Res Publica

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 297–315 | Cite as

Liberal Neutrality and Moderate Perfectionism

  • Franz Fan-lun Mang
Winner of the PG Essay Prize


This article defends a moderate version of state perfectionism by using Gerald Gaus’s argument for liberal neutrality as a starting point of discussion. Many liberal neutralists reject perfectionism on the grounds of respect for persons, but Gaus has explained more clearly than most neutralists how respect for persons justifies neutrality. Against neutralists, I first argue that the state may promote the good life by appealing to what can be called “the qualified judgments about the good life,” which have not been considered by liberal perfectionists including Joseph Chan and Steven Wall. Then I clear up several possible misunderstandings of these judgments, and argue that: (a) moderate perfectionism does not rely on controversial rankings of values and is committed to promoting different valuable ways of life by pluralistic promotion; and (b) moderate perfectionism requires only an indirect form of coercion in using tax money to support certain moderate perfectionist measures, which is justifiable on the grounds of citizens’ welfare. Thus, I maintain that moderate perfectionism does not disrespect citizens, and is not necessarily unfair to any particular group of people. It is, in fact, plausible and morally important. The defence of moderate perfectionism has practical implications for the state’s policies regarding art development, drug abuse, public education, and so on.


Neutrality Perfectionism The good life Gerald Gaus Public justification 



I would like to thank Paul Billingham and Dan McDermott for their extensive comments on earlier drafts of this article. For helpful suggestions, I thank Alex Barker, Simon Caney, Joseph Chan, James Christensen, Chenxin Jiang, Karita Kan, Louise Law, Loretta Lou, David Miller, Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, Zak Taylor, and Wai-hung Wong. I am also grateful to the participants of the Nuffield Political Theory Workshop and three anonymous referees for their comments on the penultimate version of this article. This article was written while I was on the Swire Scholarship. I am grateful to the Swire Education Trust for its generous support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.St. Antony’s CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Department of Politics and Public AdministrationUniversity of Hong KongHong KongChina

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