Monthly Archives: November 2012

Call for papers: 2013 Oxford Graduate Conference in Political Theory, ‘The Politics of Equality’

Paper proposals are invited for the second Oxford Graduate Conference in Political Theory, to be held at the University of Oxford Department of Politics and International Relations on 25th-26th April 2013. The theme will be ‘The Politics of Equality’, which may be interpreted broadly from a range of approaches within political theory.

This conference aims to interrogate the concept, practices, and implications of egalitarian politics. Concerns with equality are increasingly prevalent in contemporary political discourse. Yet, the distinctively political questions of enacting egalitarian aims often receive little attention from political theorists. We invite submissions on any topic pertaining to the meaning, historical development, application, or critique of egalitarian politics. read more...

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CFP: Seventh Annual Felician Ethics Conference

Please see the Felician Ethics Institute website for full details of (and updates for) the CFP: 


The seventh annual meeting of the Felician Ethics Conference will be held at the Rutherford Campus of Felician College on Saturday, April 20, 2013

223 Montross Ave
Rutherford, NJ 07070


Plenary Speaker: Robert Audi

John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy
University of Notre Dame
Topic TBA


 Submissions on any topic in moral philosophy (broadly construed) are welcome, not exceeding 25 minutes’ presentation time (approximately 3,000 words). Please send submissions (completed papers, no abstracts or proposals, please) via email in format suitable for blind review by Feb. 15, 2013 to: read more...

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Brettschneider Reading Group: Chapter 5

I want to begin by thanking Corey for the opportunity to read his wonderful book. I found it well-written, original, and thought-provoking, and I am sympathetic to many aspects of his approach. While I sometimes disagreed, I always struggled to find good reasons to justify my disagreement, which is the mark of a sharp argument! Since Kevin has already summarized the main points of Chapter 5, I won’t do that again. Instead, I’d like to reflect on the issue of religious freedom against the background of the book as a whole.

I want to focus on a question raised by Corey himself, toward the end of Chapter 5: does the account of democratic persuasion defended here risk the “extinction” of religion (157)? Chapter 5’s main argument is that the state, in its expressive capacity, ought to attempt to transform its citizens’ religious beliefs when those beliefs oppose liberal democracy’s core values. This is a provocative view, not least because it raises the specter of incompatibility between certain types of religious faith and good citizenship. Is it possible for an Orthodox Jew, a practicing Catholic, an evangelical Protestant, or a conservative Muslim to be a good citizen of a value democracy, without transforming their religious doctrines to the point where these doctrines are nearly indistinguishable from a secular ethical liberalism?

An analogous worry is familiar from popular culture, where religious people often raise suspicious objections about “transformative” liberal projects. Their objection is that while these liberal projects are “officially” capable of being endorsed by a wide variety of doctrines and perspectives, in reality they turn out to be extensionally equivalent to a secular ethical liberalism. While I am not myself religious, I feel some sympathy for these objections, and I think it is important for political liberals to show that such suspicions are false. They need to demonstrate that one can be a devout religious believer and a good political liberal at the same time.

Before exploring further, I want to clarify the sense in which I am asking whether religious believers can be good citizens. Corey emphasizes many times over that individuals have fundamental rights to religious liberty and to basic freedoms of association, conscience, and expression. The means-based constraint on the state’s democratic persuasion holds that the state must respect these rights in its efforts at transformation, even in cases where citizens espouse doctrines opposed to democratic values. Corey is crystal clear that religious believers may not be coercively sanctioned by the state for their views. So I am not arguing that Corey denies one can adhere to certain (hateful or discriminatory) religious doctrines and still be a lawful citizen of a liberal democracy, free from coercive penalty.

Yet the matter does not end there. For Corey also emphasizes that liberal citizens are under an (unenforceable) moral duty to engage in “reflective revision” of their private beliefs, including their religious beliefs. And where citizens fail to adequately revise their beliefs on their own, the state may exercise its expressive capacity to criticize their views. A virtuous citizen, it seems, is one who makes good on this duty of reflective revision. What I want to know is whether a citizen can be fully virtuous—having reflectively revised her views—and still be religious? Would an “ideal” democracy, composed of all and only virtuous citizens, be a completely secular democracy?

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Brettschneider Reading Group: Chapter 5, Religious Freedom and the Reasons for Rights

Along with the other commenters, I’m grateful for the opportunity to take part in this reading group. I find Corey’s book both timely and provocative; perhaps one of the book’s main virtues is the way in which it frames controversial issues and brings critical assumptions of present debates into clear focus. While I do not always agree with Corey, I always found myself pleased to engage a developed, original view.

As with the other posts, I will begin with a summary of the chapter and then raise some concerns.

1. General Summary

In the book so far, Corey has argued that there is a middle-path between the conceptions of the roles of the democratic state offered by “neutralists” and “militant democrats.” While the state cannot use coercion to restrict hateful views that threaten to undermine the basis of liberal democracy (namely the value of free and equal citizenship), it can use “democratic persuasion” to help maintain the integrity and vivacity of liberal democratic institutions over time. The values underpinning liberal democracy also generate duties of “reflective revision” where citizens have an obligation to rethink and revise their beliefs when those beliefs are publicly relevant and incompatible with the ideal of free and equal citizenship.

Chapter 5 brings this approach to bear on religious freedom. As other commenters have noted, especially Jon, the plausibility of the idea that democratic persuasion is compatible with liberal democracy is potentially challenged by religious groups. Many religious groups seem to endorse “hateful” views that but we are often hesitant to use democratic persuasion to change theological convictions than convictions of other sorts.

In Chapter 5, Corey makes the controversial claim that, in contrast to the “static” view of religious freedom, where current beliefs and practices of a religious are thought to merit protection, “religious beliefs should not be exempt from the principle of public relevance” (143). Instead, if religious beliefs oppose free and equal citizenship, “democratic persuasion is justified in order to transform these beliefs.”

A subsidiary aim of the chapter is to show that by making religious beliefs subject to democratic persuasion, Corey has not thereby adopted an objectionably secularist approach to liberal democracy. To demonstrate, Corey stresses the “substance-based” and “means” limits on democratic persuasion. To recall, the substance-based limits holds that value democracy is limited to promoting the political values of free and equal citizenship, and not to promoting religious or non-religious comprehensive values. The means limit holds that democratic persuasion is limited to the state’s “expressive and subsidy capacities, not its coercive capacities” such that religion cannot be subjected to coercive transformation (143). By emphasizing these limits, Corey hopes to defang the objection from secularist bias.

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Brettschneider Reading Group: Chapter Four, Democratic Persuasion and State Subsidy

I have learned a great deal from Corey’s book and the blog posts so far; I appreciate the opportunity to kick off our discussion of Chapter 4.  Because of the Thanksgiving holiday in the US I’ve written up this post in advance; my apologies if the discussion has already moved beyond the questions I pose.


In Ch. 3, Corey argued that states ought to engage in “democratic persuasion.”  That is, in their role as speakers and educators, they should try to persuade their citizens to accept an ideal of free and equal citizenship.  Corey defended the state’s use of democratic persuasion against, on the one hand, the objections of neutralists disconcerted by the specter of a nosy, paternalistic, and heavy-handed “Invasive State,” and on the other hand, the objections of prohibitionists or Militant Democrats worried that mere persuasion is impotent to prevent a society from sliding into hatefulness (a.k.a. the “Hateful Society”).

In Ch. 4, Corey further develops his account of democratic persuasion in a way that is meant to quell the concerns of Militant Democrats.  If citizens’ internal reflections, their efforts to persuade one another and the state’s own symbolic and educative initiatives fail to persuade citizens to adopt the ideal of free and equal citizenship, then states have another set of tools at their disposal: they can deny state subsidies and tax-exempt status to groups with hateful viewpoints.  The burden of Ch. 4, then, is to show that these tools are a) strong enough to persuade severe racists, misogynists and homophobes to change their beliefs (thus helping to avoid the Hateful Society), but b) not so strong that in employing them, states fail to respect their citizens’ rights to free expression and association (thus staving off the Invasive State).

So far, Corey has emphasized the reasoning component of democratic persuasion.  But in Ch. 4 he reminds us that “democratic persuasion is a term of art meant to describe the various capacities of the state and citizens that can be employed to transform hateful viewpoints…” (109, my italics).  The denial of subsidies and tax-exempt status are therefore aspects of democratic persuasion and so not coercive— even though, as Corey says, they have more “bite” than reason alone.

There are at least three ways that states can use financial incentives and disincentives to engage in democratic persuasion: they can spend money on democratic persuasion directly, e.g. by erecting monuments or funding the development of school curricula.  They can provide and withhold grants to “private” organizations, such as student groups at public universities.  Finally, they can provide and withhold tax privileges and exemptions, particularly non-profit status.

Corey argues that all individuals should have the minimum resources necessary to exercise their rights of free speech and association.  (In an aside he notes that this requirement “suggests the general importance of a just distribution of wealth” [113]).  For example, if the KKK marches to protest racial equality, it should be provided with police protection.  But the state is under no obligation to help individuals or groups with hateful viewpoints ensure that their message is accepted by those who hear it: the KKK has a right to taxpayer-funded police protection, not taxpayer-funded megaphones.  Indeed, the state has a duty to not promote the message of groups with hateful viewpoints.  Among other reasons, this is because the content of such viewpoints (e.g. “people are politically unequal”) runs counter to the underlying reasons why individuals have a right to express such viewpoints (they are politically equal).  The state must therefore clarify that while it protects the KKK marchers’ freedom of speech, it is not neutral between the KKK’s views and those of the counter-protesters: it thinks that the counter-protesters (whom the police also protect) are right, and the KKK marchers are wrong.  In protecting the counter-protesters, the state both secures their right to freedom of speech and also engages in democratic persuasion, explaining the underlying reason why both the KKK marchers and the counter-protesters have a right to free expression and association: they are all free and equal.

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Call for Papers: Northwestern University, Society for Ethical Theory & Political Philosophy, 7th Annual Conference. 16-18th May, 2013

Call for Papers

From Faculty and Graduate Students

Keynote Addresses:
Talbot Brewer
Sarah Buss

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES: The deadline is February 15, 2013. We welcome submissions from faculty and graduate students, as some sessions will be reserved for student presentations. Please submit an essay of approximately 4000 words and an abstract of at most 150 words. Essay topics in all areas of ethical theory and political philosophy will be considered, although some priority will be given to essays that take up themes from the works of Talbot Brewer and Sarah Buss, such as autonomy, desire, goodness, moral psychology, moral responsibility, pleasure, practical reasoning, respect, virtue, Aristotelianism and Kantianism. Essays and abstracts should be prepared for blind review in word, rtf, or pdf format. Graduate submissions should be sent by e-mail to; faculty submissions should be sent by e-mail to Notices of acceptance will be sent by April 1, 2013. For more information, please contact Kyla Ebels-Duggan at the e-mail address above or visit our website: read more...

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