Deliberative Perfectionism: Why Should we Talk About the Good?
In contemporary political theory, perfectionists believe that the state should promote substantive conceptions of the good through its legislative action. Some of them emphasize the intrinsic value of certain human goals, traits and activities; others envisage a connection between the promotion of certain valuable things and the nurturing of individual autonomy. Supporters of neutrality, instead, claim that the state should refrain from legislating on the basis of substantive conceptions of the good. Some of them argue that the individual is the only or best judge of her interest; others claim that conceptions of the good are too controversial and cannot constitute valid grounds for political action; others, finally, emphasize that state perfectionism may threaten individual freedom and autonomy. In this paper I will analyze perfectionism in relation to Jrgen Habermas’s theory of discourse and deliberative politics. I will argue that, by shifting from an ethical to a meta-ethical dimension, we can establish the legitimate grounds for a model of deliberation encompassing ethical matters (that is, questions concerning the good life) not confined to the limits of specific communities or forms of life. I will conclude by arguing that political perfectionism must be conducted and legitimated through deliberation and discourse because discourse itself is involved in the way in which we can establish, at the meta-ethical level, why and on which grounds something is valuable.