6th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Piras

Mauro Piras

Remarks on the Moral Basis of Political Liberalism

Two main criticisms have been often addressed to political liberalism (PL). First, PL lacks a strong moral foundation, because of its neutrality towards any comprehensive doctrine, and its relying on the empirical but not normative basis of overlapping consensus. Second, public reason burdens the political deliberation with unjustified restraints, which create an asymmetrical relation between secular and religious citizens. The refutation of these objections lies in the moral foundations of PL and in the moral content of the overlapping consensus.

  1. PL is not a morally neutral political theory, because it is grounded on the normative idea of a society of free and equal persons. The core morality of PL is the notion of equal respect for persons.
  2. The restraints that public reason imposes on the political deliberation are justified by the principle of reciprocity, which underlies the very idea of democracy. Without these restraints, public debates would cause the prevailing of one comprehensive doctrine over other doctrines, or violent contrasts.
  3. How is it possible to reconcile the restraints of public reason with pluralism? The answer is the idea of overlapping consensus (OC). OC is a moral consensus, which unifies all the citizens who have good reasons to accept the basic moral notions underlying democracy. They could have any kind of reasons to accept and share these notions, and the cognitive process by which they do that is not predetermined by any philosophical or political theory: it is produced by the free interpretation and cultural appropriation of the political conception of justice.
  4. So OC provides the moral foundation of PL, to the extent that every citizen develops moral reasons, rooted in her own comprehensive doctrine, to justify the political conception of justice; at the same time, public reason is OC, because the shared morality produced by OC is the common language of the political community.