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Imagining Other Lives

Catriona Mackenzie


In his recent book Reflective Democracy, Robert Goodin argues that 'external-collaborative' models of democratic deliberation procedures need to be supplemented by 'internal-reflective' deliberation. The exercise of the moral imagination plays a central role in Goodin's account of 'democratic deliberation within'. By imaginatively putting ourselves in the place of a range of others, he argues, including those who maybe not be able to represent their own interests, we can make their points of view 'communicatively present' in deliberation. Goodin's argument emphasizes the role of art and other forms of cultural representation in helping to bring about this expansion of moral imagination. Drawing on debates in philosophy of mind concerning the scope and limits of our capacities to simulate other minds, I argue that Goodin's analysis of 'democratic deliberation within' conflates different kinds of imaginative project. In doing so, it underestimates both the difficulties of imaginatively putting ourselves in the place of others and the political risks in doing so. I argue, alternatively, that moral engagement with others involves the capacity for sympathy and that art and other forms of cultural representation can enlarge the scope of our sympathies, by assisting us to overcome imaginative resistance to alien points of view. In developing this argument, I provide a qualified defense of Iris Young's claim that respect for others involves 'asymmetrical reciprocity'.
AJOL African Journals Online