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Can a Free Agora be Value-free?

Mackinlay, Shane (2008) Can a Free Agora be Value-free? In: Biennial Conference in Philosophy, Religion and Culture: God, Freedom and Nature, 3-5 October 2008, Catholic Institute of Sydney. (Submitted to be assessed for publication)


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In contemporary Western societies like Australia, it is largely accepted that a liberal democracy must also be secular. Therefore, the state should not seek to determine the values or religious beliefs of its citizens, but should instead be concerned with creating and protecting an open public space in which citizens are free to shape their lives according to a plurality of personal values and beliefs. The state’s role should be restricted to protecting the neutrality of the public space and preventing harm being done to individuals. In some versions of this account, the neutrality of the public space is used to argue that debates about social and political policy must also be value-free, actively excluding principles derived from religious beliefs, and relegating them to a strictly private domain. Such a view simultaneously elevates individual autonomy and excludes core dimensions of the person from the public space, making it impossible to determine questions of right and wrong by anything other than democratic consensus.
In this paper I argue that a public space that allows free choice and expression of values and religious beliefs cannot itself be value-free. On the contrary, it presumes an affirmation of a very particular set of values. Further, drawing on an analysis of recent French disputes about laicité and on Pope Benedict XVI’s comments on freedom during his 2008 visit to the USA, I argue that the free public space of a liberal democratic society is compatible with citizens having personal values and beliefs, and is in fact enhanced by recognising that principles arising from these beliefs make a valuable contribution to public debate. Not only is the freedom of the agora not value-free, it is also enriched by the values and beliefs held by individuals within it.

Item Type: Conference Papers (Paper)
Repository Version: Author's Final Manuscript
Keywords: agora, public square, laicité, Benedict XVI, Sarkozy
Fields of Research: 22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2203 Philosophy > 220319 Social Philosophy
22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220405 Religion and Society
Socio-Economic Objective: C Society > 95 Cultural Understanding > 9504 Religion and Ethics > 950404 Religion and Society
Type of Activity: Strategic Basic Research
Subjects: A - Philosophy
College/Association with University of Divinity: CTC: Catholic Theological College
Depositing User: Assoc. Prof. Shane Mackinlay
Date Deposited: 18 Nov 2012 22:39
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2012 22:39
URI: http://repository.divinity.edu.au/id/eprint/1109

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