Incoherent but Reasonable: A Defense of Truth-Abstinence in Political Liberalism

Social Theory and Practice 46 (3):573-603 (2020)
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Abstract

A strength of liberal political institutions is their ability to accommodate pluralism, both allowing divergent comprehensive doctrines as well as constructing the common ground necessary for diverse people to live together. A pressing question is how far such pluralism extends. Which comprehensive doctrines are simply beyond the pale and need not be accommodated by a political consensus? Rawls attempted to keep the boundaries of reasonable disagreement quite broad by infamously denying that political liberalism need make reference to the concept of truth, a claim that has been criticized by Joseph Raz, Joshua Cohen, and David Estlund. In this paper, we argue that these criticisms fail due to the fact that political liberalism can remain non-committal on the nature of truth, leaving the concept of truth in the domain of comprehensive doctrines while still avoiding the issues raised by Raz, Cohen, and Estlund. Further substantiating this point is the fact that Rawls would, and should, include parties in the overlapping consensus whose views on truth may be incoherent. Once it is seen that political liberalism allows such incoherence to reasonable parties, it is clear that the inclusion of truth and the requirement of coherence urged by Raz, Cohen, and Estlund requires more of reasonable people than is necessary for a political consensus.

Author Profiles

Alexander Schaefer
University at Buffalo
Wes Siscoe
University of Notre Dame

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