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Neutrality, political

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S041-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 18, 2022, from

Article Summary

The principle of political neutrality, which requires the state to remain neutral on disputed questions about the good, is an extension of traditional liberal principles of toleration and religious disestablishment. However, since neutrality is itself a contested concept, the principle remains indeterminate: is it, for example, a requirement of neutral reasons for legislation (or neutral legislative intentions) or is it a more exacting requirement of equal impact in so far as legislative consequences are concerned? The answer must surely reflect the deeper values that are used to justify the neutrality principle. This raises further problems, however. If the principle is based upon certain value commitments – such as the importance of equality or individual autonomy – then it cannot require us to be neutral about all values. It requires some sort of distinction between principles of right (of which neutrality is one) and conceptions of the good (among which neutrality is required). Critics believe that liberal principles of right are symptomatic of a deeper liberal bias in favour of individuality as a way of life. Perhaps liberals should embrace this point, and accept that the neutrality they advocate is quite superficial compared to the depth of their own value commitments.

Citing this article:
Waldron, Jeremy. Neutrality, political, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S041-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

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