Disagreement, asymmetry, and liberal legitimacy

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 4 (3):301-330 (2005)
Reasonable people disagree deeply about the nature of the good life. But reasonable people also disagree fundamentally about principles of justice. If this is true, then why does political liberalism permit the state to act on reasons of justice, but not for reasons grounded in conceptions of the good life? There appears to be an indefensible asymmetry in the way political liberalism treats disagreements about justice and disagreements about the good life. This is the asymmetry objection to political liberalism. The principal aim of this article is to show that the asymmetry objection can be refuted. This is done by drawing a distinction between two different types of reasonable disagreement that can occur between citizens. The first type is foundational disagreement . Disagreements of this type are characterized by the fact that the participants do not share any premises which can serve as a mutually acceptable standard of justification. The second type of disagreement, justificatory disagreement , occurs when participants do share premises that serve as a mutually acceptable standard of justification, but they nevertheless disagree about certain substantive conclusions. Making this distinction allows me to show why political liberalism’s asymmetric treatment of justice and the good life is both defensible and desirable. Key Words: John Rawls • perfectionism • political liberalism • public reason • reasonable pluralism.
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DOI 10.1177/1470594X05056606
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