Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. Will Gold Price Breakout? 3 Things to Watch… - Jordan_Roy_Byrne
2.China Invades Saudi Oil Realm: PetroDollar Kill - Jim_Willie_CB
3.Bitcoin Price Trend Forecast, Paypal FUD Fake Cryptocurrency Warning - Nadeem_Walayat
4.The Stock Market Trend is Your Friend ’til the Very End - Rambus_Chartology
5.This Isn’t Your Grandfather’s (1960s) Inflation Scare - F_F_Wiley
6.GDX Gold Mining Stocks Fundamentals - Zeal_LLC
7.US Housing Real Estate Market and Banking Pressures Are Building - Chris_Vermeulen
8.Return of Stock Market Volatility Amidst Political Chaos and Uncertain Economy - Buildadv
9.Can Bitcoin Price Rally Continue After Paypal Fake FUD Attack? - Nadeem_Walayat
10.Warning Economic Implosion on the Horizon - Chris_Vermeulen
Last 7 days
Sheffield Local Elections 2018 Forecast Results - 22nd Apr 18
How Long Does it take for a 10%+ Stock Market Correction to Make New Highs - 21st Apr 18
Sheffield Ruling Labour Party Could Lose 10 Council Seats at May Local Elections - 21st Apr 18
Crude Oil Price Trend Forecast - Saudi Arabia $80 ARAMCO Stock IPO Target - 21st Apr 18
Gold Price Nearing Bull Market Breakout, Stocks to Follow - 20th Apr 18
What’s Bitcoin Really Worth? - 20th Apr 18
Stock Market May "Let Go" - 20th Apr 18
Overwhelming Evidence Against Near Stock Market Grand Supercycle Top - 20th Apr 18
Crude Oil Price Trend Forecast - Saudi's Want $100 for ARAMCO Stock IPO - 20th Apr 18
The Incredible Silver Trade – What You Need to Know - 20th Apr 18
Is War "Hell" for the Stock Market? - 19th Apr 18
Palladium Bullion Surges 17% In 9 Days On Russian Supply Concerns - 19th Apr 18
Breadth Study Suggests that Stock Market Bottom is Already In - 19th Apr 18
Allegory Regarding Investment Decisions Made On Basis Of Government’s Income Statement, Balance Sheet - 19th Apr 18
Gold – A Unique Repeat of the 2007 and How to Profit - 19th Apr 18
Abbeydale Park Rise Cherry Tree's in Blossom - Sheffield Street Tree Protests - 19th Apr 18
The Stock Market “Turn of the Month Effect” Exists in 11 of 11 Countries - 18th Apr 18
Winter is Coming - Coming Storms Will Bring Out the Best and Worst in Humanity - 18th Apr 18
What Does it Take to Create Living Wage Jobs? - 18th Apr 18
Gold and Silver Buy Signals - 18th Apr 18
WINTER IS COMING - The Ongoing Fourth Turning Crisis Part2 - 18th Apr 18
A Stock Market Rally on Low Volume is NOT Bearish - 17th Apr 18
Three Gold Charts, One Big Gold Stocks Opportunity - 17th Apr 18
Crude Oil Price As Bullish as it Seems? - 17th Apr 18
A Good Time to Buy Facebook? - 17th Apr 18
THE Financial Crisis Acronym of 2008 is Sounding Another Alarm - 16th Apr 18
Bombs, Missiles and War – What to Expect Next from the Stock Market - 16th Apr 18
Global Debt Bubble Hits New All Time High – One Quadrillion Reasons To Buy Gold - 16th Apr 18
Will Bitcoin Ever Recover? - 16th Apr 18
Stock Market Futures Bounce, But Stopped at Trendline - 16th Apr 18
How To Profit As Oil Prices Explode - 16th Apr 18
Junior Mining Stocks are Close to Breaking Downtrend - 16th Apr 18
Look Inside a Caravan at UK Holiday Park for Summer 2018 - Hoseasons Cayton Bay Sea Side - 16th Apr 18
Stock Market More Weakness? How Much? - 15th Apr 18
Time for the Gold Bulls to Show their Mettle - 15th Apr 18
Trading Markets Amid Sound of Wars - 15th Apr 18
Sugar Commodity Buying Levels Analysis - 14th Apr 18
The Oil Trade May Be Coming Alive - 14th Apr 18

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

Trading Lessons

Freedom of Conscience: To What Extent?

Politics / Religion Dec 13, 2012 - 10:35 AM GMT

By: David_Gordon

Politics

In this very thoughtful book, Brian Leiter calls our attention to a paradox. In most liberal democracies, including the United States, religious believers often are exempt from laws that violate the tenets of their religion. By contrast, parallel claims of exemption on non-religious grounds tend to receive less consideration.


Leiter offers an apt example. In a Canadian case, a Sikh student was allowed to wear a ceremonial dagger, mandated by his religion; but a secular student who claimed that wearing a dagger was an integral part of his lifestyle would almost certainly not receive the same consideration. “The conscientious obligation a devout Sikh has to wear a kirpan [ceremonial dagger] is thought to be too serious---too important for the integrity and identity of this religious believer---to require him to forgo it because of the general prohibition on what anyone else would see as a weapon and a danger to school safety. But now suppose that our fourteen-year old boy is not a Sikh but a boy from a rural family whose life ‘on the land’ goes back many generations. . . . A boy’s identity as a man in his community turns on his always carrying the family knife. . .There is no Western democracy, at present, in which the boy in our second scenario has prevailed or would prevail in a challenge to a general prohibition on the carrying of weapons in the school.”(pp.2-3)

Why is this disparity in treatment a paradox? The problem arises for Leiter in large part because he views religion in a certain way. To him, religious beliefs fly in the face of reason and evidence: to accept conventional religion is irrational. He says, e.g., “Ancient testimonial evidence in favor of events that are inconsistent with all other scientific knowledge about how the world works is nowhere thought to constitute evidence for belief in a particular proposition, and that is exactly the status of the putative evidence in support of the resurrection of Christ.” (p.41) More generally, he says that “I am going to assume---uncontroversially among most philosophers but controversially among reformed epistemologists---that ‘reformed epistemology’ is nothing more than an effort to insulate religious faith from ordinary standards of reason and evidence. . .and thus religious belief is a culpable form of unwarranted belief given these ordinary epistemic standards.” (p.81, emphasis in original)[1] Here then is the paradox. If religious belief is irrational, why should it be given special privileges? Why should those who hold irrational beliefs be treated with indulgence not accorded to others?

Those familiar with Leiter’s frequent battles on his influential website with the “Texas Taliban” may anticipate an all-out assault on the special position of religion, but Leiter has a surprise in store. Following Nietzsche, his favorite philosopher, he holds that false beliefs can be necessary for life: the falsity of religious beliefs does not for Leiter settle the issue of the public status of religion. “I have adopted throughout what seems to me the clearly correct Nietzschean posture---namely that the falsity of beliefs and/or their lack of epistemic warrant are not necessarily objections to those beliefs; indeed, false or unwarranted beliefs are almost certainly, as Nietzsche so often says, necessary conditions of life itself, and so of considerable value, and certainly enough value to warrant toleration.” (p.91, emphasis in original) Those who favor active measures to diminish the influence of religion in public life might appeal to the bad consequences of belief: what of all those massacred in the name of religion? Leiter in response says, “there is no reason to think that beliefs unhinged from reason and evidence and that issue in categorical demands on action are especially likely to issue in ‘harm’ to others.”(p.83)[2]

If Leiter does not favor the public crusade against religion one might have anticipated from him, he by no means supports granting religion a special place in the law. He argues, on both deontological and consequentialist grounds, that people’s beliefs and practices should be tolerated. People are normally entitled to freedom of conscience. “The strictly moral arguments for toleration claim either that there is a right to hold the beliefs and engage in the practices of which toleration is required; or that toleration of those beliefs and practices is essential to the realization of morally important goods. The moral arguments divide, predictably enough, into Kantian and utilitarian forms.”(p.15)The right to act in accord with one’s conscience is however not absolute: someone could not, e.g., justifiably use the teachings of his religion to demand that the practice of child sacrifice be allowed. Leiter calls these limits “side- constraints.”[3]

Leiter thus subsumes religious exemptions within the more general category of freedom of conscience. In his view, religion should not be singled out for special treatment; and religion should be “tolerated” rather than accorded “the affirmative kind of appraisal respect”, which goes beyond toleration. Though people’s right to believe merits what he calls “recognition respect,” the contents of religious beliefs, owing to their anti-rational character, do not deserve “appraisal respect.”

Libertarians will applaud Leiter’s excellent arguments for freedom of conscience, but he does not take them as far as we would wish. He thinks that all states must operate from a “Vision of the Good”, “a vision, broadly speaking, of what is true or important” (p.118): and that the state may act to promote its Vision, even though doing this puts it at odds with the beliefs of various groups within it. The Rawlsian notion of neutrality among these Visions is chimerical. “Rawlsian political liberals think a state can actually abstain from promoting a Vision of the Good that isn’t generally accepted. . . though it seems to me that they typically just denominate as ‘unreasonable’ anyone who has a Vision of the Good incompatible with the Rawlsian vision of a ‘political’ conception of liberalism..” (p.122, note 38)

Given the necessity for such a Vision, the state can, e.g., exclude creationist teaching from public schools. ”The state may endorse a Vision of the Good according to which religious explanations for the origin of human life are mythologies that have no place in the public schools, but what they [the state?] may not do is prevent the creationists and intelligent design proponents from articulating those views in private and in public (if not in the state schools.)”(p.121) Parents with creationist views would not be entitled to have their children taught in public schools in a way consonant with their beliefs. Of course, if there are no public schools, this problem does not arise.

More generally, Leiter is wary of attempts to extend claims of conscientious objections to laws. “Given the lack of any good moral reason for treating the nonreligious unequally with regard to claims of conscience, one obvious solution would be to extend the breadth of exemptions from generally applicable laws to all claims of conscience, religious or not. . .it seems unlikely that any legal system will embrace this capacious approach to liberty of conscience that would involve according all these claims of conscience equal legal standing.”(p.91)

Leiter seems to me right that states, particularly those that maintain a system of public education, must operate from a particular Vision of the Good; and if they do so, they will operate in a way that dissident groups within them deplore. But to libertarians, this is a reason not to establish a state of this sort in the first place. If a state will almost inevitably pass laws that violate the consciences of some of its citizens, is this not a significant argument against it? Leiter asks, “what legal system will say ’this is the law, but, of course, you have the right to disregard it on grounds of conscience’? This would appear to amount to a legalization of anarchy!”(p.91) Libertarians will answer, ‘Yes, precisely!” [4]

David Gordon covers new books in economics, politics, philosophy, and law for The Mises Review, the quarterly review of literature in the social sciences, published since 1995 by the Mises Institute. He is author of The Essential Rothbard, available in the Mises Store. Send him mail. See his article archives. Comment on the blog.

© 2012 Copyright Ludwig von Mises - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


© 2005-2018 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules