Public Justification, Authority and Coercion: Comments on Chapter 1

I want to begin by again thanking Chad for putting this group together and to all the participants, especially Micah for his excellent summary and questions of Chapter 1 of my book. I didn’t see a way to answer his discussion questions in a unified fashion, so I’m largely going to respond point by point. Since question 5 generated discussion, I’m going to lead with it. Here’s Micah’s:

Why is PJP limited to coercive laws? Are there any laws that are not coercive? I ask that question because Vallier mentions Rawls’s view that “political power is always coercive power.” If that is the case, one might argue that all laws are the product of exercises of political power, and so they are, at some level, always coercive. But I am not sure whether Vallier wants to extend the scope of the principle that far. For example, what about a law that calls on public officials to exhort their fellow citizens in support of Christianity? Suppose the law explicitly disclaims any sanction. No one who violates it can be punished by the state in any way. Would this law require public justification? (For other examples, see Colin Bird’s recent paper, Coercion and Public Justification.)


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Vallier Reading Group: Chapter 1

I am happy to begin our reading group on Kevin Vallier’s new book, Liberal Politics and Public Faith: Beyond Separation. My thanks to Chad Van Schoelandt for organizing. In earlier reading groups, we have followed a standard format of summarizing a chapter and then raising some questions about it. In this post, I focus on Chapter 1, Public Reason Liberalism: Religion’s Child and King.


The liberal tradition is often accused of hostility toward religion. Because liberalism places constraints on the role of religious commitments in politics, it may seem to have a “secularist bias.” In this chapter, Vallier seeks to defend liberalism against this charge, or at least against the claim that liberalism is motivated by such bias or hostility. Vallier claims that liberalism has a “schizophrenic attitude” toward religion: on one hand, promoting religious liberty and diversity, but on the other, constraining the influence of religion in the political domain. But this attitude does not reflect hostility so much as a good faith effort to balance religious freedom with the demand for a legitimate and stable public authority. To develop this claim, this chapter describes the “source, ground, and structure of public reason liberalism” (10) and, by extension, the liberal tradition more generally.


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Department Head Search, Virginia Tech

The Department of Philosophy at Virginia Tech would like to draw attention to an opportunity for a senior philosopher with a distinguished research record to serve as Department Head. As part of an ongoing expansion, we are seeking a leader with demonstrated administrative experience, a commitment to undergraduate and graduate education, and who maintains an ongoing research program.

Please see the official job ad at If you are interested, or if you would like to nominate an individual for this position, please contact the Search Committee Chair, Professor James Klagge, at


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A Workshop on Axel Honneth’s Freedom’s Right at Binghamton University

The Department of Philosophy and the Graduate Program in Social, Political, Ethical and Legal Philosophy at Binghamton University is pleased to announce a one-day workshop on Axel Honneth’s Freedom’s Right on Friday, November 21, 2014.

Commentators will present remarks on each section of Honneth’s work, followed by a reply by Axel Honneth and general discussion.

Mattias Iser, Binghamton University
Timo Juetten, University of Essex
Frederick Neuhouser, Columbia University
Max Pensky, Binghamton University
Danielle Petherbridge, University College Dublin
Christopher Zurn, University of Massachusetts, Boston


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CfP: LSE Political Theory Graduate Conference

The LSE Department of Government is pleased to announce its first Political Theory Graduate Conference to take place on 19 and 20 March, 2015. The aim of the conference is to give graduate students working in the field of political theory (broadly conceived) an opportunity to present and discuss their projects with peers, receive feedback for work in progress, and build a wider community of graduate political theorists across the UK, Europe and beyond.

Papers on any theme or topic within political theory and philosophy — from the history of political thought to contemporary normative and critical theory — will be considered.


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(Britain & Ireland) Association for Political Thought 2015 Conference

The Britain and Ireland Association for Political Thought is pleased to announce pre-registration for its 2015 Conference, to be held at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford (January 8th-10th):

The conference schedule is as follows:

Thursday: 8th January
2.30-4.00. Leigh Jenco (LSE): “What is the Revival of Confucianism Really Reviving? Towards a “creative engagement” with traditions in the Global Age”
4.30-6.00. Benjamin Holland (Nottingham): “On the Threshold of Modern Liberty: reconstructing the early Jesuit free-will defence”
6.30. Reception: sponsored by Contemporary Political Theory
8.30-10.00. APT Lecture sponsored by CRISPP: Joseph Carens (Toronto): “Some Questions about How to Do Political Theory”


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