One of the central questions of political philosophy is: when is the exercise of political power justifiable? Much of the contemporary debate about this question focuses on the role that claims about the components of a good or flourishing life can play in justifying the exercise of political power. Two distinct viewpoints have emerged. Liberal neutralists hold that the state must be neutral in some sense between the competing conceptions of the good (religious, metaphysical, etc.) that we find in contemporary liberal democracies. To this end, they hold that claims about the good can play at best a very limited justificatory role. Liberal perfectionists, by contrast, hold that such claims can or ought to play an important justificatory role. These two views have radically different implications for a variety of laws in liberal democratic societies – for example, laws that prohibit recreational drug use on the basis that such activity is detrimental to human flourishing.
This conference will bring together scholars working within this debate to discuss, and present papers inspired by, an important new monograph by Matthew Kramer, Liberalism with Excellence, which will be published by Oxford University Press in early 2017. Professor Kramer’s book promises to be a timely intervention into the debate about the justification of political power. Kramer presents powerful objections to both liberal neutralism and existing liberal perfectionist theories, and develops and defends an alternative form of perfectionism: aspirational perfectionism. The distinctive claim of this view is that, instead of seeking to edify citizens by elevating their lifestyles or experiences, a government should seek to promote the excellence of the society over which it presides – and it should thereby help to bring about the conditions under which every individual can be warranted in harbouring a strong sense of self-respect.
The conference is open to all, and registration is free. For more information, see the symposium website.