The Burdens of Judgment and Fallibilism

Rawls's burdens of judgment are a list of factors that explain why reasonable persons in a diverse society are likely to hold different, often incompatible, conceptions of the good. According to Charles Larmore, the burdens of judgment satisfy political liberalism's ambition of supporting liberal political principles through a minimalist moral conception. By using the burdens, we ground liberal politics in the modest notion of reasonable disagreement, avoiding reliance on controversial comprehensive notions such as autonomy, individuality, skepticism about the good, or value pluralism. In this paper I argue that the burdens of judgment cannot provide adequate support for liberal political principles unless they are read in a way that comports with Kymlicka's modest version of autonomy liberalism. As it renounces fallibilism, political liberalism's moral minimalism can be manipulated in a way that reconciles it with decidedly illiberal results. The only way to avoid this problem is to recognize that the justification of liberal principles cannot be detached from notions of fallibilism and critical reflection about the good. Ultimately, political liberalism's emphasis on moral minimalism deprives it of the conceptual resources it needs to deal with contemporary controversies concerning the defence and clarification of liberal policies
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DOI doi:10.1057/palgrave.cpt.9300248
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