Sharon R. Krause


On her book Civil Passions: Moral Sentiment and Democratic Deliberation

Cover Interview of June 19, 2009

A close-up

People are often skeptical about the possibility of impartial deliberation.  Yet while the demands of impartial deliberation are high, they are demands that we can satisfy, at least so long as we acknowledge the affective dimensions of deliberation.

To acknowledge these dimensions is not to bring more passions into politics.  There are plenty of passions in politics already.  Moral sentiment does involve the public communication of sentiments and a refined faculty of sympathy, and justice will require that some previously silenced sentiments find a new voice on the public stage.  But the communication of sentiments is already happening all around us; deliberation is steeped in passions as it is.  The challenge is to civilize the passions that we cannot avoid and that practical reason cannot fully transcend.  Achieving impartiality requires effort and widespread practices of cultivation and self-cultivation, which foster an increasingly inclusive and more sensitive faculty of moral sentiment.  But affective impartiality is achievable.  Our mistake has been to regard impartiality as flowing from an ideal of reason that no one has ever known and that human beings are constitutionally incapable of realizing.

The primary objective of Civil Passions is to correct this mistake, to advance our basic understanding of ourselves and of the deliberative faculties of democratic citizenship.  Passion and practical reason are not separate but deeply entwined.  Impartial deliberation conceived in the old way is therefore a chimera.

The theory of moral sentiment gives us a new way to understand impartiality.  This view is truer to who we really are even as it answers our aspiration for justice.  The deep connection between norms and motives within moral sentiment links aspects of the self that rationalist approaches tend to divide.  Moral sentiment makes the self-as-public-deliberator one with the self-as-political-agent, and in this way it better empowers us to bring the conclusions of our deliberation to fruition in practice.  Impartial deliberation feels as well as reasons, the path to justice is lighted by the glow of civil passions.