Justice claims are moral claims.
Scott makes the argument, bizarre to my ears, that the language of morality has somehow become the special property of the religious Right, and implies that the movement liberalism has neglected its inheritance of moral reasoning. Liberals, he says, are forgoing moral considerations in order to focus on “what works.”
I’m unclear on exactly which “liberals” Scott is talking about; I’m assuming he means the Obama administration and its supporters. But I can’t think of a reasonable grouping of liberals that doesn’t make plenty of moral claims. It’s just that they tend to use the language of rights and justice rather than the language of—what? Sin and redemption?
Justice claims are moral claims, and the arguments that liberals offer for establishing universal health care, for battling income inequality, for reforming the prison system, for workers’ rights and unions, etc., are almost always about justice. The small-p pragmatism—“what works,” with regard to some goal—comes after the relevant conception of justice lays down the end.
So if there’s a problem in public moral reasoning, it’s not that people don’t make moral claims, because we make such claims constantly, and it’s not that liberals have ceded the language of morality to conservatives, because they haven’t. It’s that we have a great deal of trouble talking across the gaps between competing conceptions of morality—between “rival versions of moral enquiry,” if I may. And that’s a place where we can hope that moral philosophy can help us clear up where we’re coming from and what we’re really committed to.
(See also Nadezhda’s comment on the original post.)