Social and Political Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction

By John Christman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4

Toleration, pluralism, and the foundations of liberalism
• The canons of liberalism
• The perfectionist challenge
• Utilitarian liberalism: Perfectionism in disguise?
• The response of political liberalism
• Liberalism, public discourse, and democracy
• Chapter summary
• Case to consider
• Notes on further reading

In the last two chapters we have worked within the liberal paradigm of political thought in order to locate the grounds of political theory and to determine principles of distributive justice. Here, we delve deeper to look at the fundamental architecture of liberalism itself and ask if such a framework for political theory, which rests on the values of autonomy and equality, can in general be justified. In particular, we begin the task (taken up in earnest in Part II) of subjecting the basic components of liberalism to critical scrutiny. In this chapter we will ask whether liberal principles take sufficiently into account the objective validity of values grounded in general facts about human beings, values which, when properly articulated, ground legitimate state policies promoting them which go beyond the neutrality toward conceptions of the good that liberalism requires. In this way, we will be inquiring into the limits of liberal toleration and its commitment to neutrality concerning moral values. Before turning to these critical questions, let us spell out a bit more clearly the basic framework of the liberal approach to political philosophy we have been discussing.


The canons of liberalism

Speaking in loose and general terms, a liberal society is one that is, or attempts to be, an open society, a free and tolerant environment where

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