Best of the Week
Most Popular
1.Stock Market in DANGER of Strangling the Bears to Death - Nadeem_Walayat
2. Germany Pivoting East, Exit US Dollar, Enter Gold Standard - Jim_Willie_CB
3.Flight MH17 – Kiev Flash Mob's Last False Flag? - Andrew_McKillop
4.Stock Market Crash Nightmare! - Nadeem_Walayat
5.Gold - The Million DOLLAR Question... - Rambus_Chartology
6.Gold And Silver – BRICS And Germany Will Pave The Way - Michael_Noonan
7.The Jewish Selfish Gene, People Chosen by God, Everyone Else is Goyim to Kill - Nadeem_Walayat
8.The Israeli Promised Land Dream - The Criminal Roadmap Towards “Greater Israel”? - Felicity Arbuthnot
9.Which Way is Inflation Blowing? Watch Commodities - Gary_Dorsch
10.U.S. Economy Quarterly Review and Implications for 2014-2015 - Lacy Hunt
Last 5 days
The Big Energy = Power Battle Is Coming - 25th July 14
USrael - Zionists in Control of America's Goyim Brainwashed Second Coming Slaves - 25th July 14
More Weakness Ahead for Gold Miners - 25th July 14
Gold Price Strong Season Starts - 25th July 14
Geopolitics and Markets Red Flags Raised by the Fed and the BIS on Risk-taking - 25th July 14
Gold Lockdown Until Options Expiry - New Singapore Gold Contract Threatens Price Manipulation - 25th July 14
The Bond Markets, Black Swans, and the Tiny Spirit of Santo - 25th July 14
No Road Map For Avoiding The Future - 25th July 14
Israeli War Machine Concentrating Women and Children into UN Schools Before Killing Them - C4News - 25th July 14
Israeli Government Paying Jewish Fundamentalist Students to Post Facebook Gaza War Propaganda - 25th July 14
Why the Stock Market Is Heading For A Fall - This Time Is Not Different - 25th July 14
An Economic “Nuclear Strike” on Moscow, A “War of Degrees” - 25th July 14
BBC, Western Media Working for Israeli Agenda of Perpetual War to Steal Arab Land - 25th July 14
Ukraine: What To Do When Economic Growth Is Gone - 24th July 14
Stock Market Clear and Present Danger Zone - 24th July 14
The Five Elements to Creating a Something-for-Nothing Society - 24th July 14
Instability is the New Normal? - 24th July 14
Israel's Suicide Bombers Over Gaza - 24th July 14
EUR-AUD Heads Into The Danger Zone - 24th July 14
Tesco Supermarket Death Spiral Accelerates as Customers HATE the Mega Brand - 24th July 14
Ukraine MH17 Crisis - Best Remember Who Your Friends Are - 24th July 14
Three Reasons Why Gold Price and Gold Stocks Will Rise - 24th July 14
HUI Gold Bugs Fighting To Break Downtrend - 23rd July 14
What Putin Knows About Flight MH17 - 23rd July 14
Why Microsoft Will Continue to Rebound, Huge Upside Potential - 23rd July 14
Will Putin Survive? - 23rd July 14
MH17 Crash Next Phase Economic Warfare - 22nd July 14
The TRUTH about China’s Massive Gold Hoard - 22nd July 14
Forex Multi-week Consolidation in EUR/USD Ended - 22nd July 14
Bitcoin Price Medium-term Trend Being Tested - 22nd July 14
Beware Of The Flash Mob - 22nd July 14
Can Putin Survive? - 22nd July 14
Israel Assault on Gaza: A Historic Crime, Nazi Like Final Solution - 22nd July 14
Zionist Israel an International Pariah - 22nd July 14
Reflections on the Global Misery Index - 22nd July 14
GDP Economic Statistic : A Brief But Affectionate History - 22nd July 14
TransTech Digest: Super Battery Bio-Power vs. Dirty CleanTech - 21st July 14
How to Find Trading Opportunities in the Currency Markets - 21st July 14
Stock Market One More Pull Back - 21st July 14
The Conquest Of Real - Degenerate Philosophies of the Book - 21st July 14
A Clear Way to Profit from a Graying Population - 21st July 14
Last Chance Critical Financial Market Forecasts Special Total Access - 21st July 14
Stock Market Crash Nightmare! - 21st July 14
Why the Stock Market Is STILL Cheap - 21st July 14
From Gore-Bore To Gore-War - 21st July 14
Gold Price Looking Drab - 21st July 14
An In-Depth Look at Gold Chartology - 21st July 14
The Jewish Selfish Gene, People Chosen by God, Everyone Else is Goyim to Kill - 20th July 14
AUD NZD Taking The Forex Bull By The Horns - 20th July 14
US-backed Israeli Invasion of Gaza Unleashes Death and Destruction - 20th July 14
The Israeli Promised Land Dream - The Criminal Roadmap Towards “Greater Israel”? - 20th July 14
Stock Market in DANGER of Strangling the Bears to Death - 20th July 14

Free Instant Analysis

Free Instant Technical Analysis


Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

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.


© 2005-2014 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

Free Report - Financial Markets 2014