In Defence of Comprehensive Liberalism

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In Liberalism without Perfection Jonathan Quong defends a form of political liberalism; that is, a political philosophy that answers ‘no’ to both the following questions: 1. Must liberal political philosophy be based in some particular ideal of what constitutes a valuable or worthwhile human life, or other metaphysical beliefs? 2. Is it permissible for a liberal state to promote or discourage some activities, ideals, or ways of life on grounds relating to their inherent or intrinsic value, or on the basis of other metaphysical claims? In these remarks, I respond to Quong’s arguments against those of his rivals who answer ‘Yes’ to his first question by dint of their comprehensive commitment to an ideal of individual autonomy. One of these, which Quong calls ‘comprehensive antiperfectionism’, answers ‘Yes’ to Question 1 and ‘No’ to Question 2. The other, which answers ‘Yes’ to both, he calls (comprehensive) ‘liberal perfectionism’. Quong poses these positions a dilemma: they cannot consistently be both comprehensive (by retaining their commitment to autonomy) and liberal (by ruling out the sort of coercive interference in people’s choices which is beyond the liberal pale). I argue on the contrary that a comprehensive commitment to autonomy actually demands a general injunction against such coercive interference, because responsibility is an important component of the autonomous life, and coercion always undermines responsibility. So, Quong’s dilemma is unsuccessful.
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Archival date: 2017-10-18
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