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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Toleration or Respect?

Take a look at Brian Leiter's new paper, posted on SSRN, "Foundations of Religious Liberty:  Toleration or Respect?"  Here is the abstract:

Should we think of what I will refer to generically as “the law of religious liberty” as grounded in the moral attitude of respect for religion or in the moral attitude of tolerance of religion? I begin by explicating the relevant moral attitudes of “respect” and “toleration.” With regard to the former, I start with a well-known treatment of the idea of “respect” in the Anglophone literature by the moral philosopher Stephen Darwall. With respect to the latter concept, toleration, I shall draw on my own earlier discussion, though now emphasizing the features of toleration that set it apart from one kind of respect. In deciding whether “respect” or “toleration” can plausibly serve as the moral foundation for the law of religious liberty we will need to say something about the nature of religion. I shall propose a fairly precise analysis of what makes a belief and a concomitant set of practices “religious” (again drawing on earlier work). That will then bring us to the central question: should our laws reflect “respect” for religion” or only “toleration”? Martha Nussbaum has recently argued for “respect” as the moral foundation of religious liberty, though, as I will suggest, her account is ambiguous between the two senses of respect that emerge from Darwall’s work. In particular, I shall claim that in one “thin” sense of respect, it is compatible with nothing more than toleration of religion; and that in a “thicker” sense (which Nussbaum appears to want to invoke), it could not form the moral basis of a legal regime since religion is not the kind of belief system that could warrant that attitude. To make the latter case, I examine critically a recent attack on the idea of "respect" for religious belief by Simon Blackburn.

Although I think that Prof. Leiter's conclusion that "religion is not the kind of belief system that could warrant [thick respect]" is misguided (in part because his understanding of "religion" is not mine), I find this paper -- like his earlier piece, "Why Tolerate Religion?" -- kind of refreshing, bracing even.  Like Prof. Leiter, I come away from works like Prof. Nussbaum's new book on religious liberty not sure that any case has been (or, given the working premises, could be) made for religious liberty.  Perhaps, as Prof. Steve Smith has been saying for a while, the only solid arguments for religious freedom (that is, for something more than a cost-benefit-based "toleration" of religion) are themselves "religious" or, at least, depend on anthropological and other foundations that we -- even if we are willing to invoke them from time to time -- no longer really accept?

Just a little something to think about over lunch . . .

Posted by Rick Garnett on September 29, 2009 at 11:55 AM in Religion | Permalink


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I agree that Prof. Leiter's essay is provocative and a good read. I also think that the argument is solid in terms of the basis for legal protection of religious belief being tolerance rather than respect. The more provocative argument is what appears in the abstract Rick has provided: religion is not the kind of belief system that warrants respect as a moral matter (and hence should not be the moral basis for its protection in a legal regime). The core of that argument is almost word for word based on a concept of the critical distinguishing features of religion (versus other non-religious beliefs) in the previously published "Why Tolerate Religion" article. Like Rick, I thought the account of the CONCEPT, not particular CONCEPTIONS, of religious impulse in both pieces was problematic, and I've posted a short essay that explains why.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Sep 29, 2009 5:05:44 PM

As with Professor Lipshaw's incompetent caricature of my arguments in the SSRN essay to which he links, his posting here manages to misstate the argument of the new paper. The account of the nature of religious belief is taken (explicitly) from the earlier paper. But the "core of [the] argument" that "religion is not the kind of belief system that warrants respect as a moral matter" is new to this paper, and is developed in an engagement with a recent paper by Simon Blackburn.

I thank Rick Garnett for noting my new paper on this subject.

Posted by: Brian | Sep 30, 2009 9:26:49 AM

For what it's worth and if anyone cares, I attempt to characterize and comment on what I take to be the deeper philosophical divide between Leiter and Lipshaw here. In sum, I think Lipshaw is committed to a claim like that the dogmatism of religious people (or of fundamentalists) is the dogmatism of all of us, insofar as we all must have fixed and unquestioned points from which to reason. Thus, Lipshaw thinks Leiter is wrong to blame or fail to respect religious believing for its dogmatism, its immunity from revision. But, I think Lipshaw is wrong: there is something different about the kind of religious dogmatism that bothers Leiter in the case of religious belief (or in the sorts of cases he has in mind). The basic philosophical mistake, I think, is that Lipshaw takes the existence of fixed beliefs in one sense (in the sense that we reason from them in particular instances) to be the existence of fixed beliefs in another, quite different sense-- the sense wherein we refuse to engage honestly with the skeptic who offers reasons that challenge our 'fixed' beliefs. I take it that Leiter's view is that nothing should be beyond discussion in this way, and, insofar as religious believers have the wrong sort of epistemic attitude by holding some beliefs to be beyond any and all discussion, there is precious little to respect there.

Posted by: Michael Young | Sep 30, 2009 5:22:52 PM

I deleted a few comments, thinking that their absence might make it easier to take the opportunity presented by Michael Young's comment to get a substantive conversation going -- if people are interested -- about Brian Leiter's recent paper. We might ask, for example, "what would need to be true about 'religion' in order for it to be the kind of belief system that could warrant 'respect'?" Or, "what are the implications for our religious-liberty practices if it is the case that religion -- given what it is -- is not appropriately regarded with respect, but instead only toleration?" Or, as Jeff Lipshaw asks, "what concept of religion *should* we employ when asking questions like the two just mentioned?" Or, maybe lunch is over. =-)

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Sep 30, 2009 6:11:49 PM

You missed one comment when deleting...

Posted by: anonymous | Oct 1, 2009 11:08:19 AM

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