The principle of state neutrality has figured prominently in recent philosophical debate over the character of liberalism as a political theory. The principle holds that the state should be neutral among different conceptions of the good life and/or comprehensive doctrines that are held by members in the society to which it applies. Two questions about state neutrality are related, but can be distinguished. The first question concerns its interpretation. In what way, or in what respect, should the state be neutral? The second question concerns the grounding or support for the principle. What considerations, if any, speak in its favor? In this chapter I will be concerned mainly with the second of these questions. I will assume that an adequate interpretation of the principle of state neutrality is available, one that holds that the political institutions and the political decisions of a society should be justified in a way that does not presuppose the truth or correctness of any conception of the good or comprehensive doctrine that is controversial among its members. I want to discuss the prospects for grounding the principle of state neutrality, so understood, on the distinctively democratic value of political autonomy. This will require me to characterize this value, to explain its democratic credentials, to show how it can support state neutrality, and to discuss its normative status and force.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Arts and Humanities