Philosophical Studies

, Volume 162, Issue 3, pp 645-664

First online:

Can liberal perfectionism justify religious toleration? Wall on promoting and respecting

  • Kevin VallierAffiliated withPhilosophy Department, Bowling Green State University Email author 

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Toleration is perhaps the core commitment of liberalism, but this seemingly simple feature of liberal societies creates tension for liberal perfectionists, who are committed to justifying religious toleration primarily in terms of the goods and flourishing it promotes. Perfectionists, so it seems, should recommend restricting harmful religious practices when feasible. If such restrictions would promote liberal perfectionist values like autonomy, it is unclear how the perfectionist can object. A contemporary liberal perfectionist, Steven Wall, has advanced defense of religious toleration that grounds perfectionist toleration in an innovative account of reasons of respect. He thus defends perfectionist toleration on two grounds: (i) the appropriate manner of responding to perfectionist goods like autonomy and membership is to respect the religious choices of others; (ii) citizens can acquire reasons to respect the religious choices of others through internalizing a value-promoting moral and political code. I argue that both defenses fail. The cornerstone of both arguments is the connection Wall draws between reasons to promote value and reasons to respect it. I claim that Wall’s conception of the relationship between promoting and respecting value is inadequate. I conclude that the failure of Wall’s defense of perfectionist toleration should motivate liberal perfectionists to develop more sophisticated accounts of normative reasons. The viability of a truly liberal perfectionism depends upon such developments.


Perfectionism Liberalism Religious toleration Liberal perfectionism Steven Wall Toleration