Testing the limits of liberalism: A reverse conjecture

Heythrop Journal 53 (3):382-404 (2012)
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In this paper, I propose to look closely at certain crucial aspects of the logic of Rawls' argument in Political Liberalism and related subsequent writings. Rawls' argument builds on the notion of comprehensiveness, whereby a doctrine encompasses the full spectrum of the life of its adherents. In order to show the mutual conflict and irreconcilability of comprehensive doctrines, Rawls needs to emphasise the comprehensiveness of doctrines, as their irreconcilability to a large extent emanates from that comprehensiveness. On the other hand, in order to show the possibility and plausibility of the political liberal solution he needs to emphasise that most of these doctrines are reasonable: i.e., they are willing to cede a portion of their authority to political liberalism for the right reasons. Yet, if they are willing to cede a portion of their authority to a political conception they cannot be as comprehensive as we initially thought they were. All these elements highlight the tension in the argument itself. I suggest that many of these tensions can be removed by making Rawls' account more flexible. In this context I propose certain amendments to Rawls' account, which may overcome some of the tensions mentioned above

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Ali Rizvi
La Trobe University


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