Religiously Conservative Citizens and the Ideal of Conscientious Engagement: A Comment on Wolterstorff and Eberle

Philosophia 41 (2):411-427 (2013)


Nicholas Wolterstorff and Christopher J. Eberle have defended the view that the ethics of liberal citizenship allows citizens to publicly support the passage of coercive laws based solely on their religious convictions. They also develop positive conceptions of virtuous citizenship that place moral limits on how citizens may appeal to their religion. The question I address in this essay is whether the limits they impose on citizens’ appeals to their religion are adequate. Since Eberle’s “ideal of conscientious engagement” provides us with the most extensive statement of these limits, it is the primary focus of my attention here. My conclusion is that in its current form, Eberle’s ideal is not constraining enough. In the first section, I argue that Eberle’s ideal does not require citizens to be self-critical enough about their religious and political commitments. In the second section, I highlight a conflict between Eberle’s ideal and the need for citizens to respect the religious freedom of their fellow citizens. I argue that the way to resolve this conflict is to adopt a more fine-grained conception of religious reasons and to hold that citizens should not rely on religious reasons of certain kinds. In the final section, I argue that laws punishing or discouraging homosexual conduct (which Eberle’s ideal would apparently allow) violate what Wolterstorff calls “the Idea of liberal democracy” and so are not the kind of proposal that virtuous citizens can defend

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Erik Anderson
Furman University

References found in this work

Political Liberalism.John Rawls - 1993 - Columbia University Press.
Political Liberalism.J. Rawls - 1995 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 57 (3):596-598.
A Letter Concerning Toleration.John Locke & James H. Tully (eds.) - 1963 - Hackett Publishing Company.

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