Should the State Teach Ethics? A Schematism (233-259)

Landon Frim


Should the state teach ethics? There is widespread disagreement on whether (and how) secular states should be in the business of promoting a particular moral viewpoint. This article attempts to schematize, and evaluate, these stances. It does so by posing three, simple questions:

(1) Should the state explicitly promote certain ethical values over others?
(2) Should the state have ultimate justifications for the values it promotes?
(3) Should the state compel its citizens to accept these ultimate justifications?

Logically, each question in this series is a prerequisite for considering those questions further down the list. The result is that responses can be categorized into one of four possible permutations or ‘camps.’ These are:

(1)  The Libertarian (“No” to all three questions)
(2)  The Pluralist (“Yes” to question 1; “No” to questions 2 and 3)
(3)  The Rationalist Republican (“Yes” to questions 1 and 2; “No” to question 3)
(4)  The Rigorous Republican (“Yes” to all three questions)

It will be shown that just one of these positions, the ‘rationalist republican,’ stands out from all the rest. For only the rationalist republican can account for a normative politics while also safeguarding the individual’s freedom of conscience.

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