Value Pluralism?

Interesting book review over at Reason by Loren E. Lomasky who was once a professor at my graduate alma matter Bowling Green State University. Lomasky reviews William Galston’s 2002 work
Liberal Pluralism : The Implications of Value Pluralism for Political Theory and Practice
. Galston is an interesting writer. He is a professor at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland and Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy. He is not limited to academics, however, having served from 1993-1995 as President Clinton’s Deputy Assistant for Domestic Policy.

Lomasky description of the book is both provocative and intriguing:

Building on theories enunciated by Isaiah Berlin (and, a century earlier, by John Stuart Mill), Galston argues that there is no such thing as the good life. Rather, there are many good modes of human life, and no one of them outranks all the others. That is not because they are equally good or because goodness is simply in the eye of the beholder. Rather, it is because some, though not all, values are incommensurable . . . Because values are multiple and incommensurable, a liberal regime committed to supporting pluralism is superior to one wedded only to some particular conception of the good life. Its ends are not superior — incommensurability precludes such a judgment — but it does better by according respect to all the goods that merit it, not only the popular ones.

It sounds like Galston is seeking out a classical liberal view that is separate from contemporary liberalism but also from a more traditionalist perspective. It sounds attractive but I am leery that it would breakdown into relativism too easily. Virtue must play a role in a well ordered society. My reading list is long already but I just might attempt to work this one in somehow.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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1 Comment

  • A liberal democracy allows a formal moral code to prevail, while maintaining tolerance to minority opinions and lifetstyles.

    Pluralism is not a good, in itself. It leads to disintegration; and a rigid public moral system leads to stagnation (see Islam).

    So protestant christianity has done the most good for the most people by maintaining public morals, but making practice of religion a matter of choice.