Res Publica

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 351-366

First online:

The Place of Comprehensive Doctrines in Political Liberalism: On Some Common Misgivings About the Subject and Function of the Overlapping Consensus

  • Enrico ZoffoliAffiliated withDepartment of Politics, Technical University Darmstadt (Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders”) Email author 

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In this paper I argue that Rawlsians have largely misunderstood the idea of an overlapping consensus of reasonable comprehensive doctrines, thereby failing to delineate in an appropriate way the place of comprehensive doctrines in political liberalism. My argument rests on two core claims. The first claim is that (i) political liberalism is committed to three theses about the overlapping consensus. The first thesis concerns the subject of the overlapping consensus; the second thesis concerns the function of the overlapping consensus; the third thesis explains how the overlapping consensus can serve its function in accordance with political liberalism’s commitment to epistemic neutrality. The second claim on which my argument relies is empirical: (ii) Rawlsians typically deny at least one of the three theses to which political liberalism is committed. Based on (i) and (ii), I conclude that Rawlsians have hitherto provided unconvincing accounts of the place of comprehensive doctrines in political liberalism.


Comprehensive doctrines Overlapping consensus Political liberalism Rawls