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Liberalism, Legal Moralism and Moral Disagreement

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According to “legal moralism” it is part of law's proper role to “enforce morality as such”. I explore the idea that legal moralism runs afoul of morality itself: there are good moral reasons not to require by law all that there is nevertheless good moral reason to do. I suggest that many such reasons have broad common-sense appeal and could be appreciated even in a society in which everyone completely agreed about what morality requires. But I also critique legal moralism from the special perspective of liberal political justice. Liberalism requires that citizens who disagree with one another on a number of morally significant matters nevertheless coexist and cooperate within a political framework of basic rights protections. When it comes to working out the most basic terms of their political association, citizens are expected to address one another within the limits of what Rawls has called “public reason”. Critics of liberalism claim that this is an essentially a-moral (or expedient) attempt to evade substantive moral issues — such as the moral status of the fetus. I argue, on the contrary, that liberalism's emphasis on public reason is itself grounded in very deep — though (suitably) “non-comprehensive”— moral considerations.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-08-01

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