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Comments on Carnahan, Anderson, and Wolterstorff

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Abstract

In this paper, I reflect on a number of issues raised in Kevin Carnahan’s “Religion, and not just Religious Reasons, in the Public Square: A Consideration of Robert Audi’s and Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Religion in the Public Square” and Eric A. Anderson’s “Religiously Conservative Citizens and the Ideal of Conscientious Engagement: A Comment on Wolterstorff and Eberle.” In response to Carnahan, I argue that recent discussions of the proper public role of religious reason do not depend on an objectionable conception of religion. I also respond to Anderson's concern that my “ideal of conscientious engagement” is an insufficiently robust alternative to public reason liberalism.

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Notes

  1. This position has been clearly articulated and ably defended in Evans 1997.

  2. Moreover, I have addressed important aspects of Anderson's concern elsewhere, see Eberle 2009.

  3. It is true that a non-discriminatory prohibition on the killing of any animals that is grounded on a secular rationale might have the same consequences as the discriminatory prohibition that Frank supports on religious grounds. It might also be true that the first might be morally permissible and the second is not. But I doubt that the difference in grounding rationale explains the difference in the moral permissibility of those prohibitions. The relevant difference between them is in their content—what they authorize the government to do. It is not in their religious justifications. After all, the non-discriminatory policy need not be objectionable even if justified by religious reasons and the discriminatory policy might remain objectionable even if justified by secular reasons.

  4. In my initial account of the ideal of conscientious engagement, I formulated this point in terms of the “remoteness” of some reasons from the policies they putatively justify (see Eberle 2002, pp.103, 363). Here I employ the concept of determinacy. I believe that the latter captures my substantive point more clearly, but I am more than open to some more pellucid alternative. Words fail . . .

  5. I did not make clear, as I should have, the beliefs central to a citizen's moral identity are paradigms of the kind of belief that citizens need not be willing to subject to critical scrutiny, but such identity-constitutive beliefs do not exhaust the category.

  6. I have to say, however, that this activist seems to me to be quite unusual! At least, her commitment to the flat tax does not represent anything like the way in which the conservative religious believers I know typically understand their commitment to tax policy.

  7. Because determinacy is a matter of degree, there will inevitably be plenty of unclear cases. The kind of question under discussion is not amenable to clear and bright line-drawing.

  8. Indeed, the Christian Right activist mentioned above is highly unusual . . . in my experience at least. Most religious believers, conservative or otherwise, are well able to distinguish between their political commitments, the specific reasons that lead them to support those commitments, and the many other beliefs that play some indeterminate role in justifying their political commitments. So, for example, evangelicals—at least those that I know—are more than capable of recognizing that their theology provides them with a kind of epistemic affinity for individualistic political solutions. But the justificatory relation between evangelical individualism and specific policy commitments is highly indeterminate . . . as is evidenced by the fact that there are many prominent evangelicals who are well aware of the importance of the structural elements of many policy issues.

  9. There is no doubt far more to say about both Anderson’s and Carnahan’s essays. Both are very rich and challenging contributions to an important debate. My thanks to both for their insights.

References

  • Eberle, C. J. (2002). Religious Conviction in Liberal Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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  • Eberle, C. J. (2009). Basic Human Worth and Religious Restraint. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 35, 151–181.

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  • Evans, B. N. (1997). Interpreting the Free Exercise of Religion: The Constitution and American Pluralism. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

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Correspondence to Christopher J. Eberle.

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Eberle, C.J. Comments on Carnahan, Anderson, and Wolterstorff. Philosophia 41, 437–445 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-013-9442-5

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