Liberal Perfectionism, Moral Integrity, and Self-Respect

American Journal of Jurisprudence 63 (1):63-79 (2018)
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Abstract
This paper presents a dilemma for Matthew Kramer’s view, as defended in his Liberalism with Excellence. A central aim of that book is to critique existing liberal perfectionist theories, which he labels “edificatory,” and to defend a different such theory, which he calls “aspirational.” Edificatory perfectionism holds that governments ought to promote citizens’ well-being directly by inducing them to live lives that are more wholesome, cultivated, or autonomous. Aspirational perfectionism, meanwhile, holds that governments ought to promote the conditions under which every citizen can be warranted in harboring a strong sense of self-respect, by promoting the occurrence of outstanding achievements within society. We first argue that Kramer’s two central arguments against edificatory perfectionism, which appeal to the value of freedom and to moral integrity, fail to establish the impermissibility of edificatory policies. His critique could be salvaged by holding that the ambit of legitimate government activity is limited to the provision and distribution of primary goods. However, we argue, second, that Kramer’s own aspirational perfectionism also runs afoul of this restriction, because his conception of warranted self-respect is not a primary good. Kramer is thus faced with a choice between upholding his objections to edificatory perfectionism and maintaining the coherence of his aspirational perfectionism.
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