Diversity, Modesty, Liberty: An Essay on State Neutrality

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Human beings have long disagreed about the best way to live. Of what significance is this fact for politics? In this dissertation, I argue that it is of the utmost significance, and that substantial theoretical conclusions follow from our decision to take it seriously. Arguing that few accounts of politics have given due consideration to the fact of persistent disagreement, among reasonable and well-intentioned individuals, as to what gives life meaning and value, I articulate what I hope to be the most defensible account of a politics that accommodates this fact. Citing a variety of possible inferences we might make in response to this fact of diversity', I defend a humble assessment of our cognitive abilities in this regard as the most charitable inference on offer. Formulated from the perspective of those who would claim the right to exercise political power and authority, this epistemically-humble response to the fact of diversity issues in a principled refusal to endorse any particular account of the Good Life as authoritative for public purposes. The state manifests this principled refusal by adopting an attitude of maximum feasible accommodation' with respect to its citizens' pursuits of their diverse conceptions of life's meaning and value. Such an attitude needs to be fleshed out in terms of policy, however, so in the final chapters I articulate and defend, as the best practical expression of a stance of maximum accommodation, a principle that restricts the use of the state's coercive power to only those measures needed to protect citizens' `expressive liberty' - that is, their right to live lives that express their cherished notions of life's meaning and value, free from coercive interference.