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Type: Thesis
Title: The science of social reasoning and decision making: foundations of a new social-liberal theory.
Author: Fisher, Ian Matthew
Issue Date: 2009
School/Discipline: School of Humanities : Philosophy
Abstract: This study addresses the dialectic between two kinds of liberal political philosophy which have strongly influenced Western politics, and remain highly relevant to current debates – libertarian theory and social-liberal theory. In particular, it examines how representative theories on both sides are based on claims about our human nature as reasoning, self- determining, individual agents; and claims about how this nature may be fulsomely expressed or inhibited under different kinds of socio-political conditions. I show that broadly naturalistic claims of this sort support normative claims about aspects of our nature we ought to value, and about the kind of political system we ought to prefer. Social-liberals and libertarians disagree about how human capacities for reasoning, self-determining agency will tend to fare within a liberal State-free market political system. This leads them to different conclusions about the role of the State. The overall approach is to test the relevant claims about our nature and social psychology against current theory and evidence in cognitive neuroscience and epidemiology, and then to interpret the normative implications for each political position. At the heart of the project is a neuroscience-based model of capacities for everyday social reasoning and decision making (‘SRD’ capacities), which I claim offers a plausible, evidence-based account of universal human capacities which both social-liberals and libertarians claim to value. Once in place, the model is employed for critical analysis of data in epidemiological research into aspects of mental health within Western populations. I conclude that certain socioeconomic circumstances commonly encountered within Western societies causally contribute to detrimental impacts on SRD capacities, in the form of psychiatric disorders or diversion behaviours. This material is then used to reinterpret the normative claims of libertarians and social- liberals. I argue that the kind of political system recommended by libertarians will tend to generate conditions which have significant detrimental effects on SRD capacities, which they claim to value; and do so to a greater extent than a social-liberal system. This puts libertarians out of step with their own basic values and initial arguments justifying a liberal State. The libertarian system will also tend to create significant social risks and costs, to the point of being self-undermining. A social-liberal system will tend to mitigate these risks and costs. Thus I argue that, if SRD capacities are regarded as valuable, we have reason to prefer a social-liberal system over a libertarian system. However, in the light of the proposed model, I claim that the ‘standard’ form of contemporary social-liberal politics and programs also has weaknesses. Familiar forms of egalitarian social program partially address some social conditions implicated in undermining SRD capacities, but there are other aspects of the problem which are outrunning the usual methods. The associated risks and liabilities are still cause for prudential concern. A more creative and psychologically astute politics is required. In conclusion I make a number of proposals in that direction, and claim that the project as a whole offers elements of a new social-liberal theory.
Advisor: Opie, Jonathan Philip
Louise, Jennie
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) - University of Adelaide, School of Humanities, 2009
Keywords: Political philosophy; Liberalism; Libertarianism; Reason; Decision making; Neuroscience
Provenance: Copyright material removed from digital thesis. See print copy in University of Adelaide Library for full text.
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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