If God's not a liberal, why should I be?

Craig Duncan
Ithaca College
In the pages of philosophy journals debate rages these days between "political" and "comprehensive liberals," a debate inaugurated by John Rawls’s seminal 1985 paper entitled "Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical," from which the above quotation is drawn. As the quotation suggests, a political liberal is someone who believes that liberal justice should be defined and defended in terms that are independent of "comprehensive" philosophical and religious doctrines, that is, independent of doctrines that purport to describe, in some comprehensive way, the sources of meaning, purpose, and worth in human life. A comprehensive liberal, by contrast, is someone who believes some such comprehensive doctrine must be invoked in defense of liberal justice. In this debate it is perhaps fair to say that political liberals have the more prestigious roll call, for in addition to Rawls, prominent political liberals include Thomas Nagel, Brian Barry, Ronald Dworkin, Charles Larmore, and Bruce Ackerman.
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