Liberalism and the Polygamy Question

Social Philosophy Today 23:161-174 (2007)
Part I of this paper examines liberal toleration and its relevance to the debate on polygamy. The remaining sections consider Marci Hamilton’s claim that polygamy should not be accommodated. Hamilton’s position rests on three kinds of arguments which I call: 1) the argument from public reason; 2) the argument from democracy; and 3) the argument from exploitation. Each of these fails: 1) fails because Hamilton’s conception of public reason is too restrictive; 2) fails because it rests on a procedural test which attempts to balance claims about rights against claims about the public good—and thus presupposes a flawed conception of rights; 3) is the most compelling of Hamilton’s arguments but could be met in principle if one can show that the right design of background institutions can accommodate polygamy without sponsoring an exploitative form of marriage.
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