About this topic
Summary In the latter part of the twentieth century, a number of  political theorists began to argue that “traditional” conceptions of liberalism – such as those offered by John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill – were no longer able to respond satisfactorily to the challenges associated with securing justice amidst the increasing plurality of competing, conflicting, and often incommensurable and irreconcilable beliefs present in contemporary constitutional democracies. Effectively addressing those challenges, it was suggested, would require (1) a redrawing of the boundaries of liberal concern so as to better distinguish between matters of public and private interest – between the political and the nonpolitical; and (2) a focus on securing a consensus on a framework for regulating and mediating only the former. The school of thought associated with this line of argument has come to be known as political liberalism, the most famous (contemporary) proponent of which is John Rawls, author of the architectonic text Political Liberalism. According to Rawls, a purely political liberalism is animated by a “freestanding” conception of justice, one that is not derived from any particular (controversial) metaphysical or epistemological view and limits its application to matters of public import – that is, issues that affect all members of the polity, such as decisions concerning voting and property rights and religious toleration, what Rawls characterizes as “constitutional essentials and issues of basic justice.”
Key works Examples of detailed conceptions of political liberalism are provided in Rawls 1993; Ackerman 1980; Gaus 1996; and Moon 1993.
Introductions Articles that provide an excellent introduction to the concept of political liberalism include Rawls 1985; Larmore 1990; Ackerman 1994; and Shklar 1989.
Related categories

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  1. The Complete Works of Harriet Taylor Mill (Review).Ruth Abbey - 2001 - Hypatia 16 (1):94-97.
  2. Background Environmental Justice: An Extension of Rawls's Political Liberalism.Edward Abplanalp - unknown
    This dissertation extends John Rawls’s mature theory of justice out to address the environmental challenges that citizens of liberal democracies now face. Specifically, using Rawls’s framework of political liberalism, I piece together a theory of procedural justice to be applied to a constitutional democracy. I show how citizens of pluralistic democracies should apply this theory to environmental matters in a four stage contracting procedure. I argue that, if implemented, this extension to Rawls’s theory would secure background environmental justice. I explain (...)
  3. Nota Del traductor.Andrés Acosta - 2013 - Ideas Y Valores 62 (152):249-265.
    RESUMEN Se analiza si la versión de la justicia como equidad, presentada en El liberalismo político, es genuinamente una concepción política. Se examina el problema de la razonabilidad de las doctrinas comprehensivas, y se indaga luego si el argumento en dos etapas afecta la integridad estructural del liberalismo político. Se concluye que J. Rawls fracasa en su intento de justificar un liberalismo independiente de una doctrina comprehensiva de carácter liberal. ABSTRACT The article analyzes whether the conception of justice as fairness, (...)
  4. Review of Robert B. Talisse, Democracy and Moral Conflict (Cambridge UP, 2009). [REVIEW]Kristoffer Ahlstrom-Vij - 2011 - Philosophical Quarterly 61 (244):666-668.
    The review argues that Talisse's epistemic defense of democracy in his "Democracy and Moral Conflict," albeit novel and interesting, falls prey to an epistemic analogue of the problem of reasonable moral pluralism that Rawls famously posed for moral justifications of democracy.
  5. Patriotic Liberalism.John P. Anderson - 2003 - Law and Philosophy 22 (6):577 - 595.
  6. Political Liberalism and the Interests of Children: A Reply to Timothy Michael Fowler.Emil Andersson - 2011 - Res Publica 17 (3):291-296.
    Timothy Michael Fowler has argued that, as a consequence of their commitment to neutrality in regard to comprehensive doctrines, political liberals face a dilemma. In essence, the dilemma for political liberals is that either they have to give up their commitment to neutrality (which is an indispensible part of their view), or they have to allow harm to children. Fowler’s case for this dilemma depends on ascribing to political liberals a view which grants parents a great degree of freedom in (...)
  7. Moral Identity and the Good in the Thought of Iris Murdoch.Maria Anita Antonaccio - 1996 - Dissertation, The University of Chicago
    This dissertation is the first systematic and comprehensive treatment of Iris Murdoch's moral philosophy in the context of contemporary religious and philosophical ethics. Its task is threefold: to present the central themes of Murdoch's ethics as she develops them in relation to Anglo-American linguistic empiricism and Sartrean existentialism; to demonstrate the contemporary relevance of her thought among current options in ethics; and to outline its constructive implications for future ethical inquiry. ;The central argument is that Murdoch's thought signals a compelling (...)
  8. A Decade of Debate : Discourse Theory Versus Political Liberalism.Leite Araujo & B. Luiz - 2007 - In José Rubio Carrecedo (ed.), Political Philosophy: New Proposals for New Questions: Proceedings of the 22nd Ivr World Congress, Granada 2005, Volume Ii = Filosofía Política: Nuevas Propuestas Para Nuevas Cuestiones. Franz Steiner Verlag.
  9. Why Political Liberalism? On John Rawls’s Political Turn by Paul Weithman.Matthew Arbo - 2013 - Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 33 (1):203-204.
  10. John Rawls, Political Liberalism.D. Archard - forthcoming - Radical Philosophy.
  11. Political Liberalism. [REVIEW]David Archard - 1994 - Radical Philosophy 66.
  12. The Principle of Freedom in the Law of Democratic Country.Saulius Arlauskas & Daiva Petrėnaitė - 2013 - Jurisprudence 20 (2):407-428.
    Although the need of freedom is definite, the concept of individual freedom, while being interpreted with legal terms, causes not only theoretical, but also practical problems. The observed two extremes of freedom are defined as any human self-expression as well as the license, where the state power is generally attributed to disregard personal freedom. In this article the freedom of expression and state enforcement jurisdiction dichotomy are addressed by discussing positive and negative conceptions of freedom and the relationship between the (...)
  13. Political Liberalism, Religious Liberty, and Religious Establishment.Richard Arneson - unknown
    Religion is a trap and a snare for states in the modern world. People fervently believe in religious doctrines, which they take to be central for the guidance of their own lives and pivotal for determining morally appropriate and just laws and public policies. The religious beliefs of members of modern societies tend to be wildly diverse. They conflict with each other in ways that resist sensible compromise. Jesus is either the Son of God, the Savior whose teachings will lead (...)
  14. Rawls Versus Utilitarianism in the Light of Political Liberalism.Richard Arneson - manuscript
    The critique of utilitarianism forms a crucial subplot in the complex analysis of social justice that John Rawls develops in his first book, A Theory of Justice.1 The weaknesses of utilitarianism indicate the need for an alternative theory, and at many stages of the argument the test for the adequacy of the new theory that Rawls elaborates is whether it can be demonstrated to be superior to the utilitarian rival. The account of social justice shifts in the transition to Rawls’s (...)
  15. Value Pluralism Does Not Support Liberalism.Richard J. Arneson - unknown
    Following hints in the writings of Isaiah Berlin, some political theorists hold that the thesis of value pluralism is true and that this truth provides support for political liberalism of a sort that prescribes wide guarantees of individual liberty.1 There are many different goods, and they are incommensurable. Hence, people should be left free to live their own lives as they choose so long as they don’t harm others in certain ways. In a free society there is a strong presumption (...)
  16. Cano, Germán:" Adoquines bajo la playa. Escenografías biopolíticas del 68".Sonia Arribas - 2012 - Anales Del Seminario de Historia de la Filosofía 29 (2):744-746.
    This article deals with Donald Davidson’s concept of metaphor and Richard Rorty’s use of it for his version of political liberalism. Rorty assumes that metaphor is a linguistic element that is impossible to understand. Metaphor is an unintelligible “call” that, from within the private sphere, provokes in individuals the desire to create alternative forms of life. Once metaphor has become literal, it –and the new form of life that it entails– can form part of public life. Metaphor is the guarantee (...)
  17. The Call of Metaphor: Richard Rorty's Politics of Language.Sonia Arribas - 2007 - Logos 40:305-328.
    This article deals with Donald Davidson's concept of metaphor and Richard Rorty's use of it for his version of political liberalism. Rorty assumes that metaphor is a linguistic element that is impossible to understand. Metaphor is an unintelligible "call" that, from within the private sphere, provokes in individuals the desire to create alternative forms of life. Once metaphor has become literal, it -- and the new form of life that it entails -- can form part of public life. Metaphor is (...)
  18. Political Liberalism, Secular Republicanism: Two Answers to the Challenges of Pluralism.Catherine Audard - 1996 - Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 40:163-175.
    The main challenge facing democracies in the post-Communist era is probably not so much the threat of totalitarianism as the consequences of pluralism, of the existence within these societies of a plurality of incompatible cultural allegiances. How are they to survive their fragmentation into communities many of whom no longer share the basic moral requirements of a democratic regime: recognition of the liberty of conscience, of equality of rights, and the like?
  19. John Rawls, Political Liberalism.Catherine Audard - 1993 - Archives de Philosophie du Droit 38:299-308.
  20. Human Rights and Toleration in Rawls.Mitch Avila - 2011 - Human Rights Review 12 (1):1-14.
    In a Society of Peoples as Rawls conceives it, human rights function as “criteria for toleration.” This paper defends the conception of human rights that appears in Rawls’ The Law of Peoples as normatively and theoretically adequate. I claim that human rights function as criteria for determining whether or not a given society or legal system can be tolerated. As such, “human rights” are not themselves basic facts or judgments or ascriptions, but rather the means by which we collectively attempt (...)
  21. Political Liberalism and Asymmetrical Rights for Minority Comprehensive Doctrines.Mitch Avila - 2004 - Human Rights Review 5 (2):3-21.
  22. Defending a Law of Peoples: Political Liberalism and Decent Peoples.Mitchell Avila - 2007 - Journal of Ethics 11 (1):87-124.
    In this paper I reconstruct and defend John Rawls' The Law of Peoples, including the distinction between liberal and decent peoples. A “decent people” is defined as a people who possesses a comprehensive doctrine and uses that doctrine as the ground of political legitimacy, while liberal peoples do not possess a comprehensive doctrine. I argue that liberal and decent peoples are bound by the same normative requirements with the qualification that decent peoples accept the same normative demands when they are (...)
  23. William James on Pragmatism and Religion.Guy Axtell - forthcoming - In Jacob Goodson (ed.), William James, Moral Philosophy, and the Ethical Life: The Cries of the Wounded. Lexington.
    Critics and defenders of William James both acknowledge serious tensions in his thought, tensions perhaps nowhere more vexing to readers than in regard to his claim about an individual’s intellectual right to their “faith ventures.” Focusing especially on “Pragmatism and Religion,” the final lecture in Pragmatism, this chapter will explore certain problems James’ pragmatic pluralism. Some of these problems are theoretical, but others concern the real-world upshot of adopting James permissive ethics of belief. Although Jamesian permissivism is qualified in certain (...)
  24. Richard Rorty: Pragmatism and Political Liberalism.Michael Bacon - 2007 - Lexington Books.
    Michael Bacon gives a critical presentation of Rorty's writings on pragmatism and political theory, comparing and contrasting him with pragmatists such as Hilary Putnam and Susan Haack and liberals such as John Rawls and Brian Barry. The result is an imaginative presentation of one of contemporary philosophy's most innovative and important thinkers.
  25. Richard Rorty: Pragmatism and Political Liberalism.Michael Bacon - 2007 - Lexington Books.
    Michael Bacon gives a critical presentation of Rorty's writings on pragmatism and political theory, comparing and contrasting him with pragmatists such as Hilary Putnam and Susan Haack and liberals such as John Rawls and Brian Barry. The result is an imaginative presentation of one of contemporary philosophy's most innovative and important thinkers.
  26. Political Liberalism for Post-Islamist, Muslim-Majority Societies.Meysam Badamchi - 2015 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 41 (7):679-696.
    This article tries to develop a moderate reading of political liberalism applicable to post-Islamist, Muslim-majority societies. Contrary to the strong reading, which considers political liberalism as limited in its scope to those societies that already have a strong liberal tradition, I argue that Rawls’ project does have something to offer to reasonable post-Islamist, Muslim individuals. In part I of the article the idea of a post-Islamist, Muslim-majority society is conceptualized and explained. Part II focuses on the Rawlsian ideas of justification, (...)
  27. Political Liberalism and the Justice Claims of the Disabled: A Reconciliation.Gabriele Badano - 2014 - Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 17 (4):1-22.
    Unlike his theory of justice as fairness, John Rawls’s political liberalism has generally been spared from critiques regarding what is due to the disabled. This paper demonstrates that, due to the account of the basic ideas of society and persons provided by Rawls, political liberalism requires that the interests of numerous individuals with disabilities should be put aside when the most fundamental issues of justice are settled. The aim is to accommodate within public reason the due concern for the disabled (...)
  28. Starting Points: Kantian Constructivism Reassessed.Carla Bagnoli - 2014 - Ratio Juris 27 (3):311-329.
    G. A. Cohen and J. Raz object that Constructivism is incoherent because it crucially deploys unconstructed elements in the structure of justification. This paper offers a response on behalf of constructivism, by reassessing the role of such unconstructed elements. First, it argues that a shared conception of rational agency works as a starting point for the justification, but it does not play a foundational role. Second, it accounts for the unconstructed norms that constrains the activity of construction as constitutive norms. (...)
  29. Toleration and Equality: A Defense of Political Liberalism.Jean J. Baillargeon - 1996 - Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada)
    This thesis offers an interpretation of liberalism that reconciles religious toleration and political equality. It stresses the influence of John Locke's argument for toleration on the recent work of John Rawls, and discusses contemporary problems pertaining to religious freedom, cultural membership, gender equality and the education of children. ;The aim of Chapter One is to stress the starting point of liberal theory, namely that a special warrant is needed to underwrite the power of the state to force citizens to comply (...)
  30. Critical Review of Rawls's Political Liberalism: A Utilitarian and Decision-Theoretical Analysis of the Main Arguments.Stephen W. Ball - 1998 - Utilitas 10 (2):222.
  31. Anarchist Method, Liberal Intention, Authoritarian Lesson: The Arab Spring Between Three Enlightenments.Mohammed A. Bamyeh - 2013 - Constellations 20 (2):188-202.
  32. John Rawls and the Search for Stability. [REVIEW]Brian Barry - 1995 - Ethics 105 (4):874 - 915.
  33. In Defense of Political Liberalism.Brian Barry - 1994 - Ratio Juris 7 (3):325-330.
  34. Political Liberalism, the Non-Human Biotic and the Abiotic: A Response to Simon Hailwood.Brian Baxter - 2006 - Analyse & Kritik 28 (2):190-205.
    S. Hailwood argues that if political liberals, in the Rawlsian sense, refuse to grant non-human nature anything other than instrumental value, then they may properly be characterised as human chauvinists, but not as inconsistent political liberals. He also argues that political liberals who do grant non-instrumental value to the non-human are thereby committed to a form of moral valuation of the abiotic. However, an analysis of what is involved in regarding non-human biota as possessing instrumental value reveals that humans must (...)
  35. Foundations of Ethics Programs for Government in a Liberal Democracy.Denis L. Beauchamp - 2002 - Dissertation, University of Ottawa (Canada)
    Dennis Thompson says that the years since the 1960s have witnessed a "revival of concern about ethics" that has spread to all sectors of society. The nature of the "revival," however, raises many important and critical questions. Foremost among them is the question of what foundations are being proposed for institutionalizing ethics in government in a liberal democracy? The ethical values and principles promoted in these initiatives, as well as the ethical obligations they can generate, can only be as strong (...)
  36. A Green Third Way? : Philosophical Reflections on Government Intervention in Non-Sustainable Lifestyles.V. Beekman - unknown
    The book kicks off by remarking that the year 1972 must have been a very special year indeed. The Club of Rome published its report 'The Limits to Growth', the Ecologist published its 'Blueprint for Survival', and the United Nations held its first environmental conference in Stockholm. These three occasions were the first to use the notion of sustainable development with its current connotations. However, sustainable development only received its lasting status as a meta-objective for national and international environmental policy-making (...)
  37. Rawls's Political Postmodernism.Donald Beggs - 1999 - Continental Philosophy Review 32 (2):123-141.
    John Rawls has recently shifted to a "freestanding" or "political" liberalism from his earlier "comprehensive" and "moral" liberalism. I argue that this move is based on several key features that make Rawlsian liberal pluralism indelibly postmodern. Two of the more obvious features are the denial of foundationalism and the rejection of a truth status for public-sphere justifications of the basic political structure. In conclusion, I suggest that a late-modern postliberalism is a viable alternative.
  38. Political Liberalism and Ecological Justice.Derek Bell - 2006 - Analyse & Kritik 28 (2):206-222.
    Liberalism and ecologism are widely regarded as incompatible. Liberalism and environmentalism might be compatible but liberalism and ecologism are not. A liberal state cannot promote policies for ecological or ecocentric reasons. An individual cannot be both a liberal and a committed advocate of ecologism. This paper challenges these claims. It is argued that Rawls’s ‘political liberalism’ is compatible with ecologism and, in particular, the idea of ‘ecological justice’. A Rawlsian state can promote ecological justice. A committed political liberal can also (...)
  39. Creating Green Citizens? Political Liberalism and Environmental Education.Derek R. Bell - 2004 - Journal of Philosophy of Education 38 (1):37–54.
  40. Ciudadanía reticente y el significado de respeto.Elena Beltrán - 2012 - Dilemata 10:173-192.
    All of a sudden, religious awareness has started to regain a relevance it had lost among Europeans. It is not that it had disappeared from European societies, but rather that it existed at a discreet secondary level. However, Europe is less secular and more post-secular than many would like to admit. The liberal model of freedom of conscience, it is, the separation between justice, the norms of political and institutional coexistence, and the whole model of toleration is being questioned from (...)
  41. Liberalismo político Y educación: Un Marco teórico.Elena Beltrán - 1997 - Daimon: Revista de Filosofia 15:119-134.
    This article proposes a reconstruction of the role that education plays in John Rawls Political Liberalism. Rawls does not pay any specific attention to the problems that education, the need for a liberal society of teaching children, the new citizens, puts on his theory. Nevertheless, openly accepts the importance of this point for the way he understands liberalism. In this work the foundations of Rawlsian political liberalism are taken as a point of departure for the analysis of the most important (...)
  42. The Multivariate Polity or Democratic Fragmentation On Alessandro Ferrara’s The Democratic Horizon: Hyperpluralism and the Renewal of Political Liberalism.Seyla Benhabib - 2016 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 42 (7):649-656.
    Alessandro Ferrara’s The Democratic Horizon: Hyperpluralism and the Renewal of Political Liberalism poses an important challenge to recent defenders of ‘realism’ in political theory and shows that a renewal of Rawlsian ideal theory is possible. Ferrara focuses on the contemporary condition of ‘hyperpluralism’, in which every comprehensive worldview and religion has to admit the equal validity of at least one other conception, and claims that only a ‘pluralist justification of pluralism’ can lead to a genuine revival of the democratic horizon. (...)
  43. Prospects for an Inclusive Theory of Justice: The Case of Non‐Human Animals.Brian Berkey - forthcoming - Journal of Applied Philosophy.
    In this article, I argue that there are three widely accepted views within contemporary theorising about justice that present barriers to accepting that non-human animals possess direct entitlements of justice. These views are that the basis of entitlements of justice is either contribution to a cooperative scheme for mutual advantage or the capacity to so contribute; political liberalism, that is, the view that requirements for coercive state action can be justified only by appeal to the ideal of citizens as free (...)
  44. Human Rights Reconceived: A Defense of Rawls's Law of Peoples.Alyssa Rose Bernstein - 2000 - Dissertation, Harvard University
    How can respect for cultural and religious differences be reconciled with the conviction that everyone has basic human rights that must be secured? Should liberal states require that non-liberal states secure human rights, and can they do so without being intolerant and oppressive? Is there a human right to democracy, and should a liberal hold that all states must become modern liberal democracies and may be pressured to reform their traditional practices and institutions? Do human rights include only the classical (...)
  45. DAVION, V. And WOLF, C.(Eds.)-The Idea of Political Liberalism: Essays on Rawls.C. Bertram - 2003 - Philosophical Books 44 (1):81-82.
  46. Public Justification, Inclusion, and Discursive Equality.Thomas M. Besch - forthcoming - Dialogue.
    The paper challenges the view that public justification sits well with emancipatory and egalitarian intuitions. I distinguish between the depth, scope and the purchase of the discursive standing that such justification allocates, and situate within this matrix Rawls’s view of public justification. A standard objection to this view is that public justification should be more inclusive in scope. This is both plausible and problematic in emancipatory and egalitarian terms. If inclusive public justification allocates discursive standing that is rich in purchase, (...)
  47. On Political Legitimacy, Reasonableness, and Perfectionism.Thomas M. Besch - 2013 - Public Reason 5 (1):58-74.
    The paper advances a non-orthodox reading of political liberalism’s view of political legitimacy, the view of public political justification that comes with it, and the idea of the reasonable at the heart of these views. Political liberalism entails that full discursive standing should be accorded only to people who are reasonable in a substantive sense. As the paper argues, this renders political liberalism dogmatic and exclusivist at the level of arguments for or against normative theories of justice. Against that background, (...)
  48. Political Liberalism, the Internal Conception, and the Problem of Public Dogma.Thomas M. Besch - 2012 - Philosophy and Public Issues 2 (1):153-177.
    According to the “internal” conception (Quong), political liberalism aims to be publicly justifiable only to people who are reasonable in a special sense specified and advocated by political liberalism itself. One advantage of the internal conception allegedly is that it enables liberalism to avoid perfectionism. The paper takes issue with this view. It argues that once the internal conception is duly pitched at its fundamental, metatheoretical level and placed in its proper discursive context, it emerges that it comes at the (...)
  49. On Practical Constructivism and Reasonableness.Thomas M. Besch - 2004 - Dissertation, University of Oxford
    The dissertation defends that the often-assumed link between constructivism and universalism builds on non-constructivist, perfectionist grounds. To this end, I argue that an exemplary form of universalist constructivism – i.e., O’Neill’s Kantian constructivism – can defend its universalist commitments against an influential particularist form of constructivism – i.e., political liberalism as advanced by Rawls, Macedo, and Larmore – only if it invokes a perfectionist view of the good. (En route, I show why political liberalism is a form of particularism and (...)
  50. Über John Rawls' Politischen Liberalismus.Thomas M. Besch - 1998 - Peter Lang.
    (In German.) The book addresses Rawls's post-1985 political liberalism. His justification of political liberalism -- as reflected in his arguments from overlapping consensus -- faces the problem that liberal content can be justified as reciprocally acceptable only if the addressees of such a justification already endorse points of view that suitably support liberal ideas. Rawls responds to this legitimacy-theoretical problem by restricting public justification's scope to include reasonable people only, while implicitly defining reasonableness as a substantive liberal virtue. But this (...)
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