Political perfectionism and spheres of state neutrality

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Two families of views regarding the proper functions of the modern state are commonly contrasted in contemporary political philosophy. On one side, political perfectionists reject state neutrality and hold that it is permissible, and may be a requirement, for the state to support or promote some conceptions of the good life over others. On the other side, liberal neutralists accept state neutrality and hold that it is illegitimate for the state to take sides between rival conceptions of the good life. While the differences between these two families of views is considerably more nuanced than these broad statements suggest, the contrast between them is widely seen to be one that is sharp and deep. This chapter aims to complicate the divide between the two camps. It does so by presenting a perfectionist case for state neutrality with respect to competing conceptions of the good within certain spheres of social life. State neutrality, on the view presented here, is not a global property of state action, but a property that applies to some spheres of state action and not others. The chapter aims to illustrate the complexity and flexibility of this general approach to state neutrality by discussing the specific spheres of religion, language, and speech. On the approach presented here, the character and specification of the relevant neutrality requirements operative in these different spheres of social life rest on substantive, and no doubt controversial, judgments concerning the goods of human life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationBeyond Classical Liberalism Freedom and the Good
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781003852346
ISBN (Print)9781032405773
StatePublished - Jan 1 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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