A Defense of Strong Voluntarism

American Philosophical Quarterly 35 (3):251-265 (1998)
Critics of liberalism in the past two decades have argued that the fact that we are necessarily "situated" or "embedded" means that we can not always choose our own ends (for example, our conceptions of the good or our loyalties to others). Some suggest that we simply discover ourselves with these "connections." If correct, this would argue against (Rawlsian) hypothetical contract models and liberalism more broadly, make true impartiality impossible, and give support to traditionalist views like those of Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, and Michael Sandel. These same critics argue that liberalism's rejection or neglect of this supposed fact of our moral life has pernicious anti-social affects. I argue that the critics are wrong in both cases, defending what I call "strong voluntarism." In contrast both to recent critics of liberalism and the dominant trend in recent liberal thought, my defense of strong voluntarism allows that we can always choose to accept or reject any end we happen to have but that this does not lead to any pernicious anti-social effects.
Keywords voluntarism  autonomy  liberalism  communitarianism
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