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Lost in Translation: Religion in The Public Sphere

  • Jérôme Gosselin-Tapp


This paper proposes a Wittgenstein-inspired critique of the prism of translation that frames the recent literature about the debate between Rawls and Habermas on the role of religious reasons in the public sphere (Habermas 2008; Weithman 2006; Wolterstorff 1997). This debate originates with the introduction of Rawls’s proviso in his conception of the public use of reason (Rawls The University of Chicago Law Review, 64(3), 765-807, 1997), which consists in the “translation” of religious reasons into secular ones, which he thinks is necessary in order for religious reasons to be legitimate in the public sphere (Courtois Dialogue, 49, 91-112, 2010; Loobuyck and Rummens Ars disputandi: The Online Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 5, 237–249, 2011; Sikka The Review of Politics, 78, 91-116, 2016). Even though Wittgenstein is not himself concerned with religious pluralism as a political issue, there are numerous scholars who have discussed the political implications of his remarks (Gunnell Contemporary Political Theory, 12 80-101, 2013; Livingston Philosophy and Social Criticism, 33(6), 691–715, 2007; Moore Philosophy and Social Criticism, 36(9), 1113-1136 2010; Pohlhaus and Wright Political Theory, 30(6), 800–27, 2002). The thesis of this paper is that the interpretation proposed by Cora Diamond (2000) in regards to ethical and religious questions turns out to be a suitable way out of the “translation requirement”. According to this solution, if there is to be an understanding between secular and religious citizens on the basis of religious reasons, it should not rely on a “translation” but rather on mutual self-representation.


Rawls Religious diversity Habermas Wittgenstein 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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