Philosophy groups: liberal versus communitarian
I'm in the middle of writing my first pitch for academic research funding - I'm teaming up with Thomas Dixon, the head of the Centre for the History of Emotions at Queen Mary (and the author of this excellent book on The Invention of Altruism), on a project to research the rise of philosophy groups and organizations. One of the ideas I'd like to explore is the idea of liberal versus communitarian philosophy groups - and how philosophy groups follow the division first drawn by Michael Sandel (right) in his book Liberalism and the Limits of Justice.
I would describe some philosophy groups or organizations as liberal, in so far as they are not committed to any comprehensive doctrine of the good (as John Rawls puts it), but rather are a forum for discussing various different theories of the good, none of which the members are obliged to support or follow. Examples of this sort of organization are the School of Life, the Idler Academy, and the London Philosophy Club (with whom I work).
Communitarian philosophy groups, by contrast, are committed to a particular comprehensive doctrine of the good (as Michael Sandel puts it). By turning up, its members are showing their assent to a particular vision of the good. Examples of this type of group are the New Stoics, Action for Happiness (who are Epicureans or Utilitarians), the Skeptics, the School of Economic Science (who are Platonic mystics), the Landmark Forum (radical Sceptics), and the Occupy movement (who are anarchists).
The School of Life and the Idler Academy are interesting organizations to consider. Both model themselves on ancient schools (De Botton has said he was inspired by the example of Epicurus' Garden), but they're clearly different, in that they don't teach a particular comprehensive theory of the good, and don't ask their members to follow a particular way of life.
De Botton has recently argued that the state should teach the 'art of living', and not be afraid to take a more paternalist attitude to its citizens. In other words, he's arguing that we shift from a Rawlsian pluralist system of government, in which the state preserves a studied neutrality about various competing theories of the good, to a communitarian system of government, where the state backs a particular theory of the good. Yet De Botton's own School doesn't do this...does it?