Political, Not Metaphysical

Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 77:205-219 (2003)
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Is it permissible for a citizen or political official to exercise coercive political power on the basis of a political justification associated with a religiously motivatedconception of justice? In this paper I accept John Rawls’s general approach to this question, but attempt to show how the Rawlsian approach is more inclusive ofreligious reasoning than many have supposed. My paper focuses specifically on the 1986 Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter on the U.S. economy. The bishops’ letter is certainly part of what Rawls calls a “comprehensive doctrine.” But, as I argue in the paper, the letter is also consistent with political liberalism’s core idea of reasonableness, supports a reasonable political conception of justice and satisfies the Rawlsian “proviso” concerning the public-political use of religious argument. From the standpoint of political liberalism, the bishops’ letter may be interpreted as a form of public reason.



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James Boettcher
Saint Joseph's University of Pennsylvania

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