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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 33, 2017

Power and Public Reason

Emily McGill-Rutherford
Pages 91-111

Liberal Neutrality and Gender Justice

At the center of many critiques of liberalism is liberal neutrality, which is attacked on two fronts. First, it is argued that neutrality yields a restrictive sphere of public reason. Contentious views—like those endorsed by citizens with marginalized comprehensive doctrines—are outlawed from public consideration. Second, state policies must have neutral effects, lest they differentially impact those with unpopular views. Contentious state actions—like those endorsed by citizens with marginalized moral views—are outlawed from implementation. It is this combination of demands for neutrality at the individual and state levels that produces the concern: if marginalized comprehensive doctrines cannot be discussed in the realm of public reason, and if marginalized moral views cannot be acted upon by the state, how will we ever achieve the goals of feminism, itself a marginalized moral view? Does liberal neutrality prohibit progress toward gender equality? In this paper, I argue to the contrary. Many objections regarding liberalism’s supposed failure to secure gender justice rely on a conception of neutrality as neutrality of effect. But at both the individual and state levels, liberalism’s demand for neutrality is about justification. Liberalism, specifically political liberalism, requires neither neutral content of public reasons nor neutral effects of state policies.

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