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Addams’ Radical Democracy: Moving Beyond Rights
Journal of Speculative Philosophy (2004)
  • Maurice Hamington, Portland State University
One of the challenges of exploring Addams's social philosophy is that she, like her contemporary, John Dewey, does not fit neatly into established categories of political thought. Addams promotes social morality not at the exclusion of individual morality, but as its natural progression and complement. I will suggest that Addams, while not disdaining rights-based ethics, finds the approach insufficient to the morality needed for a dynamic democracy. As Addams describes it, "democracy like any other of the living faiths of men, is so essentially mystical that it continually demands new formulation" (Addams 1909, 146). Part of that reformulation is the discursive move beyond static notions of isolated individuals who are endowed with rights to considerations of citizens' responsibilities for others as part of an active and rich notion of public interest. In developing Addams's radical notion of democracy, I will first explore how she delineates "old style" classical liberal democracy from her preferred concept of social democracy. Then I will address how rights as they are traditionally understood are inadequate for Addams's social project of communal morality. To accomplish this we will look at some of the rhetorical positions taken by Addams to push forward her political agenda, such as the elective franchise for women and the amelioration of women's exploitation as prostitutes. As we explore Addams's concept of rights, perhaps we will discover that her approach is more radical than that which is typically attributed to her.
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Copyright © 2004 by the Pennsylvania State University. All rights reserved.
Citation Information
Maurice Hamington. "Addams’ Radical Democracy: Moving Beyond Rights" Journal of Speculative Philosophy Vol. 18 Iss. 3 (2004)
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