Policy Sans EthicsTibor R. Machan
Classical and a few modern political philosophers -- e.g., Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, John Locke, et al. -- argued that to learn how to govern, one must have certain values for which governing needs to aim. These would be justice, peace, equality, or liberty. The source of these values might be one or another conception of the divine, human nature, intuition, majority sentiment or something like these.
This approach was referred to as foundationalism and the debates concerned how to achieve the values, not weather such values are needed to guide public affairs.
Pragmatists such as Charles Peirce, C. I. Lewis, John Dewey, Oliver Wendel Holmes, Jr., didn't think there exist any fundamental principles to guide public policy. Instead the best we can do is identify practical approaches. This is the by now well known "whatever works" approach. For example, “Defenders of Chicago-style law and economics want to be seen not as ideologues [the term of denigration for the principled approach], but as realists. [Judge Richard] Posner [put it this way]: ‘We ask not whether the economic approach to law is adequately grounded’ in any particular ethical system, ‘but whether it is the best approach for the contemporary American legal system to follow.’” Peter Coy, “Opening Remarks,” Bloomberg Businessweek, 6/11-6/17, 2012, p. 10.
All pragmatists face this problem, be they inclined toward the Right (such as Posner) or Left (such as Cass Sunstein). Their pragmatism may suggest otherwise but in their public policy preferences they show their hands clearly enough. Without a foundation to back up their preferences, their public philosophy ultimately turns out to be arbitrary, based on wishes and hopes, not on anything that could be ascertained such as human nature, God's will, etc.