Category Archives: Discussion

Religion, Public Reason and Thinking of the Children: Comments on Chapter 7

I am genuinely, truly honored by Harry Brighouse’s comments on the last chapter of my book. Brighouse is one of philosophy’s great theorists of education, and I learned a lot from his remarks. Brighouse’s core worry is that my chapter on religion and public education really has very little to say about the interests of children. And isn’t that an odd oversight on my part?

If I were in the business of offering a general account of the justification of educational institutions, then that would be a severe problem. But given the issues I’m focused on, I think things are more complicated. For starters, within public reason, when we speak of the public justification of laws, it is hard to know how to fit children into that scheme in any direct way. What are children’s’ reasons? And how do we publicly justify law to them?


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On Legislative Restraint and Religious Accommodation: Replies on Chapter 6

Apologies for the delay in posting my reply to Chad’s really rich comments on Chapter 6 of my book. I decided to delay until after Thanksgiving, as I thought people might be more likely to read the post. But Chad’s arguments were also sufficiently challenging that it took me awhile to figure out how to respond, and I’m not entirely happy with my responses at the moment.

I’ll address Chad’s concerns about judicial restraint, legislative restraint, my general approach to religious accommodation and my take on key accommodation-related court cases in that order.

I. On Judicial Restraint


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Integrity, Law and Congruence: Comments on Chapter 3

Thanks to Andrew Lister for an admirably concise and rich review of the third chapter of my book. The main aim of Chapter 3 is to lay down the strategy for vindicating the convergence view. I argue that respect for integrity and reasonable pluralism are both foundational values in public reason liberalism, so foundational that they can be used to choose between conceptions or interpretation of the idea of public reason. I will argue that the convergence view is superior on both grounds to the mainstream consensus view in Chapter 4.

But Lister raises some important concerns about how that vindication is going to go.


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Publicity, Divisiveness and Restraint: Comments on Chapter 2

Let me begin by thanking Danny for commenting on my work. Danny and I overlapped in graduate school for three years, and he’s offered perceptive comments on my work ever since. So I’m especially grateful to him for his lengthy engagement with my work.

Danny has two big concerns about the second chapter of my book: (i) that we might ground restraint in the value of publicity and (ii) that my objection to divisiveness-based arguments for restraint is unsuccessful. Together, (i) and (ii) may vindicate restraint despite the objections in the chapter.

A quick note before I begin my replies. Even if Danny’s objections are successful and restraining divisiveness and promoting publicity both support restraint, restraint is not thereby vindicated (and Danny does not say as much). Just to be clear: to vindicate restraint, we must show that both objections override the integrity and fairness objections. We do not yet have an argument for that position.


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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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Ethics for the down-and-out?

A couple of weeks ago, I (perhaps unwisely) posted a sarcastic and hastily written note in response to a news story about the crime-fighting adventures of ethicist Jonathan Glover [original post now removed].  It turns out that I didn’t make my intent clear enough, and that at least some people read it as an attack on Professor Glover’s conduct or personal character.  Fortunately, Glover himself seems to be an unusually forgiving and generous-spirited soul, and despite his initial displeasure at the note (which might have had others threatening legal action), an email exchange between us quickly turned into a friendly correspondence between philosophers interested in similar themes.  For the record, I really did not mean to imply anything about this philosopher’s personal qualities, about his handling of an attempt to defraud him, or about how he came by whatever wealth he may possess (by buying a house a very long time ago, as he tells me). Sure, there is a sense in which I do think that people like Jonathan Glover – and, for that matter, people like me – shouldn’t exist (and are fair game for a certain amount of satire or vitriol).  In any even minimally acceptable society, there just would not be neighbourhoods where the average house costs in the region of £3 million, sat alongside areas of crushing poverty, with tens of thousands of people who cannot afford to keep a roof over their heads at all.  Which is also to say, of course, that the homeless and destitute wouldn’t exist either (as George Bernard Shaw put it: “I hate the poor and look forward to their extermination.”) – but I’ll leave it to the right-wing press and the Bullingdon Club boys who populate our Government (speaking of categories of people that shouldn’t exist) to poke fun and sneer at the poor and the working class.  There also wouldn’t be people like me swanning around Oxbridge colleges eating pheasant and wearing gowns, while the higher education system (along with all the other major public services) crumbles around us.


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