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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 19, 2003

Environmental Philosophy as Social Philosophy

Andrew F. Smith
Pages 155-177

Pluralism and Political Legitimacy
Toward a Perfectionist Defense of Deliberative Democracy

In recent writings, both John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas address how to ensure that all reasonable citizens have the capacity to live a good life when there exist in modern society a wide variety of competing conceptions thereof. Yet, according to James Bohman, both thinkers in fact fail to resolve this “dilemma of the good.” He offers a deliberative conception of democracy intended to make up for their shortcomings. I argue, however, that Bohman’s conception covertly relies upon moderately perfectionist values that cause him to fall prey to what Bert van den Brink calls the “tragic predicament” of liberalism: he cannot articulate how a resolution to the dilemma of the good can (seem to) be achieved without defending ideals that let some doctrines of the good life appear more worthy of state promotion than others. But far from undermining Bohman’s conception, explicit acknowledgement of his moderate perfectionism can, ironically, serve to strengthen it.

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