The Practical, the Political and the Ethical seminar series

The Practical, the Political and the Ethical seminar series
19 June 2018, 5.30pm - 7.30pm
Room 246, Second Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU


Gordon Finlayson (Sussex)


No Provisos: A Critique of Habermas and of Rawls on Religion and Public Reason

In 2005 Habermas advanced a view of the role of religion in public "institutional translation proviso."  He takes the view to be an alternative to the Rawlsian idea of public reason, an alternative that is superior in that it convincingly answers two objections he takes to apply to the Rawlsian view, namely that it puts unfair burdens on religious citizens and that it wrongly impugns their identity. (In my view, neither applies to Rawls's view properly understood.) Virtually all commentators, whether for or against Rawls, argue that Habermas's position is essentially no different from Rawls's. To Rawls's defenders, Habermas's position is, to the extent that it is tenable, unoriginal. To Rawls's critics, it is untenable because vulnerable to the just same objections that apply to Rawls. I show that all these critics are mistaken about the propinquity to Rawls's theory, and about its status as normative,  theory. The similarities are merely terminological, and Habermas's terminology is deeply misleading. The distinctiveness of  Habermas' view comes into sharp focus when it is viewed in the light of his own theory of law, and his criticism of Rawls. It is at its weakest where he attempts (needlessly in my view) to make it answer the two objections.

I conclude with a cost benefit evaluation of their contrasting conceptions of the role of religion in public reason.

The Institute of Philosophy hosts a regular workshop series entitled ‘The Practical, the Political, and the Ethical’. The series was created in 2015 by Véronique Munoz-Dardé (UCL) and Hallvard Lillehammer (Birkbeck) in order to discuss work in progress from visiting speakers. This year the series is convened by Véronique Munoz-Dardé (UCL) and Amanda Greene (UCL). The seminar generally meets on alternate Tuesdays from 5.30 to 7.30pm in the spring and summer terms. Talks are normally 50 minutes (no pre-circulation of the paper), followed by discussion. All are welcome.  


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