6

LIBERALISM AND CRITICAL THINKING

On the relation between a political ideal and an aim of education

Jan Steutel and Ben Spiecker


Presentation of the problem

Is modern liberalism, as a political ideal, intrinsically related to critical thinking, as an educational ideal? That is the central question of this chapter. It is not our intention to give a complete and well-considered answer to this question. Our main aim is to do some preliminary work, in particular by making relevant distinctions and by localising the real differences of opinion. First, however, we shall briefly clarify the core concepts of our question so that at least it will be clear what the issue is that we want to discuss.

The first central concept of our research question is modern liberalism. This concept refers to a political ideal; that is, to a normative conception concerning the basic structure of society. Following John Rawls (1993: 11-12, 257-8), such a structure can be regarded as the main political, social and economic institutions of a society, and how these institutions cohere into one system of social cooperation. A political ideal, including modern liberalism, actually functions as an aim that is considered to be directive for arranging such a framework of basic institutions.

Not only the subject but also the content of the political ideal of modern liberalism can be clarified by appealing to Rawls, in this case to the first and most important principle of justice that he has articulated and defended. This principle, the so-called principle of greatest equal liberty, is summarised by Rawls in the following way: ‘Each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme for all’ (1993: 5). The main tenor of this principle is to protect the freedom of all citizens as much as possible by

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