Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Charles Taylor on religion and "critique"

Here is Charles Taylor, over at The Immanent Frame:

What are we to think of the idea, entertained by Rawls for a time, that one can legitimately ask of a religiously and philosophically diverse democracy that everyone deliberate in a language of reason alone, leaving their religious views in the vestibule of the public sphere? The tyrannical nature of this demand was rapidly appreciated by Rawls, to his credit. But we ought to ask why the proposition arose in the first place. . . .

The state can be neither Christian nor Muslim nor Jewish; but by the same token it should also be neither Marxist, not Kantian, not Utilitarian. Of course, the democratic state will end up voting laws which (in the best case) reflect the actual convictions of its citizens, which will be either Christian, or Muslim, etc, through the whole gamut of views held in a modern society. But the decisions can’t be framed in a way which gives special recognition to one of these views. This is not easy to do; the lines are hard to draw; and they must always be drawn anew. But such is the nature of the enterprise which is the modern secular state. And what better alternative is there for diverse democracies?

Now the notion that state neutrality is basically a response to diversity has trouble making headway among “secular” people in the West, who remain oddly fixated on religion, as something strange and perhaps even threatening. This stance is fed by all the conflicts of liberal states with religion, past and present, but also by a specifically epistemic distinction: religiously informed thought is somehow less rational than purely “secular” reasoning. The attitude has a political ground (religion as threat), but also an epistemological one (religion as a faulty mode of reason). . . .

There's a lot more.  At Balkinization, Andy Koppelman has posted some thoughts in response:

Taylor’s analysis implies that absolute neutrality is unattainable. Any state position will rely on some common ground, and no common ground is universal.

The answer to this puzzle, I think, is to note that there exist a large variety of possible modes of neutrality. The absolute neutrality toward all conceptions of the good proposed by Ronald Dworkin and Bruce Ackerman are only one available flavor of neutrality.

The range of possible justifications for any version of neutrality is broad. The following is a crude taxonomy of typical strategies of argument. It probably does not exhaust the possibilities, and arguments for neutrality typically rely on more than one of these moves.

One strategy is the argument from moral pluralism, which holds that there are many good ways of life and that the state should not prefer any of these to any other. Another is the argument from futility, which holds that some perfectionist projects are doomed to failure. The argument from incompetence holds that the state should be neutral about things that it is likely to get wrong. The argument from civil peace proposes that some issues be removed from the political agenda in order to avoid destructive controversy. Finally, the argument from dignity argues that some political projects fail to properly respect citizens’ capacity for free choice.

Different formulations of these arguments have persuaded different people. Everyone probably accepts most of these five arguments for neutrality, at least in some form, as applied to some question. Conceptual analysis cannot, of course, say whether or in what form you ought to accept them. There is probably an infinite number of ways in which any of them could be formulated, and an infinite number of ways in which those formulations could be combined. Shifting from any formulation of each rationale to a slightly different one will probably yield a slightly different prescription for neutrality. Neutrality is not a fixed point, but a multidimensional space of possible positions.

Both of these posts are well worth reading in full.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Charles Taylor on religion and "critique" :