thomas nagel and michael sandel fight!


I appreciate Thomas Nagel’s careful exposition of the themes of my book Public Philosophy, a collection of essays on the role of moral argument in politics [“Progressive but Not Liberal,” NYR, May 25]. Although he is an ardent defender of Kantian/Rawlsian liberalism, precisely the view my work challenges, he fairly presents the question at stake: Can the principles of justice that define our basic rights and liberties be neutral with respect to substantive moral and religious controversies (as Rawls and Nagel claim), or does reasoning about justice sometimes require us to engage directly with such controversies (as I claim)?

Oddly, Nagel’s review takes on a nasty edge when he rises to the defense of Rawls. Nagel claims that I “ridicule” and “deride” Rawls’s view, and casts my disagreement with Rawlsian liberalism as a failure to understand it. I leave it to readers of Public Philosophy to judge for themselves whether anything I say about Rawls remotely approaches ridicule or derision. But I would like to show why Nagel is wrong to insist that my critique of liberal neutrality is based on a misunderstanding of the liberal position.

more from the NY Review of Books here.