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On cultural plurality in the public sphere: Choosing between freedom and equality as criteria of judgement

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In an age of postmodern suspicion of master narratives, the egalitarianism and universality inherent in a normative system of rights defended by liberalism is countered by disbelief in the idealized conceptions of a ‘public subject’, divorced from the particularity of both individual and historical communal narratives, as well as an impartial collective good. Simultaneously, the excessive fragmentation of opposed and contradictory aspirations of counterpublics, privileged by a communitarian approach, runs the risk of giving priority to individual rights over social well-being. This article explores the liberal and communitarian approaches to rights, inquiring into whether freedom or equality offer the best criteria of judgement to preserve the space of cultural plurality within the public sphere. While Habermasian discourse ethics subordinates the particularistic to the general will, the communitarian perspective on justice, represented by Paul Piccone and Charles Taylor, argues that the law is not universal in scope and cannot be separated from particularistic conceptions of the ‘good life’. The article ultimately claims that freedom is the criterion that allows cultural pluralities to both stand on their own, resisting assimilation within any master discourse, and establish dialogue among themselves. In this perspective, the public sphere promotes complex modes of interaction, among modernity’s differentiated spheres. This view of the public sphere is in tune with Jencks’ description of postmodernism as preserving the ‘fragmental holism’ (1996: 478) of plural lifeworlds.
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Keywords: communitarianism; identity politics; liberalism; multiculturalism; public sphere; rights

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Universidade Lusófona

Publication date: May 1, 2018

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  • Empedocles aims to provide a publication and discussion platform for those working at the interface of philosophy and the study of communication, in all its aspects. This Journal is published in cooperation with the Section for the Philosophy of Communication of ECREA, the European Communication Reserach and Education Association.
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