1. Openness Respect and State Neutrality

The preceding discussions of Ethics, Values and Free Will also have implications for political philosophy, law and social ethics in modern free and democratic societies, implica­tions we now explore. How should free and democratic governments deal with pluralism? What is the groun­ding for human rights? What should be the limits of free action and freedom of choice? To what degree can morality be enforced by law? To what degree can demo­cratic governments remain neutral with respect to competing conceptions of the good? Can we reconcile the demands of justice and care in democratic societies?

The preceding discussions have implications for all of these questions and many others regar­ding politics, law and democracy. We begin with an issue much discussed in contemporary political philosophy about what has come to be called “state neutrality.”

Influential political and legal philosophers, such as John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Bruce Acker­man, Charles Larmore, D. A. Lloyd-Thomas and others,[1] have argued in different ways that states or governments in modern free and pluralist societies should remain neutral with respect to (in Rawls’ terms) different “com­pre­hensive conceptions of the good,” not favoring or esta­blishing one such conception over others.

The general argument for such neutrality is that, in a pluralist state, where citizens have dif­fering conceptions of the good and competing ways of life, if the state favors one conception of the good (say, one religion, for example, or ideology or particular morality) over others, it cannot legitimately claim the full assent of all citizens whose religious or moral views differ from the favored one.[2]

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