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Two Concepts of Pluralism*

  • Mark Kingwell (a1)
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1 The essays in this volume demonstrate the range of objection to Sources of the Self (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989). Quentin Skinner begins his sharply critical essay by saying, “The historian Alexander Kinglake wanted the following inscription to be placed on all churches: Important if true. The same motto could equally well be inscribed in Charles Taylor's masterly new survey, Sources of the Self” (p. 37). Susan James is critical of Taylor's reading of Descartes's foundationalism as a “turning inward.” Michael Morgan attacks his easy theism, Jean Bethke Elshtain his rather blithe celebration of ordinariness, Mette Hjort his Romantic (and élitist) idea of artistic creation, and Clifford Geertz his apparent hostility to the methods and goals of the natural sciences, a strained relationship that Geertz labels “the strange estrangement.”

2 Sometimes, indeed, the exchanges exhibit a certain dry humour. Richard Rorty's essay, in particular, is a model of baffled condescension. “I shall confine myself to a parochial topic,” he says, “one about which only philosophy professors find it profitable to reflect: truth” (p. 21). “Taylor and I both pride ourselves on having escaped from the collapsed circus tent of epistemology—those acres of canvas under which many of our colleagues are still thrashing aimlessly about,” he later continues. “But each of us thinks that the other is still, so to speak, stumbling about among the tangled guy-ropes, rather than having escaped altogether” (p. 29). Taylor returns the favour with as much wit, if less colour: “It seems so hard to get a final, clear fix on just what is at stake between us,” he writes of Rorty's essay. “There are passages where I find myself nodding in agreement, but then suddenly the text veers off on to a terrain where I can't follow” (p. 219).

3 See Richard Tuck, “Rights and Pluralism,” pp. 159–70; Daniel Weinstock, ”The Political Theory of Strong Evaluation,” pp. 171–93; and Guy Laforest, ”Philosophy and Political Judgement in a Multinational Federation,” pp. 194–209. Taylor's replies to their criticisms are at pp. 246–57.

4 To name the leading theories of contemporary American liberal justice, see Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1971) and Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991); Nozick, Robert, Anarchy, State and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974); Dworkin, Ronald, Taking Rights Seriously (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984); and Ackerman, Bruce, Social Justice in the Liberal State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980).

5 There are many places to sample this opposition. See, variously, Avineri, Shlomo and de-Dahlit, Avner, eds., Communitarianism and Individualism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992); Mulhall, Stephen and Swift, Adam, Liberals and Communitarians (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1992); Douglass, Bruce, Mara, Gerald, and Richardson, Henry, eds., Liberalism and the Good (New York: Routledge, 1990); Rosenblum, Nancy, ed., Liberalism and the Moral Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989); Rasmussen, David, ed., Universalism vs. Communitarianism (Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press, 1990); and Sandel, Michael, ed., Liberalism and Its Critics (New York: New York University Press, 1984).

6 I do not except myself from that judgement. In A Civil Tongue: Justice, Dialogue, and the Politics of Pluralism (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1995), I focused on revising liberal ideas of right in the light of hermeneutical insights gleaned from Taylor, among others. But I did so exclusively in an attempt to deal with extramural pluralism, the ethical conflicts or disagreements between groups of citizens—as if ethical interests within groups, or individuals, were always reconcilable, if not actually fixed. In more recent work concerning the political virtues, I have tried to address this shortcoming.

7 See his “What's Wrong with Negative Liberty?” in The Idea of Freedom, edited by Ryan, Alan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979).

8 Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty,” in Liberalism and Its Critics, p. 33. This essay has been extensively reprinted; it was originally delivered as Berlin's inaugural professorial lecture in Oxford in 1957.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid., p. 34.

11 Larmore, Charles, Patterns of Moral Complexity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 138.

12 See Sandel, Michael, “The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self,” Political Theory, 12 (1984): 8196.

13 Taylor, , “The Politics of Recognition,” in Multiculturalism, edited by Gutmann, Amy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 59. While Taylor drew the initial contrast, it was Michael Walzer who labelled the two visions, one procedural and neutralist, the other substantive and good-driven, Liberalism 1 and Liberalism 2; see ibid, at pp. 99ff.

14 That, indeed, is the thrust of his reply in this volume to Daniel Weinstock, who in a manner somewhat analogous to recent work by Will Kymlicka (see his Liberalism, Community, and Culture [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991]), urges a possible Rawlsian accommodation of rights to cultural survival. But ”[s]urvivance is just another matter,” Taylor bluntly says here. It is not just an extension of Rawlsian liberal goods, but “another good.” “I don't think any useful goal is served trying to pretend that we aren't dealing with two independent goods which have to be combined,” he concludes (p. 251). The same point arises, and is dispatched as summarily, in “The Politics of Recognition”: ”It might be argued that one could after all capture a goal like survivance for a proceduralist liberal society,” say, by treating language as a resource analogous to clean or green spaces. “But this can't capture the full thrust of policies designed for cultural survival” (p. 58).

15 Taylor, “The Politics of Recognition,” p. 59.

16 Ibid., pp. 59–60.

17 See Kingwell, A Civil Tongue, especially chaps. 1, 2, 6, and 7. I argue that the dialogic virtue of civility must be at the centre of any just liberal society, and that a rich characterization of that virtue gives us a superior interpretive version of dialogic liberalism, as against (for example) the strictly enforced conversational neutrality of Bruce Ackerman, which builds a determinate outcome into the defended decision procedure.

18 The new “liberal virtue” theorists include, prominently, William Galston and Benjamin Barber. See Galston, , Liberal Purposes: Goods, Virtues, and Duties in the Liberal State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), and Barber, , Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). For a survey of the place of the virtues in recent political theory, see Kymlicka, Will and Norman, Wayne, “Return of the Citizen: A Survey of Recent Work on Citizenship Theory,” Ethics, 104 (1994): 352–81, especially pp. 365–69 on liberal virtues. I address the issue with some historical context in Defending Political Virtue,” Philosophical Forum, 27 (1996): 244–68.

19 Taylor, “The Politics of Recognition,” p. 62.

* James Tully, ed., Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism: The Philosophy of Charles Taylor in Question (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), xvi + 273 pp., $54.95, $18.95 paper. Page references are to this work.

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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
  • ISSN: 0012-2173
  • EISSN: 1759-0949
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