Judgment

5. Political Judgment about Indeterminate Legal Norms

6. Political Judgment about Competing Cultural Values

7. Political Judgment as Ideology Critique

Coda 187

Notes 195

Selected Bibliography 223

Index 235
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3093-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3081-3
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