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«LIBERALISM AND MULTICULTURALISM: A PHILOSOPHICAL DILEMMA By Joshua Seth Crites Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of ...»

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Joshua Seth Crites


Submitted to the Faculty of the

Graduate School of Vanderbilt University

in partial fulfillment of the requirements

for the degree of




August, 2007

Nashville, Tennessee


Professor Robert B. Talisse

Professor Henry Teloh

Professor Jonathan Neufeld Professor William James Booth Professor Chandran Kukathas Copyright © 2007 by Joshua Seth Crites All Rights Reserved To my beautiful and loving wife Lindsey.



This project would not have been possible without the support and guidance of the Philosophy Department at Vanderbilt University. Those professors with whom I have had the pleasure of working have shaped my philosophical path in unforgettable ways.

I am grateful for each of the members of my Dissertation Committee, whose input from the development stages through the writing stages and at my defense have helped me think about these issues in ways that I could not have otherwise. I am particularly indebted to Dr. Robert Talisse, the chairman of my committee. His patience and diligence throughout this project have been essential to its success. I thank him for his critical reviews of my work, as his comments and conversations have taught me much about being a professional philosopher.

Of course nobody has been more important to me during this project than my friends and family. I would like to thank Dr. Caleb Clanton for his academic and moral support, and for knowing when it was time to take a break. My parents have been utterly supportive of my academic endeavors throughout my education, and I thank them for that. Most importantly, I would like to express my deepest gratitude for my wife, Lindsey. She has been my ultimate source of motivation and inspiration to see this project through.







Liberalism and Modern Society

Liberal Commitments: Diversity or Individualism?

A Sketch of the Theories



Kymlicka’s Liberalism

The Role of Culture and the Need for Reform

The Liberal Litmus Test



Responding to the Demand for Recognition

The “Canadian Case”

But Is It Viable?



Barry’s Understanding of Multiculturalism

Equal Treatment

Autonomy, Diversity, Toleration, and Barry’s Theory of Group Rights...........117 V. LIBERAL MULTICULTURALISM: POLITICAL NOT METAPHYSICAL....131 Introduction

Priority of the Right Over the Good in Comprehensive Liberalism..................135 v Emergence of a Political Liberal Conception

A Deeper Look at Rawls’s Political Liberalism with Criticisms

A “New” Political Liberalism

A Forward-Looking Conclusion


Too Much of a Good Thing?

Freedom of Association and the Exit Option

Supporting Democracy


–  –  –

In the following dissertation, I will examine the relationship between two popular commitments in contemporary political theory, namely liberalism and multiculturalism.

Since these terms are used in many different ways within (and outside of) political theory, I will in this introductory chapter make the terms clear. I will proceed in a customary way by working through conceptions of liberalism and then of multiculturalism. I will then conclude this chapter with an outline of the various strands of liberalism and multiculturalism to be covered in the remaining chapters of this dissertation.


Martha Nussbaum defines liberalism in the following way:

liberalism holds that the flourishing of human beings taken one by one is both analytically and normatively prior to the flourishing of the state or the nation or the religious group; analytically, because such entities do not really efface the separate reality of individual lives; normatively because the recognition of that separateness is held to be a fundamental fact for ethics, which should recognize each separate entity as an end and not as a means to the ends of others. (Nussbaum 1997, 62) Traditionally, liberalism holds that there are certain basic individual liberties and rights that ought to be the focus of political theory and subsequent state actions. These rights constrain what states, majorities, and individuals can do in their pursuits of the good life.

In other words, the basic idea here is that individuals are free to choose what to think, what to say, what to do, and with whom to associate (so long as they do not obstruct others’ rights to do the same), and that the state should not interfere with this freedom (unless, by exercising their own freedom, individuals bring harm to others or impede their lives in some way). 1 Nussbaum’s definition of liberalism brings out the most important element of how that theory is commonly understood—namely, that individuals are viewed as prior—both in existence and in worth—to the state and other associations.

In adopting this commitment, liberals address issues of rights always first by considering the individual as primary. For traditional liberals, this idea is made manifest by an attempt to treat each individual citizen in a liberal polity as an equal. That is, the best way to protect the rights and liberties of individuals is to provide a political framework within which each individual has equal opportunity to pursue any number of life goals.

Consider John Stuart Mill on this idea: “The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it” (Mill 1974, 138). In most situations, pursuing our own good is viewed by liberalism as a private matter. Thus, the state has no business interfering in such matters so long as individuals do not attempt to use state power and authority to promote their private views. This idea is addressed by liberalism as a prioritization of the right over the good. The goal is to create a political society that is based on some conception of the right that makes no reference to any particular This definition is echoed by all so-called liberals—at least in its basic principles. See, for example, Brian Barry, “the defining feature of liberalism is, I maintain, the principles of equal freedom that underwrite basic liberal institutions: civic equality, freedom of speech and religion, non-discrimination, equal opportunity, and so on” (Barry 2001, 122); Chandran Kukathas, “the term liberalism identifies a political outlook which responds to human diversity by advocating institutions that permit different beliefs and ways of life to coexist; it accepts the fact of the plurality of ways of life—or the multiplicity of religious and moral values in the modern world—and favours toleration” (Kukathas 2003, 2); or Will Kymlicka, “the defining feature of liberalism is it that ascribes certain fundamental freedoms to each individual. In particular, it grants people a very wide freedom of choice in terms of how they lead their lives” (Kymlicka 1995, 80).

conception of the good but allows for there to exist different conceptions of the good within the liberal political society. According to Michael Sandel, there are two ways in

which this prioritization takes place. He states:

First, the right is prior to the good in the sense that certain individual rights “trump,” or outweigh, considerations of the common good. Second, the right is prior to the good in that the principles of justice that specify our rights do not depend for their justification on any particular conception of the good life. (Sandel 1998, 185) Historically, this can be seen as a strong separation between Church and State in most liberal countries. Because religious belief and practice is considered a private matter, the state does not promote any particular religion nor does it prevent anyone from practicing whatever religion he or she sees fit. Other private matters that are considered outside state authority include forming and expressing one’s views, associating with whomever one chooses, and living according to whatever moral conception one takes to be best (within broad constraints). What this means practically is that, under a liberal regime, individuals are afforded a set of rights which enables them to practice their religions freely, to think and to express themselves freely, to join whatever groups they wish, and to form and carry out life goals freely; in short, liberalism is a political theory which gives a wide berth to a range of ways of life without state intervention or interference from others.

Liberalism and Modern Society There are two important empirical facts of modern societies worth noting at the start, as they are crucial to liberalism. The first aspect is a significant and increasing diversity between individuals, between social groups, even within social groups. This diversity ranges from moral, religious, and philosophical beliefs to racial and gender identities.

Second, and as a result of this diversity, there is widespread disagreement over almost all aspects of private and public life. In an individual’s private life, this disagreement starts at differences in ideas about what constitutes a good life, including both the content and course of that life. From there, this disagreement extends into an individual’s more public life, where individuals differ in their convictions regarding rights, freedom, justice, legitimacy, and the terms of general governmental order, just to name a few. In short, they disagree over their “comprehensive doctrines,” to use the Rawlsian terminology. 2 The first observation is without serious contest. It is the second observation and its ensuing implications that evince serious philosophical controversy. What makes this all the more problematic is that many of these competing conceptions seem defensible.

There are, for example, good Kantian arguments, good Millian utilitarian arguments, and good theological arguments regarding how society should be structured—and yet all of these doctrines differ on fundamental issues. For Rawls, this diversity among reasonable comprehensive doctrines is to be viewed as a permanent fixture of democratic societies because it is the inevitable result of the individual freedom that is secured in a liberal democracy. He states, “under the political and social conditions secured by the basic rights and liberties of free institutions, a diversity of conflicting and irreconcilable—and what’s more, reasonable—comprehensive doctrines will come about and persist if such diversity does not already obtain” (Rawls 1996, 36). As such, there must be some way of finding a way to accommodate this plurality of beliefs; that is, to do politics despite such Rawls defines comprehensive doctrines in the following way: “A conception…is comprehensive when it includes conceptions of what is of value in human life, ideals of personal virtue and character, and the like, that inform much of our nonpolitical conduct (in the limit, our life as a whole)…. A doctrine is fully comprehensive when it covers all recognized values and virtues within one rather precisely articulated scheme of thought” (Rawls 1999a, 480).

fundamental disagreement. One way of doing this is to advocate some form of totalitarianism in which individuals are told what to believe and how to act so as to live an externally determined good life. Clearly this option is not preferable.

A second response, and one which has taken center stage in contemporary political theorizing, is to uphold the rights of individuals to determine their own best lives and to live them accordingly—and to seek a conception of policy making and institution formation that will produce a relatively peaceful and stable social environment. This is not an easy task. Trying to accommodate a plurality of legitimate ways of life, to respect the individuals who live them, to maintain peaceful, stable relations between them, and to justify the state to all citizens is a daunting task indeed. Because of the fact of this inescapable disagreement (what Rawls has called the “fact of reasonable pluralism”), because this disagreement can and often does escalate into conflict, and because political theories continue to struggle with establishing an acceptable response, it is necessary to look for new ways of thinking about these unresolved issues with the aim of better understanding how to provide an answer that moves forward. This dissertation is one attempt to do so.

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