Friday, April 08, 2011

Martha Nussbaum on Perfectionist Liberalism and Political Liberalism

In the new issue of "Philosophy & Public Affairs" (vol. 39, no. 1, 2011), Professor Martha Nussbaum has an article on "Perfectionist Liberalism and Political Liberalism".

There is free access to the article (and to every issue of Philosophy & Public Affairs in its online library) if you registrer for a free 30-day trial.

An early draft of the article is available here.

"As I define perfectionist liberalism, following [Charles] Larmore, it is a species of a genus of liberal views that might be called “comprehensive liberalisms,” liberalisms that base political principles on some comprehensive doctrine about human life that covers not only the political domain but also the domain of human conduct generally. Most forms of comprehensive liberalism are perfectionist, involving a doctrine about the good life and the nature of value. But a doctrine can be comprehensive without being perfectionist." (....)

"Perfectionistic forms of comprehensive liberalism (whether utilitarian or Hegelian, or based on a picture of neo-Aristotelian virtue, or on Christian doctrines, or on one of many other possible views) have been immensely influential historically and remain so today. The Raz/Berlin position, avowedly perfectionist in Larmore’s sense, remains a particularly interesting and attractive liberal view, which deserves continued scrutiny (along with its various relatives)." (....)

"The major liberal alternative to Berlin’s and Raz’s perfectionist liberalism, in the recent Anglo-American philosophical literature, is the view called “political liberalism.” This view was developed first by Charles Larmore in Patterns of Moral Complexity and The Morals of Modernity, with explicit reference to Berlin, but in most detail by John Rawls in his great book Political Liberalism." (....)

"... although Rawls’s Theory of Justice is widely known, and frequently discussed in the literature on welfarism and utilitarianism, such is not the case with his great later book [Political Liberalism]. The concept of political liberalism is simply ignored in a large proportion of discussions of welfare and social policy, as are the challenges Rawls poses to thinkers who would base politics on a single comprehensive normative view. Many theorists influenced by various forms of normative utilitarianism have simply not attended to the issues of respect raised by their commitment to a comprehensive normative ethical doctrine as the basis for political principles and policy choices. It is certainly possible for consequentialist and welfarist views to be reformulated as forms of political liberalism. It also might be possible for them to defend their perfectionist doctrines against Rawlsian challenges. But the failure of their proponents to confront the issue head-on means that this work has not yet been done. It is my hope that the challenge contained in this article may stimulate this further work."

Also see Martha Nussbaum - "Rawls's Political Liberalism. A Reassessment". Ratio Juris vol. 24 no. 1 (March 2011).


gary e. davis said...

It's not true that registration at the Wiley site allows free access.

Thomas Gregersen said...

There is a free 30-day trial and it works for me.

gary e. davis said...

Thanks. I missed your point that the free access is a one-time chance. Also, many university libraries have electronic subscriptions to most journals, so any article of nearly any journal is always available for the price of a photocopy and a little scheduling. Or one can fabricate new online registrations for multiple free trials. :)