Is critique secular?, Religion in the public sphere:

Secularism and critique

posted by Charles Taylor

I would like to add a footnote to Saba Mahmood’s excellent piece “Is Critique Secular?” I think it’s important to explain the power that an affirmative answer to this question carries in our contemporary academy.

What are we to think of the idea, entertained by Rawls for a time, that one can legitimately ask of a religiously and philosophically diverse democracy that everyone deliberate in a language of reason alone, leaving their religious views in the vestibule of the public sphere? The tyrannical nature of this demand was rapidly appreciated by Rawls, to his credit. But we ought to ask why the proposition arose in the first place. Rawls’ point in suggesting this restriction was that everyone should use a language with which they could reasonably expect their fellow citizens to agree. The idea seems to be something like this. Secular reason is a language that everyone speaks, and can argue and be convinced in. Religious languages operate outside of this discourse, by introducing extraneous premises which only believers can accept. So let’s all talk the common language.

What underpins this notion is something like an epistemic distinction. There is secular reason, which everyone can use and reach conclusions by—conclusions that is, with which everyone can agree. Then there are special languages, which introduce extra assumptions, which might even contradict those of ordinary secular reason. These are much more epistemically fragile; in fact, you won’t be convinced by them unless you already hold them. So religious reason either comes to the same conclusions as secular reason, but then it is superfluous; or it comes to contrary conclusions, and then it is dangerous and disruptive. This is why it needs to be sidelined.

As for Habermas, he has always marked an epistemic break between secular reason and religious thought, with the advantage on the side of the first. Secular reason suffices to arrive at the normative conclusions we need, such as establishing the legitimacy of the democratic state, and defining our political ethic. Recently, his position on religious discourse has considerably evolved; to the point of recognizing that its “Potential macht die religiöse Rede bei entsprechenden politischen Fragen zu einem ernsthaften Kandidaten für mögliche Wahrheitsgehalte.” But the basic epistemic distinction still holds for him. Thus when it comes to the official language of the state, religious references have to be expunged. “Im Parlament muss beispielsweise die Geschäftsordnung den Presidenten ermächtigen, religiöse Stellungnahmen und Rechtfertigungen aus dem Protokoll zu streichen.”

I think that these positions of Rawls and Habermas show that they have not yet understood the normative basis for the contemporary secular state. I believe that they are on to something, in that there are zones of a secular state in which the language used has to be neutral. But these do not include citizen deliberation, as Rawls at first thought, or even deliberation in the legislature, as Habermas seems to think from the above quote. This zone can be described as the official language of the state: the language in which legislation, administrative decrees and court judgments must be couched. It is self-evident that a law before Parliament couldn’t contain a justifying clause of the type: “Whereas the Bible tells us that p.” And the same goes mutatis mutandis for the justification of a judicial decision in the court’s verdict. But this has nothing to do with the specific nature of religious language. It would be equally improper to have a legislative clause: “Whereas Marx has shown that religion is the opium of the people,” or “Whereas Kant has shown that the only thing good without qualification is a good will.” The grounds for both these kinds of exclusions is the neutrality of the state.

The state can be neither Christian nor Muslim nor Jewish; but by the same token it should also be neither Marxist, nor Kantian, nor Utilitarian. Of course, the democratic state will end up voting laws which (in the best case) reflect the actual convictions of its citizens, which will be either Christian, or Muslim, etc, through the whole gamut of views held in a modern society. But the decisions can’t be framed in a way which gives special recognition to one of these views. This is not easy to do; the lines are hard to draw; and they must always be drawn anew. But such is the nature of the enterprise which is the modern secular state. And what better alternative is there for diverse democracies?

Now the notion that state neutrality is basically a response to diversity has trouble making headway among “secular” people in the West, who remain oddly fixated on religion, as something strange and perhaps even threatening. This stance is fed by all the conflicts of liberal states with religion, past and present, but also by a specifically epistemic distinction: religiously informed thought is somehow less rational than purely “secular” reasoning. The attitude has a political ground (religion as threat), but also an epistemological one (religion as a faulty mode of reason).

I believe we can see these two motifs in a popular contemporary book, Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God. On one hand, Lilla wants to claim that there is a great gulf between thinking informed by political theology and “thinking and talking about politics exclusively in human terms.” Moderns have effected “the liberation, isolation, and clarification of distinctively political questions, apart from speculations about the divine nexus. Politics became, intellectually speaking, its own realm deserving independent investigation and serving the limited aim of providing the peace and plenty necessary for human dignity. That was the Great Separation.” Such metaphors of radical separation imply that human-centered political thought is a more reliable guide to answer the questions in its domain than theories informed by political theology.

So much for the epistemological ranking. But then towards the end of the view, Lilla calls on us not to lose our nerve, and allow the Great Separation to be reversed; which seems to imply that there are dangers in doing so. The return of religion in this sense would be full of menace.

This phenomenon deserves fuller examination. Ideally, we should look carefully at the double grounds for this stance of distrust, comment on these, and then say something about the possible negative political consequences of maintaining this stance. But in this contribution, I shall only really have space to look at some roots of the epistemological ground.

I think this has its source in what one might call a myth of the Enlightenment. There certainly is a common view which sees the Enlightenment (Aufklärung, Lumières) as a passage from darkness to light, that is, as an absolute, unmitigated move from a realm of thought full of error and illusion to one where the truth is at last available. To this one must immediately add that a counterview defines “reactionary” thought: the Enlightenment would be an unqualified move into error, a massive forgetting of salutary and necessary truths about the human condition.

In the polemics around modernity, more nuanced understandings tend to get driven to the wall, and these two slug it out. Arnold’s phrase about “ignorant armies clashing by night” comes irresistibly to mind. What underlies the understanding of Enlightenment as an absolute, unmitigated step forward?

This is worth asking, I believe, because the myth is more widespread than one might think. Even sophisticated thinkers, who might repudiate it when it is presented as a general proposition, seem to be leaning on it in other contexts.

Thus there is a version of what Enlightenment represents, which sees it as our stepping out of a realm in which Revelation, or religion in general, counted as a source of insight about human affairs, into a realm in which these are now understood in purely this-worldly or human terms. Of course, that some people have made this passage is not what is in dispute. What is questionable is the idea that this move involves the self-evident epistemic gain of our setting aside consideration of dubious truth and relevance and concentrating on matters which we can settle and which are obviously relevant. This is often represented as a move from Revelation to reason alone (Kant’s “blosse Vernunft”).

Clear examples are found in contemporary political thinkers, for instance Rawls and Habermas. For all their differences, they seem to reserve a special status for non-religiously informed Reason (let’s call this “reason alone”), as though a) this latter were able to resolve certain moral-political issues in a way which can legitimately satisfy any honest, unconfused thinker, and b) where religiously-based conclusions will always be dubious, and in the end only convincing to people who have already accepted the dogmas in question.

This surely is what lies behind the idea I mentioned at the outset, entertained for a time in different form by both thinkers, that one can restrict the use of religious language in the sphere of public reason. We must mention again that this proposition has been largely dropped by both; but we can see that the proposition itself makes no sense, unless something like (a) + (b) above is true. Rawls’ point in suggesting this restriction was that public reason must be couched in terms which could in principle be universally agreed upon. The notion was that the only terms meeting this standard were those of reason alone (a), while religious language by its very nature would fail to do so (b).

Before proceeding farther, I should just say that this distinction in rational credibility between religious and non-religious discourse, supposed by (a) + (b), seems to me utterly without foundation. It may turn out at the end of the day that religion is founded on an illusion, and hence that what is derived from it less credible. But until we actually reach that place, there is no a priori reason for greater suspicion being directed at it. The credibility of this distinction depends on the view that some quite “this-worldly” argument suffices to establish certain moral-political conclusions. I mean “satisfy” in the sense of (a): it should legitimately be convincing to any honest, unconfused thinker. There are propositions of this kind, ranging from “2+2=4″ all the way to some of the better-founded deliverances of modern natural science. But the key beliefs we need, for instance, to establish our basic political morality are not among them. The two most widespread this-worldly philosophies in our contemporary world, utilitarian and Kantianism, in their different versions, all have points at which they fail to convince honest and unconfused people. If we take key statements of our contemporary political morality, such as those attributing rights to human beings as such, say the right to life, I cannot see how the fact that we are desiring/enjoying/suffering beings, or the perception that we are rational agents, should be any surer basis for this right than the fact that we are made in the image of God. Of course, our being capable of suffering is one of those basic unchallengeable propositions, in the sense of (a), as our being creatures of God is not, but what is less sure is what follows normatively from the first claim.

To propound the distinction is much easier if you think you already have a “secular” argument for rights which is watertight, as Habermas does for his “discourse ethic” (which I unfortunately find quite unconvincing).

In fact, modern diverse democracies operate on the basis of what Rawls called an “overlapping consensus.” We agree on affirming a right to life, but we justify it in our own diverse ways. One proposition that such a democracy cannot enshrine is the view that one of these justifications is canonical and correct, and the others faulty and invalid. The Enlightenment myth can’t be part of the overlapping consensus.

The (a) + (b) distinction, applied to the moral-political domain, is one of the fruits of the Enlightenment myth; or perhaps one should say it is one of the forms which this myth takes. What underlies this? I think there are three important sources, which I only have space to identify briefly here.

The first two can be traced back to Cartesian foundationalism. This combines a supposedly indubitable starting point (the particulate ideas in the mind) with an infallible method (that of clear and distinct ideas) and thus should yield conclusions which would live up to claim (a). But this comes unstuck, and in two places. The indubitable starting points can be challenged by a determined skepticism, such as we find in Hume; and the method relies much too much on a priori argument, and not enough on empirical input.

But even though his foundationalism and his a priori physics were rejected, Descartes left behind (α) a belief in the importance of finding the correct method, and (β) a rationalist temper of mind, which applied to ethics has led to the widespread modern view (which I find both startling and erroneous) that we can derive all right actions from a single highly abstract principle; a premise shared by both Utilitarians and those who write in the wake of Kant.

The third source (γ) is embedded in the modern social imaginary; it is the modern notion of moral order: society, made up of individuals, finds its legitimacy in its defense of rights and its fostering of mutual benefit. The way in which these three work together to sustain the illusion of an epistemic superiority of “reason alone” needs to be worked out in detail. It would be a fascinating and instructive story.

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11 Responses to “Secularism and critique”

  1. I have read with great interest Saba Mahmood’s excellent piece “Is Critique Secular?” and Charles Taylor’s superb reply, Secularism and Critique. I would like to offer a modest rejoinder to this important conversation: In my book, Radical Evil and the Scarcity of Hope: Postsecular Meditations (Indiana UP, May 2008), I am introducing a notion of redemptive critical theory in order to get hold of, what I claim are, the religious phenomena of radical evil and hope from within the religious angle of apprehension. If redemptive critical theory is not only possible after the “death of God” in the West, because radical evil (contrary to Kant, Rawls and Habermas) is a phenomenon that all but exceeds the bounds of mere reason, but also necessary in the global return of the religion; then “critique” in itself is neither solely secular, nor given over to the religious, but rather must learn to become “postsecular” – i.e., redemptive criticism – in order to have any teeth. Postsecular redemptive critique neither translates the religious into the secular (that is the Enlightenment secularizing project), nor does it subject the secular claims to the requirements of some religious norms (this is a communitarian or Divine Command Theory project). Redemptive critique describes the sources of self- and other-destructiveness in terms of inverse religiosity, what Schelling called umgekehrte Gott, Kierkegaard despair of defiance, and Levinas “useless suffering.” The redemptive aspect of this criticism articulates the uncanny sources of intransitive hope where no hope seems secularly possible – for example in the villages where we have killed and raped each other’s neighbors – as manifest for example in a truth commission’s legally and morally unwarranted expectation of the possibility of forgiving the unforgivable.

    There is more I could say about all this if we continue this dialogue. I have engaged this terrain also in the context of integral spirituality in bringing into dialogue Jurgen Habermas and Ken Wilber. Integral Review is hosting an online dialog for my essay “Towards an Integral Critical Theory of the Present Age.” Using a new forum platform, the dialog started on April 21st and will last for approximately 6 weeks. The article is available in the Current Issue and you are welcome to join the discussion on this blog with that dialogue.

  2. Charles Taylor argues that, in a pluralistic society, “there are zones of a secular state in which the language used has to be neutral.” This is a strange claim, in light of an analysis he has offered elsewhere. Here I’d like to offer an interpretation of how this claim can make sense coming from him, of all people.

    In a marvelous and too-little-known essay, Modes of Secularism, in Secularism and Its Critics (Rajeev Bhargava, ed., 1998), Taylor observes that there are three different strategies by which modern political philosophy has tried to cope with religious diversity. One, the “common ground strategy,” seeks to establish political ethics on the basis of premises shared across different confessional allegiances: what all Christians, or even all theists, believe. The difficulty with this approach is that as pluralism grows, the common ground shrinks. The universal sentiments of Christendom aren’t as universal as they once seemed. A second understanding, the “independent political ethic” strategy, seeks to abstract away from all our disagreements to something that is independent of them. The aim is to infer, from certain fundamental preconditions of modern political life, conclusions about how political life should be organized. Pluralism has also created a problem for this approach: we may want to ignore God only for political purposes, but if there are real live atheists in the society, then the state, by endorsing an ethic that is independent of religion, may appear to be taking their side on fundamental issues. The difficulties of both of these approaches, Taylor thinks, create the case for “overlapping consensus,” which does not seek any agreement about foundations, but only acceptance of certain political principles.

    Taylor borrows the term “overlapping consensus” from John Rawls, but by it he means something considerably shallower, and therefore less necessarily committed to neutrality toward contested ideas of the good. Taylor thinks that “Rawls still tries to hold on to too much of the older independent ethic.” Rawls expects citizens not only to endorse a set of political principles, but also to accept a doctrine of political constructivism and just terms of cooperation. This, Taylor thinks, is too much to ask. As a schedule of rights, political liberalism for Taylor may suggest an independent political ethic. But any schedule of principles will need interpretation, and interpreters inevitably will do this in light of their comprehensive moral views. To that extent, they will inevitably partake of the common ground strategy.

    Taylor’s analysis implies that absolute neutrality is unattainable. Any state position will rely on some common ground, and no common ground is universal.

    The answer to this puzzle, I think, is to note that there exist a large variety of possible modes of neutrality. The absolute neutrality toward all conceptions of the good proposed by Ronald Dworkin and Bruce Ackerman are only one available flavor of neutrality.

    The range of possible justifications for any version of neutrality is broad. The following is a crude taxonomy of typical strategies of argument. It probably does not exhaust the possibilities, and arguments for neutrality typically rely on more than one of these moves.

    One strategy is the argument from moral pluralism, which holds that there are many good ways of life and that the state should not prefer any of these to any other. Another is the argument from futility, which holds that some perfectionist projects are doomed to failure. The argument from incompetence holds that the state should be neutral about things that it is likely to get wrong. The argument from civil peace proposes that some issues be removed from the political agenda in order to avoid destructive controversy. Finally, the argument from dignity argues that some political projects fail to properly respect citizens’ capacity for free choice.

    Different formulations of these arguments have persuaded different people. Everyone probably accepts most of these five arguments for neutrality, at least in some form, as applied to some question. Conceptual analysis cannot, of course, say whether or in what form you ought to accept them. There is probably an infinite number of ways in which any of them could be formulated, and an infinite number of ways in which those formulations could be combined. Shifting from any formulation of each rationale to a slightly different one will probably yield a slightly different prescription for neutrality. Neutrality is not a fixed point, but a multidimensional space of possible positions. I develop this argument in an essay, The Fluidity of Neutrality.

    This is broadly consistent with the picture Taylor paints. Since obviously many of these argumentative moves toward neutrality are consistent with his claims – his book, A Secular Age, can be read as an extended argument from moral pluralism, here mediating between religiosity and secularism – there is a kind of neutrality appropriate for us. But its outlines are not definite, and will always be an object of negotiation. Taylor’s neutrality is not that of Dworkin and Ackerman. But for just that reason, it is more persuasive than theirs.

  3. avatar John Eley says:

    As usual Professor Taylor has given us a clear and compelling argument. I want to express my appreciation for this contribution. As one who has moved from the original Rawls-Habermas position to a more pluralistic position, I support his views.

    While theory has been important for me in this shift, the key factor has been weekly conversations with several open minded religious persons, including my wife. At the start of these conversations I was adamant about employing the “no religious grounds for public policy advocacy” rule. They have convinced me that it is impossible to secure reasonable well thought out positions from religious persons on key issues in the public sphere unless and until they process issues through their religious frames before they attempt to process them through a secular frame. When they do so they offer much grist for the deliberative mill from which I have benefited greatly. They in turn have learned much from me. What was mutually incomprehensible has become less so and in some cases, even fully comprehensible. If ordinary citizens with good intentions to learn from each other can do so there is hope that we can arrive at overlapping views on major issues.

    One of the keys in all this has been our mutual willingness to address each other with the intention of sharing knowledge and using as much of the other’s language as possible. As scholars in the field enter the public square to help concerned citizens manage the secular-religious discussions better, they could contribute much if they could begin to speak to us in ordinary language.

  4. avatar Alex Skinner says:

    For readers wondering about the German quotations from Habermas in Taylor’s post, a translation:

    Recently, his position on religious discourse has considerably evolved; to the point of recognizing that its “potential makes religious discourse a serious candidate for possible truth content with respect to relevant political issues.” But the basic epistemic distinction still holds for him. Thus when it comes to the official language of the state, religious references have to be expunged. “In parliament, for example, the rules of procedure must empower the presiding officer to remove religious statements and justifications from the official record.”

  5. avatar Daniel Steinmez says:

    It is quite trendy and easy to launch an attack on Rawl’s and Habermas’s mediated conception of public discourse. What is difficult to accomplish is a non-mediated conception of political discourse that safeguards the equality of all citizens. If we have moved into the post-secular society and if democracy lets a thousand flowers bloom how do we reconcile this turn with the emerge of public religions, right wing populism, political theology, religious fundamentalism, etc.? Taylor acknowledges that it quite clear that legislation cannot be based on biblical injunctions, but this is a rather flatfooted admission. If comprehensive doctrines are eligible for public discourse what procedures need to be in place to prevent legal and political decisions from being made solely on a comprehensive basis. Perhaps this is not a problem but it does overlook the destructive potential of democracy.

    The idea of an ethic of citizenship put forward by Christopher Eberle, Jeffrey Stout, etc. is to deny the political in favor of a politicized ethic. This is clearly a curious understanding of democracy that has more relevance to a secular university classroom than the public at large.

    Consider also that in terms of the wider public people appeal to their religious beliefs to back up their politics all the time in the United States. Rawls’s political liberalism has not trickled down to the masses and is primarily an academic debate. If I was a Senator I could go before Congress and speak all day about God. No one might listen to me but I could do this without breaking any laws. So my question is how relevant is this debate to the actual situation in society? I really think it is something scholars in the academy are projecting onto society, when it is really more of an issue in the secular academy.

  6. I am quite sympathetic with Prof. Taylor’s criticism of foundationalism, and I’m inclined to agree that justifications that are ultimately secular in their foundations are not necessarily epistemically better than justifications that are ultimately religious in their foundations. But we can get more than mere “overlapping consensus,” even if we accept all that. Or, at least, there are shallower and deeper kinds of consensus, and I think even one who accepts Taylor’s anti-foundationalism can endorse the deeper kind.

    What I have in mind is the fact that two people who disagree about the “ultimate” grounds for some moral and political claim might easily agree about the more proximate (if that is the word) grounds for it. Secular John and religious Charles could not only have “overlapping consensus” about the claim that such-and-such bill should be passed, but they might also agree about the justification for this claim: passing such-and-such bill will ease the suffering of the poor, say. Now if we ask them why easing the poor’s suffering is desirable, they may offer different justifications. John says it because actions are right as they tend to promote happiness; Charles says you should love your neighbor.

    But they don’t just agree about the moral/political claim, they also agree (at least in part) about the justification for it. So their consensus is, I want to say, “deep,” or at least it’s deeper than it would be if they just agreed about what bill was to be passed, and both has completely different reasons for supporting it.

    Here we would have not just overlapping consensus, but overlapping rationalities (as it were). And it seems like there could be universal (or universal enough) rules of rationality that we could require. “We should vote for this bill, because it will ease people’s suffering” might be a really good argument, regardless of what religious or non-religious principles the person making it is basing her aversion to suffering on. (As if one really needs principles for that!) “We should vote for this bill, because the Bible says we should” is a bad argument, and so is “We should vote for it, because Marx says so,” and for the same reason, in both cases: those aren’t good arguments, they’re appeals to authority. Different (reasonable, rational) systems, both secular and religious, will be different in the “ultimate” justification they will give for their particular moral/political claims. But to the extent that our systems overlap, we can agree not only about the moral/political, but about our reasons as well. All that, consistent with anti-foundationalism. And I think Prof. Taylor should be sympathetic with a consequence of all this: it’s not “reason vs. religion”, but more like varieties of reason, lots of them, overlapping in (I would argue) most of the important points.

  7. avatar John Eley says:

    Allan Hazlett’s contribution moves the discourse into the realm of real world policy making and is welcome for doing so. He follows the logic of practical political decision making and demonstrates that agreement on specific policies may not in fact require that the speech acts of each of the parties be translated into language that the other party understands. It suffices to agree on a policy goal that is stated in terms that transcends specific world views whose core values might appear to be different if stated in the language of the world views. If the parties worry more about reaching agreement on specific policies than they do about making sure that the policy is adopted for their individual reasons the chance of agreement increases. This does not mean that they will by virtue of that find the right policy solution without external help but it may mean that they can develop general policy preferences without the hard work of mutual translation or the even more elusive task of matching their discourse and their reasoning to some abstract political theory which elaborates norms that very few understand much less accept.

    Concerned citizens face substantial burdens in finding policies that work and anything that alleviates substantial cognitive burdens of developing accessible and acceptable reasons for policies that work would be all to the good.

    One other point needs to be made here. Virtually all the discussion on the role of religious and secular reasons addresses upstream concerns at the stage of policy formation and legislative language development. At the same time there is serious neglect of the challenges associated with the effective implementation of policy and procedures embedded in legislation and ultimately in regulations. Effective implementation of policies requires the support of many and diverse persons and institutions whose cooperation will be influenced by their understanding of the core values advanced by the policy and the supporting programs. Those policies and programs supported by an overlapping consensus reflected in a broad coalition is more likely to be implemented effectively than those policy and programs with limited rationale provided by one world view. Or to put it another way the more numerous and diverse the stakeholders the more likely it will be that programs will be carried out in a way that is consistent with the goals and values of the coalition that developed the programs in the first place.

  8. avatar Scott Small says:

    Hey all, for more from Charles Taylor there is a great three part interview with him up at The Other Journal. Check it out!

    Part 1:
    Part 2:

  9. avatar Daniel Winchester says:

    Allan and John,

    Very fine posts, both of you. I too agree that one can support Taylor’s anti-foundationalism (as I do) but still recognize that we often have—and find it vitally necessary to have—solidarities without foundational consensus. One observes this not only in policy-making but also in social movements, workplaces, families, and even sometimes in the closest and most intimate relationships between spouses and life partners.

    This is not to suggest that concern with the constitutive goods that underlie the formulation and implementation of social policies and practices should not be explored and discussed—indeed, quite the opposite, dialogue about and interrogation of the moral foundations informing our practices is greatly needed in a still very instrumentally-oriented modernity. However, it is important to recognize, as Allan does, that there are different “levels,” so to speak, of convergence between two parties’ reasons and justifications for supporting a practice. Indeed, we generally support a social practice or policy for a number of moral reasons (again, as Allan’s example about supporting a policy that alleviates poverty makes clear), and some of these reasons may overlap with other actors’ reasons while some probably—and perhaps even the most foundational ones—may not. The fact that we cannot reach foundational or complete consensus about reasons and justifications does not preclude the fact that we can reach some form or level of consensus and still alleviate poverty. These sorts of alliances, in fact, happen all the time.

    This is not to say that this isn’t an often problematic way to “do” social life. It can sometimes lead to tension, conflict, betrayal, tenuous alliances, less than fulfilling social relationships, and the always real possibility of complete incommensurability of perspectives. But under conditions of pluralism, I see it as the best and most practical way to proceed.

    I should also note, taking a cue from Seyla Benhabib, that dialoguing and interacting across multiple levels of difference and consensus can itself help strengthen and shape an ethics of respect and egalitarian reciprocity that is conducive to democratic life.

  10. avatar Ivan Strenski says:

    I suspect that the problem arises in part out of failure to distinguish between speaking in the public square out of religious motives or because informed by a religious perspective AND requiring that all other speakers in the public square should adopt the same perspectives, speak the same religious language and such. It seems not to matter at all what one’s motives or ideological identity might be as long as one realizes that in order to persuade others in the public square, one will have to appeal to criteria of rationality accepted by others.

  11. avatar Mirsad Priganica says:

    Regarding Taylor’s critique, one must say that every neutrality is in the end “someone’s neutrality.” But one has to accept it as the best alternative one can choose. There is no God’s eye view. One has to forge the initial thrust towards the neutrality of the State. If the State affirms the secular principles of the “Enlightenment’s myth” it has nothing to do with doing wrong to religious people and their convictions. In ultima linea the ideas of Enlightenment (secular ideas) are not toto genere different from the Bible’s insights. Many of these insights one can morally accept through reason (“blosse Vernunft” ), but some of them are of irrational and speculative in nature (these do not belong in the realm of secular attention and consideration).

    Although one can learn a lot from religious arguments in the public sphere (agnostics, theists, atheists) it is pretty hard to form “public reason” (in the Rawlsian sense) using these arguments in a multi-religious environment. They can make for a “redundancy of morals” but are not much use for shaping any kind of “public reason.” One can say the same for Parliamentary debates (forging consensus, as in deliberative democracy, or even making any significant public decision is almost impossible using exclusively and persistently religious arguments).

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