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Liberalism after Pluralism: The Independence of Political Theory


This thesis examines the scope and possibilities of liberal thinking in a post-Enlightenment and pluralistic era. It draws upon three liberal philosophers--Isaiah Berlin, John Rawls, and Richard Rorty--who offer alternative ways of re-accommodating liberalism in the shadow of pluralism. The dissertation argues that Rawls's "comprehensive liberalism" and Rorty's "reductive liberalism" face important limitations in their attempts to integrate pluralism into liberal thought. Building upon an exegetical analysis of the three thinkers, this dissertation offers, instead, a defense of a "minimalist liberalism"--a liberalism à la Berlin that is capable of accommodating a plural view of values, of the social practices that lodge them, and of ourselves as carriers of those values. Minimalist liberalism bears an "elective affinity" with pluralism, where "elective affinity" is understood as a normative and historical reinforcing connection between liberalism and pluralism on account of their reciprocal capacity for inclusiveness. The implication of this analysis is that minimalist liberalism must curb its own scope and ambition, and it requires for its justification a sharper yet more multifaceted independence of political theory from moral reasoning than either Rawls or Rorty suggest.

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