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Neutrality, Rebirth and Intergenerational Justice

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A basic feature of liberal political philosophy is its commitment to religious neut-rality. Contemporary philosophical discussion of intergenerational justice violates this com-mitment, as it proceeds on the basis of controversial metaphysical assumptions. The Contractualist notion of a power imbalance between generations and Derek Parfit’s non-identity claims both presuppose that humans are not reborn. Yet belief in rebirth underlies Hindu and Buddhist traditions espoused by millions throughout the world. These traditions clearly constitute what John Rawls dubs “reasonable comprehensive doctrines”, and therefore cannot be dismissed by political liberals. In many societies, including the USA, the UK, and India, belief in rebirth exists alongside other traditions, as well as modern Western views. A liberal theory for such societies must be impartial regarding rebirth, and the after-life in general. Two alternatives forms of liberal neutrality are sketched, based on Contractualism and Consequentialism.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, The University of Auckland, New Zealand

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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