State Neutrality and Controversial Values in On Liberty

In an important essay Charles Larmore tells us that Kant and Mill sought to justify the principle of political neutrality by appealing to ideals of autonomy and individuality. By remaining neutral with regard to controversial views of the good life, constitutional principles will express, according to them, what ought to be of supreme value throughout the whole of our life.1 On Larmore’s influential reading, Mill defended what we might call first-level neutrality: Millian principles determining justified legal (and, we might add, social) intervention are neutral between competing conceptions of the good life. However, Larmore insists that Millian neutral political principles do not posses second-level neutrality: they do not have a neutral justification. The problem with Mill’s valuebased defense of liberalism,” Larmore insists, is that because the value of individuality is “far from uncontroversial,” 2 Mill’s case liberalism is open to reasonable objection. In contrast Larmore and, of course, John Rawls, seek to develop a “political liberalism” that defends liberal neutrality without appeal to a “general ‘philosophy of man’ or a ‘comprehensive moral ideal’.”3 The justification of liberal principles “must be acceptable by reasonable people having different views of the good life, not just those who share, for example, Mill’s ideal of the person.”4 Liberals, argues Larmore, need “a neutral justification of neutrality.”5..
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