Conceptual problems with perfectionism

When:2 Nov 2016, 12:30pm - 2pm
Venue:Morven Brown LG 2 (map ref C20)
Who:Dominik Düber (University of Münster)
Dominik Düber

Philosophy Seminar


One of the great divides in contemporary political philosophy in the liberal tradition broadly conceived is the divide between perfectionists and anti-perfectionists. Whereas the former want the state to take sides on valuable and worthless conceptions of the good life and to play an active role in promoting valuable activities, the latter understand this as contradictory to the liberal state itself, undermining its very foundations. Anti-perfectionists defend a principle of restraint, arguing that though the state should take an active role in matters of justice, it should remain neutral on issues concerning the good life of its citizens.

Before taking sides in this dispute, it is important to have a clear understanding of its subject area. What kind of policies exactly do the disputants have in mind and what kinds of regulations would be ruled out if an anti-perfectionist principle of restraint would be enforced? The key term here is that of “a conception of the good (life)”. What does a conception of the good life include and how exactly is it to be distinguished from other political issues such as matters of justice? There are some clear examples of conceptions of the good life, such as religious doctrines or rigid sexual moralities, yet liberal perfectionists typically do not want to (re-) introduce a state religion or enforce monogamous heterosexuality. The talk will take a closer look at the key term “conception of the good (life)” as it is used in the perfectionism-debate, and asks whether it can be spelled out in such a way as to allow a clear demarcation between two different approaches in political philosophy and thus provide guidance in real-world policy making.

About Dominik Düber

Dominik Düber is Research Fellow of the Centre for Advanced Study in Bioethics in University of Münster. Among his most recent publications is Selbstbestimmung und das gute Leben im demokratischen Staat. Der Paternalismus-Einwand gegen den Perfektionismus. mentis: Münster 2016.

View Past Events