A Liberal Defence of the Intrinsic Value of Cultures

Contemporary Political Theory 7 (1):31 (2008)
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Over the past 15 years, a great deal of efforts have been done by political philosophers to make liberal political theory more sensitive to the importance culture has for individuals, and to think about how to translate this importance into laws and policies, in particular those affecting cultural and national minorities. However, one of the outstanding issues is whether and how an appropriate account of the worth of culture can be provided from a liberal point of view. The most important and currently discussed liberal defence of the worth of culture is probably expressed in Will Kymlicka's theory of minority rights. Such a defence argues for the instrumental role culture plays in people's ability to make meaningful choices and lead a self-directed existence. This paper seeks to show that Kymlicka's instrumental account of the worth of cultures is non-viable, and that a liberal conception of culture viewed as intrinsically valuable is indispensable. While each of them recognizes individual autonomy as an intrinsically valuable good, it is demonstrated that both differ not only as to the role culture has to play in a self-directed existence, but also as to why cultures deserve to be protected and as to their policies towards non-liberal minority cultures.



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