January 2017

Metalinguistic Awareness in Academic Philosophy

"Tongue-Tied: Rawls, Political Philosophy and Metalinguistic Awareness" (with Matteo Bonotti) is now available at the APSR (November 2016 issue).


Is our moral cognition “colored” by the language(s) that we speak? Despite the centrality of language to political life and agency, limited attempts have been made thus far in contemporary political philosophy to consider this possibility. We therefore set out to explore the possible influence of linguistic relativity effects on political thinking in linguistically diverse societies. We begin by introducing the facts and fallacies of the “linguistic relativity” principle, and explore the various ways in which they “color,” often covertly, current normative debates. To illustrate this, we focus on two key Rawlsian concepts: the original position and public reason. We then move to consider the resulting epistemic challenges and opportunities facing contemporary multilingual democratic societies in an age of increased mobility, arguing for the consequent imperative of developing political metalinguistic awareness and political extelligence among political scientists, political philosophers, and political actors alike in an irreducibly complex linguistic world.

From the APSR editors:

Much of our political theory—and political practice—assumes a common normative language. When we say “rights,” we expect others to have the same conception we do. Yet this is demonstrably not the case. This is a problem that political theory has not yet dealt with, a shortcoming that Yael Peled and Matteo Bonotti seek to overcome in “Tongue-Tied: Rawls, Political Philosophy and Metalinguistic Awareness.” To begin with, once we recognize the problem, they say, we realize that we need to work toward a common language for our civic discourse. But we also need to be open at all times to other languages and the perspectives they have to offer. The subtle analysis of this article will help guide us as we strive to improve our civic discourse today.