Sandel on Religion in the Public Square
7 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2015
Date Written: 2011
In the final chapter of "Justice" (2009), Sandel calls for a “new politics of the common good,” which he presents as an alternative to John Rawls’s idea of public reason. Sandel calls “misguided” Rawls’s search for “principles of justice that are neutral among competing conceptions of the good life.” According to Sandel, “[i]t is not always possible to define our rights and duties without taking up substantive moral questions; and even when it’s possible it may not be desirable.” In taking up these moral questions, Sandel writes, we must allow specifically religious convictions and reasons into the sphere of public political debate.
With these arguments, Sandel joins a debate prompted in significant part by Rawls’s 1993 work, "Political Liberalism." In this paper I dispute Sandel’s characterization of Rawls’s views and suggest two more particular questions about the role of religion that Sandel’s “new politics” needs to address more fully. The first is whether public officials should be subject to obligations more stringent than those that apply to private citizens. Here I discuss Jürgen Habermas's affirmative answer to this question in his "institutional translation proviso." The second is the relation between and mutual obligations of secular and religious citizens. Here I recommend to Sandel the “accountability proviso” suggested by Cristina Lafont.
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