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Two Types of Liberal Perfectionism

  • Autori: Biondo, F.
  • Anno di pubblicazione: 2005
  • Tipologia: Articolo in rivista
  • Parole Chiave: Perfectionism, liberalism, paternalism, harm to self.
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Since the publication of J. Raz’s Morality of Freedom (Raz 1986), liberalism has often been interpreted as a perfectionist political morality.1 The starting point of this analysis is the refusal, by Raz and other philosophers, of the distinction between theories of the good and theories of justice. According to these authors, liberalism as a theory of justice or, as it was later considered, as a “political doctrine,” faces many theoretical difficulties: the issue of neutrality, the problematic distinction between comprehensive moral doctrine and a merely political account of legitimacy, the vagueness of the concept of “citizen,” the relationship between liberal and non-liberal moral cultures (see, e.g., Macedo 1990; Galston 1991; Mulhall-Swift 1993; White 1997; Wall 1998; Sandel 1998). Perfectionist liberalism tries to overcome some of these difficulties by identifying an objective account of morality that stands behind what we consider to be a liberal community. From the outset, it is necessary to define what I mean by a liberal perfectionist doctrine. By “perfectionism” I mean a “teleological morality with an objective theory of the human good” (Hurka 1993; 1998, 300). However, it is unclear how a form of perfectionism can be part of a liberal political morality. Diverse moral doctrines identify different objective values that are often conflicting, so it is necessary to explain which values are to be considered relevant in a liberal political morality. I consider as “objective” the value of autonomy of those who are perceived as right-holders or “free and equal members of society.” This value is objective in that it makes a political claim “reasonable” and in that sense acceptable by free and equal members of society.2 However, I do not want to argue against a political interpretation of liberalism in favour of a “comprehensive” version of it. Nor do I intend to argue that every possible form of liberalism is or should be considered “perfectionist.” My aim is more limited: It is to depict two different types of liberal perfectionism and to bring to the fore their justifications of coercive means. Provided that liberalism considers government to be justified insofar as it respects the rights of its citizens, I will explain how such a regime could be justified by a perfectionist doctrine of political morality. In particular, my analysis will deal with the issue of justification of norms that allow people “to do wrong” to themselves.