Disputed practices and reasonable pluralism

Res Publica 10 (1):43-67 (2004)
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Abstract

This paper addresses the problem of disputed cultural practices within liberal, deliberative democracies, arguing against the currently dominant view, advocated by Susan Okin among others, that such problems represent a fundamental tension between two liberal values: gender equality and cultural autonomy. Such an approach, I argue, requires the state to render normative judgements about conceptions of the good life, something which is both arbitrary and unfair in societies characterised by reasonable pluralism. Disputed practices, I claim, are defined by the existence of reasonable disagreement over their legitimacy, which means they need to be resolved in a way that abstains from morally evaluating the religious or cultural doctrines of the group in question. The paper therefore articulates a cost-based approach to such problems. The cost-based approach focuses our conceptual attention on the sorts of publicly identifiable costs that any state decision will have on the various parties to a dispute. By restricting itself to public reasons, this method thereby avoids arbitrarily privileging certain conceptions of the good at the expense of others when determining the boundaries of reasonable pluralism.

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Jonathan Quong
University of Southern California