Autonomy v Respect
Some more on this question of comprehensive v political liberalism, and respect, and what is meant by it. G has been arguing for a more limited reading in comments, but I’m not convinced that the quoted passages fit such a reading.
One may sympathize…without feeling that he understands the type of mutual respect that is required in a pluralistic society. I agree with Rawls: such respect requires (in the public sphere at least) not showing up the claims of religion as damaging, and not adopting a public conception of truth and objectivity according to which such claims are false.
That seems pretty clear to me. Surely she’s not talking about leaving ‘our private differences over comprehensive conceptions of the good out of political discourse and negotiation, and certainly out of political institutions themselves’ there. Isn’t it pretty unequivocal? Such respect requires, at least in the public sphere, not showing up the claims of religion as damaging, and not adopting a public conception of truth and objectivity according to which such claims are false. She doesn’t say ‘in the political sphere at least’ – she says ‘public’. I take that to mean public talking and writing, not purely public political talking and writing – since she says the former and not the latter. Respect requires us not to adopt a public – not political, but public – conception of truth and objectivity according to which the claims of religion are false. Do public sphere and public conception actually mean political sphere and political conception in Rawlsian language? Maybe they do, I don’t know. But the multiculturalism essay was in the Boston Review, which is not a technical journal of philosophy – surely Nussbaum must have intended to use ordinary language there.
The autonomy question – as G said, ‘even this minimal notion of respect has a problem with conceptions of the good that advocate political subordination of others (women, ethnic groups, adherents to other religions, etc.), because respect for individual autonomy is so basic to political liberalism.’ But…
I think it is plausible to read [Okin] as endorsing a form of comprehensive liberalism, in which liberal values of autonomy and dignity pervade the fabric of the body politic…her view resembles the views of John Stuart Mill and Joseph Raz, who see the fostering of personal autonomy in all areas of life as an appropriate goal of the state. Such moral liberals can still recognize the intrinsic worth of religious liberty and thus respect the choices of religious believers – up to a point. But, given their view that autonomous lives are better than hierarchically ordered lives, they are bound to play favorites among the religions, using the state and its persuasive apparatus to wean people away from religions that do not foster personal autonomy – as John Stuart Mill explicitly urges in On Liberty, where he excoriates Calvinism…There can be little doubt that a Millean liberal state will show public disrespect for Calvinism in all sorts of ways and will make frequent pronouncements about human flourishing and human nature that go well beyond the core of the political conception.
So – valuing autonomy will cause the Millean liberal to show public disrespect for Calvinism in all sorts of ways – and surely I’m not reading uncharitably in thinking that Nussbaum is critical of such an outcome. In fact she sounds (to me) unpleasantly like all the would-be censors who are always zipping up and down telling us not to disrespect their cherished beliefs. Very unpleasantly, in fact. This passage (it’s on pages 108-109 of the Okin book) makes me more twitchy every time I read it.
She goes on:
The political liberal, by contrast, begins from the fact of reasonable disagreements in society, and the existence of a reasonable plurality of comprehensive doctrines about the good, prominent among which are the religious conceptions. By calling them reasonable, the political liberal shows respect for them and commits herself to a political course that is as protective of them as it is possible to be, compatibly with a just political structure.
I still don’t see how to read that other than as a condemnation of showing ‘public disrespect’ for religions in public discussions, and as something of a warning about putting autonomy ahead of a certain (rather peculiar) idea of respect.