Taking Pluralism Seriously

Dissertation, Harvard University (2000)

This dissertation is a defense of a version of political liberalism. I argue that political liberalism, unlike its perfectionist counterparts, is better able to accommodate profound value pluralism while simultaneously upholding certain key liberal values. The dissertation is in three parts. In Part I, I examine "perfectionist" or autonomy based conceptions of liberalism, specifically those of J. S. Mill, Joseph Raz, and Will Kymlicka. I argue that by affording an inferior status to nonautonomous or customary forms of life, such conceptions of liberalism are unnecessarily partisan and exclusionary and have the potential to restrict the liberty of non-autonomous cultures and communities far beyond the demands of basic liberal justice. I argue for the potential value of both autonomous and customary forms of life and defend a conception of liberal liberty that is expansive enough to defend the "free-exercise" of both and to privilege neither. ;In Part II, I argue that a certain conception of neutrality is central to political liberalism, specifically, neutrality in relation to divergent philosophical and religious comprehensive conceptions of the good. I explore religion as the most important form of comprehensive view, and argue that certain strands of American Constitutional jurisprudence as they relate to the religion clauses of the First Amendment embody principles of neutrality which I identify as central to political liberalism. In this context I examine and defend the principle of "bypassing" or the attempt to avoid, as far as possible, passing judgment upon the truth claims of religion and philosophy's profoundest controversies. I defend bypassing as a principle of political liberalism and argue that principles of bypassing are an integral part of the principle of religious neutrality. ;In Part III, I turn to an examination of "liberal justification," that is, the aspiration that the liberal state be justified to all of its citizens. In this context I examine liberal "public reason" as a principle of political liberalism and liberal justification. I examine in detail the most influential version of public reason, that of John Rawls as presented in Political Liberalism, and defend certain features of his conception of public reason. I then consider the ways in which Rawls violates some of his own foundational principles of public reason and political liberalism. I emphasize the importance for political liberalism of maintaining certain basic distinctions: that between public and private, between public and nonpublic modes of reasoning, and between homme and citoyen. I argue that many liberal theorists, such as Rawls, who accept the necessity of these distinctions, succumb to the temptations of "wholeness" and end up erasing such distinctions with potentially illiberal consequences. Finally, I examine the distinction between normative and empirical justification and the limitations of the liberal project of justification in general. I argue that the ideal of reciprocity, central to the project of liberal justification, has its limits
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