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value-free public discourse?
July 18, 2010, 5:35 pm
Filed under: current affairs, philosophy | Tags: , , ,

An extended quote from Michael Sandel’s Justice:

The prospect of bringing conceptions of the good life into public discourse about justice and rights may strike you as less than appealing – even frightening. After all, people in pluralist societies such as ours disagree about the best way to live. Liberal political theory was born as an attempt to spare politics and law from becoming embroiled in moral and religious controversies. The philosophies of Kant and Rawls represent the fullest and clearest expression of that ambition.

But this ambition cannot succeed. Many of the most hotly contested issues of justice and rights can’t be debated without taking controversial moral and religious questions. In deciding how to define the rights and duties of citizens, it’s not always possible to set aside competing conceptions of the good life. And even when it’s possible, it may not be desirable.

Asking democratic citizens to leave their moral and religious convictions behind when they enter the public realm may seem a way of ensuring toleration and mutual respect. In practice, however, the opposite can be true. Deciding important public questions while pretending to a neutrality that cannot be achieved is a recipe for backlash and resentment. A politics emptied of substantive moral engagement makes for an impoverished civic life. It is also an open invitation to narrow, intolerant moralisms. Fundamentalists rush in where liberals fear to tread.

Quite rightly said. Sadly the Singaporean model of public discourse and its limits seem to be diametrically opposite to Sandel’s ideal model. Religion and race issues are taboo, out-of-bound topics that are largely excluded from the realm of public discourse, because of our experience of racial riots and other reasons. However speech has the power of releasing pressure and clearing the air between parties, and exclusion of speech that is based on religious viewpoints seem not only ironically inimical to the spirit of liberalism and democracy, but also detrimental to the future stability and vibrancy of society. The Rawlsian concept of public reason as applied to public discourse, where every citizen may only bring to the table of public discourse reasons that people of different moral or political backgrounds could accept, is not only unrealistic, but undesirable. People embody and espouse the values that their particular culture, race and religion (or lack thereof) imbue in them, and to require them to set that aside in public debate is a tall order indeed and detrimental to the standard of public deliberation. Erasing such values from the public sphere impoverishes public debate, and breeds discontent amongst a citizenry whose particular viewpoints find no platform to be aired.

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1 Comment so far
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didnt understand it but sounds fancy to me:))

Comment by onekitty21




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